Evolution as tinkerer, not engineer: need help (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Thu Apr 22 17:02:50 UTC 2010

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> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf Of victor steinbok
> Sent: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 10:25 PM
> Subject: Evolution as tinkerer, not engineer: need help
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Evolution as tinkerer, not engineer: need help
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> To make this even more complicated, GB has another only partially
> helpful hit:
> http://fwd4.me/Amb
> The city and its sciences. By Cristoforo Sergio Bertuglia, Giuliano
> Bianchi, Alfredo Mela. Physica-Verlag, 1998
> > Adaptations are not designed /de novo/ by nature. Rather, they are
> jury-rigged, using the material available at the time. Evolution ...
> a 'tinkerer' not an engineer. (Oster and Wilson, 1984)
> I am quite certain that neither Jacob nor Gould were behind the 1968
> quotation (but it would help if I had the book). And either Oster or
> Wilson were the authors in 1979, or the authors of The City and Its
> Sciences missed the attribution or Oster and Wilson are
> plagiarist--the modification from the '68 quote to the '84 quote is
> minimal and would not get past courts if push came to shove. I don't
> believe the last one to be likely. Since the two quotations are not
> identical, it seems unlikely that the 1984 paper is a reprint of the
> 1979 one (if that's the original date).
> So, at the moment, I have multiple attributions to Gould and Jacob who
> wrote entire articles that can be summed up with the requisite
> statement, but likely never wrote the actual statement, one /exact/
> quote from authors unknown from 1968, and another identical quote from
> yet another pair of authors in 1984. So this one should be fun.

Your Oster and Wilson quote from 1984 has an ellipsis which I can fill.

EBSCOhost has a June 1994 article (Waldman, Michael. "Systematic errors
and theory of natural selection." _American Economic Review_, Jun 94,
Vol. 84 Issue 3, p482, 16p;) which includes a block quote of Oster and
Wilson, without the ellipsis:

"Nevertheless, we must always bear in mind the crucial fact that
evolution is a history-dependent process. Adaptations are not "designed"
de novo by nature. Rather, they are jury-rigged, using the material
available at the time. Evolution in the words of [F.] Jacob (1977), is a
"tinkerer," not an engineer! As systems become more complex, the
historical accidents play a more and more central role in determining
the evolutionary path they will follow. (George F. Oster and Edward O.
Wilson, 1984 pp. 283-84) "

References at the end of the article include:

Jacob, F. "Evolution and Tinkering." Science, 10 June 1977, 796(4295),
pp. 1161-66.

Oster, George F. and Wilson, Edward O. "A Critique of Optimization
Theory in Evolutionary Biology," in Elliot Sober, ed.. _Conceptual
issues in evolutionary biology_.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984, pp.

I think Jacob revisited the phrase (possibly republishing the article)
in his book:
Jacob, F. 1982. _The Possible and the Actual_. Seattle, WA: University
of Washington Press.

This link:

indicates that Jacob may have used the phrase, or at least expressed a
similar thought, as early as 1973 (but I can't trace it down).

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