Re: Peppered Moths again

Kevin O'Brien (
Wed, 31 Mar 1999 16:48:51 -0700

>Jonathan Wells doesn't read this list, so he's not here to defend
>himself. For the record:
>1. Jonathan's research into the peppered moth experiments began
>several months before the Coyne review or the Telegraph article, and
>in fact was conducted entirely independent of both. He began examining
>the Kettlewell experiments in the context of a book he is writing
>with UC-Berkeley biology professor Richard Strohmann. Jonathan
>read deeply in the primary literature and personally contacted
>many of the principals in the field. He more than qualified to have
>an opinion on the matter.

Any fool can have an opinion, even an informed opinion, but what counts in
science is what you do, not what you know. As I pointed out to Art, Majerus
has spent more than several months actually doing research in (not just
reading about) melanism in insects and has published far more extensively in
that subject than Wells ever will. Majerus is acknowledged by his peers has
a leading authority on this subject; at best Wells is simply a dilettante
with an axe to grind. I would predict that ten years from now Majerus will
still be an acknowledged authority and Wells will be largely forgotten.

>2. Problems with the Kettlewell experiments and their interpretation
>are well-known, and the critical literature extends far beyond Michael

If by that you mean that Majerus is not the only word on this subject, you
are correct. But as Don Frack pointed out, of all the literature published
on the peppered moth since 1993, only one piece is critical of the subject
as an example of evolution.

>See, for instance, the latest volume of _Evolutionary
>Biology_, Theodore Sargent et al., "The 'Classical' Explanation of
>Industrial Melanism: Assessing the Evidence," _Evolutionary Biology_
>30 (1998): 299-322.

And this is it, which is perhaps why Coyne concentrated on this paper and
largely ignored all the rest. As Don Frack pointed out in his analysis,
while the Sargent et al. paper offers an alternative explanation they do not
offer any testable mechanism, and many of their arguments are themselves



>Interestingly, out of 100+ references, this paper cites Majerus only
>once, and it's not the recent book, but a 1982 paper.

I fail to see what significance this has, except to suggest that Sargent et
al. were avoiding Majerus's book because it was too hard to directly refute.

>Sargent et al.
>conclude, "Of course, the 'classical' explanation may be true, in
>whole or in part. We contend, however, that there is little persuasive
>evidence, in the form of rigorous and replicated observations and
>experiments, to support this explanation at the present time" (p. 318).

You make it sound like Sargent et al. is the new concensus, and that Majerus
has -- practically overnight -- been overthrown. In point of fact Sargent
et al. is a distinct minority. He may turn out to be right, but for now his
conclusion is refuted by many others who are just as knowledgeable on this
subject as he is, if not more so.

Kevin L. O'Brien