This English expression refers to someone who enters an activity, such as a field of study, or a competition, very late and then tries to run off with the prizes. The implication is that he/she has no right to do so since they didn’t do the hard work earlier.
I use this expression as the title of this item because, amongst the more unbelievable critical comments on the internet, is one that tries to dismiss me as someone who has no track record in the field and who has only entered it very late in his career. This could not be further from the truth. I have worked on these issues for over 40 years. I organised what was probably the first debate on The Selfish Gene way back in 1976, the year of its publication. The participants were Richard Dawkins, Anthony Kenny, Charles Taylor and me. I have frequently taken part in Novartis Foundation discussion meetings on these questions, including defenders of the Modern Synthesis such as Lewis Wolpert and John Maynard Smith. At the 1993 IUPS Congress in Glasgow, where I was chairman of the organising committee, I edited The Logic of Life: the challenge of integrative physiology (OUP, 1993) in which I also co-authored the lead chapter. As the congress opened I published a full page article in the national Sunday newspaper, the Observer, entitled Unravelling the meaning of life. A key quotation from that article is
“Could we have mistaken identifying the code for the mechanics of living cells for an understanding of the logic of life itself?”
An article by Tim Radford, the chief Science correspondent of The Guardian, just 2 days previously refers to me as having “turned the idea of the selfish gene on its head.” The central idea of The Music of Life and my quarrel with Neo-Darwinism is more than 20 years old.
As I show in a more recent book, the gestation period of The Music of Life (OUP 2006) was many years. It would have been impossible to write such a book without the experience I have just outlined.
The same is true of the article I wrote in 2011 deconstructing The Selfish Gene and Neo-Darwinism. Anyone who reads that article can see the evidence of years of work on the analysis.
People don’t come ‘out of the blue’ to write an article with over 80 detailed references without such years of experience.