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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own