Biological Theory

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 343–362 | Cite as

Adaptationism and the Logic of Research Questions: How to Think Clearly About Evolutionary Causes

  • Elisabeth A. Lloyd
Original Article


This article discusses various dangers that accompany the supposedly benign methods in behavioral evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology that fall under the framework of “methodological adaptationism.” A “Logic of Research Questions” is proposed that aids in clarifying the reasoning problems that arise due to the framework under critique. The live, and widely practiced, “evolutionary factors” framework is offered as the key comparison and alternative. The article goes beyond the traditional critique of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin, to present problems such as the disappearance of evidence, the mishandling of the null hypothesis, and failures in scientific reasoning, exemplified by a case from human behavioral ecology. In conclusion the paper shows that “methodological adaptationism” does not deserve its benign reputation.


Adaptationism Behavioral biology Behavioral ecology Evolutionary methods Evolutionary psychology Evolutionary theory Female orgasm 



Thank you to Arnold and Maxine Tanis for their support of my research over many years. I owe thanks to many biologists and philosophers for discussion about the topic of this paper, including especially the following: The Biology Studies Reading Group at IU, Colin Allen, Linnda Caporael, Janet Collett, Michael Dietrich, Stephen Downes, Marcus Feldman, Stephen Jay Gould (with whom I discussed the germs of ideas of this article), Jim Griesemer, Chris Haufe, Ryan Ketcham, Roy Levin, Richard Lewontin, Daniel Lindquist, Alan Love, Eduoard Machery, Gordon McOuat, Roberta Millstein, Stuart Newman, Elizabeth and Rudy Raff, Elliott Sober, Donald Symons, Michael Wade, Michael Weisberg, and two anonymous referees for this journal. Please forgive me, those I have not listed due to my faulty memory!


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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