Biston moths. Was Re: The Significance of Memetics is ...

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Mon, 23 Nov 1998 11:15:14 +0100

Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 11:15:14 +0100
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Biston moths. Was Re: The Significance of Memetics is ...


> On Sat, 21 Nov 1998 15:44:39 -0500 (EST) levy@Oswego.EDU wrote:
> > Can
> anyone here state an important insight or even an accurate prediction
> > that has come from using the memetics paradigm?
> If you count EM Rogers as a memeticist, his 'Communication of
> Innovations: a Cross-cultural Approach' (Free Press, NY 1972) has an
> appendix prepared by Jaganmohan Rao which has 38 pages of confirmed
> predictions arranged in 10 categories, eg prediction 4-6 is "The degree
> of communication integration in a social system is positively related
> to the rate of adoption of innovations". 6 empirical studies are cited
> all of which support the prediction. And so on it goes.
> If you insist that Rogers is not really a memeticist, and admittedly a)
> he doesn't call himself one and b) there is no mention of Darwin
> anywhere in his work (I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm
> wrong), then try the following:
> 1) Cultural preferences for progeny of one sex over the other, will
> cause changes in allele frequencies at sex-ratio distorter loci, and
> these genetic changes will in turn influence the selective pressure on
> cultural behaviour. (Kumm et al 1994)
> 2) The patterns of milk utilisation and yam cultivation are intimately
> associated with allele frequencies at loci involved in lactose
> utilisation and malaria resistance, with cultural selection and genetic
> selection operating in tandem on both genotype and cultural behaviour.
> (Aoki 1986).
> 3) Sexual preferences are cultural rather then genetic but depend on
> the underlying (genetic) distribution of body types. (Laland 1994)
> 4) Possibly also the analysis of Tibetan marriage practices by Durham
> (1991, Coevolution, Stanford UP)
> Memetics shares the problem of evolutionary biology in that the
> timescale involved in observation is often longer than the patience of
> most observers. The classic confirmatory 'experiment' of
> microevolution (and note this is just _micro_ evolution), the case of
> the peppered moth Biston betularia and its change in colouring, took
> something like 150 years.


Great you mention this 'classical' example which proved natural selection.

It is a fake! E.g., black moths appeared as well in the US without air
pollution and these moths never sit on tree barks under natural conditions.

See recent Nature:Not black and white. Nature 396: 35 (5 November 1998).
Book review of:M.E.N. Majerus. 1998. Melanism: evolution in action. Oxf.
Univ. Press.

> I'd strongly recommend EB Ford's Ecological
> Genetics (1940, in most university libraries) for a taste of the
> magnitude of the experimental system in evolution.

The examples you give above are about how cultural habits may influence
gene frequency. No doubt this happens, but that is not what I have in mind
when thinking about memetics.

Mario Vaneechoutte
Department Clinical Chemistry, Microbiology & Immunology
University Hospital
De Pintelaan 185
9000 GENT
Phone: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59


The memetic origin of language: humans as musical primates J. Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission

"Be very, very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out." Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

(Isn't this a good warning again and again? From the Biston butterfly case it appears that even our classical examples can't be trusted. The more generally accepted, the more caution is needed, it seems.)

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