I've mentioned this before on Sandwalk (see links below). While searching through my old posts I came across one from 2008 titled In Search of Spandrels. I'd forgotten about it completely. It reproduced a post that I wrote for talk.origins on Aug. 20, 1998. Nobody knows about talk.origins these days but some of us have fond memories. (It still exists.) Here's what I wrote 17 years ago. It was a different era.
I recently found myself in the catacombs of the library archive far away from the stress of students writing their summer exams. It was very peaceful. It was also a place where creationists never go.
I must confess that my primary motivation for being there was work avoidance—I hate marking exams—but there was another reason as well. My secondary mission was to retrieve a pristine copy of the "Spandrels" paper so I could hand it out to my students. (My own copy had some embarassing margin notes that weren't fit for young eyes.)
There were many bound volumes of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (Series B). Did you know that this journal goes back over one hundred years? (That's even before I was born.) Did you know that you have to look in the stacks under "R", for "Royal", and not "P", for "Proceedings"? Did you ever wonder why librarians do that? My own theory is that they really don't want us to take out their books so they make it as difficult as possible to find something.
I was looking for volume 205 (1979). As usual, it was on the bottom shelf; way down at the level of my shoes. I had to get down on one knee and that's a lot of work. But at least volume 205 wasn't missing. With trembling hands I flipped the pages looking for the sacred text. Would it be there or would the pages have been cut out with a razor blade? Chances were good—pre-med students don't read about evolution.
Yes! There it was: "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptionist programme" by S.J. Gould and R.C. Lewontin. They even spelled "programme" correctly! Off I went to the photocopy machine. Off I went to buy a new photocopy card. Back I came to the photocopy machine. Let's see now ... how much magnification will I need to fill an 8x11 page so I don't have to close the damn lid every time I copy a page? 125% should do it. Wrrrrr .... flash .... swish .... splat.
Maybe 120% would work ...
At last, page 598 was perfect. (Anyone want extra copies of the references from this paper?) I worked my way forward to page 581 fending off the librarian who insisted that I had to close the lid or I would ruin the photocopier—and my eyes (I'm not sure which was more important to her).
I was lucky there were three or four students to distract her. Behind my back I heard some mumblings about "eccentric" and "stubborn" but unfortunately I couldn't see exactly what was going on.
Hope I didn't miss anything interesting.
I knew that Gould had presented the paper at a meeting in London in December, 1978. Lewontin wasn't there because you have to fly to get to England and Lewontin thinks that if humans were made to fly then we would have evolved wings. So, who else was at the meeting? Did they publish papers in the same issue of the journal? Let's see ...
My thoughts were interrupted by some shouting in the line behind me. Guess I'd better get away from the photocopier. The machine seems to be making people angry.
Off I went to find a desk to sit down at. Found one. Off I went to the photocopier to retrieve my photocopy card. Back I came to the desk.
Someone was there. Found another desk. It had a banana peel on it.
Cool. All the papers are here. The meeting was called "The Evolution of Adaptation by Natural Selection" and it was organized by John Maynard Smith and R. Holliday. Orgel has a paper on evolution in vitro. The Charlesworths write about sex in plants. There's a paper by Maynard Smith on game theory and the evolution of behaviour. George Williams was present (more about him later). And guess who else? - Richard Dawkins!
The Dawkins' paper is titled "Arms races between and within species" (R. Dawkins and J.R. Krebs). It goes on and on about the adaptive significance of arms races and the optimization of animals. I bet the Gould talk was not well received by Dawkins in 1978. :-)
The Williams paper is very interesting ("The question of adaptive sex ratio in outcrossed vertebrates"). He examines two popular theories of the adaptive control of sex ratio (why there are 50% males and 50% females). After looking at the detailed models and the available data he concludes,
Evidence from vertebrates is unfavourable to either theory and supports, instead, a non-adaptive model, the purely random (Mendelian) determination of sex.Good for him. I wish I could have been at the meeting. Maybe there was a discussion. Flipping to the back of the book I find a petulant summary of the meeting written by A.J. Cain. You can tell he's really annoyed at something that went on in the meeting,
Ever since natural selection appeared on the scene, there have been those who voiced an a priori and dogmatic dislike of it. One classic example is George Bernard Shaw ... I suspect from my own work that natural selection may have been very much more important than anyone has realized up to now. If so, can these emotional and other rejections of it, or, more generally, the tendency of the human race to take a non-objective view of evolution and kindred topics, be explained by natural selection?Whew! The discussion must have been exciting. Let's see, it should be right at the end. Ah, here it is,
There is a possible evolutionary explanation, as yet untested, and no other scientific one that I know of.
[It has not been possible to include the general discussion in this publication.]Damn.
Gotta go, the banana peel is making me ill—it looks like it's been here since the day before yesterday. Is that a fruit fly? Off I go.
Back again. (Forgot my pen.) See ya.
What Does San Marco Basilica Have to do with Evolution?
A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme
An Adaptationist in Piazza San Marco
The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm
Gould, S. J. and Lewontin, R.C. (1979) The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 205:581-598. [doi: 10.1098/rspb.1979.0086