Friday, February 20, 2009

The Return of the Peppered Moth

The Independent has an article on Michael Majerus, the geneticist who recently passed away, and who spent much of his professional life with the oft-belittled Peppered Moth. It is a standard talking point of creationists that the original research on the Peppered Moth was wrong. Henry Morris wrote, in 1984:

The words of this writer, in a book published almost 30 years ago, are still relevant. "The classic example of the peppered moth. . . . was not evolution in the true sense at all but only variation. Natural selection is a conservative force, operating to keep kinds from becoming extinct when the environment changes" (Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 51).

Majerus wrote in 1997 that the evidence for selection in the Peppered Moth was nominal at best, which set off a firestorm and gave creationists ammunition. So he got to work:

It took him seven years of meticulously planned experiments which tested and compared the predation of the moths by birds and bats by release and recapture, and of the respective behaviour of wild and lab-reared moths. He also redetermined exactly where the moths rest by day, a controversial part of the original research which had been criticised on the grounds that the moths never rested on tree trunks. Majerus proved the critics wrong: they do (it is just that they are hard to see). His work is seen as a significant contribution to the evolution versus creation/intelligent design debate, and has helped to swing the international scientific consensus back in favour of the Peppered Moth as a supreme and easily understood example of evolution.

May he rest in peace.

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