Peppered Moths - round 2 (part 1 of 2)

Donald Frack (
Mon, 5 Apr 1999 20:52:34 -0700

Peppered Moths - round 2 (part 1 of 2)

Don Frack

WARNING: This is long (est 12+ pages)! If you're not up for a lot of
reading, pass.

Introduction and a little history

I'll make this introduction short. I assume that all interested parties
have "Peppered Moths - in black and white" - a two parter I sent March 30.
The references cited here are listed in that document.

Through a rather weird series of events, some of which I cannot relate, my
post wound up in the hands of Paul Nelson (who I did not know was on the
Calvin list), Jonathan Wells, and apparently Phillip Johnson. Since
Johnson's lecture in mid-March was the "last straw" goading me to
investigate this issue, I guess there is some cosmic balance in him
receiving it within a few hours after I posted it. Such is the power of the

The events before and after I wrote earlier remind me of the scene in the
Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her companions enter the chamber of the
Wizard. There we were, staring into the horrifying countenance of a
scowling Michael Majerus, chastising us for accepting the discredited
follies of Bernard Kettlewell. At the sides of this apparition are our
fellow creationist list members, paying homage and casting messages of
retribution at us for our sins.

In this version, I play Toto (some would probably rather I played Ray
Bolger's Strawman - stay with the motif here). I pulled back a curtain, and
we saw a "machine" and Jerry Coyne (whose part in this I'm still confused
about). The REAL Majerus appears beside us, almost as surprised, and rather
irritated at the illusion.

Suddenly, we are now transported to another chamber, with its own
apparitions - the "EVERYONE KNOWS" and "THEY" images, with the "tree trunk
sin" to show our shame. Majerus has been cast down, and we should now shun

Well, although Paul Nelson has been helping to hold the new curtain, I'm
going to see if I can pull this one back too. If I haven't wasted my time,
I think you'll see Wells as the new operator - at the same old machine.
That machine is a single paper, known below as Sargent et al (you may
remember it from the first round). It's full significance to the story will
only be clear when other curtains are pulled, not my job here.


This document is a reply to Well's response to what I wrote, or, more
correctly, what Michael Majerus wrote to me. My own work seems to have
taken second place to Majerus's comments, which have deprived creationists
of the claim that he supports the position described in a review of his book
in _Nature_ by Jerry Coyne. I was specifically asked to comment on Wells -
I'm sure the requestor will see that he gets a copy ASAP. I take Wells point
for point.

I sent Majerus a copy of what I had written originally, then later Wells
response to me. Majerus has kindly just responded to latter. This was a very
pleasant surprise, since I didn't even ask him to respond; I only wanted him
to see what was done with his original reply to me, which seemed only fair.
I therefore have two parts, as with my original message, one from me and the
reply to Wells from Majerus. In a couple of places, I have added comments
here that seemed appropriate after reading Majerus's reply. These are
indicated by [square brackets].

Indented portions ">" are from Wells response, as normally reproduced in
these lists.

>British geneticist Michael Majerus (whose emailed response to Don Frack was
>just posted by Phil) 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."
>" 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.

Responding here is a waste of time, unless I quote long passages from
Majerus. Interested parties should read Majerus's book.

[Addendum: I frequently hit myself in the head and remind myself "never
trust a creationist quote". I just did that again. Majerus quotes himself
in full to contradict Wells. Only looking at the two juxtaposed did I
notice that Wells changed "**précised** pepper moth story" to "**basic**
pepper moth story" (Majerus does not point this word change out explicitly,
which is why I mention it here). Précis (accent over e) means "a concise
summary of a book, article or document; an abstract." Majerus makes clear
that he means the general textbook stories leave out details, and that this
is a matter of limited space. His Conclusion to the chapter begins with:
"The case of the peppered moth is undoubtedly more complex and fascinating
than most biology textbooks have space to relate." This distinction is why
he chose the word carefully that Wells changed. A trivial point is that
Wells quotes the wrong page, unless the paperback numbering is different.
It's page 116, not 117. See Majerus's comments on this in his response sent
to me.]

>Here are the essential facts:
>(1) 150 years ago most peppered moths in the U.K. and U.S. were light with
>dark spots (hence "peppered"); with the advent of industrialization, moth
>populations became predominantly black ("melanic" - hence "industrial
>melanism"); once pollution-control measures were introduced in the 1950's,
>the proportion of light-colored moths increased again in most areas.
>(2) In the 1950's, British physician and amateur lepidopterist Bernard
>Kettlewell performed a series of experiments to test the idea that
>industrial melanism was due to cryptic coloration and selective bird
>predation. Kettlewell released captive moths (including light and dark
>forms) onto nearby tree trunks in the morning and watched through
>binoculars as predatory birds picked them off and ate them; he also
>recaptured moths that evening and compared the proportion of light- and
>dark- colored ones with their pre-release proportions. Kettlewell did
>parallel experiments in polluted and unpolluted woodlands, and found
>convincing evidence that (a) light- and dark- colored moths differed
>dramatically in the effectiveness of their camouflage on polluted (dark)
>and unpolluted (light, because lichen-covered) tree trunks; (b) birds were
>more likely to eat the more conspicuous moths; and (c) the recapture
>proportions showed that better-camouflaged moths were more likely to
>survive the day.

These two points call for no response from me. Note however that Wells
admits that Kettlewell provided "convincing evidence" for his experiments.
[Addendum: See Majerus's comments on this.]

>(3) Subsequent studies in both the U.K. and U.S. showed, unexpectedly, that
>the rise and fall of industrial melanism was not correlated with lichen
>cover on tree trunks.

I covered this in my original discussion of Coyne's "book review," and that
it is not a universal opinion. Since Wells discusses only Kettlewell's work
(below), only one of the following four combinations of relationships
applies. [Addendum: See Majerus's comments on this.]

1) rise in U. S. - does not apply
2) decline in U. S. - does not apply
3) rise in England - applies, Wells's claim contradicts all writings I have
4) decline in England - does not apply, post-dates Kettlewell's work

As far as I can see, he is wrong about this one (#3).

>(4) In the 1980's, several researchers showed independently that peppered
>moths do not rest on tree trunks in the wild. The moths normally fly only
>at night, and before dawn they apparently take up positions high in the
>canopy, underneath horizontal branches. In 40 years of field work, only
>one peppered moth was found resting on a tree trunk in the wild. Although
>some uncertainty remains about where the moths actually do rest during the
>day, it is absolutely clear that they do not rest on vertical tree trunks.

This paragraph encompasses the crux of Wells argument from the literature.
I will therefore consider it in detail. In my original evaluation of this
subject, I concluded that the "book review" by Coyne appeared in fact to be
a summary of Sargent et al (1998). Although Wells never refers to this
paper directly, his response is filled with clear references to it. Wells
attempts to influence readers with what are frequently inappropriate
embellishments. I noted "vertical tree trunks" (above), and thought "as
opposed to what, horizontal tree trunks?" Part of my evaluation of Wells
was to reread Sargent et al. Deja vu hit when I encountered the same phrase
in the latter (among others). Comparing the two texts directly showed a
striking resemblance - with the exception of the sentence about "only one
pepper moth". This last I will consider separately.


Wells: "In the 1980's, several researchers showed independently that
peppered moths do not rest on tree trunks in the wild."

The "several researchers" are named in Sargent et al (p. 305, last
paragraph), and discussed in papers by Majerus. Each researcher's
experiments are discussed briefly in Majerus's book (p. 122) (I have not
seen the originals - yet). Of these, Mikkola studied resting positions of
male moths "in large experimental cages containing sections of trees"
(Majerus, 1998:122); Liebert and Brakefield "conducted similar experiments
[to Mikkola] using females and obtained similar results" (Majerus,
1998:122). The only "researchers" left in these lists are papers by Majerus
himself (some with co-authors), who studied them "in the wild".


Wells: "The moths normally fly only at night, and before dawn they
apparently take up positions high in the canopy, underneath horizontal

Sargent et al: "It was Mikkola (1979) who obtained the first experimental
evidence that these moths tend to rest high in trees, mostly on the
undersides of small horizontal branches." (p. 305, last paragraph).

Compare with Wells statement. Majerus says Mikkola worked on moths in cages.
Note each authors above say "high in the canopy", or "high in the trees."


Wells: "In 40 years of field work, only one peppered moth was found resting
on a tree trunk in the wild."

This is not in the Sargent et al paragraph, nor elsewhere in their article.
Its importance will be considered later.


Wells: "Although some uncertainty remains about where the moths actually do
rest during the day, it is absolutely clear that they do not rest on
vertical tree trunks."

Sargent et al: "Despite this uncertainty as to where the moths rest, it
seems clear that individuals do not commonly rest on vertical tree trunks."
(p. 306, continues from previous quote on bottom of p. 305). Compare with
Wells statement.

Note the difference between Wells statement and Sargent et al consists
mainly of a hardening in Wells version, changing "seems clear" to
"absolutely clear" and "do not commonly rest" to "do not rest."

Is it just me, or does it look like the well-read Wells is simply copying
Sargent et al? If sentence three is removed, Wells' looks like a copy from
one paragraph of Sargent et al (pp. 305-306). Note elsewhere how often I
comment that critics are relying on this one paper.


To repeat Wells: "In 40 years of field work, ***only one*** peppered moth
was found resting on a tree trunk in the wild."

To repeat Coyne: "Majerus notes that the most serious problem is that B.
betularia probably does not rest on tree trunks -- ***exactly two*** moths
have been seen in such a position in more than 40 years of intensive

As we can see, Wells has lost a moth. (***emphasis*** above mine)

In my original evaluation, I criticized Coyne for misrepresenting the part
of Majerus's book he cites on this, then that he completely ignores the very
next paragraph in which Majerus discusses his own collections, including two
data tables on the facing page. These data comprise the largest data set
available. Wells quotes from Majerus's book, so you would think he has read
it. More directly, I am discussing here a response *BY* Wells *TO* the two
postings I made earlier, in which I pointed explicitly to this defect by
Coyne and cite Majerus's discussion and tables explicitly. The "number of
moths" issue is crucial to both Coyne's and Wells's arguments, as can be
seen by the emphasis each places on it.

To settle this issue, I will reproduce Majerus's tables 6.1 and 6.2. I add
calculations for the convenience of the reader, these are identified in
square brackets - [Totals], [Percent]. I also combine the data from these
two tables into a third table here. I have excluded two categories from the
second table (see *** in Table 6.2), I will explain this later. Please
examine each table and compare it to the claims by Wells and Coyne: that
either "only one" or "exactly two" moths have been found on tree trunks.
Majerus separates trunks into two categories. I will explain this later.
Take the two trunk categories separately or together [all Tr=nn], as you see
fit in evaluating the data. Satisfy yourself that you understand the data
from "tree trunks" compared to other resting sites before you continue my

Type of peppered moths in Majerus's tables.
typica = typical mottled form
insularia = a less common, partially melanistic form caused by another gene
for melanism
carbonaria = classic melanic form


Majerus, 1998 tables, p. 123. ([bracketed calculations] added by me)

Table 6.1. Resting positions found in the wild 1964-1996.

typica insularia carbonaria [Total] [Percent]
Exposed Trunks 3 1 2 6 12.8
Unexposed Trunks 2 1 3 6 12.8 [all Tr=25.6]
Trunk/Branch joint 10 4 6 20 42.6
Branches 5 3 7 15 31.9
[Total] 20 9 7 47
[Percent] 42.6 19.1 38.3

Table 6.2. Resting positions found in vicinity of light traps, etc.

typica insularia carbonaria [Total] [Percent]
Exposed Trunks 25 7 16 48 30.8
Unexposed Trunks 10 6 6 22 14.1 [all Tr=44.9]
Trunk/Branch joint 33 10 23 66 42.3
Branches 9 4 7 20 12.8
[Total] 77 27 52 156
[Percent] 49.4 17.3 33.3

*** two categories ignored here as artifacts: foliage and man-made surfaces
Foliage 9 5 8 22 14.1%
Man-made Surfaces 13 5 7 25 16.0%

[Tables 6.1 and 6.2 combined]

typica insularia carbonaria [Total] [Percent]
Exposed Trunks 28 8 18 54 26.6
Unexposed Trunks 12 7 9 28 13.8 [all Tr=40.4]
Trunk/Branch joint 43 14 29 86 42.4
Branches 14 7 14 35 17.2
[Total] 77 27 52 203
[Percent] 37.9 13.3 25.6

*** two categories ignored here as artifacts: foliage and man-made
Foliage 9 5 8 22 10.8%
Man-made Surfaces 13 5 7 25 12.3%


The reason that Majerus separates "exposed trunks" from "unexposed trunks"
can be seen in his discussions of predation experiments on trunk/branches,
rather than trunks. Not surprisingly, moths that rest in shadowed areas
(unexposed trunks, trunk/branches, etc.) are not as obvious to visual
predators as are ones clearly exposed (e. g. exposed trunks). Although
Majerus says his trunk/branch predation results support the "classic" ones
from trunks, he believes that the more distinct differences of older results
must be moderated by the new evaluation so that models developed from the
data represent the actual distribution of the moths, and not be skewed
toward where the moths have been easiest to observe. Majerus also argues for
this change based on discrepancies between theoretical models of fitness and
actual data, which apparently lead to his initial experiments.

Majerus's arguments are understandable, but may be two-edged. Consider the
following: 1) We are more likely to find moths at low levels, where they are
simply easier to reach or see. 2) Moths on the trunks are more obvious to
birds, so predation experiments will overstate the advantage of the cryptic
form compared to an "averaged" location. A paradox ensues because if the
moths are most visible on the trunks, and birds take them more frequently,
then the removal rate will be highest on the exposed trunks, and the actual
numbers, relative to all resting locations, will be underrepresented when
the researcher is looking for specimens. That is, birds will be actively
removing moths most frequently in the very location that is easiest for the
researcher to find them. I have summarized Majerus from my understanding of
his arguments, and I assume something like the last conclusion is what
Grant's (1998) book review is referring to in questioning Majerus's
conclusions of the matter. Welcome to real-world biological research.

We need have no discussion regarding the small sample size, particularly for
Table 6.1. This is discussed by Majerus, who bemoans the lack of data and
the need for larger samples. This is especially true since Majerus and
other researchers use complex models for larger data sets from simple
trapping, which Majerus would obviously like to do here too. My point is
that Coyne and Wells ignore data published by Majerus not only here, but
also in 1987. The latter paper (Majerus, 1987) is referred to by Sargent et
al six times.

I would expect a lay reader to treat the data as presented above, with the
exception of including my ignored categories (I included the data so you can
recalculate if you like). Table 6.2, which Majerus treats in the text as
supplemental information, suffers from probable defects that are clear to
experienced field entomologists who use light traps, etc. When moths leave
the vicinity of lights in the morning some may rest near the light rather
than take up "natural" positions (hence the excluded categories). I am not
criticizing Majerus, who does not attempt to make much of these data, just
pointing out what a lay reader might mistakenly do. My point here is that
in addition to ignoring Table 6.1, which can be taken at face value as far
as practical research and small data sets allow, Wells also ignores the
larger data set in Table 6.2. He will undoubtedly reply that he knows the
problem with Table 6.2, so I will simply point out that Majerus's data do
not support Wells claim of "only one moth", and that there are significant
data supporting the presence of moths on trunks.

Majerus is THE major proponent of canopy sites being the natural resting
places of peppered moths, and that we need to qualify results from trunks.
It is therefore ironic that Wells criticizes Majerus for not going with what
"everyone knows." In my original evaluation, I cited the review of
Majerus's book by his colleague Lawrence Cook (1998). Cook is a long-time r
esearcher on peppered moths; I have seen papers back to the early 1970's.
Although complimentary overall, Cook briefly takes Majerus to task for his
discussion on resting positions. I note this because of what Wells says
"everyone knows".

Cook's review interestingly comments next "Such minor differences may be
settled by experimentation and discussion, but the peppered moth example is
widely quoted, and disagreement sometimes taken to render the whole fabric
of the story suspect (e. g. Lambert et al, 1986)." My point here is that
Cook seems to be using the referenced paper specifically to identify a
gadfly on "traditional" pepper moth research, and that two of the authors of
this paper (Lambert and Millar) are the "et al" co-authors of the recent
paper Sargent et al that I have been pointing out is the basis of the
arguments of Coyne and Wells (and on this list Paul Nelson, who is clearly
following Wells). Hence we have acknowledged, long-time critics used as the
ONLY authorities for claims that there is widespread criticism of "the
traditional story."

>Facts (3) and (4) show beyond a doubt that Kettlewell's experiments did not
>reflect natural conditions. He released night-flying moths in daylight;
>apparently disoriented, they settled on nearby tree trunks, where surprised
>birds picked them off and ate them. As far as I can tell from the
>literature, though, Kettlewell himself was an honest and careful
>experimenter; he had no idea at the time that his experimental conditions
>did not reflect natural ones. When other experimenters subsequently glued
>dead moths to tree trunks to test the selective predation theory,
>Kettlewell objected that this was not good science.

"Fact 3" isn't, as I have already stated. Its only relevance to Kettlewell's
research (lichens during rise of the melanic form), does not appear to me to
support Wells claim. Much of the rest of the paragraph is empty rhetoric or
irrelevant to Wells's contention. Does Wells know moth behavior well enough
to talk about "apparently disoriented?" If a photo of the "surprised birds"
is available, I'd like to see it. What does a "surprised bird" look like?
I'd really like to read how Wells's source (whoever it is) determined they
were surprised. All of this is irrelevant anyway, since the purposes of
Kettlwell's experiments were to 1) demonstrate that birds will prey on
resting adult moths (a point doubted by both entomologists and
ornithologists until Kettlewell and Tinbergen filmed it), and 2) determine
if there is differential predation based in crypsis against the moth's
resting background. Both of these points are acknowledged as providing
"convincing evidence" by Wells himself earlier in this very response. I have
already cited Majerus in my original evaluation to the effect that
Kettlewell was aware of the limitations of his research methods, contrary to
what Wells says here. If Wells has read the literature as he claims, then
at minimum he has Majerus stating this in one of his papers and his book, as
well as material from me specifically correcting Coyne on this very point.
By the way, Wells comment about Kettlewell objecting to the use of dead
moths resembles Sargent et al, p. 309.

Also compare Wells's positive description of Kettlewell's abilities as a
researcher to Coyne's evaluation in the interview in the _Telegraph_ . The
interviewer says of Coyne "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

>Until the 1980's, then, it seemed empirically justified to believe that
>industrial melanism was due to cryptic coloration and selective predation.
>Even now, though it is clear that peppered moths do not normally rest on
>tree trunks, it is theoretically possible that industrial melanism was due,
>at least in part, to these factors; but evidence is lacking.

Wells begins here his attacks relying on the tree trunk argument, and that
if the resting position of the moths is not on the trunks, all previous data
are suspect if not irrelevant. I have already discussed the researchers in
"the 1980's". Of those I've seen discussed, only Majerus himself worked
from field collected data.

>An older hypothesis -- that melanism was induced directly by environmental
>pollutants -- was rejected years ago for lack of evidence, and because
>Kettlewell supposedly found evidence for the true cause. Of course, the
>discrediting of Kettlewell's evidence does not mean that environmental
>induction must be the cause; but the two hypotheses are now at least on a
>par, in the sense that they are equally unsupported. In other words,
>natural selection is no longer the only reasonable hypothesis -- unless one
>is a dogmatic Darwinist.

This "older hypothesis" is the one championed by Sargent et al, another
indication that it is Wells main, if not sole, source for his arguments
(regardless of how much of the literature he claims to have read). This
whole paragraph is the beginning of a continuing attack through the rest of
the response, based on what he would like the reader to believe, not on what
he can demonstrate. Wells trades off what little factual material he
presents for sheer rhetoric from here on.

Sargent et al discuss the history of the hypothesis that melanism is induced
by the environment, then the resulting change inherited without the inducing
agent being any longer needed, on p. 302 (and surrounding). Pre-20th
century papers were certainly speculations. Experiments were conducted in
and before the 1930's. Failed attempts to replicate the experiment and
criticism date from the 1930's, and skepticism continues to the present.
Sargent et al continue to argue for this position in 1998, but cite no
experimentation since the 1930's. The continued skepticism is hardly
surprisingly. Kettlewell's results have no bearing on this, since induction
is not necessarily inconsistent with selective predation, and the original
controversy preceded his work by 20 years. The fact is that induction is a
claim for the cause of the coloration, not what happens to the differently
colored moths. The claim that Kettlewell's results affected opinion on this
issue (by "dogmatic Darwinists") is not supported by other than wishful
thinking. No one is stopping any researcher from continuing such
experiments, and no supporter seems to claim any evidence at this time.
Paul Nelson talks about it being "on the table" (a common Johnsonism). It's
always been on the table - no one seems to have offered evidence to entice
us to swallow it.

>This, unfortunately, appears to be the case with Majerus, American
>geneticist Bruce Grant, American textbook writer Ken Miller, and certain
>other defenders of the classic peppered moth story. Technically, they have
>not been proved wrong, since removing empirical support does not
>necessarily falsify a hypothesis. But it does leave Darwinists out on a
>limb, so to speak.

Wells now continues his personal warfare against his straw "dogmatic
Darwinists." He continues to assume that the "tree trunk" argument simply
wipes out all past research. By categorizing Majerus and Grant (I don't
know of Miller's work), Wells is excluding two of the major researchers from
consideration. Grant, with various co-authors, is part of the largest survey
of peppered moths currently under way in the U. S. and England.

>There is a much more serious issue here, however -- the issue of deliberate
>scientific fraud. ALL of the photographs in biology textbooks which show
>peppered moths resting on tree trunks have been staged. I have
>corresponded with several of the lepidopterists who made these photographs;
>they either (a) glued dead specimens on tree trunks in order to photograph
>them, or (b) placed living specimens on tree trunks in bright light (which
>makes them quite torpid, so they stay whereever they're put). Most such
>photographs were made before the 1980's, when this approach was quite
>reasonable; as Majerus writes in his email response to Don Flack (which
>Phil posted to Phylogeny), "as long as the behaviour film is what actually
>happens in true life,... there is nothing wrong with this approach." So I
>see no reason to accuse the original photograph-makers of fraud.

We now get to the most disturbing part of Wells's response, actually the
topic that brought the subject to my attention. Claims of "deliberate
scientific fraud", made by one scientist against another are rare in my
experience. However, they are extremely common in anti-evolutionist
literature, most disappointingly in works by individuals claiming
credentials as scientists. I thought that the claim that many textbook
illustrations of peppered moths are staged (I assume this is probably true)
would be important here, but Wells lets photographers off the hook as long
as tree trunks were not an issue. The reasons I accept that most
photographs are staged are these: 1) It is far more efficient for a nature
photographer to set up situations that resemble actual ones for comparisons
than to stumble on them, you could find separate individuals commonly and
yet not find the comparison you want in years of search, 2) Consider the
fact that Majerus's collection averages about 1.5 moths per year. This shows
that finding two specimens in the same year are common, but two moths at the
same time, on the same tree, of both forms, close enough to photograph
together is vanishingly small.

Staging should, of course, never misrepresent the purpose of the
illustration. In the present case, moths must always be placed on
backgrounds that represent their actual environment (unless any deviation is
made perfectly clear in the legend).

Consider the following conditions:

1) Majerus collected 6 of 47 specimens each on "exposed trunks" and
"unexposed trunks" (6 or 12 total, take your pick). Assume he photographed
each specimen he collected (he actually shows numerous photos in his book).
This means he has 6 or 12 legitimately photographed specimens from a
location Wells claims only supports "fraud."

2) Assume we remove Majerus's specimen from a trunk and replace it with a
reared on from the lab. Remembering that staging is not the issue, is a
photo of this specimen "fraud?"

3) Even assuming that no specimens from tree trunks were accepted as
"natural", as Wells attempts to presume, what about this: We place a moth
on a convenient tree trunk and photograph it. We then climb a ladder and
place the same moth on a large branch of the same tree and photograph it
there. Assuming the degree of lichen development or soot covering (to take
the common examples) are pretty much alike on the trunk and branches, the
two photos may be essentially indistinguishable. Even if the photographer
can tell the two apart, they may be so similar that a layman wouldn't know
one from the other anyway. If the photographer submits the trunk picture
because the angle is better, etc., and no one else can tell which was taken
from which location, has the photographer committed "deliberate scientific
fraud" in an illustration of cryptic coloration?

All photos I have seen of peppered moths on cryptic backgrounds are shown to
demonstrate that they blend into the background. All of us would prefer
completely natural images, but you are naive if you think nature
photographers to not commonly stage photographs, particularly of small
specimens like insects. If the photo shows the type of background the moths
actually rest on (light or lichen-covered versus soot-covered), is the
difference of a few feet of physical location really worth the extraordinary
attacks made by Wells and supported by other anti-evolutionists on this

>MOTHS DO NOT REST ON TREE TRUNKS IN THE WILD. This means that every time
>those staged photographs have been re-published since the 1980's
>constitutes a case of deliberate scientific fraud. Michael Majerus is
>being dishonest, and textbook-writers are lying to biology students. The
>behavior of these people is downright scandalous.

Note the complete irony of the capitalized sentence. Majerus is the
foremost proponent (in the literature I've seen) of the idea that the moths
most commonly rest higher in the trees. His data are the only ones I have
seen cited as evidence of was happens "in the wild." Majerus is attacked as
"dishonest" and "text-book writers are lying to biology students", their
behavior is "scandalous." Based on what? Majerus can answer for himself.
The attack against authors of textbooks is completely phony. I have
supplied insect photos for books, etc. I was asked if I had " a good
picture of ...". I have never been asked for the circumstances under which
I took the photo. I, of course, am ultimately responsible if the photo
misrepresents the circumstances, unless the user knowingly misrepresents it.
If someone uses one of my photos, and *mistakenly* fouls up the description,
it is unfortunate but not fraud. Fraud implies intent to deceive, and this
is clearly and aggressively what Wells is pursuing. His attack assumes that
textbook authors are both are experts on peppered moths to the degree that
they follow the technical literature, and that they do not accept what LOOKS
like the right picture based on specifics they are probably not even
qualified to judge. And this all is irrelevant unless what Wells says is

>I know what I'm talking about. I spent much of last summer reading the
>primary literature (email me if you want the references). Frankly, I was
>shocked by what I found -- not only that the evidence for the moths' true
>resting-places has been known since the 1980's, but also that people like
>Majerus and Miller continue to deceive the public.
>Fraud is fraud. It's time to tell it like it is.

I guess it's *possible* that Wells really can support some the factual part
of his claim at some time in the future, from some references he doesn't use
here, but I don't believe he's even in the right ballpark this try. I make
no claim to have read more than Majerus's book and the literature cited in
Biosis for 1993-1999. That was my initial purpose, and from all accounts I
succeeded in my original goal. If Wells is right, he hasn't demonstrated it
here. He attacks both Michael Majerus and Bruce Grant. If Grant's frequent
co-authors, such as Cyril Clarke, are added to the ridicule list (and I
don't know why they wouldn't be), then Wells is well on his way to rejecting
all the well-known researchers on this subject. An awesome, and, at face
value, an incredibly arrogant, claim.

In any case, his conclusions and attacks are mean-spirited and unjustified,
regardless of the facts about peppered moths. If he wants to convince me
that non-entomologists who write high school textbooks (the category I
assume he has in mind, and the one that anti-evolutionists typically attack)
are guilty as charged, then he's going to have to show that this news is so
well known in the general literature that such authors could not reasonably
be expected to miss it. Furthermore, it wrongly (in my opinion) assumes
that the textbook author is qualified to judge any particular photo selected
for use in at textbook. Many of these photos may be "stock" from suppliers
who are not even in a position to decide (if asked) whether a photo was
taken from a trunk or large branch (although I would assume the former for
most). Finally, if a textbook author seeks the opinion of an expert on
peppered moths, should he pick Majerus or Wells? If Majerus says Wells is
all wet, shouldn't he take Majerus's opinion? Or is Wells now the expert?


Comments from discussions and further comments by Wells introduced to this
list by supporters.

Paul Nelson has spoken for Wells on the Calvin list. This is more
appropriate than most of you know. Clearly, he was getting information from
Wells. If you look back through the archives of this discussion, you will
find that Nelson cites Sargent et al extensively in support of Wells
position. Even where he cites another paper, it is a previous one by two of
the same authors (Lambert et al, 1987). One of my points has been that the
"widespread" evidence that "everyone knows" has only been supported by this
one reference. Why is this?

Comments by Wells via Art Chadwick:
> ALL the evidence points to the fact that peppered moths do not
> rest on tree
> trunks in the wild. Majerus acknowledges this in his 1998 book. It
> doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this simple fact seriously
> undermines the relevance of Kettlewell's observations. The scientific
> method would require, at the very least, that observations be repeated on
> moths resting in their natural habitat.

Wells keeps talking about "ALL the evidence" - where is it? He is
TECHNICALLY correct in his assertion about Majerus statement. Majerus does
literally say this, obviously advocating the trunk/branch resting position
as norm. But Wells does so by picking individual sentences contrary to the
context I have given above, and taken isolated words that contradict the
data presented (the Tables above). How is it that Wells accepts Majerus's
statement in contradiction to the evidence when convenient, ignores the hard
data when it's not, and calls Majerus dishonest still later? That
"observations be repeated on
moths resting in their natural habitat" is EXACTLY what Majerus did.

> And it doesn't even take a scientist to see that photographs of peppered
> moths manually positioned on tree trunks do not represent their natural
> condition. The continued use of these photographs by textbook-writers
> constitutes deliberate misrepresentation, i.e., fraud.

I guess I should turn in my union pin. Without overburdening the point
(well, maybe), I've collected moths over the last 30 years, about 10 years
of which I did constant collecting. In those active years, I probably
averaged 3 or 4 trips per month from March to October - all to collect
moths. Some of these trips extended for 1-2 weeks during which the routine
was eat, sleep and collect bugs (not necessarily in that priority). At
lights, on some of these trips, there would be so many moths and other
insects that the bed sheets used to cover the ground and reflect the light
from the vertical were nearly completely covered. I think I'm qualified to
have an opinion here.

Many of the photos used to illustrate peppered moths are quite well done,
and if staged are NOT obvious to the layman. Wells is begging the question
as to how obvious things are. How many of you feel qualified to determine
what is the "natural condition" of the moths? I have already pointed out
that comparison of moth against background is the point of most peppered
moth photos. Does Wells means that "manually positioned" moths that
illustrate the camouflage well, won't if the moths were "naturally
positioned"? I find this absurd. If that is not his meaning, then he's still
whining about tree trunks - a fact you can't necessarily determine from the
photo itself.