Adaptationism again

Bryant (
3 Sep 1996 07:31:04 -0600

There's been an ongoing discussion in these parts about adaptationism in
evolutionary biology. I've been arguing for a while that contra Gould &
Lewontin's famous claims (in their 1979 critique of adaptationism, cited
earlier), adaptationist hypotheses are more readily testable and more
reasonably applied to complex structures than constraint, drift, & side-effect
hypotheses about structures' evolutionary origins.

I was surprised to see that Gould's partner in crime seems to agree. In
his 1978 paper, "Adaptation" (in Scientific American), Lewontin says
that hypotheses positing traits are adaptations only if they are not
caused by "allometry, pleiotropy, random gene fixations, linkage and
indirect selection would be *utterly impervious to test*" (page 230).
[emphasis mine, naturally.]

Apparently, Lewtontin underwent a major religious conversion before
co-authoring the "Spandrels" paper with Gould the following year, or he
knew better, and whispers amongst biologists that the spandrels paper was
a strategic platform from which to assault sociobiology in the popular
press are valid.


Ref: Lewontin, 1978.Adaptation. Scientific American 239: 212-230.