Monday, February 09, 2009


Moth Man

The University of Cambridge has a "Tribute to Mike Majerus," the late evolutionary geneticist who laid to rest the "icons" of misinformation creationists have fabricated about the Peppered Moth.

You can also read the script and see the Powerpoint file from Majerus' 2007 lecture, "The Peppered Moth: The Proof of Darwinian Evolution," where he explains why he undertook to set the record straight and how he went about it, including why he went so far as to test the "proposition" that bats might be preying preferentially on moths based on their color. Majerus' makes a good point about the importance of Biston betularia to the anti-science side:

[T]he peppered moth story is easy to understand, because it involves things that we are familiar with: vision and predation and birds and moths and pollution and camouflage and lunch and death. That is why the anti-evolution lobby attacks the peppered moth story. They are frightened that too many people will be able to understand. ...

And he explains the importance of the research to him:

... I fear for my children, who will face escalating problems of climate change, over-population, pollution, starvation, disease and conflict. And for their children and grandchildren, I have little optimism.

We need to address global problems now, and to do so with any chance of success, we have to base our decisions on scientific facts: and that includes the fact of Darwinian evolution. If the rise and fall of the peppered moth is one of the most visually impacting and easily understood examples of Darwinian evolution in action, it should be taught. It provides after all: The Proof of Evolution.

We lost a good man and excellent scientist far too soon.

Dave S. said...

Creationists love to assure us that they believe in microevolution, just not macroevolution. But as soon a beautiful example of microevolution in action is presented like the peppered moths, they instinctively attack it. And Majerus nails it as to why - it's so simple and clear and obvious, that anyone rational would be convinced by the power of evolution. And that simply won't do.
I guess it is the natural selection part that rankles them. The adaptation of life to environment is, to their minds, something god(s) need to be given the credit for.
Mike Majerus is like Carl Sagan: he may be gone, but mere death won't prevent him for being a powerful voice for science.
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