How to study adaptation (and why to do it that way)

Prof Mark E Olson, from the Institute of Biology, National University of Mexico, will present the Department of Biological Sciences seminar with a talk entitled, "How to study adaptation (and why to do it that way)". 

Abstract: The study of adaptation, in organisms from plants to human beings, is frequently criticized as being filled with flimsy "just-so stories," the fallacy of circular reasoning, and even to be non-scientific because it doesn't fit a Popperian, deductive notion of science. I I take on these criticisms by examining the structure of a situation in which adapation is an well-accepted and well-supported explanation. I show that just-so stories are usually legitimate hypotheses that are at a preliminary stage and lack many layers of direct evidence. I show that, like most scientific explanations, adaptationist reasoning is never entirely deductive and instead involves abduction or Bayesianism, in which some circular-sounding loops of reasoning are always present. With these reasoning structures in mind, I show the way to a healthier view of “circularity” in evolutionary biology and why integration across the comparative, populational, and optimality approaches is necessary.


Mark Olson is an evolutionary biologist at Mexico's national university, where he works on the evolution of plant functional diversity. He manages a botanical garden, the International Moringa Germplasm Collection, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. 

Mon, 14 Oct 2019 - 13:00

Pearson Bio Lecture Theatre, University Avenue, Upper Campus, UCT