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?
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?”