February 7, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Indebted to Darwin

Britain’s Food Standards Agency is concerned about diminishing fish stocks and is asking citizens to consume less, reported The Telegraph.  This can only mean one thing, thinks Ulf Dieckmann (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria): it’s come time to pay the piper.  Who is the piper, you ask?  Answer: Charles Darwin.

Dr Dieckmann said: “It was thought that these changes would only occur over millennia.  But it is becoming clear that significant evolution can take place within 20 years if the forces driving it are strong – and in fisheries they have been.”
    Dr Dieckmann said that evolution caused by over-fishing took a longer [sic] to recover from than it did to cause: if the Barents Sea was closed to fishermen, it would take 250 years for cod to return to spawning at 10 years old.
    “This is a Darwinian debt that will have to be paid back by future generations,” he added.
    Dr Dieckmann said evolution caused by commercial fisheries had played an overlooked part in the collapse of the Northern cod off Newfoundland in 1992, the most disastrous crash yet of a major commercial fish species.
    He said that from 1985 a downward trend in the size of spawning cod was detectable off [sic] and should have led to “a more precautionary approach” in setting catch quotas.

Greenpeace is involved in this campaign, too, the article says.  The row has provoked a backlash by fisherman who are blasting the “Madness of Greenpeace.”  Either Dr. Dieckmann was calling the fisherman blind and random, or the changes (actually a trend toward extinction, not evolution) were caused by their presumably intelligent and purposeful actions.  The concept of a “Darwinian debt” also seems fishy.  Does it apply only to humans?  Or do fish also have to pay Darwin for what they overconsume, and so on down the food chain?
    Rotate the globe over to Croatia.  Scientists there are gearing up for the big Darwin Day celebrations a year from now.  In a letter to Nature,1 Jasmina Muzini (ornithologist at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts) wrote that his country has felt left behind.  Not to worry: he and his colleagues have started to make sure Darwin gets a big ovation in 2009.

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man have at last been translated into Croatian, thanks to the work of the renowned science and theology translator Josip Balabanic.  Other European countries –including Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Sweden – had access to Darwin’s works in their mother tongue during his lifetime.  But it was not until this year that Croatian students of biology could read them in their own language.
    Religious education was introduced in elementary schools during the early years of Croatian independence, and ethics and the major world religions are now studied in high school.  At the same time, the importance of evolution for modern biology and medicine is publicly acknowledged by science academies and societies – in the spirit of your Editorial ‘Spread the word’ (Nature 451, 108; doi:10.1038/451108b 2008).
    Croatia aspires to join the group of countries in which education and science occupy prime positions in national strategies, and recognizing the influence of Darwin’s writings is an important step in that direction.  Celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth on 12 February next year, possibly at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, will have particular significance for Croatians.


1.  Correspondence, Nature 451, 627 (7 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/451627c.

You didn’t realize you owe a debt to Darwin.  Are you behind in your payments?  Better not go into default.  His collection agency is red in tooth and claw.
    If people accelerate evolution, such that things happen in 20 years that they used to think required thousands of years, great; let’s accelerate evolution on fruit flies and see if we can get them to evolve into mammals.  On second thought….
    The Croatian suck-up to Charlie is so obsequious, you’d think they be embarrassed, but no: they are proud of their shame.  Cub Scouts have Webelos, which stands for “We’ll be loyal scouts.”  The Croatians have announced a new order for young wannabees in the Darwin Party axis of evil: the Webelodos, which stands for “We’ll be loyal Darwinist operatives.”  The motto of the Webelodos is DODO! DODO! (translation: see 02/15/2006, 02/17/2006 and 02/24/2006).  OK; whatever.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, Marine Biology

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