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Icons of Evolution

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Icons of Evolution (Regnery 2000; ISBN 0895262002) is a book by creationist Jonathan Wells in which he tries to establish that common textbook illustrations of evolution and abiogenesis are just plain wrong.

His icons are:

The only thing he gets right is that Ernst Haeckel's infamous embryo drawings have serious errors in them. However, the overall picture implied by those drawings is still fundamentally correct; vertebrate embryos resemble each other much more than their corresponding adults do, and that resemblance tells us something about their evolution.

Wells manages to perform his own version of Haeckel's errors by presenting pictures of different embryos at different stages and different orientations to make them appear more different than a more honest comparison would.

His discussions of these icons have been abundantly criticized in various places (see links); I (LP) find it difficult to add to them. But it would be interesting to collect genuine textbook inaccuracies and malapropisms, like

As Stephen Jay Gould has noted, one might even use some evolutionary reasoning to track the occurrence of textbook curiosities like fox-terrier comparisons; how many textbook writers are dog fanciers?


David W. Rudge, 2003, The Role of Photographs and Films in Kettlewell's Popularizations of the Phenomenon of Industrial Melanism, 12 (3): 261-287
A second controversy surrounding these two photographs has been recently articulated by Jonathan Wells (2000 p. 149). He is apparently scandalized by the fact that the photographs Kettlewell and others have used since are often staged, using dead specimens pinned to trees (e.g., Ford 1981, plates 21 and 22).26 In clarifying why this is a problem, Wells cites several recent studies (e.g., Mikkola 1984) that suggest the moth might spend most of the day higher in the canopy and/or underneath the boughs of trees. It is an overstatement to suggest, as Wells repeatedly does, that it is known that peppered moths do not rest on tree trunks -- it is still the object of ongoing observation and experiment, and there is some evidence to suggest they do spend the days on tree trunks (e.g., see Majerus (1998) for several unstaged photographs of wild peppered moths on tree trunks).
The thrust of Wells' concern seems to be that by including staged photographs of dead moths, textbooks tacitly suggest it is known the peppered moth rests on tree trunks when in fact it does not. This isn't a particularly serious problem in the context of biology textbooks when one recognizes the primary use of the photographs is to introduce and illustrate the concept of natural selection. Heuristic considerations associated with clarifying an important and difficult biological concept such as natural selection may at times justify the use of examples teachers recognize are not completely accurate. We do this all the time in physics classes when, for instance, we teach Newtonian mechanics in full recognition of the fact that it is technically false.
In contrast to Wells' claim that the photographs should be accompanied by a warning label, this controversy surrounding the resting site of the peppered moth represents a wonderful opportunity to discuss the tentative nature of conclusions in science in contrast to the unreflective manner teachers and students often treat material contained in textbooks.27 It is simply disingenuous on Wells' part to suggest that textbooks intended for children and adults with limited backgrounds in biology should be confined to only those statements we know to be "true" (which would certainly make for a slim textbook) or introduce science in all its complexity.

Claims contained in this book

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