Re: Peppered Moths again

Kevin O'Brien (
Wed, 31 Mar 1999 09:06:42 -0700

>I post the following from another listserve:
>British geneticist Michael Majerus (whose responded by email to Don Frack's
>questions) has been a major player in the peppered moth business for years,
>and in 1998 he wrote an important book reviewing the topic (M.E.N. Majerus,
>MELANISM: EVOLUTION IN ACTION, Oxford University Press).
>Majerus's book includes a chapter entitled "The peppered moth story
>dissected." Surprisingly, on the first page (117) of that chapter appear
>both of the following statements:
>"...the basic peppered moth story is wrong, inaccurate, or incomplete, with
>respect to most of the story's component parts."

And what Dr. Wells fails to mention is that this refers to the popularized
story, the one we see in the public school textbooks and encyclopedias;
Majerus is not referring to the complete scientific scenario, as the rest of
his discussion in his book demonstrates.

>" my view....differential bird habitats affected by
>industrial pollution to different degrees, is the primary influence on the
>evolution of melanism in the peppered moth."
>A careful reading of the chapter reveals that this second statement is not
>based on evidence, but rather on Majerus's conviction that natural
>selection MUST be the cause of evolution.


>Fraud is fraud. It's time to tell it like it is.
>Jonathan Wells, Ph.D.

It would appear then that, rather than admit they were wrong about the
peppered moth, creationists are going to insist they were right all along,
regardless of what the evolutionists try to do to salvage the situation.

Notice, however, that a subtle shift in tactics has occurred. When the
Coyne and Telegraph articles first appeared, the creationists started
claiming that the peppered moth story was dead because Michael Majerus, a
British geneticist and expert on the peppered moth and melanism in insects,
criticized Kettlewell's experimental technique and concluded that the moths
do not support evolution or natural selection because selective predation
can no longer be accepted as the correct mechanism.

Now that it has been firmly established that in fact Majerus praises
Kettlewell's experimental technique, and affirms both that the moths are
still one of the best examples of evolution in action and that natural
selection by selective predation is still the best mechanism, creationists
have suddenly forgotten their original claims and are now saying that
Majerus cannot be trusted because he is "obviously" biased. They still use
the same evidence they used before, but now they leave Majerus's name off of
it, as if it had suddenly become idependent of Majerus instead of endorsed
by him.

This shift is dishonest in itself, but what is even more troubling is that
legitimate scientists like Art Chadwick and Jonathon Wells are endorsing it.
Equally distressing is the fact that neither Chadwick nor Wells are experts
in either the peppered moth or melanism in insects, yet they feel they are
better qualified to critique the validity of this subject than those who are
experts. Yet what is even more distressing is that they treat Majerus's
expertise as a flaw, implying that because he is an expert in this subject
his statements are biased and should be ignored.

When scientists believe their religious views so strongly that they reject
the expertise of their colleagues as being biased dogmatism and feel that
they can more objectively evaluate a subject they have no research
experience in or practical knowledge of, I believe they have abandoned their
scientific principles and thus should be treated like any other ignorant
creationist. In fact worse, because they know they are ignorant but choose
to believe their ignorance is stronger than their opponents' knowledge.

No doubt some people will see this as an ad hominem attack. Perhaps it is,
but when a scientist in essense says, "I don't know this subject, but I am
better qualified than Majerus to determine its validity," then he or she is
in fact saying that his or her ignorance is stronger than Majerus's
knowledge. And a scientist who makes such a claim looses all respect among
his or her colleagues. It's as simple as that.

Kevin L. O'Brien