Mara Hvistendahl responds to Richard Dawkins' BB guest-post on science and sex selection

Richard Dawkins contributed a guest post to Boing Boing over the weekend, sparked by a piece in the Guardian about Mara Hvistendahl's book, Unnatural Selection. "I am responding to allegations made by Richard Dawkins that my book is critical of science," Hvistendahl writes in a response post on her blog. "It is not."


  1. Don’t apologize… Its important to be critical of science, that’s the whole point of the peer vs public review debate.

  2. She seems to be focusing on the act of bringing tools to savages so they become more ruthlessly savage while Dawkins is focusing on their savagery. If it’s human nature, by way of the extended phenotype, to be disgustingly oppressive then she has a point.

    1. Yes, the original thesis was that the brown people would outnumber the white people, and wouldn’t that suck! (for white people, the only people that *really* matter /sarcasm)

      I’m still a little concerned about her position on abortion generally, but I do understand her objection to Dawkins’ indirect characterisation, though.

  3. Dear Mara,

    You are quite welcome for the boost in sales and readership that our “spat” has generated. While not as big as the bump Tiger Mom got, every bit helps in print publishing these days.



  4. Hvistendahl’s response indicates an unwillingness to “blame” science. I appreciate that she is a scientist, but can the leopard not see its own spots? It WAS “Western science and governments” in the form of the Population Council – sure, their intention was certainly not the outcome; but the fact that I ascertained this from reading simply her response serves only to highlight her befuddling myopia. If further reading indicates my misunderstanding I’ll feel like an ass, but in the mean time: BLAME, Mara, BLAME!

  5. Despite having read both posts, I’m still not sure on what they disagree on here. Anyone figure it out?

    1. I didn’t find it illumintating at all.

      It is amazing that somebody writing books can be so unclear…

  6. Mr. Dawkins should know better than to get his information from a newspaper. Did he not even read the book that he so easily (mis)labeled? Primary and peer-reviewed sources, Mr. Dawkins. If Ms. Hvistendahl is correct as to the actual nature of her book, then a chastened Richard Dawkins should be as generous with his apology as he was vicious with his attack on Mara Hvistendahl’s scientific credibility. Science is very much about pointing out one’s own mistakes, errors, and omissions, in order to correct the record, so I’m sure Mr. Dawkins will respond promptly. His own credibility demands it.

  7. This sounds like a perfectly appropriate moment to blame scientists and Western organizations. They thought pushing sex-selection technology into a foreign culture for social engineering and voluntary population control sounded like a really good idea. It was a shitty idea, and if they had been in possession of any real critical thinking skills outside the domain of life sciences research, or even just a pinch of basic common sense and humility, they would have realized that. They absolutely deserve some measure of blame.

    Also, fnd Dwkns vr mr pthtc. Mypc, thncntrc dt. God forbid a scientist ever have done something stupid and wrong that messed up another culture. As anointed servants of Reason whose minds are elevated into the truth-giving light of Science, which illuminates all real things, it is unthinkable that they could err in such a way.

    1. Science ain’t ‘Western’, it is universal.

      force = mass multiplied by acceleration

      The truth of that statement does not depend upon where you are from or what your nation is.

  8. Why did Dawkins’ original post get significant square footage and the author’s response get hardly a passing mention?

    It’s not good science at all to form opinions based solely upon the opinions of others; correct or otherwise.

    1. Science is based upon careful and attentive observations, fully noted; and NOT opinions – ever.

      Opinion is and has ever been a denizen of the political, and not the scientific, world; and needs to make no observations at all, before it makes its statements.

      Scientific opinions are literally worthless without the evidence to support them – and that evidence is what science is all about, and not the opinion.

      Although climate change deniers and nuclear power scare-mongers, simply refuse to believe that latter point, as it does not correspond ….to THEIR opinion.

      Want to do science? Then first learn how to observe and how to record your observations without letting your self get in the way of your perceptions. Good luck!

      For some self-confident, self-centered types, particularly with broad and successful experience of living in the world, that is very very hard to do – perhaps that is one reason why the practice of science is occasionally termed a ‘discipline’, and why it is perhaps best to start the practice young, before one’s opinions have been set in stone by one’s “life experiences”; that is to say, before one’s mind accumulates too many prejudices or pre-judgments, as to how the world works – and which distort and lessen one’s abilities to accurately observe the world.

      1. I was being a bit too sarcastic regarding opinions but that was my point (One never forms scientific opinions based on the opinions of others because, no one should be forming scientific opinions).

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