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Weird Science?

In his review of journalist Judith Hooper's book Of Moths and Men in books & culture ["The Peppered Myth," September/ October 2002], Jonathan Wells made several incorrect and misleading statements about both the science behind Hooper's book and (for no apparent reason) our review of his book. Icons of Evolution. We write to correct these misrepresentations.

In the first place, our review of His book (Quarterly Review of Biology, March 2002) was written by both of us, not just Padian. In it, Wells claims, we implied that he was a sociopath by comparing him to the main char

acter in the film The Talented Mr. Ripley. We did no such thing. Rather, we compared the similar use of a rhetorical device in both works, as our original passage shows:

When we first meet the protagonist of the film The Talented Mr. Ripley, he is playing piano at a rooftop party in New York City. As the song finishes, an older man approaches and, observing Ripley's Princeton blazer, remarks that Ripley must have been at school with his son, Dickie. Sensing an opportunity, Ripley does not mention that the blazer is borrowed from another guest, nor that he did not attend Princeton, but only worked there. He merely asks, "How is Dickie?"

This kind of distortion, misleading by the omission of important information, is the basis of Icons of Evolution. ...

We supported our comparison with copious examples. And we made no further reference to scenes in the film. Wells characterizes Ripley as a sociopath, but those are his words and interpretations, not ours. Inasmuch as Wells has taken license as a film critic, we might add a dissenting view: to us, Ripley is merely an opportunist whose spiraling lies and envy trap him into increasingly desperate acts. Wells is likening himself to a sociopath. That's his privilege, but he is putting his words in other people's mouths.

The book that Wells was reviewing has been roundly criticized by specialists in the field—for example. Jerry Coyne in Nature (July 4, 2002) and Bruce Grant in Science (August 9, 2002). The well-worn example of the peppered moth is far too complex for most textbooks to cover in a limited space. Yet virtually all textbooks recognize that it is an example of natural selection in action, even if the relative importance and the targets of the selective forces remain under study. Wells accuses us of making "astonishing claims" that contradict the scientific literature. On the contrary, our analysis was based directly on the scientific literature that Wells cites. We did not make up the numbers, and we did not resort to "bogus statistics." Naturally, given his prejudice. Wells would put a different spin on the complexity of the problem. But he cannot explain the repeatedly confirmed scientific results in any other way but natural selection.

tance of selection in the case of the peppered moth. He does not tell his audience that the scientific literature has analyzed the relative importance of ecological mechanisms for decades precisely because the "myth" is not protected by any such conspiracy. He also persists in characterizing standard field experiments (such as fixing moths to tree trunks to test for selective effects ofpreda-tion) as if they are acts of fraud. It is little wonder that Wells' book has received such poor reviews from practicing scientists (see www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/ . icons_of_evolution.html for links). He might have informed readers of his confessed religious mission against evolution (www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/ wells/DARWIN.htm) before presenting his remarks as if they were of a dispassionate scientist.

Kevin Padian and Man Cishlick National Center for Science Education

Berkeley, Calif. , Jonathan Wells replies:

In Of Moths and Men, Judith Hooper charges that defenders of the peppered myth have "marginalized" and "demonized" scientists who challenge them. Here Kevin Padian and Alan Gishlick obligingly prove her charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

According to the myth, light-colored peppered moths resting on pollution-darkened tree trunks are preferentially eaten by birds; the resulting natural selection explains why better-camouflaged dark moths became more common during the industrial revolution. The myth was largely exploded in the 1980s, however, when scientists discovered that peppered moths don't normally rest on tree trunks. Yet many biology textbooks still illustrate natural selection with staged photos of moths on tree trunks -usually made by pinning or gluing dead moths in place. The New York Times recently featured such photos as a now-' classic example of "scientific fakery" (October 15, 2002, p. Dl).        "

Yet Padian and Gishlick continue to defend the discredited myth, claiming that a quarter of peppered moths rest on tree trunks and insisting that their claim is

"based directly on the scientific literature."

A 1998 book by peppered-moth expert Michael Majerus reported that between 1964 and 1996, scientists spotted 47 peppered moths resting in the wild, including 12 on tree trunks. Padian and Gishlick simply divided 12 by 47 to obtain their statistic. Yet many thousands of peppered moths lived and died during that period, and the fact mat so few were found resting anywhere led experts to conclude that most of them hide under horizontal branches high up in the trees, where they can't be seen. Majerus himself concluded that "peppered moths do not naturally rest in exposed positions on tree trunks."

Now, 12 divided by thousands is not a quarter. As I pointed out in my review of Hooper's book, the statistic is bogus.

But Padian and Gishlick don't stop there—and here's where the fun begins. They liken me to the protagonist of the film The Talented Mr. Ripley, who lies about being a Princetonian as he ruthlessly climbs the social ladder and even commits murder. What's fascinating (and revealing) is what Padian and Gishlick omit from the quotation from their review of my book when they cite it in their letter to books & culture. The ellipsis stands for: "Its author, Jonathan Wells, appears to come from an unusually strong academic

background, but the truth is more complex." They go on to claim that during my post-doctoral research appointment at Berkeley "[Wells] seems to have performed no experiments" and "no peer-reviewed

publications resulted from Wells's 5-year stint."

Since doing research as a "post-doc" is part of the process scientists go through to become fully credentialed, Padian and Gishlick are implying that I (like Mr. Rip-ley) have lied about my academic credentials—a serious charge indeed.

In response to their charge, a Berkeley professor wrote to them pointing out that during my post-doc I performed experiments in her lab and coauthored two peer-reviewed publications. She asked Padian and Gishlick to retract their false and defamatory claim, but they refused to do so. (See their review of my book and my response, "Critics Rave Over Icons of Evolution," posted at www.discovery.org/

Ultimately, however, character assassination cannot take the place of logic and evidence. This is well illustrated by Padian and Gishlick's parting shot, in which they warn readers of books & culture of my "confessed religious mission against evolution." In other words: "Jonathan Wells is religiously motivated; therefore, peppered moths do rest on tree trunks." QED.

Jonathan Wells, Ph.D. Senior Fellow Discovery Institute, Seattle

In Sickness and in Health

Jana Riess' essay on several books about Christian Science and its founder, Mary Baker Eddy ["In Sickness and in Health," September/October 2002J had a blithe tone of cultural relativism incongruous to your stance as a Christian review.

The Christian Science movement encompasses many fine and godly people, a resilient infrastructure of church and parachurch institutions, and a self-reinforcing cultic mindset, benign yet unbiblical. My departure forced wrenching personal adjustments, but my baptism on Easter eve, 1993, was worth all it cost. Ministering to me in the role of Ananias (Acts 9) were friends from Young Life and InterVarsity.

  John K. Andrews Jr. Centennial, Colorado www.Ananias.org

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