Discovery Institute April 16, 2002

Moth-eaten Statistics: A Reply to Kenneth R. Miller

by Jonathan Wells

British statesman Benjamin Disraeli is reputed to have said that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Statistics based on unbiased samples and rigorous analyses can point us in the direction of the truth; but statistics can also be unscrupulously manipulated to “prove” things that are patently untrue. Brown University biology professor Kenneth R. Miller demonstrates the latter in his most recent response to me:

The relative proportions of light-colored and dark-colored (“melanic”) peppered moths changed during the industrial revolution, supposedly because of camouflage and bird predation. In the early 1950s, British physician Bernard Kettlewell released captive moths onto nearby tree trunks and made observations that seemed to confirm this explanation. Many biology textbooks now use Kettlewell’s work on industrial melanism as the classic demonstration of Darwinian natural selection in action, and they typically illustrate the story with photos of moths on tree trunks. Yet biologists in the 1980s discovered that peppered moths rarely rest on tree trunks in the wild. The textbook photos are staged, and in 2000 I criticized this practice in my book, Icons of Evolution.

Read the entire reply by clicking here.

File Date: 04.17.02