Jerry Coyne has already commented on the study and his follow-up posting is worth reading because it highlights the responses of others who have dissected the papers [The women of Slate take on evolutionary psychology].
The bottom line is that the entire field of evolutionary psychology is in big trouble and it is bound to become a major laughing stock unless evolutionary psychologists clean up their act [Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology].
One of Jerry Coyne's comments caught my eye because we've just been reading the Gould & Lewontin Spandrels paper in class. Coyne said,
Like the stories of the Bible, there’s no evolutionary psychology hypothesis that can be disconfirmed by data. If your story doesn’t hold up, simply concoct another story. Of course, there’s no evidence for the alternative stories, either.In 1979 Gould and Lewontin wrote,
The admission of alternatives in principle does not imply their serious consideration in daily practice. We all say that not everything is adaptive; yet, faced with an organism, we tend to break it into parts and tell adaptive stories as if trade-offs among competing, well designed parts were the only constraint upon perfection for each trait. It is an old habit. As Romanes complained about A.R. Wallace in 1900: "Mr. Wallace does not expressly maintain the abstract impossibility of laws and causes other than those of utility and natural selection... Nevertheless, as he nowhere recognizes any other law or cause... he practically concludes that, on inductive or empirical grounds, there is no such other law or cause to be entertained. The adaptationist programme can be traced through common styles of argument. We illustrate just a few; we trust they will be recognized by all:Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
(1) If one adaptive argument fails, try another. Zig-zag commissures of clams and brachiopods, once widely regarded as devices for strengthening the shell, become sieves for restricting particles above a given size (Rudwick, 1964). A suite of external structures (horns, antlers, tusks) once viewed as weapons against predators, become symbols of intra-specific competition among males (Davitashvili, 1961). The eskimo face, once depicted as "cold engineered" (Coon, et al., 1950), becomes an adaptation to generate and withstand large masticatory forces (Shea, 1977). We do not attack these newer interpretations; they may all be right. We do wonder, though, whether the failure of one adaptive explanation should always simply inspire a search for another of the same general form, rather than a consideration of alternatives to the proposition that each part is "for" some specific purpose.