Re: Peppered Moths - in black and white

Kevin O'Brien (
Thu, 1 Apr 1999 17:02:45 -0700

>On Tue, 30 Mar 1999, Kevin O'Brien wrote:
>> Lately, in my debates with David Tyler over this issue, I have accepted
>> the
>> creationist evaluation of the peppered moth scenario without much
>> objection
>> (what I objected to was the further claim that the peppered moth was no
>> longer a legitimate example of either evolution or natural selection).
>Delays in responding are entirely due to a heavy programme of
>conferences and meetings with lots of travelling. I cannot hope to
>respond to everything that has been written on this over the past two
>weeks. The first thing I would like to say is that I do not see this
>as a "creationist evaluation" issue. There is a tendency in
>exchanges on these issues to force arguments into the timeworn mould
>of creation vs Evolution. This is wide of the mark here. The issue
>is: "what is good science?" I have used the recent book by Michael
>Majerus to argue that the Peppered Moth research of Kettlewell and
>the subsequent use of it by Darwinists in their textbooks is NOT an
>example of good science. I regard Majerus's book as a helpful
>contribution to correcting the popular misconceptions.

There is only one problem with that: Majerus has affirmed that Kettelwell's
research IS good science, so the entire basis of your argument is false.

>Kevin also wrote:
>>"It will be interesting to see if creationists on this listserv, such
>>as Art Chadwick, David Tyler and Vernon Jenkins, will admit they were
>>wrong about the demise of the peppered moth and post a retraction, or
>>will prefer to ignore their error ...."
>I have read nothing in the recent posts that suggests to me that I
>have made any errors of judgment on this matter.

Then you missed the posts I posted for Don Frack demonstrating that Majerus
affirms Kettlewell's research as good science. Your error was to rely on
the Coyne and Telegraph articles for an evaluation of Majerus's claims in
his book. Don Frack has demonstrated that these articles made the wrong
evaluation: Majerus does not repudiate Kettlewell's research but supports
it. And in fact rather than admit to that error you are trying to claim
that it is not an error at all. Maybe you should take Majerus's own advice
and read his book rather than simply rely on these two articles.

>I would like to
>repeat that my comments have been made in the interests of good
>science. I am not interested in the part politics approach
>to creation vs evolution.

Then from the interest of good science you should change your opinion now
that you know Majerus's true claims and affirm that Kettlewell's research
in fact is good science.

>> The bottom line is this: not only is the peppered moth scenario not
>> dead,
>> it isn't even sick; it is still considered to be an example of "evolution
>> in
>> action" even though the scenario is not as simple as it is frequently
>> portrayed to be.
>This is hardly a "bottom line" statement. Clearly, some "consider"
>the Peppered Moth to be an example of evolution in action - but can
>these views be defended scientifically (answer - no).

On the contrary, the answer is yes. Your answer is based on the Coyne and
Telegraph articles; if you read Majerus's book you'll find that these
articles were wrong and that the peppered moth as an example of evolution in
action can be scientifically defended.

>you say that the situation is not as simple as it is frequently
>portrayed to be - but that is what the controversy is about!

Except that you have been confused by the Coyne and Telegraph articles into
believing that Majerus's critique of the popularized story is also a
critique of the scientific research as well. Again, this is false; read
Majerus's book.

>contribution to this debate is to say that we have almost NO
>understanding of the factors associated with the population changes
>in the Peppered Moth.

This is not true; read Majerus's book, which also described later-day
experiments that have verified Kettlewell's original research.

>Nothing has been revealed in the various
>posts over the past two weeks that has indicated a basis in science
>for understanding the observed changes.

See the posts I posted for Don Frack; read Majerus's book.

>Opinions of commentators are
>quoted, and they are of interest, but they do not equate with
>legitimate conclusions drawn from scientific research.

Does Majerus's informed opinion based on his research and the research of
others equate with "legitimate conclusions drawn from scientific research",
especially considering that his "opinions" are actually restatements of
those "legitimate conclusions"?

>Majerus is quoted as saying:
>> "My view of the rise and fall of the melanic peppered moth is that
>> differential bird predation in more or less polluted regions, together
>> with
>> migration, are primarily responsible, almost to the exclusion of other
>> factors."
>What has escaped my notice is the evidence for such a view. Birds
>have been seen eating moths - but is that responsible for the changes
>in the population of the light and dark forms? We do not know.

Yes we do, and some of that evidence has been discussed; read Majerus's book
for the rest.

>The Majerus quote continues:
>> "My view of the story, is, I know, not held by all other entomologists or
>> evolutionary biologists. However, in reviewing well over 100 papers
>> written
>> about this case, and having collected peppered moths in the wild for over
>> 30
>> years, I am unconvinced that there must be other important selective
>> factors
>> involved in the evolution of melanism in the peppered moth in Britain. My
>> view may well be proved to be incorrect. However, if it is to be refuted,
>> research into the case must continue and be amplified. Recently (New York
>> Times, 12 November 1996), the eminent evolutionary biologist Dr Douglas
>> I.
>> Futuyma said of the peppered moth story: 'We don't know the whole story
>> yet, but it should be possible to find out what it is'."
>I do not think Majerus has his finger on the pulse here. His view is
>not "correct" until it is refuted!

I love the way you twisted his words around. He said that his view might
turn out to be wrong, but since it is based on personal research and the
research of others, if it is to be refuted it must be refuted with
additional research. In other words, his view is in fact a "legitimate
conclusion drawn from scientific research"; as such, counter evidence would
need to be presented to refute his "legitimate conclusion".

>Rather, it is a hypothesis which has not been validated.

Before this revelation came out, you were accepting Majerus's supposed
statements as if they were Holy Writ; now suddenly his statements are
unvalidated hypotheses. This is exactly the kind of hypocritical about-face
denial I expected of you creationists. You were wrong about Majerus and
Kettlewell's research; why can't you simply admit to it?

In any event, Majerus's "hypothesis" has been validated; read his book for
the evidence.

>I agree with the Futuyma quote - and point
>out that he is saying something different to Majerus.

So now you are a mind reader, able to divine Futuyma's thoughts behind his

>I thank Paul Nelson for his constructive post and the excerpt from
>Theodore Sargent et al., "The 'Classical' Explanation of Industrial
>Melanism: Assessing the Evidence," _Evolutionary Biology_30 (1998):

Sargent et al. is not the voice of a new concensus, but rather a distinct
minority in a group of scientists who all agree with and support Kettlewell
and Majerus. Many of Sargent et al.'s arguments are untestable and he
offers no alternative mechanism.

>I would like to highlight two sentences:
> And, without observations of
> naturally resting moths, there can be no observations
> of natural acts of predation on them.

These experiments have been done and they verify Kettlewell's original
research; read Majerus's book for the details. Sargent et al. doesn't even
reference Majerus's book, so they probably didn't know about these
experiments (or they are ignoring them).

> Thus, we have
> no real knowledge of either the predators involved
> or their impact with respect to survivorship and
> fitness in even the best-studied species exhibiting
> industrial melanism.
>This is crucial, Kevin. The Peppered Moth can be used as the
>"best example" of unnatural selection - but its relevance to the
>Darwinian model of evolutionary change is undetermined. In my
>opinion, any one interested in the integrity of science should affirm

Read Majerus's book; there you will find the evidence that affirms exactly

Kevin L. O'Brien