How to properly study adaptation

Footnotes to Plato

One of the recurring discussions in evolutionary biology is the question of how to test adaptive hypotheses. Creationists often claim (wrongly) that the theory of natural selection is tautological, and so did, at some point, prominent philosopher of science Karl Popper (he later acknowledged that his comment was based on a misunderstanding of the theory, something that creationists strangely neglect to mention whenever they quote him in their favor — see this short essay I wrote about it for Skeptical Inquirer). And then, of course, there is the never ending issue of the quasi-scientific status of evolutionary psychology, precisely because adaptive hypotheses are particularly hard (though not impossible) to test in the case of Homo sapiens (more on this below).

It was therefore with delight that I recently happen to stumble on a paper by Mark Olson and Alfonso Arroyo-Santos entitled “How to study adaptation and why to do…

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