Re: Waking up covered in dew

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. (
16 Aug 1996 13:08:09 GMT

Stephen Barnard <> wrote:
> > I've never understood how "adaptionist" can be an acceptable term
> > of abuse. What else is there? - Lamarkism? Teleology? God?
> >
> The term "adaptationist" has come under quite a bit of fire, much of it
> unjustified IMHO. The famous Spandrels of San Marcos paper by Gould and
> Lewontin is probably the most well-known attack. The general criticism,
> in a nutshell, seems to be along the lines that "adaptationists" are
> prone to make up "just so" stories to explain every little biological
> fact, but many biological facts are just due to historical accident or
> developmental or physical constraints.
> I have to admit that I don't quite understand the point of this
> argument. Sure, some adaptationists are silly "Panglossian"
> adaptationists, but the influence of contingincy and developmental and
> physical constraints is certainly compatible with responsible
> adaptationist thinking within the neo-Darwinian framework.

Very true. I would agree with both parts of the above sentence.
Contingency and developmental constraints are fully compatible (and
expected) within a neo-Darwinian system. However, there are some
(and more than a few on the net) who have taken things in a very
Panglossian direction, trying to find adaptive signficance in everything
from subcutaneous fat (incidentally, it is a juvenile characteristic:
check a dissection sometime) to eyebrows.

Not everything in Nature is one gene, one character. A lot of traits
are linked, and so they are carried along because they are associated
with seemingly unrelated but beneficial characteristics.

> I get the distinct impression that a political agenda is behind some of
> this criticism of adaptationism, which isn't to say that a degree of
> criticism isn't justified.

Don't know of any political agenda behind it (must of missed one of
our conspiracy meetings :-), but there is a certain exasparation in
evolutionary biology when we find people trying to find adaptive
significance in everything from webbing between toes to ear hair in older
men (to pick some admittedly silly examples).