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Of Moths And Men [Hardcover]

Judith Hooper
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 27 2002
Mutant moths and feuding scientists—the real story behind the most famous experiment in twentieth-century evolutionary biology. H. B. D. Kettlewell was a British doctor who caught butterflies and moths as an all-consuming hobby. He went into the English woods with a mission—to catch "evolution in action" among the now-famous peppered moths. His work became "Darwin's missing evidence," a fixture in biology textbooks for half a century. Only recently has new research brought a different story to light. Compellingly told, Of Moths and Men reveals Kettlewell as a deluded scientist who distorted facts and suppressed evidence he didn't like. Tyrannized by his mentor, the powerful E. B. Ford—an imperious misogynist and eccentric Oxford don who was a Darwinian zealot determined to crush all enemies in his path—Kettlewell ended his life a suicide. A story of hubris and heartbreak, Of Moths and Men reveals as much about the internecine battles of science as it does about the mysteries of evolution. 16 pages of b/w photographs.

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From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Hooper offers an engaging account of H.B.D. Kettlewell's famous field experiments on the peppered moth, which were widely known as "Darwin's missing evidence," proof of natural selection in action until 1998, that is, when biologist Michael Majerus showed Kettlewell's findings to be falsified and wrong. Hooper peers into the lives of Kettlewell and his mentor and eventual adversary, the imperious and brilliant E.B. Ford, revealing the human factors that don't get written into the research papers "recriminations, intrigue, jealousy, back-stabbing and shattered dreams." Ford, a Darwinian zealot hell-bent on proving natural selection, serves as a foil for the broader questions raised here about dogmatism in science. Natural selection had the dubious distinction of being as widely accepted as it was short on evidence, and the moth experiments were greeted as a pivotal victory; indeed, despite evidence to the contrary, many scientists today still embrace Kettlewell's findings, in part because denying them opens the door to "the bogeyman of creationism." As Hooper writes, the peppered moths provided "a damned good story, a narrative so satisfying, so seductive, that no one can bear to let it go. But a story alone is no substitute for truth." Hooper's lively history also traces the extinction of old-school natural history, embodied by Kettlewell, who was very much left behind with the synthesis of Darwinism and Mendelian genetics, and who died a suicide.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Recalling challenges to Mendel's statistical data or the veracity of the Piltdown man, this book places another scientific icon on the slippery slope of suspicion. The peppered moth said to have adapted its coloring to fit the environment, thus insuring its survival has been used to validate Darwin's theory of natural selection for almost 50 years. Now, this classic textbook case is being contested. In this absorbing historical account, reporter Hooper (The Three-Pound Universe) tracks initial efforts to meld Darwinism and evolutionary theory. Among the many contributors to this quest were Darwinian fanatic E.B. Ford and his prot‚g‚, outstanding lepidopterist H.B.D. Kettlewell, who performed the legendary experiment with light and dark moths that supposedly caught natural selection in the act. In fact, there have been doubts about the peppered moth experiments for the past 20 years or more, and Hooper shows how the scientists inadvertently sought to confirm their belief in natural selection rather than actually testing the hypothesis, changing methods when results did not agree with the selection hypothesis. As Hooper ably demonstrates, our understanding is molded by subjective as well as objective factors; self-interest, personality, contrasting worldviews, and human foibles influence the construction of scientific tests and the interpretation of evidence. An engaging detective story that elegantly brings the characters to life; suitable for public and academic libraries. Rita Hoots, Woodland Coll., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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To begin at the beginning, the Lepidoptera are divided into two orders: butterflies (Rhopalocera) and moths (Heterocera). Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I've been reading Nature for over 30 years, primarily for articles of medical or chemical interest. Each week the News and Views section attempts to explain papers appearing in the more technical sections of the journal to the general scientific public. Usually these artricles discuss the findings of a given paper, its implications for past work and suggestions for future work. From time to time, News and Views items about evolution (and natural selection) would appear. They were quite different. The whole area was extremely contentious, and the articles were written in a semi-theological fashion with various princes of the church holding forth on the correct interpretation of Darwinian doctrine.
No one with a biochemical background can doubt the unity of life, and its likely common descent, as we are all built of basically the same DNA, RNA, amino acids, sugars and metabolites. So I passed the articles by without getting too involved. On retirement, I did buy Gould's book on the structure of evolutionary theory -- it certainly needed a vigorous editor, but reading the book cold is like coming into the middle of a debate. I gave up after 80 or so florid pages.
The only reason I bought the present book, is that we had moved to the Amherst area, and the book was in the local authors section. Scientific training tends to be very ahistorical, and I knew very little about the controversies which have embroiled evolutionary theory since (except for great debate between Bishop Wilberforce and TH Huxley described in the book). When Steve Jones' book came out updating "The Origin of Species" chapter for chaper (Darwin's Ghost), I read both (chapter for chapter). Although Jones is very clever and much easier to read, Darwin wins each round hands down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's the paradigm...Who needs evidence? Dec 14 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a very well done account of the peppered moth story, with a useful history of the emergence of the Synthesis in the background. Darwin's theory was always beset with the question of evidence, and this fact has distorted the thinking of all scientists in the field who act as if this situation is normal. The case of the peppered moth is especially telling. The one case of something like evidence turns out to be completely flawed, even as the entire science community seems almost paralyzed and incapable of dealing with the issue. The final unraveling of this claim for some sort of evidence should have led a major examination of the status of Darwinism, but no such luck. The whole system simply proceeds without it.
The author makes a revealing remark toward the end, that she was accused of giving aid to the enemy, creationists. But is that the point? In any case, we see that this regime of silence is in effect, even if one author is motivated to expose what's going on, up to a point. This dialectic of monotheism is getting pretty tiresome for the rest of the world, who don't buy into this duel of extremes. We need to know, and from reliable sources, the status of Darwin's theory, from _real_ scientists. We need to know, and can expect the truth, and not beating around the bush, as herein portrayed. Clearly such science does not exist in the field of evolution. Isn't this ridiculous. This is a reasonably simple case. If biologists can't get this straight, what of their ambitious claims (without a shred of evidence) to rewrite all the social sciences.
Frauds, not scientists.
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5.0 out of 5 stars John Keel, meet Bernard Kettlewell May 12 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Forget evolution. Just for a second, OK?
This is as engaging a book as you will ever come across. Judith Hooper is a terrific writer who has something to say to anyone remomtely interested or associated not only in science, but in pride and belief and truth and faith.
There is a review below (from a reader in Paris, France!) that has it all bang-on. You're left with many questions after reading this book. Is an idea/theory only as good as the people behind it and the examples they proffer? Are all scientists misogynists or liars or manic-depressives?
Hooper humanizes this sordid tale, and even with the tragic bits we can celebrate the triumph of scientific review. Debunking and revisionism are loaded terms, but as long as they're driven by a pursuit for the truth we should all be on the same team.
Let's remember evolution now, OK?
Even if moths did have a propensity to rest on tree trunks where enterprising birds could pick them off, what does that have to do with the grand unifying theory of evolution? Yes, certain phenotypes have better chances of getting you killed than other phenotypes, but does that explain speciation? The peppered moths have nothing to do with speciation.
And Of Moths and Men have nothing to do, essentially, with evolution. It has every thing to do with the natural tendency of human beings to believe what they want to believe, and this desire will drive us to do just about anything, including play with moths.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required in high school biology courses Nov. 18 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The spate of negative reviews of this book all seem to say the same thing:
1. The peppered moth study that most evolutionists still cite as evidence are actually fakery, that much is true.
2. Non-Darwinists, however, have no right in judging Darwinists because we're all too stupid to understand that Darwinism is true.
3. Even though the peppered moth study was a forgery, its results are still valid, because Evolution via natural selection is UNQUESTIONABLE TRUTH.
There's hardly enough there to even begin to make a coherent criticism of a book that says scientists should tell the truth. If the book merely harped on an experiment that proved to be bogus in the distant past, that'd be one thing. But the peppered moth study is still present in most high school biology textbooks and very few of the editors and authors are willing to remove it. I suppose I could question Darwinism, which is really a very simple idea, with advanced mathematics; I could point out that all evidence of human evolution fits in a shoe box. But before we do any of that, we need to teach Darwinists some basic rules of debate: DON'T LIE. USE AGREED UPON TERMS IN THE MANNER THEY ARE AGREED TO BE USED. Until that happens, Darwinists have no right criticizing this book with such sophistry and slop.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars poor choice of references
While the bulk of the book was interesting but had little actual bearing on the veracity of evolution, the scholarship aspect took a dive when I realized that Hoopper had relied on... Read more
Published on June 4 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A lively, informative guide
Peppered moths of England were the most renowed insects in the world, featured in nearly every scientific textbook and acquiring fame through a British physician and amateur... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2003 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Damn good story
Like many others, I was convinced of the power of natural selection via the peppered moth story in introductory college biology. Read more
Published on Dec 2 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
The story is fascinating and Judith Hooper has reported it with clarity and wit. The writing is elegant and engaging. Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2002 by Frances Salorio
2.0 out of 5 stars Non-scientists shouldn't judge science
The book describes a controversy among biologists about famous experiments on moths. The British scholars Bernard Kettlewell and E.B. Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2002 by Werner Cohn
5.0 out of 5 stars Science Made Lyrical
In this seamless narrative, veteran science journalist Judith Hooper reveals the startling truths behind a broadly held scientific fable. Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2002 by Frank
1.0 out of 5 stars Hooper gets the science wrong
The fundamental rule of science journalism should be "first, get the science right". Unfortunately, Hooper's book is marred by One Big Mistake: namely, Hooper misrepresents the... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2002 by "ntamzek"
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account of how science can be subverted
Why does the theory of evolution matter? And what demonstrable evidence can we point to that shows its mechanism operating within the life-span of a living organism? Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Moths and Men: a review
Well-written in entertaining style. A combination of insightful portraits of prominent naturalists, with an intelligent and informative look at a widely accepted dogma on the... Read more
Published on Aug. 19 2002
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