Is Richard Dawkins (still) a “real” scientist?

Is Richard Dawkins a scientist? According to Edward O. Wilson, in a recent interview with The Guardian, Dawkins is not a scientist. Wilson claims:

“Would you like to talk about Dawkins?” he continues – and when I [i.e. the author of the article, Susanna Rustin] say yes, he laughs. “I hesitate to do this because he’s such a popular guy, but Dawkins is not a scientist. He’s a writer on science and he hasn’t participated in research directly or published in peer-reviewed journals for a long time. In other words, there is no Wilson-versus-Dawkins controversy: it’s Wilson versus … well, I could give you a goodly list of other scientists doing peer-reviewed research.”

Anthropologist Barbara King responded via Twitter as follows:

“Dawkins is not a scientist”: EO Wilson in the Guardian. (OK, I have differences w/ Dawkins, but that’s plain wrong…)

I thus asked her why she thinks that Wilson is wrong. Last year I spoke to an atheist and biologist from Groningen University, who claimed exactly the same thing as Wilson. He also responded (this is my paraphrase of verbal communication) that Dawkins destroyed his academic credentials with his irrational rantings against religion. I have heard similar claims from scientists and biologists from my own Radboud University.

It seems there are a lot of scientists who think that as soon as Dawkins became the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science in 1995 (a position he held until 2008 according to Wikipedia), he renounced his scientific career.

Barbara King responded to my question as follows:

Excellent question – I’m thinking this through, hope to blog soon on it.

It really is an interesting discussion. What makes someone a “real” scientist? And can you stop being a “real” scientist? What do you think?

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