The internet is awash with an incorrect quote that’s now been pretty much universally misapplied to Richard Dawkins in what is a wonderfully ironic, exemplary demonstration of Dawkin’s own Theory of Memes. To our shame (and admit it, secret delight)  it’s been spectacularly taken out of context by us, Dawkins’ own supporters to the point where I’m having to correct my own friends on facebook who have listed it as a “favourite quote” and mistakenly attributed it to Dawkins himself..

science is interesting and if you dont agree you can fuck off NOT by richard dawkins Meme Theory Returns To Give Its Own Inventor a Kicking

The quote has been replicated all over the internet (a google search for the phrase returns millions of results..

science is interesting science atheist richard dawkins relig demotivational poster 1288377096 Meme Theory Returns To Give Its Own Inventor a Kicking

In accordance with Dawkin’s theory it has also mutated in to endless different versions..

Ironically Dawkins was quoting someone else in a debate to try to make the point that he’s actually relatively rather liberal and is far from being the most fundamentalist intellectual on the face of the earth. See the comparatively boring original debate below..

Nevermind the truth, the quote was just too brilliant for the interwebs to leave alone…

Well, that’s what you get for trying to be funny. Dawkins actually coined the term “meme” in his paper “The Selfish Gene” which explains scientifically, precisely why false ideas often spread faster the true ones. In short, the theory of memes theory is based on a few basic principles:

  • Ideas (memes) self replicate in a similar way to the way genes evolve.
  • Memes have similar properties to genes such as mutation, competition and variation.
  • Memes that propagate less abundantly may become extinct (e.g. the boring video)
  • Memes which replicate the most effectively spread best. (e.g. all the “remixes”)
  • For an idea to spread fast it must be funny, sexy, scary etc. (in this case, the meme is funny)
  • It is irrelevant whether the idea is true or false or right or wrong.

I dont give a fuck Meme Theory Returns To Give Its Own Inventor a KickingThis theory explains why explicitly pointless “facebook pages” such as this one have hundreds of thousands of fans –>

..while vaguely serious ones are left in the dust.

This phenomenon I’ve labelled “The Rise of the Idiots” (after the fabulous Nathan Barley), and I believe along with a growing number of academics that the one way to prevent this trend is for people to gain an understanding of memes.

You can use the buttons below to send this article to your friends via your favourite meme sharing medium. You can even subject yourself to a perpetual stream of my neurononsense-meme-bombing by”liking” this blog on facebook or “following” me on twitter.  Either way I recommend you reading in to memes, they are a fascinating idea with a lot of implications.

rb2 large gray Meme Theory Returns To Give Its Own Inventor a Kicking

Dawkins, R. (1979). The selfish gene By Richard Dawkins (1977). Oxford University Press. Journal of Human Evolution, 8 (6), 647-648 DOI: 10.1016/0047-2484(79)90117-9

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  • John Wilkins

    No, Dawkins was not the first to propose memes. Richard Semon was, although he called them mnemes, and the earliest to propose cultural evolution was T H Huxley.

    • Neurobonkers

      Fair cop. “Coined the term” perhaps is a better phrase to use…

  • disgruntledphd

    The issue with the meme theory is that it is not predictive, and doesnt really explain anything we didnt already know. For me, i’d like to see some predictions come true before I will start believing this, and to suggest that this unproven theory holds the key to improving public discourse seems a bit naive to me.

    • Neurobonkers

      The evidence of memes surrounds us, I think the most clear examples are the endless cases where information that is verifiably false continues to be spread endlessly. There are a number of examples of this in Richard Brodie’s book “Virus of the Mind”.

      One example I’d like to suggest myself is the Digital Drugs phenomenon that was reported across the US in the mainstream media this summer. The whole thing was absolute nonsense but that didn’t stop the idea spreading like wildfire.

      I never suggested understanding memes is some kind of golden bullet, understanding memes doesn’t immunise against their influence but it certainly bears thinking about.

      I do take your point about it not explaining anything “we” don’t already know but that’s assuming people have spent a great deal of time thinking about these things and come to the same conclusion themselves. Somehow I don’t think that’s the case for everybody.

  • Jason


  • Neuroskeptic

    On Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science forums, one of the users has that quote as their signature, attributed to someone who worked at New Scientist magazine.

  • vac

    Following and enjoying becoming part of “the memes”

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