Letter to TIME published

Aaron Lynch (aaron@mcs.net)
Tue, 08 Jun 1999 10:40:30 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 08 Jun 1999 10:40:30 -0500
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: Aaron Lynch <aaron@mcs.net>
Subject: Letter to TIME published
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B200CAF4E@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

A number of people told me about the article by Richard Dawkins in the
April 19 issue of TIME. In the piece that followed, Unmesh Kher quoted
negative reactions by Stephen Jay Gould and H. Allen Orr. Gould called
memetics "a meaningless metaphor" while Orr called it "an utterly silly
idea" and "cocktail party science." Unfortunately, Dawkins left memetics
open to this criticism by citing "Memes, and Grinning Idiot Press," "Church
of Virus," "St. Dawkin," and the "Meme Gardening Page" without mentioning
the existence of more technical material or the Journal of Memetics. This
drew a letter to the editor from me, which was published on May 10. Their
letters section does not seem to accept plugs for publications, but only
commentary on published TIME articles (they are, after all, a commercial
publication). So I merely chided Dawkins for not mentioning any technical
or mathematical material. (The phrase "The Meme-ing of Life" is not mine,
but comes from their April 19 table of contents.) Here is the letter is
published at


Note that my original said "safer scientific ground" instead of "safer
sociological ground" and "areas of rivalry between the two theories" rather
than proponents thereof. They edit the letters.

The original articles by Dawkins and Unmesh Kher are at

http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,22988,00.html and


respectively, as reported earlier by Derek.

At issue here is not whether any of the technical, mathematical, and
quantitative articles on memetics are correct, or even good science.
(Again, I am not posting this for the sake of re-opening old arguments.) My
position is that if scientists know to look for technical, mathematical,
and quantitative works of memetics, they are less likely to dismiss
memetics as "cocktail party science," "tautological," "circular," "utterly
silly," "meaninglessly metaphoric," etc. even if they still disagree with
every word of it they've read. Comments such as these tend to stop our
papers from even receiving a serious reading in the scientific community.
However, letting our readers, listeners, and viewers know that technical,
mathematical, and quantitiative articles exist can go a long way to
countering the "cocktail-party science" meme and help get our papers and
books read more seriously.

--Aaron Lynch


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