RSS 2.0 Feed

» Welcome Guest Log In :: Register

  Topic: Peppered moth resting locations, and the assertions of Wells and others..< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

Posts: 319
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Sep. 22 2002,14:40   

Wells has an unusual talent for mixing several obfuscations together into a story that looks convincing to anyone who hasn't done some reading of the actual moth experts.

Some things to watch out for:

Obfuscation between "moths don't rest on exposed positions on tree trunks" and "moths don't rest on tree trunks".  Wells' quotes usually say the former, but Wells will argue the latter.

Obfuscation about what "'normal' resting position" means to the experts Wells cites.

Audience-dependent obfuscation about whether or not to mention Majerus' data on the natural resting positions of moths.  Wells has been bashed about the head so many times with this that in his most recent writing (reviewing Hooper's book for Christianity Today, here) he has finally brought the data forth rather than having a skeptic do it.  However, reports indicate that his normal strategy in front of friendly audiences is to not mention this inconvient data at all and instead talk about "fraudulent photos" in textbooks (but if peppered moths do rest on tree trunks at least sometimes, then any objection to the photos has become moot).

In every Wells debate on peppered moths that I've read, his ultimate last-ditch position on peppered moths is to talk about how small those observed numbers are in proportion to the thousands of moths observed over the years.  E.g., here:


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." Padian then went on to defend the classic story by claiming that peppered moths "rest on tree trunks 26% of the time" (The Quarterly Review of Biology, March 2002).

Padian bases his astonishing claim (which contradicts the published scientific literature) on the fact that 47 moths were found resting in the wild between 1964 and 1996, and that one quarter of these were on tree trunks. During the same period, however, many thousands of moths were caught in nighttime traps, so the 47 found in natural resting positions were less than 1 percent of the moths studied, and much less than 1 percent of all peppered moths living in the wild. Padian might as well claim that a quarter of all ocean fish are visible to predatory birds because he did statistics on the few that can be spotted from a boat.

Character assassination supported by transparently bogus statistics—how does a highly placed scientist end up indulging in such tactics? Obviously, the peppered moth story involves more than objective science.

'Course, Wells doesn't mention that the "many thousands of moths" caught in traps were caught in traps that attract moths with light or pheromones and which are therefore utterly irrelevant to determining natural resting positions.  All this was pointed out to Wells in the very first moth debate on the Calvin listserv:

(URLs reviewed here: )

Fracks response to the traps claim:


[Frack, "RE: My last word": ]

I have only one comment on Wells's "last word". He wrote:

> 1. Since 1988, it has been well known to everyone who studies peppered
> moths that tree trunks are not their normal resting places. Michael
> Majerus lists six moths on exposed tree trunks over a forty year period,
> but this is an insignificant proportion of the tens of thousands that were
> observed during the same period. There simply is no question about it:
> peppered moths do not normally rest on tree trunks in the wild.

I have already been contacted by a list member asking me about the "tens of thousands" of moths. Attentive readers will probably have noticed that we were talking about Majerus's sample of field collected moths from resting positions as 47, and Wells's incessant "one moth". Wells has found me out. You can now be told the truth that the normal resting position of peppered moths is in the bottom tray of light traps, for that is where these specimens were "observed."

...and yet, you will find Wells ending every debate on peppered moths (with Frack, Miller, Dave Thomas, and probably others) with this false Ace.

And, of course, tactically leaving out important pieces of information like this is exactly what the Matt Daemon character in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" did at the beginning of the movie (the part cited in the Padian review), and is indeed the major fault of all of Wells' antievolution polemics.


Edited by niiicholas on Sep. 22 2002,14:42

  8 replies since Sep. 21 2002,13:06 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  


Track this topic Email this topic Print this topic

[ Read the Board Rules ] | [Useful Links] | [Evolving Designs]