Robert Matthews on the Peppered Moth

David J. Tyler (
Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:13:46 GMT

To the group:

Yesterday's "Sunday Telegraph" has a piece on the Peppered Moth story
which is likely to be of interest. The article appears to be inspired
by Michael Majerus' book, and Matthews has additional comments from
Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. Coyne is particularly strong: the
Kettlewell experiments are essentially useless, and the papers
"wouldn't get published today". The Dawkins' comment is a massive
understatement - bearing in mind that Kettlewell made so much of
having obtained "Darwin's missing evidence".

The URL is below - but you may find it easier to search the archives
of 14 March 1999 using the word "Kettlewell".


Electronic Telegraph
ISSUE 1388 Sunday 14 March 1999

Scientists pick holes in Darwin moth theory
By Robert Matthews, Science Correspondent

EVOLUTION experts are quietly admitting that one of their most
cherished examples of Darwin's theory, the rise and fall of the
peppered moth, is based on a series of scientific blunders.

Experiments using the moth in the Fifties and long believed to prove
the truth of natural selection are now thought to be worthless, having
been designed to come up with the "right" answer. Scientists now admit
that they do not know the real explanation for the fate of Biston
betularia, whose story is recounted in almost every textbook on

[snipped material]

Prof Coyne insisted, however, that the moths are almost certainly an
example of natural selection: "I'm certainly not saying Darwin is
wrong. The real cause is probably connected with pollution - but
beyond that I wouldn't want to go." He said, however, that Dr
Kettlewell's widely-quoted experiments are essentially useless. "There
is a lot of wishful thinking and design flaws in them, and they
wouldn't get published today."

Some fear that the new theories will be seized on by creationists to
fuel "sensationalist" claims questioning all evidence for Darwin.
Richard Dawkins, the professor of the public understanding of science
at Oxford University and author of The Selfish Gene, said: "The
details of any experiments done 40 years ago are bound to be
vulnerable to detailed criticism. But, in any case, nothing momentous
hangs on these experiments."