Published: Saturday 31 August 1996

Not in our hands

After having read the dialogue between Anil Agarwal and N C Saxena under 'Crosscurrents' ( Down To Earth , Vol 4, No 23), I am grateful to the latter for his frank admission that in India, foresters are not the only ones responsible for the mess prevailing in the forestry sector. Having served as a forester for 36 years, I can say that foresters have never been given an opportunity or the freedom to take the decisions which they think are appropriate and necessary for forest management. Even today, according to the Bombay Forest Rules, 1940 -- which are operative in the state of Maharashtra -- the divisional forest officer and the conservator of forests are assistants to the revenue authorities. Such a policy has encouraged the growth of an inferiority complex and even indifference among foresters.

I entirely agree with Saxena that change can be brought about only through an external coercive authority. The entire system needs a jolt....

Empty arguments

Down To Earth is doing excellent service in bringing science to the general public. However, the analysis on the theory of punctuational equilibria ( Down To Earth , Vol 4, No 17) has been disquieting.

The writer does not seem to have dealt with the basic aspects of the theory. The occurrence of stasis is not a revolutionary finding. Darwin, who does not rule out stasis, has this to say on the subject: "Many species never undergo any change once they are formed and the periods during which they do undergo modification, though long when measured in years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which they retain the same form."

An important aspect of the punctuational equilibria theory is the concept of species selection. It refers to the competition between species as being important to evolution. According to the Darwinian theory, the competition between individuals of the same species is crucial. As Darwin realised long ago, the origin of adaptations is central to the theory of evolution. The theory of punctuational equilibria does not offer a satisfactory solution to the problem.

Rakesh Kalshian's article cites few case studies in support of punctuational equilibria which do not really mean much. Moreover, Stephan Gould (who championed the theory) has himself written ( Nature , November 18, 1993) that, "Punctuational equilibrium surely exists in abundance, but validation of the general hypothesis requires a relative frequency sufficiently high to import the predominant motif and signal to life history." In the same article Gould concludes, "Thus in developing punctuational equilibrium, we have either been toadies and panderers to fashion, and therefore destined for history's ash heap or we have had a spark of insight about nature's constitution. Only a punctuational and unpredictable future can tell."

What Elizabeth Vrba says about the evolutionary process cannot be regarded as being contrary to Darwinism. And no Darwinist has ever said that impalas in the African savanna should aim at achieving greater speed to escape from cheetahs.

One must remember that in the time of Darwin, the belief in miracles and calamities such as the Biblical flood were the chief rivals to his theory. He was eager to distinguish his views from the various strains of catastrophism that stood in the way of the acceptance of his theory of natural selection.

The box entitled 'No junk this' is also totally misleading. Renowned molecular biologist Francis Brick and evolutionist Richard Dawkins have put forward theories on the so-called junk deoxyribonucleic acid (dna), strictly in a Darwinian framework. The bacteria has evolved the intron-free genes by Darwinian selection. The trend in the evolution of bacteria is one towards the economy of molecular machinery and biochemical versatility. The genes with introns have played a major role in the evolution of higher organisms. Darwin never said that evolution can proceed only from the simple to the complex.

Finally, let me conclude by quoting John Maynard Smith, a leading evolutionary biologist, "Of course we need to see further than Darwin but we shall do so by standing on his shoulders, not by turning our backs on him....

Sorry, not mine

My article on swadeshi -- which appeared in Down To Earth (Vol 4, No 17) -- has been substantially edited. In the last paragraph, the sentence "It ( swadeshi ) should effectively be a positive movement for the renewal of our lost glories", does not convey what was implied. The last paragraph should have read just as it did in the original text sent to you. The original being, "Today, swadeshi is needed not just to fight the excesses of multinational corporations but to strengthen the nation's will so that it can prosper in a globalising world. However, it cannot succeed if it remains confined to the economic sphere alone. It must address the wider consciousness of every citizen. It should not be a negative but a positive movement for renewal....

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