Of Moths and Men
Cover of the British edition, showing a display cabinet with the peppered moth removed.
|576.8/2/092 B 21|
|LC Class||QH375 .H66 2002|
Of Moths and Men is a controversial book by the journalist Judith Hooper about the Oxford University ecological genetics school led by E.B. Ford. The book specifically concerns Bernard Kettlewell's experiments on the peppered moth which were intended as experimental validation of evolution. She highlights concerns about the methodology of Kettlewell's experiments and suggests that these issues could invalidate the results obtained, ignoring or disparaging evidence supporting natural selection while repeatedly implying that Kettlewell and his colleagues committed fraud or made careless errors. Subject matter experts have described the book as presenting a "conspiracy theory" with "errors, misrepresentations, misinterpretations and falsehoods".
Allegations of poor experimental practice
Hooper alleges several flaws in experimental methodology, including gluing the moths in place on parts of trees where they would not naturally settle, feeding birds heavily enough to condition them to expect feeding at that point, artificially boosting recapture rates, altering experiments (unconsciously) to favour the expected outcome, and errors in statistical analysis.
Historian of biology David Rudge has also carefully reexamined the records upon which Hooper's argument is based. His conclusions were that her historical research was poor and she had shown fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of science.
The book was described as well written in reviews in the mainstream press, but it has been criticised in scientific publications. Writing in Nature, Coyne (2002) attacked Hooper's "flimsy conspiracy theory [of] ambitious scientists who will ignore the truth for the sake of fame and recognition [by which] she unfairly smears a brilliant naturalist". In Science, Grant (2002) critically summarised the book's content, saying "What it delivers is a quasi-scientific assessment of the evidence for natural selection in the peppered moth (Biston betularia), much of which is cast in doubt by the author’s relentless suspicion of fraud". Bryan Clarke, who worked alongside Kettlewell at Oxford, described Hooper's book as "a treasury of insinuations worthy of an unscrupulous newspaper".
The entomologist and expert on peppered moth evolution Michael Majerus described the book as "littered with errors, misrepresentations, misinterpretations and falsehoods" and published research specifically refuting some of Hooper's claims.
- Bryan Clarke (2003). "Heredity - The art of innuendo". Heredity 90 (4): 279–280. doi:10.1038/sj.hdy.6800229. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
- Rudge 2005
- A review in The Guardian.
- A review in the Los Angeles Times
- Michael Majerus (2004). "The Peppered moth: decline of a Darwinian disciple". Archived from the original (.DOC) on 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
- Majerus, Michael (2008). "Non-morph specific predation of peppered moths (Biston betularia) by bats". Ecological Entomology (Royal Entomological Society) 33 (5): 679–683. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2311.2008.00987.x.
- Coyne, J. (2002). "Evolution under pressure. Review of Judith Hooper: "Of Moths and Men: Intrigue, Tragedy and the Peppered Moth"". Nature 418 (6893): 19–20. doi:10.1038/418019a.
- Grant, B. (2002). "Sour Grapes of Wrath". Science 297 (5583): 940–941. doi:10.1126/science.1073593.
- Rudge, D.W. (2005). "Did Kettlewell Commit Fraud? Re-examining the Evidence". Public Understanding of Science 14 (3): 249–268. doi:10.1177/0963662505052890. PMID 16240545.