This week the Times has a doozy in the article on "Play" from the Sunday Magazine. In the article, Robin Henig writes
"If play is an extravagance, why has it persisted? It must have some adaptive function, or at least a benefit that outweighs its cost, or it would have been winnowed out by the forces of natural selection."This is nearly a PERFECT adaptationistic line. And more importantly, it is simply not true. Some things persist in biological systems even when they have a cost that outweighs the benefit. And other things persist when they are neutral. Now I am not saying one way or another whether play has a benefit (the article is interesting and reasonably sound in many ways). But such statements as the one quoted above show a common misunderstanding of evolution. Evolution is NOT only about beneficial things persisting and detrimental ones going away. It is much more complex and interesting in fact. If you want to learn more about the perils of adaptationism, go to Larry Moran's blog. He really has some good stuff on it. Or go to the great gurus themselves - Gould and Lewontin.