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Competition pressures hit Evolutionary Biology

In an ironic twist, professors arguing that nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of natural selection, are experiencing a different type of selection pressure themselves. How important is evolutionary biology really?

From NATURE

The Year of Darwin has got off to a bad start.

In the Netherlands a national reorganization of university budgets has led Leiden University to sack its classical evolutionary-biology staff.

“There will be no one left who can teach natural selection,” says population ecologist Jacques van Alphen, one of six tenured professors who will lose their jobs on 1 March.

Their jobs have been eliminated in favour of jobs in molecular biology.

Leiden is experiencing the consequences of a decision by science minister Ronald Plasterk, a former molecular geneticist, to introduce greater competition in the scientific community.

Institute of Biology Mathematician Sjoerd Verduyn Lunel, dean of natural sciences, says the institute considered carefully where it would trim.

The molecular biosciences have been more successful in attracting grants than evolutionary biology.

“It is a sad situation, but if you have a government strategy to increase quality through competition, how else can you implement it?”

http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090211/pdf/457772b.pdf

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10 Responses to Competition pressures hit Evolutionary Biology

  1. I suppose that this means that molecular biologists are fitter at getting money, and therefore food, than evolutionary biologists. Survival of the fittest in the reign of tooth and claw, or is it pen and keyboard?

    But how can this be? Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Isn’t evolutionary biology the queen of the sciences? It sounds to me like evolutionary biologists are getting Expelled. Does “The Machine” of Dawkins have a program glitch?

    I bet that if we get the e-mails from Leiden University, we will discover that it wasn’t about grants at all, but rather that the university administration really is against evolution.

    [takes tongue out of cheek}

  2. P.S. I just went through our local Costco yesterday (February 12), and there were 7 books for sale on Lincoln, and one on his wife, and none on Darwin. Either Costco is secretly against Darwinism, or they figure that the public won’t buy it (pun intended).

  3. Paul,

    P.S. I just went through our local Costco yesterday (February 12), and there were 7 books for sale on Lincoln, and one on his wife, and none on Darwin. Either Costco is secretly against Darwinism, or they figure that the public won’t buy it (pun intended).

    Same thing with Borders and Barnes & Noble.

  4. Paul, have you mistaken economic currency for intellectual currency? If so, you have a fine career awaiting you in academic administration.

    These biologists were not idiots who shot off their mouths while seeking probation. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to Photoshop themselves onto an image of the Berlin Wall.

    If things work at Leiden University as at most state-supported schools in the U.S., the only way to dismiss tenured professors is to shut down entire academic units in circumstances of financial exigency. The Netherlands has imposed such a circumstance on Leiden, and an entire academic unit is getting the ax because it does not contribute to the economic bottom line as well as other units.

    Here in the U.S., English departments generally attract no extramural funding to speak of. Yet they seem of huge intellectual value to me. What do you make of those dead-weights profs in English, Paul? Thumbs up, or thumbs down?

  5. Sal Gal (#4),

    You are taking post #1 entirely too seriously. :) The last line should have given you a clue. ;)

    I do find it curious that this particular department was shut down, apparently to make room for more specialists in the old department of Mr. (or is it Dr.?) Plasterk. The addition of molecular biologists makes sense. I am less sure that the deletion of evolutionary biology makes sense, or what sense it makes. I was only remarking on the irony.

    (Gonzales sure got under your skin!)

    However, on the subject of English, I personally view English professors as by and large people who believe that reading English literature qualifies one for making philosophical statements that their students must respect because of their great learning. I view the foundations of that learning as suspect to begin with, and have always wondered why philosophical knowledge was not more relevant to making philosophical pronouncements than English literature. So, yea, I wouldn’t mind a few dead weights cut out of the English departments, leaving the people who actually teach proper grammar and writing skills, and leave the philosophy to others. But that’s just me.

    BTW, I view teaching as one of the functions of a university. A good teacher should be retained even if grant money is not being pulled in. That’s probably why I am not an administrator. :D

  6. But they can’t get rid of those evolutionary biologists? If nothing in science makes sense, except in light of evolution, then all the other sciences within Leiden University will sink to their doom!

  7. No wonder Richard Dawkins says he wouldn’t want to live in a society governed by Darwinian principles. He may find himself out of a job!

  8. Shut down the English departments!

    You’re a little off the mark, Paul. Their purpose used to be to preserve and cherish the great literature of the past…only that; no propaganda. Now they’ve become just the opposite—a Postmodern ghetto for carping Harpies and their chisel-toothed male enablers.

    The game now is to “deconstruct” the Western canon and show that it’s not so great after; that it’s a festering pustule of racism, sexism and…oh, never mind.

    Since the tonier English departments have now decided that the literature they used to celebrate isn’t really all that great after all—in fact is deplorable—they no longer serve a useful preservation function.

    Shut them down!

    And by the way, if Sal Gal wants to insist on eliminating one English prof for each evo psych charlatan that the universities send packing—all I can say is, quando? In fact why not two for one?

  9. allanius (#8),

    I agree that modern English departments often look down on what used to be called great literature for the perspectives that the authors unconsciously, or perhaps more accurately subconsciously, had. It is almost like those who try to discredit Abraham Lincoln because he thought that black intelligence was, on the average, less than that of whites. That may be true, but it doesn’t destroy the virtue he displayed in ridding the United States of legalized slavery, partly because he saw the basic humanity in blacks. These people (the English teacher deconstructionists) can’t accept anything except perfection, and I dare say that if that standard was applied to them, they would be out of a job.

    But while I respect the great authors, it seems appropriate to remember that great literature, if not intentionally reflecting specific incidents, is not in fact data; it is someone’s opinion as to what human nature is like. As such, it has no authority beyond that of any careful observer of human nature. There is a tendency to take what someone says in a novel (or a movie) as evidence for the way things (or people) work, whereas it is only opinion. So, even when the English departments were more positive about their subject, there was a lot of inappropriate philosophizing. It’s just that now the prejudices we are being taught as fact are different (and IMO worse).

    But again, that’s my opinion.

  10. I married an English major. I have not got the anti-literature vibe from it; I in fact loved talking to her about things discussed in some of her classes. But as far as the students, apparently basically all of her classes were a big game of show-off…who can make the most wity, one-up-ish comments and feel damn proud about it. It was by far her least favorite thing about school.

    But as far as her work, much of it was very interesting. I loved helping her with her thesis on Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”. Highly recommended if you like that sort of thing.

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