Nathaniel J. Dominy und Ryan Calsbeek mit einem amüsanten wissenschaftlichen Aufsatz im Science Magazine über die Evolution von Godzilla, dessen Größe anscheinend mit globalen Zukunftsängsten korreliert und der deshalb in seiner Filmgeschichte immer größer wurde: A Movie Monster Evolves, Fed by Fear. Die jüngste Iteration des japanischen Kaiju ist konsequenterweise von allen Godzillas am größten und entspricht den Zukunftsängsten in Zeiten von Klimawandel, exorbitanten Militärausgaben und Rechtspopulismus.
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THE “EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY” OF GODZILLA is a topic of enduring interest among devotees, with numerous fan pages and forums dedicated to the subject. If we accept Godzilla as a ceratosaurid dinosaur (4) and Lazarus taxon (5)—a species thought to have gone extinct, only to be rediscovered later—then it represents a sensational example of evolutionary stasis, second only to coelacanths among vertebrates. Yet, the creature’s recent morphological change has been dramatic.
Godzilla has doubled in size since 1954. This rate of increase far exceeds that of ceratosaurids during the Jurassic, which was exceptional (6). The rate of change rules out genetic drift as the primary cause. It is more consistent with strong natural selection. The strength of this selective pressure can be estimated by using the breeder’s equation, where the response to selection “R” is the product of the heritability (h2 ) of a given trait and the strength of selection.
If we assume that h2 = 0.55 for body size—a reasonable estimate according to quantitative genetic studies of lizards (7, 8)—then the observed increase in Godzilla’s body size would require a total strength of selection of 4.89 SD. To put this number in context, the median value of natural selection documented in a review of more than 2500 estimates in the wild was 0.16 (9).
Godzilla, it seems, has been subject to a selective pressure 30 times greater than that of typical natural systems.
All of this is silly conjecture, of course — Godzilla is a commercial enterprise, and the films are responding to market forces. Yet still we wondered, what agent of natural selection could act so swiftly and at such high intensity?
SONTAG ARGUED that our taste for disaster films is constant and unchanging. On the contrary, we suggest that Godzilla is evolving in response to a spike in humanity’s collective anxiety. Whether reacting to geopolitical instability, a perceived threat from terrorists, or simply fear of “the other,” many democracies are electing nationalist leaders, strengthening borders, and bolstering their military presence around the world.
Making matters worse, a 2003 Pentagon report that forecasted the effects of climate change on water and food security predicted raised tensions and international conflict because of forced migrations (10). The idea that climate change is now the “mother of all security problems” (11) has scarcely dissipated since. Today, the U.S. Department of Defense views climate change as both an “accelerant of instability” and a “threat multiplier” (12). If U.S. military spending is used as a proxy for humanity’s collective anxieties, it is perhaps unsurprising to see that there is a positive and robust correlation between the growth of Godzilla and that of the American military [coefficient of determination (r2 ) = 0.74].
In 1965, Sontag asserted that a great enough disaster cancels all enmities and calls for collective action in the service of self-preservation. Indeed, Godzilla’s near invincibility almost always eventually leads humanity to the realization that they must work together to defeat it (except, of course, when the creature becomes an unlikely ally, but that is another story). The monster is thus more than a metaphor; it is a fable with a lesson for our times.
Now is the time for cooperation—across countries, across disciplines, and across party lines. It is our only hope of mitigating the dire existential threats we face today.