Peppered moths are back

| 74 Comments

Update: If it wasn’t before, this radio show is online as RealAudio at the BBC Website.

I don’t think this has been blogged yet. Earlier this month BBC Radio 4 broadcast a double interview with Michael Majerus, oft-mentioned on PT for his peppered moth research, and Jerry Coyne, a well known evolutionary biologist and regular critic of ID/creationism, and an oft-cited critic of aspects of the peppered moth research.

Quentin Cooper, the reporter, does an excellent job reviewing the whole history of the situation, the influence of Coyne’s critique, and Majerus’s new results. The piece tells the key points of the whole complex story in just a few minutes. And at the end, Coyne basically says that it’s time for the peppered moths to go back into the textbooks, which is a significant thing to say given Coyne’s past criticisms.

Links:

Majerus, M. E. N. (1998). Melanism: evolution in action. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.

Coyne, J. (1998). “Not black and white.” Nature, 396: 35-36. (Free online here (HTML), here (pdf))

Quentin Cooper, Michael Majerus, Jerry Coyne (2007). “The Peppered Moth.” Interview on The Material World, BBC Radio 4, October 11, 2007. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science[…]071011.shtml

74 Comments

Evolution research 1 - IDC Mothra monster 0.

No rematch expected at this time, the mothra disappeared among the tree trunks and can’t be pinned down.

I may be missing something, but when I try to listen to the show, the BBC site says it’s not available.

The BBC only allows you to ‘listen again’ for a week after broadcast. Stupid legalities…

I have a copy of the podcast for this broadcast if anyone wants it and can tell me how to make it available.

The peppered moth story is good science in action. I was taught it at a Northern English school too many years ago to think about and was disappointed later when the facts didn’t seem to match the theory. Majerus’s quiet collection of observed data now corrects that misunderstanding. Coyne doesn’t go of in a huff, refusing to believe the new data because it contradicts his previous comments, instead he embraces it.

How different from the creationist/ID movement. This from the uncommondescent web site:- “Majerus is unlikely to persuade skeptical evolutionary biologists that the peppered moth story, even when told with Kettlewell’s shortcomings corrected, is a good model for evolutionary theory generally.”

Perhaps they should rename themselves cynical anti-evolutionary non-biologists, purely in the interests of accuracy.

Acleron Wrote:

Perhaps they should rename themselves cynical anti-evolutionary non-biologists, purely in the interests of accuracy.

Yes, but since when have they ever been interested in accuracy?

But it’s still just a Lepidoptera !

(I’d use a more specific taxon name, but I don’t know where peppered moths fit on the http://www.tolweb.org/Lepidoptera/8231 tree.)

Henry

Acleron – if you could email it to matzkeATberkeley.edu or set up a private FTP I would be grateful.

You can get a PowerPoint file (pretty big) of a talk by Majerus or a transcript in PDF here:

http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/Research/majerus.htm

The PowerPoint file has some excellent pix but does not add much to the transcript.

This is all fine and good, but the really important thing is: are the moths in the photo glued in place?

The moth photos in Majerus’s powerpoint are unstaged, as-found-in-nature moths. The moths in the opening post above look like they are alive, but they are on a piece of cloth or something – I bet they are moths that Majerus raised.

“I don’t think this has been blogged yet”…

Oh, that hurts!

Just to be an antennahead geek: Peppered moths are Biston betularia, in the family Geometridae (inchworm moths.)

Is that in this clade with the swallowtail moths - http://www.tolweb.org/Geometroidea/12031 ?

Biston betularia

thanks ive been misspelling that for years (blushes, cuz i should know better)…Betulas are birches.Betulas are birches. Betulas are birches

What I find most offensive about the Peppered Moth saga is the way so many say that photos of moths pinned to trees are fraudulent - eg Well, a YEC”geologist” Art Chadwick and many others .

This alone shows them for what they are

Michael

Creationist misunderstanding knows few bounds. The moth story is one of miicroevolution which they claim to accept. Do they have better examples of microevolution? (Do they understand microevolution?)

I think something about that moth story just bugs them. :)

Henry

Nice article!

By the way, please check out my blog, I am currently doing a series called “Evolution for Creationists” and I want to hear what you have to say.

http://aigbusted.blogspot.com

-Ryan

Les Lane Wrote:

Creationist misunderstanding knows few bounds.

And beyond which they “fill the gaps” with misrepresentation.

Les Lane Wrote:

The moth story is one of microevolution which they claim to accept. Do they have better examples of microevolution? (Do they understand microevolution?)

Many of them understand it well enough to know exactly when to bait-and-switch with “macroevolution.” When they complain about “might makes right,” and the cruelty of natural selection, all evolution is suspect, but when cornered they conveniently “forget” that “microevolution” alone can rationalize all their negative implications.

In fact, the whole micro/macro thing, nonstandard definitions and all, is, IMO, a smokescreen to avoid confronting common descent directly, because most of them know that they do not have an alternative to that. A few, like Behe, even admit it.

This is OT, but I don’t know where to send it otherwise. Possibly a regular PT author can post about it?

This morning, on NPR’s Morning Edition, a terrific example of the uselessness and potential danger to human safety and knowledge of ID was inadvertently shown. In a story (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/[…]yId=16656615) about the Afghan air force, the following quote was made near the end:

But whatever tussles exist over the air corps’ mission, Lt. Col. Abdul Shafi Nouri says the corps is far happier these days than during its years under the Taliban. The Afghan engineer in charge of maintenance says the Taliban didn’t care whether the aircraft were airworthy. If one went down, so be it.

Nouri recalls how a Taliban official stopped his team from approaching one particular crash site. The official lifted his hands in the air and said a prayer for the dead crew.

He then sent Nouri’s team away, saying the crash was God’s will and merited no further review.

This is right in line with the philosophy of Intelligent Design.

I wish that Majerus would back away from the absolutely ludicrous position that seems to be shared by too many practicing science that Creationism should be taught in philosophy or ethics classes. I can suppport that only if one adds that the philosophy classes should look at just how Creationism must reject scientific methodology in order to perservere. I’m not exactly sure the proper way to teach Creationism in ethics. I’m not exactly sure it’s easy to explain to even undergraduate students why it’s wrong to reject science in favour of a particular view of the world.

Frank J:

Les Lane Wrote:

Creationist misunderstanding knows few bounds.

When they complain about “might makes right,” and the cruelty of natural selection, all evolution is suspect, but when cornered they conveniently “forget” that “microevolution” alone can rationalize all their negative implications.

Not to mention that the cruelty in nature is there regardless of whether it evolved or was deliberately engineered to be that way.

Les Lane Wrote: Creationist misunderstanding knows few bounds.

I disagree. It is what we do understand very well, evolution’s claims, that makes many of us believe in Creation. The more of it I read, the more secure I am.

Dr. Michael Denton’s “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” is a typical example of how evolutionists are rejecting evolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if ID is actually a child of evolution, of scientists rejecting methodological naturalism, and following the evidence where it leads. Dr. Antony Flew’s “There is a God” illustrates this.

Microevolution is not evolution, but genetic variations using previously existing genetic material.

Evolution requires massive additions of genetic material, life from non-life (spontaneous generation), etc.

Louis Pasteur dealt what he called “a mortal blow” to spontaneous generation in 1862, but he failed to realize that people would continue believing in evolution in spite of the evidence.

David Martin said: Les Lane Wrote: Creationist misunderstanding knows few bounds.

I disagree. It is what we do understand very well, evolution’s claims, that makes many of us believe in Creation. The more of it I read, the more secure I am. cut for length Evolution requires massive additions of genetic material, life from non-life (spontaneous generation), etc.

Louis Pasteur dealt what he called “a mortal blow” to spontaneous generation in 1862, but he failed to realize that people would continue believing in evolution in spite of the evidence.

Well, you contradict yourself in your post.

1. First you claim that the more you understand evolutionary claims, the more sure they are false.

2. You then demonstrate a total lack of understanding, far worse than a high schoolers. Evolution does not require massive amounts of spontaneous generation. It is descent with modification of existing genomes. And macroevolution is just microevolution times N.

What requires massive amounts of spontaneous generation is the various creation theories. The standard creo models all involve goddidit, the deity poofing everything into existence whenever their magical mythology runs into a roadblock.

One thing that bugs me about the criticism of the photographs as fraudulent. Is a family photograph fraudulent because you don’t find families standing shoulder to shoulder, unmoving and facing the same direction?

I doubt that creationists will take any notice of the peppered moth’s redemption. We will hear that it is a fraud so long as there are creationists.

David Martin lying:

Dr. Michael Denton’s “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” is a typical example of how evolutionists are rejecting evolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if ID is actually a child of evolution, of scientists rejecting methodological naturalism, and following the evidence where it leads. Dr. Antony Flew’s “There is a God” illustrates this.

Well you have presented a classic creo stew of lies and mistakes.

1. ID is, in fact, 200 years old. It (Paleyism) predates Darwin by decades. In 200 years it has produced nothing of note, just gone in circles.

2. Evolution is not being rejected by scientists. This is just a standard creationist lie. Acceptance of the fact of evolution by US scientists in relevant fields is around 99%, higher in Europe. The few who don’t freely admit that it is due to their religious bias.

Dr. Anthony Flew is a philosopher, not a biologist, in his 80’s who has a neurological condition, probably Alzheimers. Who has been exploited by evil religious fanatics for their own ends. His views on evolution, if any, are irrelevant.

Speaking of evil, why do you creo fundies just lie all the time? This is an enduring mystery that none of you ever bother to explain. My guess, “we lie a lot, therefore god exists.” Something wrong with this logic somewhere.

scientists rejecting methodological naturalism, and following the evidence where it leads.

This is so dimwitted, and hackneyed to boot, that it’s become comical.

Methodological naturalism is how you follow evidence where it leads. That’s what it’s for. The above-quoted phrase makes no more sense than “carpenters rejecting the use of hammers, in order to drive nails.”

CJO: The above-quoted phrase makes no more sense than “carpenters rejecting the use of hammers, in order to drive nails.”

CJO,

It makes perfect sense for people who don’t know what carpentry is, talking to people who don’t know what a hammer or a nail or driving is! They don’t realize how funny they are.

I think we should set up honey pot sites, talking about why evolution is all bullshit because, “the ornithomorphorgical signature of fossils in the Atlas mountains is significantly different from the fossils of the Andes and it conclusively proves the impossibility of common descent between the Patagogian taxons with Australo-African genera. The primordial magnetic nucleus decay is completely different!”

Then use google to see how many of these phony technical terms could be found quoted in creationist sites/blogs. We should organize a championship, to find who could write a bogus science article that garners the most extensive citation record in the creationist blogs/sites.

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dave:

Michael, thanks for the advice about Altholz’s article being largely fictional, I’ll treat it with more caution.

However, it is my understanding that geologists such as Sedgwick, who taught Darwin a Catastrophism which reconciled ancient earth with noah’s flood, were well ahead of conservative bishops who still held young earth views in the mid 19th century. It was common for clergymen to be naturalists and scientists, and your point about evangelical opposition to science being a myth is well made - though from what I’ve seen there were different evangelical factions with very different views, as there still are today.

(First I’ve learnt how to quote!! Sorry a bit thick!)

Thanks Dave.

Before 1831 ie before he took Sedgwick round Wales (I have an article on if anyone e-mails me) S was a mild catastrophist and only accepted Noah’s Flood for dilivium i.e. drift deposits which turned out to be glacial. By his Welsh trip with CD he was a mild uniformitaarian but that did not change his geology in any major way.As CD he drew large cheques (correct spelling!) on the bank of time.

As for Bishops I cannot find one Anglican bishop from 1800 who did not accept an old earth, though initially some spoke “literally” but never attacked geology. In the mid19th century I don’t think there was one YEC bishop though lots of conservative ones like Sumner who argued strongly for an old earth. So far I have found only one YEC Dean (Cockburn of York) and one YEC Oxbridge don . As for Wilberforce he attended Buckland’s geology lectures for 3 years in the 1820s and was as old earth as I am!!

As some may know I am an Anglican vicar with a geological background and even get my stuff published in Special Publications of the Geol Soc of London and from my double interest I have noted as many Anglican clergy on geology from 1800 to today. Results

From 1800-1855 I looked at c150 about 15-20% were YE but the proportion declined as the years went by and some turned OE

Also from 1817 to the 1850s a minority began to oppose geology and argue for YEC ideas but fizzled out. They were trounced by Sedgwick, Buckland Pye Smith Miller and others , most of whom were evangelical

From 1855-1970 I have looked at hundreds and managed to find one WH Griffith Thomas an Englishman who went to Canada in 1910 and got in with McCready Price and rejected his previous evolutionary views.

From 1970 YEs began to grow and now some 5- 10% of Anglican clergy in England are YEC and two of the most influential were not YEC when I knew them at theological seminary in the early 70s.

I am awaiting with dread for the appointment of the first YEC bishop

Michael

Thanks for that info, Michael. I’ve tried having a look but have forgotten where I came across a description of the clerical scientists such as Sedgwick being rebuffed by a conservative clergyman, iirc a bishop, whose literalism simply came from lack of knowledge of current science. Aileen Fyfe agrees with what you’re saying: “Even the majority of evangelicals were, by the 1840s, willing to accept non-literal interpretations of Genesis which could be fitted with the latest accepted discoveries in geology or astronomy. The few people who stressed the threat to faith of these discoveries tended to be the working-class radicals, while the extreme evangelicals who promoted Scriptural Geology to retain a literal reading of Genesis were an equally vocal minority.” http://www.victorianweb.org/science[…]eligion.html

Davis A. Young gives an indication of the complex tussle of ideas at that time. http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p82.htm

However, this is a bit of a sidetrack for me, and I don’t know how you’d rate these sources.

dave:

Thanks for that info, Michael. I’ve tried having a look but have forgotten where I came across a description of the clerical scientists such as Sedgwick being rebuffed by a conservative clergyman, iirc a bishop, whose literalism simply came from lack of knowledge of current science. Aileen Fyfe agrees with what you’re saying: “Even the majority of evangelicals were, by the 1840s, willing to accept non-literal interpretations of Genesis which could be fitted with the latest accepted discoveries in geology or astronomy. The few people who stressed the threat to faith of these discoveries tended to be the working-class radicals, while the extreme evangelicals who promoted Scriptural Geology to retain a literal reading of Genesis were an equally vocal minority.” http://www.victorianweb.org/science[…]eligion.html

Davis A. Young gives an indication of the complex tussle of ideas at that time. http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p82.htm

However, this is a bit of a sidetrack for me, and I don’t know how you’d rate these sources.

These are two good articles by Aileen Fyfe and Dave Young. Dave is revising his book Christianity and the Age of the World. Dave like me has an honorable mention on the AIG site for being a heretic. Aileen is doing some interesting work on popular science and Chrisitanity

sedgwick was attacked by Henry Cole a thoroughly obnoxious evangelical clergyman who could have been employed by AIG!! I have just written it up in a study of Sedgwick the evangelical.

I have a couple of papers on disc so if you request me at [Enable javascript to see this email address.]

Michael

Don’t forget to point out Majerus’ conclusion:

Moths rest on tree trunks, THEREFORE God doesn’t exist.

Lying sack o’ shit alert.

Mats:

Don’t forget to point out Majerus’ conclusion:

Moths rest on tree trunks, THEREFORE God doesn’t exist.

Moths have big balls

Just a final one, but is it relevant.

I am chair of Governors of a Lacashire church school. They won an envirmental competition for schools - the Otter trophy and were presented with a trophy and various books, which were signed by David Bellamy and Michael Majerus. So our school now has a copy of a book on plants and animals of the bible signed by among others Michael Majerus. Sadly I couldnt go to meet him.

Why is everyone so quick to accept Majerus’ results in an uncritical fashion?

Look at his powerpoint presentation slides #34-37. In #37, the second column is entitled: “Expected selection against carb. based on form frequency differences between years”. What does that mean exactly? How does he calculate it? What numbers does he use?

The third column can be derived from #35’s numbers on predation. Well, the correlation coefficient between column two and column three is 75%. Wonderful. But does that mean anything? Compare the columns per year and they’re not very impressively the same.

Also, #34 shows a continous decline in the carbonaria form, never rising from one year to the next (based on trapping), yet the “observed selection” for 2006 shows that, in fact, the percentage predation was less for the carbonaria than typica. Not knowing what in the world Majerus means by his ‘column two’, nonetheless one gets the impression that the number of carbonaria to be found in the trappings should have gone up; but it didn’t; it continued to go down.

Have we another “just-so” story on our hands? If we’re capable of critical thinking, then I think some more investigating into just what Majerus’ methods were is needed before jumping to the conclusion that anything at all has been demonstrated here.

Why is everyone so quick to accept Majerus’ results in an uncritical fashion?

1) Why not? People who depend on the results for something will no doubt check it out more carefully than most.

2) Who says everybody is uncritical? The real criticisms if any would be in the literature, not here.

3) It is but one experiment out of millions.

Henry

But their still just moths! :p

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Lino D’Ischia:

Why is everyone so quick to accept Majerus’ results in an uncritical fashion?

Look at his powerpoint presentation slides #34-37. In #37, the second column is entitled: “Expected selection against carb. based on form frequency differences between years”. What does that mean exactly? How does he calculate it? What numbers does he use?

The third column can be derived from #35’s numbers on predation. Well, the correlation coefficient between column two and column three is 75%. Wonderful. But does that mean anything? Compare the columns per year and they’re not very impressively the same.

Also, #34 shows a continous decline in the carbonaria form, never rising from one year to the next (based on trapping), yet the “observed selection” for 2006 shows that, in fact, the percentage predation was less for the carbonaria than typica. Not knowing what in the world Majerus means by his ‘column two’, nonetheless one gets the impression that the number of carbonaria to be found in the trappings should have gone up; but it didn’t; it continued to go down.

Have we another “just-so” story on our hands? If we’re capable of critical thinking, then I think some more investigating into just what Majerus’ methods were is needed before jumping to the conclusion that anything at all has been demonstrated here.

Maybe because one of the more important reasons why, according to the study, morpha carbonaria is declining is because there are fewer soot-blackened trees to hide on, and that the proliferation of UV light-reflecting crustose lichens help to expose these moths (which do not reflect UV light like morpha typica)?

Hey, that’s interesting - when a syntax error hoses the post, the first few words of do show up okay in the “recent comments” box on the main page.

Henry

I think it may be that the preview box doesn’t read the html

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