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What I should have said to Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins gave a pretty good talk here last night. I have often thought that much political and religious speech (Jindal trying to talk folksy, for example) sends the underlying message "We X are kin, distant cousins or something maybe; They are not; give me your vote, your money, or your sons' lives and I will defeat Them." But I hadn't heard the term "fictive kin" used to describe this illusory relationship.

I also got to join a large group of students and faculty for lunch with Dawkins. What I should have said was "I'm writing a book called Darwinian Agriculture, heavily influenced by The Selfish Gene." Instead, I thanked him for calling my attention (when we met several years ago) to a paper about human-imposed group selection in chickens leading to increased egg production. A theme of my book is that humans can sometimes impose strong enough selection for group-level performance to overcome individual selection that undermines group performance (e.g., selecting for wheat that puts more resources into grain and less into tall stems to shade out competitors), whereas nature rarely if ever does that. But I think he just heard "group selection" and tuned me out. It must be tiring touring like that.

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