Fraud In My Son’s Textbook? All “Bark” and No Bite (Updated)

Just to be clear… both moths existed before, and after the industrial revolution. At most this is an example of micro-evolution, which ALL creationists agree happens; at worst a hoax (or a mix of the two). This update was not informational but for aesthetic purposes. The update from 2012 to this 2007 post is closer to the bottom.

(Via Dr. Georgia Purdom*) Dr. Tommy Mitchell wrote on the peppered moth controversy several years ago:

The issue of Kettlewell’s shortcomings notwithstanding, the creationist has no problem with the results of his (and other subsequent researchers’) work. The concept that a less visible organism would survive better than a more visible one seems obvious in the extreme. . . . The creationist would agree that this population change represents natural selection. However, this change is most certainly not molecules-to-man evolution. Natural selection and molecules-to-man evolution are not the same thing, and many are led astray by the misuse of these terms.

No amount of posturing by the evolutionist can change the fact that these moths are still moths and will continue to be moths. The variation seen is simply the result of sorting and resorting of the genetic material present in the original moths. At no time has there been any new information introduced into the genome of the moth (which is what molecules-to-man evolution would require). There is no evidence of the beginnings of an intermediate form between the present moth and the creature it is destined to evolve into. Moths stay moths, fish stay fish, and people stay people, regardless of the great variety seen within each.

I’m very thankful for Majerus’ work, and it is a great example of how observational science works. A hypothesis is made and tested multiple times by multiple scientists and either shown to support or reject the initial hypothesis. However, when it comes to what this means in regard to how living things came to be in the past (historical science), the presuppositions of the scientists play a large role in how they interpret the science in the present and the conclusions they draw about the past. The evidence is clear, yet people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” and so “professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:18, 22).

* Dr. Purdom graduated with a PhD in molecular genetics from Ohio State University in 2000. Her specialty is cellular and molecular biology. Dr. Purdom’s graduate work focused on genetic regulation of factors important for bone remodeling.

She has published papers in the Journal of Neuroscience (under her maiden name Hickman), the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, and the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. She is a member of the American Society for Microbiology and American Society for Cell Biology. Following graduation, Dr. Purdom served as a professor of biology for six years at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio…

  • (Original post: Feb 13th, 2007 [videos added to this post], it is a partial portion of my response to a professor who was an editor of the book in question.)

Hope your week is well professor. I just want to repeat here what I said in our first correspondence, which is: “dark and light moths existed before the industrial revolution, dark and light moths existed after the Industrial Revolution… ergo, macroevolution is not in exemplified here.”

My Son’s Science Book

Let us start out this second conversation with an example from my son’s seventh-grade science book says this (p.144)

In the 1700’s , most English peppered moths were light gray in color. The light-colored moths had an advantage over black peppered moths because birds could not see them against the light-gray trees. Natural selection favored the light-colored moths over the black moths.

The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 1700s. People built factories to make cloth and other goods. Over time, smoke from the factories blackened the trunks of the trees. Now the light-colored moths were easier to see than the black ones. As a result, birds caught more light-colored moths. Natural selection favored the black moths. By 1850, almost all the peppered moths were black.

Of course my son’s science book has a photo (see above, enlarge by clicking) of trees with dark and light bark with dark and light moths on them to “show” how these moths would look. I put show in parenthesis to weed out what has been created in the lab versus what is actually found in nature. What I have clearly shown in my past posts is this, and take note how divergent the facts are from what my son’s science book said “happened”:

Short Summary

This will be the recurring subject of this letter, that is, “further studies done of ‘Peppered Moths’ have shown that their resting positions in nature are not in fact tree trunks.” We will also see that these moths rest underneath leaves and branches during daylight hours which also shows how Kettlewell biased his research work, which if being the case, undermines the legitimacy of the conclusions drawn both in your class and my son’s seventh-grade class. Some points to start:

It is now universally acknowledged that Cyril Clarke, who observed that in twenty-five years he had seen exactly two Biston (peppered moth) resting on tree trunks, was right after all: the normal resting place of peppered moths is not on tree trunks but in shaded areas under branches, where the color differences would be muted.
According to Majerus, theresting spot of the moths would be crucial: “If the relative fitness of the morphs of the peppered moth does depend on their crypsis [blending into the background], the resting position is crucially important to the estimation of fitness differences between the morphs” (M.E.N. Majerus. Melanism: Evolution in Action).
Additionally, the experiment densities were too high. In nature peppered moths are known to be very scantily distributed, but Bernard Kettlewell (the author of the experiment who’s work my son’s book summarizes) set out at least four moths per tree, and then replaced them immediately after one type were eaten. When he and Tinbergen were making their “historic” film, they laid the spread on even thicker.

A Recommended Book

Everyone now concedes that these densities were unnatural. Kettlewell was, in effect, creating a feeding tray, and the “intensity of predation” recorded in his experiments simply reflected a learned response by the local birds from Kettlewell’s previous “bird buffets” (An Evolutionary Tale Of Moths and Men: The Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth, pp.265-266). I recommend the chapter that explains the actual parameters to Kettlewells experiment (chpt 6), it is fascinating, and would mute any further discussion. Just two “unnatural” examples can also be found in the popular press:

“The moths filmed being eaten by the birds were laboratory-bred ones placed onto tree trunks by Kettlewell; they were so languid that he once had to warm them up on his car bonnet (hood).” Calgary Herald, p. D3, 21 March 1999.

“University of Massachusetts biologist Theodore Sargent helped glue moths onto trees for the famous NOVA documentary. He says textbooks and films have featured ‘a lot of fraudulent photographs’.” J.A. Coyne, Nature 396(6706):35–36. & The Washington Times, p. D8, 17 January 1999.

The Nitty Gritty

Sargent’s Work (from Of Moths and Men)

In a series of experiments between 1965 and 1969, Sargent tried to replicate Kettlewell’s background-preference work. He got contradictory results, and concluded that the moths’ resting places were genetically predetermined, not selected, as Kettlewell believed, by individual moths noting whether their “circumocular tufts” matched the background. Sargent has also found that the plants eaten by the larvae may induce or repress the expression of such “melanism” in adult moths (see Sargent T.R. et al. in M.K. Hecht et al, Evolutionary Biology 30:299–322, Plenum Press, New York, 1998).

The following point is important to the understanding of how these moths change color and how this may have also impacted the population change in coloration:

[Sargent] noticed that the caterpillars eating the new-growth pine were growing more slowly that the ones in the other container, and they pupated and eclosed later. In both groups all the male moths were melanics, and among females overall there was a fifty-fifty ratio of typicals and melanics. This meant that, assuming the melanism was controlled by a sex-linked dominant allele, the melanic female had mated with a heterozygous melanic male. However, there was a statistically significant difference between the two groups. More than two-thirds of new-growth-fed female moths were melanic, while two-thirds of the group fed on old-growth needles were typical. A second experiment on 8 July yielded similar results. Sargent believed he had hit paydirt. “Something in the new-growth needles was favouring the expression of adult melanism,” Sargent explains….

….Although Sargent would undoubtedly be described by nine out of ten eyewitnesses as “quiet and unassuming” – a mild, grandfatherly figure frequently overlooked by waiters in restaurants – he is a dangerous iconoclast in the eyes of the industrial melanism establishment. He finally published, with two co-authors, a devastating analysis of the classic industrial melanism story in 1998 (see below), concluding that “there is little persuasive evidence, in the form of rigorous and replicated observations and experiments, to support [the classical] explanation at the present time.” Although it enraged the community of his peers – Bruce Grant called it a “dreadful review” and a “hatchet job” – Sargent’s article was not the decisive confrontation of the peppered moth wars. That erupted in the 5 November 1998 issue of Nature, in a review written by Jerry A. Coyne, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, of a new book by Michael E.N. Majerus. The book, called Melanism: Evolution in Action, was a watershed event. Methodologically and incisively analyzing every flaw in Kettlewell’s experiments and in the industrial melanism paradigm, Majerus’s book left no doubt that the classic story was wrong in almost every detail. [I separated it here for ease]:

a. Peppered moths, if left to their own devices, do not rest on tree trunks;
b. bird vision is nothing like human vision [referring to Kettlewell’s vision scale that were part of his original thesis];
c. Kettlewell was wrong about how peppered moths choose their resting sites;
d. the high densities of moths he used may have skewed the results;
e. the method of release was faulty, and on and on.

The various predation have not replicated his results particularly well, and other “factors” kept having to be invoked to squeeze the data into the standard industrial melanism model. “The findings of [scientists since Kettlewell],” Majerus concluded, “show that the précised description of the basic peppered moth story is wrong, inaccurate, or incomplete, with respect to most of the component parts.”

The reader who makes his way through Majerus’s mountains of evidence is rather stunned to arrive at his verdict: that the basic story, while “undoubtedly more complex and fascinating than most biology textbooks have space to relate”, is perfectly fine. “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.”

Jerry Coyne (who reviewed Majerus’s book), however, was “horrified.” The sheer magnitude of the problems itemized in the book filled him with dismay and something like shame. After all, he too had been teaching the “standard Biston story” for years. When he dug out Kettlewell’s original papers he found that things were even worse than he thought. How was it that the experiment that Coyne called the “prize horse in our stable of examples” had been accepted unquestionably all this time? …(continued below)

[One answer I received from my son’s science teacher in regards to another subject but that fits here as well is that she “merely teaches what the state tells her to”, which I guess is in opposition to critical thinking and the scientific method. When she responded to me with the “state” quote I had visions of the story Animal Farm and 1984. In Animal Farm, Napoleon begins gradually to build up his power by taking Jessie and Bluebell’s newborn puppies and training them. Similar to this thinking of early “guided” education, Joseph Stalin said, “Education is a weapon whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” Mao was known to have regarded Darwin and radical evolutionist Huxley as his two favorite authors, and after the Communist revolution in China people were put into re-education camps and immediately taught ne0-Darwinian theory. And in 1984, the Ministry of Truth controls information: news, entertainment, education, and the arts, etc. While I do not think we are this far into the “control” of society, education is a very tough nut to crack. For instance, I often hear “change” happens, ergo evolution is true. In other words, centimeter changes in the beak of finches somehow is applied to how you and I came from rocks. Or even worse, how a colorless/orderless gas {hydrogen} turned into a body-odored-laden south-east Asian man. In similar fashion, people say climate changes, ergo man is causing it. These leaps in logic are an attempt to control language.]

…. Was it possible that the facts had been submerged because “such powerful stories discouraged close scrutiny?” Concluding that “we must discard Biston as a well-understood example of natural selection in action, although it is clearly a case of evolution,” he mused:

v B. betularia [peppered moth] shows the footprint of natural selection but we have not yet seen the feet. Majerus finds some solace in his analysis, claiming that the true story is likely to be more complex and interesting, but one senses that he is making a virtue of necessity [emphases added], My own reaction resembles the dismay attending my discovery, at the age of six, that it was my father and not Santa who brought the presents on Christmas eve. (from: Jerry Coyne. “Not Black and White,” Nature 396:35-6. November 5, 1998)

Not so much because of Majerus’s book as because of one review of it – especially the felicitous phrase about Santa Clause – the paragon of natural selection was ousted…. After summarizing the latest findings about peppered moths’ natural resting places in a 1999 article in The Scientist, biologist Jonathan Wells, a fellow of Seattle’s Discovery Institute, an Intelligent Design think tank, quipped: “It seems that the classical example of natural selection is actually an example of unnatural selection.”

Sargent’s original paper for further study: Theodore D. Sargent, Craig D. Miller and David Lambert. “The ‘Classical’ Explanation of Industrial Melanism,” in Evolutionary Biology, vol. 30, Max K. Hetch et al. (eds) (New York: Plentium Press; 1998.)

Even Staunch Evolutionist Douglas Futuyma Caves

“We [scientists] don’t always read the original papers,” admits Douglas Futuyma, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who a few years earlier had been quoted exulting over “parallel evolution” in the New York Times. “It is clear that there is much more going on here than bird attacks and camouflage.”

Follow the Evidence to its Conclusion

Professor, do you disagree or agree with the findings of Majerus, Sargent, Coyne, and others on this issue? Majerus believes it was a cause of birds and their migration patterns. Sargent has shown that melanism isn’t a population change in allele, but that other factors are involved with the production of melanism. What do you think?

A Final Point

Again… I wish to drive home this point about the photos found in my son’s science book and the photo’s shown at your university by dropping here another source on the matter:

….in the 1980s another problem emerged. Researchers discovered that peppered moths almost never rest on tree trunks. Instead, they apparently rest on the undersides of small horizontal branches in the tree canopy.

By releasing moths onto tree trunks during the day, Kettlewell had created an artificial situation. “Peppered moths are night-fliers, and normally find resting places on trees before dawn.” …. When released during the day, in illumination bright enough for human eyes, such moths can be expected to choose their resting places as quickly as possible — often in the wrong place. “The moths that Kettlewell released in the daytime remained exposed, becoming easy prey for predatory birds.”

This undermines the credibility of Kettlewell’s studies, as well as later studies by others, which used dead specimens glued or pinned to tree trunks.

It also undermines the credibility of the photos displayed in so many textbooks. Since tree trunks are such an unusual resting place, “pictures of peppered moths on tree trunks [were] staged. Some are made using dead specimens that are glued or pinned to the trunk, while others use live specimens that are manually placed in desired positions. Since peppered moths are quite torpid in daylight, they remain where they are put.”

These methods have also been used for television documentaries. One biologist [Theodore Sargent] admitted to a Washington Times reporter in 1999 that he had once glued dead specimens to a tree trunk for a TV documentary on peppered moths.

Scroll down to “Peppered Moths”

25-Years of Study

With this in mind, I want to quote a study found in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (by C.A. Clarke, G.S. Mani and G. Wynne) entitled “Evolution In Reverse: Clean Air And The Peppered Moth”:

“But the problem is that we do not know the resting sites of the moth during the day time. … In 25 years we have found only two betularia on the tree trunks or walls adjacent to our traps (one on an appropriate background and one not), and none elsewhere” (26:189–199, 1985; quote on p. 197)

Again – Fraud

We already know that University of Massachusetts biologist Theodore Sargent helped glue moths onto trees for a NOVA documentary. And we already know that he said textbooks and films have featured “a lot of fraudulent photographs” (J.A. Coyne, Nature 396 (6706):35–36; and, The Washington Times, p. D8, 17 January 1999). This underscores the issue that the photos in your textbook you use in class and my son’s teacher uses has in it, fraudulent photos.

Contemplation Time

Professor, I believe that critical thinking and the true scientific method (not here speaking of metaphysical naturalism) demand that you, and my son’s teacher introduce such information in an easily digestible way to show that there are controversies in these “matter of fact” presentations I find in CSUN’s textbook as well as my son’s textbook.

I look forward to your response.

Updated info below (May, 2012)

A recent partial publishing of Michael Majerus’s papers has added information regarding this story which has been brought to my attention demands attention, here is the update:

Between 2000 and 2006 the British biologist Michael Majerus studied the peppered moth in a large hectare splot near his house in Springfield, England, near Coton, Cambridgeshire. He carefully examined wild moths before starting and was able to determine that 36% of the moths really were found on the trunks of trees in daytime.[1] Moths generally don’t move in daytime, and a dark moth on a light colored tree would stand out to a bird. He then planted moths carefully on special sleeves on branches of trees and counted those that disappeared in the first 4 hours of daylight.[2] He found that there was a definite difference in the number of moths that disappeared when color was taken into account. About 80% of the light colored moths survived and only about 70% of the darker moths survived, which would make a definite difference in the long term populations of each color. He also managed to observe birds actually eating the moths in a quarter of the more than 4,000 cases he studied. (See CreationWiki)

There is some more information that needs to added to this discussion and it comes from the “Biology Letters” (BL) of the Royal Society Publishing:

Moths absent from resting positions 4 h after sunrise were presumed eaten by predators as they rarely fly away during daylight unless greatly disturbed. Of those that disappeared, approximately 26 per cent were seen being eaten by birds via binocular observations [10].

My question is in regards to the percentage actually seen being eaten, and it is more for a mathematician. Of THESE, there was a 10% deficit when compared to the dark moths that were eaten off these sleeves Majerus put on the branches. How did the 74% that were assumed eaten (and apparently didn’t fly off or were eaten by bats, who do not discriminate color) play into this equation of percentages?

My points [above] — in the old post — still stand, and one of the main points [above, in the 2007 post] especially stands, it is this:

Sargent has also found that the plants eaten by the larvae may induce or repress the expression of such “melanism” in adult moths (see Sargent T.R. et al. in M.K. Hecht et al, Evolutionary Biology 30:299–322, Plenum Press, New York, 1998).

In other words, the change in population has very little to do with bird predation during the Industrial Revolution (which documented the difference in “consumption rate” at a meager 10% difference), and possibly had more to do with repression of “melanism” by natural means. Majerus released a total of 4864 peppered moths over 6 years but only noted during a thorough investigation during a 5-year period only seeing 135 moths.

Numbers of wild peppered moths observed in different daytime resting positions, 2001–2006. Previous authors had argued that moths rarely rested on tree trunks during the day, and that many predation experiments employing tree trunks were therefore unnatural. In these new observations by Majerus, 35% of the 135 moths observed, both melanic and typical, were indeed found resting on tree trunks. (BL)

Could he have missed much more in the high part of the trees? Maybe the percentages are much, much lower. Majerus is not omniscient… so the number could have been 2%, considering the availability of cover in his surroundings. I can imagine the authors of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything having a field day with this. Of note from the Biology Letters is this:

While climbing trees in the experimental site in order to set up sleeves for the predation experiment (see below), Majerus systematically scrutinized trunks, branches and twigs of a limited set of trees and recorded natural resting positions of all wild moths he found. The 135 observations he obtained here add considerably to the less-extensive resting site data previously published. (BL)



What total was prior to this that allowed for such an authoritative commentary in my son’s biology text book!? This is pretty weak substantiation to show that natural selection (black, medium and white moths existed prior to the Industrial Revolution as well as after to make the larger point that the person reading this came from a rock, or that centimeter changes in a birds beak explain how an odor-laden south-east Asian man came from an odorless/colorless gas. Which the combined “evidences” shown in my son’s biology text book pushes for. Just an aside, it is noted that bats didn’t discriminate between colors, so how does Majerus know that it was bats that contributed to the “missing” moths.