The Peppered Moth; was "Native Australian budgerigars are blue in colou

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: The Peppered Moth; was "Native Australian budgerigars are blue in colour"
From: Andrew Hobbs <>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 20:31:34 +0900

I dispute very strongly your suggestions about the peppered moth. It is
still one of the strongest, best supported cases of evolution and it has
every right to be quoted in text books. In fact I would question the
motives of an author of a modern textbook on General Biology if it
started omitting this as an example.

Let's look at the references quoted.  For example, the second reference
was an article written by Jonathon Wells, PhD. His address is given as

Jonathan Wells, Ph.D.
Department of Molecular Cell Biology
University of California
Berkeley, California, USA

(What it doesn't say is that Jonathon Wells is also a Fellow of the
Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington US. A writer, Nina Shapiro,
wrote an article about the Discovery Institue, titled "The New
Creationists: Seattle's Discovery Institute leads a national movement
challenging Darwinism." which I suggest says it all.

In the article Shapiro says "The national media has come calling because
the 11-year-old institute, co-founded by onetime Reagan assistant Bruce
Chapman and politico-turned-futurist George Gilder, is at the center of
a new movement challenging the validity of Darwinian evolution.")

Anyway, in Wells' article he selectively quotes M. Majerus, as follows
:- “In a recent book on melanism, Majerus criticizes the "artificiality"
of much previous work in this area, noting that "in most predation
experiments peppered moths have been positioned on vertical tree trunks,
despite the fact that they rarely chose such surfaces to rest upon in
the wild."^17 It seems that the classical example of natural selection
is actually an example of unnatural selection.” (M.E.N. Majerus,
Melanism: Evolution in Action, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998)

It is very selective because one gets the impression that Majerus is
critical of the whole notion of peppered moth selection. However in fact
Majerus overwhelmingly concludes that the peppered moth story is a good
example of evolution but was trying to make the point that the situation
in evolutionary terms was not quite as simple as originally envisaged.

This idea is exemplified by Bruce Grant in an article in the journal
'Evolution'. Here he says

'Majerus is quoted as "In a recent book on melanism, Majerus criticizes
the "artificiality" of much previous work in this area, noting that "in
most predation experiments peppered moths have been positioned on
vertical tree trunks, despite the fact that they rarely chose such
surfaces to rest upon in the wild."17 It seems that the classical
example of natural selection is actually an example of unnatural
selection." even though the entire article comes down overwhelmingly
supporting the original story of selection.'

Bruce S Grant Evolution 53(3), 1999, pp 980-984; "Fine Tuning the
Peppered Moth Paradigm"
(view text at

Grant then goes on and in the summary concludes

"...Majerus allows that the basic story is more complicated than general
accounts reveal, but it is also true that none of the complications so
far identified have challenged the role assigned to selective predation
as the primary explanation for industrial melanism in peppered moths.
Opinions differ about the relative importance of migration and other
forms of selection. It's essential to define the problems, to question
assumptions, and to challenge dogma. This is the norm in all active
fields of research. Majerus has succeeded admirably in communicating
this excitement to the reader. I would add this: Even if all of the
experiments relating to melanism in peppered moths were jettisoned, we
would still possess the most massive data set on record documenting what
Sewall Wright (1978) called "...the clearest case in which a conspicuous
evolutionary process has been actually observed." Certainly there are
other examples of natural selection. Our field would be in mighty bad
shape if there weren't. Industrial melanism in peppered moths remains
one of the best documented and easiest to understand."

If you read Grants article then you will come across several references
to T. D. Sargent, which clearly indicate that he thinks the arguments of
Sargent are invalid and have been invalidated by many authors for the
last 40 years (from 1968) even though Sargent still quotes them. (from
the first reference.)

As for the third article referenced in the email below, it is simply a
restatment of Well's position without references.

If you are still with me at this stage then try reading the two
references below.

and this summary from an article by Jim Mallet which says:-

   'What and who do you believe?'

'So, disbelieve the peppered moth story if you must. But if you do want
to disbelieve it, make sure your sources are good. Don't just take it
from the Daily Telegraph, Hooper's book, Ted Sargent's critiques,
Coyne's review, or word of mouth. Ask yourself: in what direction does
the weight of experimental, geographic, temporal evidence, and maybe
also a little common sense, lead? Read Laurence Cook's papers reviewing
the evidence, especially Cook (2000).[2]
<> Look at Fig. 3. I
believe that if you do this, you will conclude that the peppered moth
story is about as convincing an example of natural selection by bird
predators as you could possibly hope to find.'

      From “The peppered moth: a black and white story after all”, by
     Jim Mallet. Preprint from /Genetics Society News/ 50:34-38,
     January 2004 (Available at



Well Michael Tarburton wrote:
g'day Andrew and others interested in this thread,

On 18/03/2007, at 5:55 PM, Andrew Hobbs wrote:

What exactly is this "appalling non-scientific methodology" with
regard to the peppered moth.

Andrew Hobbs

You can read about the faulty experimental procedures used and the
illogical reasoning in a number of papers.  Here are three:
1.  Sargent, T.D. C.D. Millar, & D. M. Lambert. 1998.  The “Classical”
Explanation of Industrial Melanism, assessing the evidence.
Evolutionary Biology 30: 299-322.
 [review paper on the validity of many years of work on Biston
betularia and 99 other species in UK & NA].

2.  Wells, J. 1999.  Second Thoughts about Peppered Moths.  The
Scientist 13(11): 5 pp  taken from the internet.
[paper on many unjustifiable assumptions used, poor methods, bad
extrapolations in the research on Biston betularia.]

3. an interesting portion is as follows "Why was Sargent [one researcher
show poor methodology in Peppered Moth research] treated so badly? One
reason may simply be the tendency of scientists to cling to theories
that are mainstays of their careers. I suspect, though, that something
more is involved: a desire to protect the classic story as an icon of
Darwinian evolution in action. Although Jerry Coyne is an outspoken
evolutionist, and Ted Sargent is no creationist, the
evolution-creation controversy fosters a climate in which many
Darwinists regard criticism of supposed evidence for evolution as
giving aid and comfort to the Enemy.

Ironically, though, the truth or falsity of the peppered moth story is
largely irrelevant to the evolution-creation controversy. If the story
were true, it would show only a reversible shift in the proportions of
two varieties in a preexisting species—a result that even the most
uncompromising creationist could accept. And its falsity poses no
threat to the most uncompromising evolutionist, because there are now
other, better examples of natural selection within existing species.

Nevertheless, many defenders of Darwinian evolution rush to protect
the peppered moth icon as though their religion depended on it. In
2000, I wrote a book pointing out that the peppered moth story—though
of limited significance in itself—is part of a larger pattern of
systematic misrepresentation serving to prop up Darwin's theory. Kevin
Padian, a Berkeley professor and president of the National Center for
Science Education, a militantly pro-Darwin advocacy group, responded
by likening me to the sociopathic antihero of the film The Talented
Mr. Ripley. According to Padian, "a particularly egregious example of
Mr. Wells's talents is his treatment of the peppered moth.""  ... a
particularly interesting discussion follows

Some of the problems involved in this work included:
A. Gluing and pining moths (you can see the pins in some text
photographs) on tree trunks - where it was easy for the experimenter
to make observations -but it is now apparent that this is not where
this species spends the day - thus they are not normally exposed to
the birds that took the specimens in the tests.
B. Predicting that dark moths would decline as the pollution on trees
was cleaned up.  Facts are that the moths started reverting to the
peppered form before any detectable changes occurred in the forests.
C. When one group of researchers glued dead moths onto trunks in an
unpolluted forest, the birds took more of the dark - less camouflaged
moths (as predicted).  However, their traps captured four times as
many dark moths as light moths (the opposite of textbook predictions)

 Note the dates of these three publications.  Yet since then only one
University textbook that I know of has dropped the use of the Peppered
Moth as evidence for evolution.  I hope our bird research is more
scientific that this work on insects.  - and entomologists do not get
me wrong there is plenty of good work on insects.

Cheers and happy and accurate birding

Mike Tarburton


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