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I found this claim in Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins. This is the Google Books link to the relevant page.

Nobody knows whether or how this benefits them, but it may be suggestive that bomber crews in the Second World War liked to include at least one colour-blind member, who could penetrate certain kinds of camouflage on the ground.

Is there any research to back this?

  • 3
    The Straight Dope has an article on this, with references. – Oliver_C Jun 10 '12 at 15:28
  • 1
    Yes, I know that an anecdote is not research. But my colourblind grandfather was absolutely invaluable during World War Two, due to his ability to see enemy soldiers in camouflage. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Nov 4 '16 at 23:12
  • I have a certain amount of color impairment but I am not color blind by any means. I think I was like 12 or 13 before I understood about nature programs talking about the lion "hiding" in the grass--because he stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Natural camouflage tends to work very poorly on me. – Loren Pechtel Nov 16 '16 at 5:33
  • I can't address color-blind, but I have moderate deuteranopia (red/green weakness) and growing up it took me a long time to understand camouflage because much of it doesn't work on me. The nature programs would refer to the lion hiding in the grass--what do you mean, hiding, that lion is as plain as day! – Loren Pechtel Feb 4 at 0:26
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It would seem to be correct. The following is an extract the Nature Journal's archive:

For example, in a building camouflaged with large irregular patches of colour, the actual outline of the building may be lost in the jumble of these patterns. But the colour-blind person may be scarcely conscious of the variegated colours, so that to him the outline of the building may be almost unaffected by the camouflage. In the Ishihara test for colourblindness, certain of the cards actually use this principle; a faint blue figure is printed on a background of highly coloured dots of various hues. To the normal observer the blue figure is lost against the background, but the colour-blind person may spot it. Again, in the protanopic and protanomalous type of defect, reds and yellows appear darker than usual, and with certain colouring of building and background this could lead to an enhanced contrast and so give the colour-blind person his advantage.

The following are extracts taken from a BBC article:

The Cambridge team tested this idea by asking deuteranomalous and "colour-normal" individuals to report whether they were able to distinguish between pairs of colours that were theoretically predicted to look different to people with deuteranomalous colour blindness, but the same to those with normal colour vision.

The researchers duly found some colour pairs were only seen to be different by deuteranomalous individuals.

In fact, the researchers found people with deuteranomalous colour blindness gave large difference ratings to pairs of colours which appeared indistinguishable to others.

The researchers, led by Dr John Mollon, said: "The present findings recall reports from the Second World War, which suggested that 'colour blind' observers might be superior in penetrating camouflage."

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