Is 'Gerin oil' the root of all evil?

A professor blames this drug for history's major atrocities... clever readers will spot the anagram

In an article in this month's respected Prospect magazine, Professor Richard Dawkins, one of Britain's leading scientists, paints an apocalyptic vision of a world addicted to Gerin oil - a drug which works its way into the central nervous system and can cause "dangerous delusions" if used regularly.

Professor Dawkins, who was voted Britain's top public intellectual last year, blames Gerin oil for most of the major atrocities in history, from the Salem witch-hunts to the attacks on 11 September.

He also accuses governments of subsidising schools which have "the specific intention of getting children hooked". The drug does not feature on the Home Office's list of banned substances and is, Professor Dawkins claims, freely available without prescription.

Drug experts have never heard of Gerin oil, nor its scientific moniker, geriniol. And nor should they. Because there is one fact Professor Dawkins fails to mention: no such drug exists. The editor of Prospect magazine, David Goodhart, admitted yesterday that Gerin oil is actually an anagram for religion - something Professor Dawkins, Britain's most well-known atheist, has long railed against.

But Mr Goodhart revealed that he himself was confused by Professor Dawkins' anagram. "He mentioned that there was some kind of anagram when he sent the piece, but I was too thick to get it to begin with," Mr Goodhart said. "Driving in my car the next day it suddenly came to me - 'he's a militant atheist, it must be religion'.

"It has already generated a lively debate. We have had lots of letters on it - quite a few have been from people who feel religion has a legitimate place in the world." One letter writer has turned the tables on Professor Dawkins, referring to him as "Dr Dick Rainwash".

In his article, Professor Dawkins said his inspiration for writing about the "drug" was the reaction of the Bali bomber, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, on hearing he was to be put to death. "This beatific smile, looking forward with unalloyed pleasure to the firing squad, is the smile of a junkie," wrote Dawkins. "Here we have the archetypal mainliner, doped up with hard, unrefined, unadulterated, high-octane Gerin oil."

The article is reminiscent of Chris Morris's satirical Channel 4 programme, Brass Eye, which once convinced politicians and celebrities that a dangerous new drug, "cake", was about to hit Britain. Tory MP, David Amess, was so taken in he asked a question about cake in the House of Commons.

Professor Dawkins - who has written many books on evolution and science, including, most famously, The Selfish Gene - is no stranger to attacks on religion. After the tsunami which hit the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day killed some 300,000 people, Professor Dawkins argued that if there is a God, "he is a terrorist". He pointed out that far more people died in the tragedy than were killed in the attacks on New York and Washington.

He first wrote about Gerin oil in an American secular humanism publication, Free Inquiry, in December 2003. At the end of the article, which appeared in this month's Prospect, the magazine dropped a hint to their readers, pointing out that Professor Dawkins is a "committed atheist". Mr Goodhart said he was confident his readers were clever enough to understand it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick