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The Peppered Zombie rises at Exeter: Some curious responses

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Peppered moth
Researchers created artificial moths to test camouflage

A story here yesterday noted the recent attempt at Exeter U to resurrect the idea that the varying prevalence of light and dark moths is a dramatic demonstration of evolution in action. Like its many predecessors, it demonstrates nothing except what we might expect: The more visible moth will be spotted and eaten sooner.

But it’s the understory that matters: Schoolchildren are asked to believe that, by the same power of natural selection, cows become whales over time. Not only is the implicit claim not demonstrated by the data from nature; it isn’t even implied by the data from nature. The variable population distribution mechanism already existed in the moths’ genes, perhaps for millions of years, and did not change over time. The output of the mechanism, consistent with its function, is observed to change with regional conditions. The change provides no obvious basis for more complex developments.

That is why Darwinism must be taught to the young and impressionable, preferably by people who cannot afford to doubt the system that affords them a social status and a living.

Now look at some of the attempts here yesterday to defend the peppered myth:

2. But that is evolution. Perhaps not impressive in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still evolution (by natural selection, no less).

If so, then we have here a demonstration that evolution by natural selection produces insignificant changes. If that fact, advertised, justifies the fanfare heard at Exeter, top figures in evolutionary biology are clearly and obviously wrong to attribute significant changes to the Darwinian mechaism of natural selection acting on random mutations.

8. [quoting the OP] “The controversy was over whether the shifting proportions can properly be called a form of “evolution.” Most people reasonably expect ‘evolution’ to produce significant and probably irreversible changes, for example, turning dinosaurs into birds.”

If this is true, then most people ought to learn what evolution means. Also, the evolution of non-bird dinosaurs into birds took a bit longer than the few decades it took for peppered moths to arise and dominate the population.

“What evolution means,” it would seem from the commenter’s defense, is insignificant changes that are postulated to lead to significant ones. Not demonstrated, merely postulated. There is a world of difference between the two states of evidence.

The second sentence illustrates that beautifully: “Also, the evolution of non-bird dinosaurs into birds took a bit longer than the few decades it took for peppered moths to arise and dominate the population.” Actually, we have no reason to believe that such a complex transition happened in a Darwinian way at all, especially considering that the insignificant variation in moth wing colors is apparently the best type of evidence Darwinian theory can come up with.

Also at 8: They had to use fake moths because that’s the only way you could conceivably do a controlled experiment. But there is very strong evidence that natural selection drives the frequency of the different morphs, and indeed that moths spend plenty of time on tree trunks and branches during the day (http://rsbl.royalsocietypublis…..nt/8/4/609).

If the phenomenon is as common as the commenter claims, it is easy to conceive of a controlled experiment that does not require dead or fake test subjects.

“there is very strong evidence that natural selection drives the frequency of the different morphs”?* Of course.  No one doubts it. It’s the implicit claim that such processes account for much more complex changes (birds to dinosaurs) that is contested.

And the people who defend the uncontested claim surely have, as their purpose, a  defense of the contested implicit claim — because the uncontested claim is, as we might expect, nothing in itself. The dodgy parts are no worse than those most so many Darwinian claims.

Most Darwinian believers, so far as we can see, do not require their claims to be sound. They require only that they be enforced and that alternatives be silenced. Thus do obscure school systems in the United States make the pages of Nature.
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Clearly, if it were not for the hold that Darwinism has on the minds of some, this zombie would not stalk the storied groves of Exeter. We are looking at a social phenomenon here, to which the science is incidental.

*As the OP relates, the evidence that moths naturally rest in positions where they are exposed to predators is contested within the discipline.

See also: Wow! The peppered myth: A Darwin zombie rises again The Exeter researchers report, “In the experiment using artificial moths, lighter models had a 21% higher chance of “surviving” (not being eaten by birds).” So their point seems to be that, if moths actually rested in open areas, they would be better off to be lighter models.

47 Replies to “The Peppered Zombie rises at Exeter: Some curious responses

  1. 1
    goodusername says:

    Like its many predecessors, it demonstrates nothing except what we might expect: The more visible moth will be spotted and eaten sooner.
    But it’s the understory that matters: Schoolchildren are asked to believe that, by the same power of natural selection, cows become whales over time.

    At least you believe natural selection is a real phenomena.
    And I can at least understand being skeptical of the power of natural selection to be the primary factor of change beyond certain limits.

    What I can’t understand is dismissing natural selection as tautological. And I especially can’t understand – and what you so often do – is dismissing natural selection as tautological for large scale change, but then accept it for small scale change.

    How can the same phenomena be tautological at one scale and not another?

    I wonder if the authors of this study are familiar with this study from Majerus?
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1420-9101.2000.00170.x
    Previous experiments have shown that, from a bird’s eye view, that the lighter moths (typica) are better camouflaged against the lichen found on branches (crustose lichens) rather than the lichen found on tree trunks (foliose lichens).

  2. 2
    PaV says:

    goodusername:

    How would you define “evolution” in the case of the Peppered Moth population?

  3. 3
    goodusername says:

    PaV,

    I’m not sure if I understand your question, but I would say that it’s an example of natural selection in action; whether I would say it’s an example of evolution depends on the context and definitions being used.

    I know there are different definitions of “evolution” out there – I don’t know what the definition “should” be, and in this case I don’t really care. It’s not that I don’t think semantic disputes can be interesting or important, as I often do find such disputes to be both, but IMO this isn’t one of them.

    I have no problem with someone saying that this is an example of natural selection, but not of evolution. Or of someone saying that’s it’s an example of evolution, but not evidence of evolution on larger scales (“macroevolution”), etc.
    If someone were to say that this example of natural selection proves that whales can come from cows I would disagree (although I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such an argument put forward).

  4. 4
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    “Curious” doesn’t begin to describe this post…

    “there is very strong evidence that natural selection drives the frequency of the different morphs”?* Of course.

    No one doubts it

    But of course they do. The reason you mistakenly think the peppered moth story is a “myth” is because you read Jonathan Wells’ idiotic book, in which he claims “.it is clear that the compelling evidence for natural selection that biologists once thought they had in peppered moths no longer exists”.

    Every time the peppered moths are discussed by creationists you get the same pattern. First they’ll claim that the changes recorded are so trivial as to mean nothing and that all creationsts accept such changes are within the power of selection. Then you paragraph after paragraph of misinformed objections to the clear evidence that selection caused the changes. Almost as if creationists do have a problem with this example of natural selection…

    I don’t know any scientists who have claimed the peppered moth example is an “implicit” example of a major transformation like non-avian dinosaurs to birds. It’s just a nice example of natural selection (and not, say, some environmental response) rapidly adapting a species to its environment.

    Finally,

    If the phenomenon is as common as the commenter claims, it is easy to conceive of a controlled experiment that does not require dead or fake test subjects.

    Well, I’d like to know you could do this. Remember, the experiments are testing the hypothesis that birds preferentially predate on moths on a non-similar background. It’s very difficult to see how you could do this in a controlled fashion using live animals. (Survival experiments and mark-recapture experiments maybe, but not controlled predation trials).

  5. 5
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    The reason you mistakenly think the peppered moth story is a “myth” is because you read Jonathan Wells’ idiotic book, in which he claims “.it is clear that the compelling evidence for natural selection that biologists once thought they had in peppered moths no longer exists”.

    No one can show the variation was due to chance. Also no one debates that moths can evolve into the same type of moth albeit with different coloration

    I don’t know any scientists who have claimed the peppered moth example is an “implicit” example of a major transformation like non-avian dinosaurs to birds.

    There isn’t any evidence nor any way to test the claim that non-avian dinosaurs evolved into birds. And evos ALWAYS use these slight examples to prop up macroevolution.

    It’s very difficult to see how you could do this in a controlled fashion using live animals.

    Cameras and other technologies I am sure would do the trick. Pinning dead moths on a place where they do not rest isn’t going to tell you much about reality.

  6. 6
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    Cameras and other technologies I am sure would do the trick

    Write it up, submit to NSF BIO!

  7. 7
    ET says:

    If they can’t figure it out on their own why bother?

  8. 8
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    I think the point was that you might need a bit more than “like, cameras and other tech.” to actually perform a well-controlled experiment.

    Or, even more directly, I’m trying to understand why you reflexively post just ill-thought-out garbage.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    I think the point was that you might need a bit more than “like, cameras and other tech.” to actually perform a well-controlled experiment.

    My bad. I was talking about observing reality- ie what really happens. But I can see why you wouldn’t want to do that.

    And you are the one posting ill-thought-out garbage. Clearly you have never conducted an investigation in your life

  10. 10
    ET says:

    Which is more important:

    1- Observing what really happens

    2- A controlled experiment that doesn’t reflect reality

  11. 11
    ET says:

    Darwin’s predicted moth was first captured by camera.

  12. 12
  13. 13
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    So ,

    * In #9 you admit you can’t do a controlled experiment with live moths
    * Two minutes later you say that again in a new comment
    * Five minutes later you add an unrelated (and untrue) factoid about another moth.
    * Then you came back 44 minutes later to say that a very fast camera exists and photography has been useful to science.

    I’m really not sure what you are trying to achieve with this. Plenty of observational studies, mark-recapture studies and the like have been done on this species. In some cases, the specific question requires a control experiment and it’s only feasible to do that with models or dead insects.

  14. 14
    ET says:

    Ambly, Clearly you are just an ignorant troll. I didn’t make such an admission in #9. However you admitted that a controlled experiment doesn’t represent reality.

    The part about the moth is a fact.

    My whole point is that cameras are useful to science. More useful than experiments that do not reflect reality.

    And putting moths in places they do not rest in real life means it is a BS test. So all you have achieved is to prove that you are clueless

  15. 15
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    You haven’t read the paper, have you?

  16. 16
    ET says:

    Ambly- If you have something to add then say it. Or just go away and hide your head in the sand

  17. 17
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    Well, if you had read the paper you’d know the models were placed precisely where the moths “rest in real life”.

    So, I presume you just decided to launch into these posts without so much as reading the paper.

  18. 18
    ET says:

    The OP says otherwise and no one has challenged that part of the OP.

    As I said cameras would be better to catch what really happens

  19. 19
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    So, not only did you not read the paper, you still haven’t read the paper. And you continue to go on about cameras as if this was relevant to the hypothesis being tested?

  20. 20
    ET says:

    Wow, so you cannot support your claim and can only attack me with your ignorance.

    The cameras are to see what really happens- you know science 101- or maybe you don’t know. You don’t seem to understand anything about science.

    I have read enough on peppered moth experiments to know that not one has reflected reality. This one isn’t any different.

    And you still cannot make a case for anything.

  21. 21
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    Have. You. Read. The. Paper?

  22. 22
    ET says:

    In the paper they are claiming this as an example of natural selection. However unless they can show that the variation arose by chance they cannot make that claim. Strike 1

    Strike 2 is putting the moths on the tree trunks

  23. 23
    ET says:

    To recap- my comment in #5 above was in response to the nonsense posted in comment #4 by Ambly/ William spearshake/ acartia bogart. In it I mentioned the use of cameras and other technologies to capture what really happens as opposed to staged scenarios that may of most likely may not represent reality.

    Ambly had an issue with this, misrepresented what I said and couldn’t believe that I would even suggest such a thing. I countered with the fact that cameras are used to make scientific discoveries. They are quite useful, actually.

    In comment #13 Ambly misrepresents what I posted and somehow hand-waved the use of cameras in science away.

    This was followed by acartia bogart posting victory for Ambly over at the swamp. To acartia victory = who muddies the waters and says nothing of substance the longest.

  24. 24
    asauber says:

    Everything You Need To Know Abut Natural Selection-

    1. ‘Natural’ is not a scientific term. It’s poetry.

    2. ‘Selection’ is just what happens. There is no selecting being done.

    So there you have it.

    Andrew

  25. 25
    PaV says:

    goodusername:

    I know there are different definitions of “evolution” out there – I don’t know what the definition “should” be, and in this case I don’t really care.

    Well, which “definition” of “evolution” do you think is at work in this case? You say you’re aware of these different definitions; so, in your opinion, given the specifics from the article, how is evolution at work here?

    P.S. Gone all day yesterday.

  26. 26
    hnorman5 says:

    As to whether natural selection can on principle be responsible for industrial melanism, I would tend to concede the point. I have never thought it was advisable to argue against the proposition that a trait that gets an organism killed will get it killed.

    We recently had some discussion over the difference between selection from existing options and selection for a goal. The peppered moth explanation would, if true, be the poster child for the former.

    It is important to realize that the peppered moth explanation only addresses how existing traits are propagated, not how the traits are created.

  27. 27
    ET says:

    hnorman5- Natural selection needs the variation to arise by chance. If it didn’t then regardless of predation it isn’t natural selection.

    Natural selection depends on how the traits were created. The first step is the variation which has to be a chance event.

  28. 28
    goodusername says:

    PaV,

    Well, which “definition” of “evolution” do you think is at work in this case?

    Again, I’m not sure if I understand your question. Are you asking what definition of “evolution” is being used by the authors of the article? I imagine that the article is probably using a definition like “a change in heritable characteristics of a biological population,” or some such.

    You say you’re aware of these different definitions; so, in your opinion, given the specifics from the article, how is evolution at work here?

    Well, whether or not it even is “evolution at work” would depend on the definition being used. In my opinion, this case appears to be a change in the heritable characteristics of a population via selection.

  29. 29
    asauber says:

    a trait that gets an organism killed will get it killed

    Kinda like a car that’s going to get in an accident will get in an accident?

    Or a cake that is going to be served for a birthday is going to be a birthday cake?

    God help us.

    Andrew

  30. 30
    PaV says:

    goodusername:

    In your opinion, are ‘St. Bernard’ dogs an instance of “a change in heritable characteristics of a biological population”?

    [Back in four hours]

  31. 31
    goodusername says:

    PaV,

    Yes, I would say so, albeit a population that’s artificially maintained and was created via artificial selection.

  32. 32
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    ET’s string of posts yesterday is a nice demonstration of the sorts of knots that creationists tie themselves up in when they talk about the peppered moths.

    A very brief recap:

    * ET take the typical reponse that the observed changes are small and the sort of thing creationsists think selection can achieve
    * They then get abosolutely apopletic about the methods used in the paper
    * It’s very clear form their responses that they have not read the paper and are simply regurgitating talking poitns that go back to Wells’ hack job of a book chapter.
    * They then spend about 10 comments getting progressively angrier, wronger, and stupider about the fact cameras can be used in science (something no one has disagreed with).

    So, I’m left to wonder. If the changes exhibited by the peppered moths are so trivial and non-threatening to creationists, why do they so frequently get so angry with them?

  33. 33
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    ET’s string of posts yesterday is a nice demonstration of the sorts of knots that creationists tie themselves up in when they talk about the peppered moths.

    Maybe in your uneducated opinion. However you have reading comprehension issues

    * ET take the typical reponse that the observed changes are small and the sort of thing creationsists think selection can achieve

    WRONG

    * They then get abosolutely apopletic about the methods used in the paper

    WRONG

    * It’s very clear form their responses that they have not read the paper and are simply regurgitating talking poitns that go back to Wells’ hack job of a book chapter.

    WRONG

    They then spend about 10 comments getting progressively angrier, wronger, and stupider about the fact cameras can be used in science (something no one has disagreed with).

    Any anger and stupidity is all yours. YOU threw a hissy fit when I mentioned cameras, technology and capturing reality.

    If the changes exhibited by the peppered moths are so trivial and non-threatening to creationists, why do they so frequently get so angry with them?

    Already explained. See you have reading comprehension issues and you think your ignorance is an argument.

  34. 34
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    A very eloquent demonstration of the fact you are not at all angry about this, ET.

  35. 35
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    A very eloquent demonstration of the fact you are not at all angry about this, ET.

    Yeah, liars, like you, tend to bug me, Ambly pambly. Especially when they lie about me.

    Congratulations

  36. 36
    hnorman5 says:

    asauber @29

    Yes, natural selection will select for traits that don’t get the organism killed. Going beyond this gets it in trouble.

  37. 37
    ET says:

    Natural selection doesn’t select. NS is an eliminative process. AND it entails happenstance changes

  38. 38
    hnorman5 says:

    ET @37

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head. Natural selection does not select. It merely eliminates. Unfortunately, many people can’t see that although real selection by an intelligent agent is expressed by elimination, elimination is only the end result of the intelligent act of selection. Elimination itself cannot double for the creative act of selection.

  39. 39
    ET says:

    Page 118 of “What Evolution Is” by Ernst Mayr:

    Do selection and elimination differ in their evolutionary consequences? This question never seems to have been raised in the evolutionary literature. A process of selection would have a concrete objective, the determination of the “best” or “fittest” phenotype. Only a relatively few individuals in a given generation would qualify and survive the selection procedure. That small sample would be only to be able to preserve only a small amount of the whole variance of the parent population. Such survival selection would be highly restrained.

    By contrast, mere elimination of the less fit might permit the survival of a rather large number of individuals because they have no obvious deficiencies in fitness. Such a large sample would provide, for instance, the needed material for the exercise of sexual selection. This also explains why survival is so uneven from season to season. The percentage of the less fit would depend on the severity of each year’s environmental conditions.

    What evos do with that is say that “selecting” the top 3%, for example, is the same as eliminating the bottom 97%. Which is true but that isn’t what we see in nature and goes against what Mayr wrote.

  40. 40
    asauber says:

    natural selection will select

    hnorman5,

    But it won’t. You even said so yourself. There is no precognition. It’s just what happens. Its bad poetry intended to imply that there are things going on that really aren’t going on. It’s deliberate deception.

    Andrew

  41. 41
    PaV says:

    goodusername:

    If breeders can bring about “a change in heritable characteristics of a biological population” in the ‘blink of an eye’ (relative to geological time), then artificial selection seems to be even more powerful than NS. So, why is it that breeders have never been able to convert a dog into anything other than a ‘race’ of dogs?

    (In fact, the St. Bernard is an example of the limits of such breeding—they need special care, since they are very feeble when they are born. That’s why they are no longer ‘bred’ at the Abbey of Gran St. Bernard anymore.)

  42. 42
    hnorman5 says:

    asauber @ 40

    The problem goes back to the two senses of the word “selection”. For an intelligent agent, there’s selection from pre-existing variation and there’s selection for a goal. Blind forces can mimic the first but not the second.

    I was being ironic when I said that NS could select for traits that didn’t get the organism killed, but trivial as is, it does model a weak type of selection.

    If we say that natural selection can’t do anything then we undermine our arguments from probability and irreducible complexity. These arguments are necessary precisely because blind forces do have some limited powers to mimic purposeful change and we need to define what those limits are.

  43. 43
    hnorman5 says:

    asauber @ 40

    The problem goes back to the two senses of the word “selection.” For an intelligent agent, there’s selection from pre-existing variation and there’s selection for a goal. Survival events can mimic the former but not the latter.

  44. 44
    asauber says:

    If we say that natural selection can’t do anything then we undermine our arguments from probability and irreducible complexity.

    hnorman5,

    I will grant you that I think this deserves angle more discussion, but the fact remains that ‘Natural Selection’ has been and remains what amounts to a longstanding Big Lie.

    Andrew

  45. 45
    PaV says:

    There are problems with the paper.

    (1) the placement of the live and artificial moths
    (2) the manner of simulating the vision of predator birds,
    and others.

    As to (1), look here, for example.

    Further, Majerus’ paper suffers from a potentially severe fault: the numbers match predictions “too” closely—almost as if the numbers were calculated and then included, rather than observing alone. I don’t remember Majerus having two columns; that is, one for “actual,” and one for “calculated.”

  46. 46
    PaV says:

    Here’s a follow-up study.

    They write:

    In summary, we show that visual information is crucial for assuming adaptive body orientations, although we cannot precisely determine whether this is because vision is used to perceive the bark structure or simply because light is needed to trigger the re-positioning behaviour. We also show that the tactile information from wings may be important for accurately perceiving the direction of bark structure.

  47. 47
    PaV says:

    For the truly interested:

    Here, but also here,and here.

    From the last link:

    Moths that landed on less cryptic positions were more likely to reposition.

    This suggests that moths adaptively respond to their current crypticity.

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