As most of you know, Richard Dawkins is not a fan of the Spandrels paper by Gould and Lewontin [A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme]. A reader has alerted me to a comment that Richard Dawkins posted on Jerry Coyne's blog.
Dawkins said [I was there ...].
I was there (one of the speakers) at the London meeting of the Royal Society, where the Spandrels paper was first presented (by Gould; Lewontin didn’t come). Before Gould spoke, the talk by Clutton-Brock and Harvey substantially anticipated the Spandrels paper and undermined its central thesis. All of us were eager to hear how Gould would deal with Clutton-Brock and Harvey’s devastating critique of what they guessed (from previous publications) he would say. In the event, Gould totally ignored Clutton-Brock and Harvey, and gave his prepared paper, playing for horse laughs from the gallery, as if nothing had happened. It was the beginning of my disillusionment with Gould, whom I had previously respected. Please, if you read the Spandrels paper, look first at the Clutton-Brock and Harvey paper, in the same volume published by the Royal Society, 1979.I had not heard of this paper by Clutton-Brock and Harvey and I'm not familiar with their work. Here's the reference and the abstract—it doesn't look to me like a devestating critique of Gould and Lewonton's paper.
Clutton-Brock, T.H. and Harvey, P.H. (1979) Comparison and Adaptation. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 205:547-565. [doi: 10.1098/rspb.1979.0084]
It has sometimes been suggested that the term adaptation should be reserved for differences with a known genetic basis. We argue that adaptation should be defined by its effects rather than by its causes as any difference between two phenotypic traits (or trait complexes) which increases the inclusive fitness of its carrier. This definition implies that some adaptations may arise by means other than natural selection. It is particularly important to bear this in mind when behavioural traits are considered. Critics of the 'adaptationist programme' have suggested that an important objection to many adaptive explanations is that they rely on ad-hoc arguments concerning the function of previously observed differences. We suggest that this is a less important problem (because evolutionary explanations generally claim some sort of generality and are therefore testable) than the difficulties arising from confounding variables. These are more widespread and more subtle than is generally appreciated. Not all differences between organisms are directly adapted to ecological variation. The form of particular traits usually constrains the form or value that other traits can take, presenting several obstacles to attempts to relate variation in morphological or behavioural characteristics directly to environmental differences. We describe some of the repercussions of differences in body size among vertebrates and ways in which these can be allowed for. In addition, a variety of evolutionary processes can produce non-adaptive differences between organisms. One way of distinguishing between these and adaptations is to investigate adaptive trends in phylogenetically different groups of species.