Bee Colony Dysinformation Disorder

Hank Roberts has been poking at me to take up the bee business again.

Recent results have again raised the specter of it being all about Bayer pesticides.

There’s a Dr Alan Dove who is some flavor of microbiologist who has looked into it. He isn’t impressed.

Of course the pesticide industry hasn’t been taking this lying down. Agrochemical giant Bayer, for one, has been issuing testy press releases faulting the new studies. Bayer is a leading supplier of imidacloprid, a very popular neonicotinoid compound that is used in both agricultural and home pesticides.

Imidacloprid was also the focus of the most recent scientific study to pin CCD on pesticides, and in this case, at least, Bayer may have a point.

Let’s take this a little bit at a time. First, we’re being told the “likely culprit” has been found in a condition that’s baffled researchers for several years. That’s an extraordinary claim, so I’m expecting extraordinary data to back it up. Apparently the new paper will contain just that, because it’s supposed to be “convincing evidence.” Anyone setting the bar that high is either sitting on rock-solid results, or full of shit. In my experience the latter is much more common, so my skeptic senses are already tingling.

Then things really start to go pear-shape. The Bulletin of Insectology? I try to avoid being a journal snob, but come on, insectology? The name of the field is entomology, and a quick Google search confirms that “insectology” appears nowhere else in science except for the title of this journal.

Then it gets even worse.

When there is a raging controversy, it appears likely that one side or another is populated by charlatans. But there is no reliable rule of thumb to determine which side that is. Certainly culture war affinities are no indicator.

Comments:

  1. I saw this pop up on Guardian Environment a couple of days ago. It mentioned this research paper, but another one as well that recently came out in Science. From an earlier article on Guardian Environment:

    The new research strongly links the pesticides to the serious decline in honey bee numbers in the US and UK – a drop of around 50% in the last 25 years. The losses pose a threat to food supplies as bees pollinate a third of the food we eat such as tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries.

    Scientists found that bees consuming one pesticide suffered an 85% loss in the number of queens their nests produced, while another study showed a doubling in "disappeared" bees – those that failed to return from food foraging trips. The significance of the new work, published Science, is that it is the first carried out in realistic, open-air conditions.

    "People had found pretty trivial effects in lab and greenhouse experiments, but we have shown they can translate into really big effects in the field. This has transformed our understanding," said Prof David Goulson, at the University of Stirling and leader of one of the research teams

  2. The title of the journal has changed several times since the firsst issue in 1928:
    http://www.bulletinofinsectology.org/changetitle.htm
    and probably changing to Bulletin of Entomology was deemed inadvisable because of the older (1910)
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=BER

    I find it simply silly to complain about the journal's name. Jeez.

  3. On-topic: "When there is a raging controversy, it appears likely that one side or another is populated by charlatans. But there is no reliable rule of thumb to determine which side that is. Certainly culture war affinities are no indicator."

    Asking 'Cui bono?' is always a good start for me. It brings one a long way with this controversy as well. Let's hope the bees can hold out long enough until the crunch gets going for real.

  4. "Cui bono?" is useful but not decisive.

    I have seen corporations falsely accused when the benefit for the accusers was dramatically smaller than the scale of the operation. I don't like it and I do not recommend "environmentalist solidarity" take precedence over unjust accusations. Such excesses not only damage honest businesses in the short run, but also detract from the credibility of real environmental issues in the long run.

    Anyone who does not believe that the case of greenhouse gases has been damaged by the reputation of green activists for malicious lying clearly has not innocently found themselves on the wrong side of one of these controversies.

    The case for pesticides as the key to bee colony disorder seems dubious.

    An alternative hypothesis showed great promise just a little while ago. It would be good to hear from experts on this matter but pending that I actually am in the position of the random engineer on climate change, which is astonished about the failure of normal scientific comity, and neutral on the substance.

    My guess is that there are charlatans out there on at least one side, but I have no way of telling which side is at fault. It is not inconceivable to me that nobody at all is doing good work on this problem.

    My interest in it is very specifically to point to it as an example of how outsiders are perceiving climate science.

  5. I don't know about environmentalists, but I'd like to show solidarity with the bees.

    "The case for pesticides as the key to bee colony disorder seems dubious."

    It's one of the keys, very probably the main key, and most likely the key we can solve the easiest. Unless of course we value shareholder stakes more than bees, which we do.

    Like the scientist from the paper in the Bulletin of Insectology says in the Guardian: "I would suggest removing all neonicotinoids from use globally for a period of five to six years. If the bee population is going back up during the after the ban, I think we will have the answer."

    Sounds like a good idea.

    "My guess is that there are charlatans out there on at least one side,"

    Yes, that would be Big Agro/Pharma. The list is long, not just for bees, and not just in the past decade. In the meantime bee numbers are declining, and I'm sure the Bayer/Monsanto/Syngenta lab people are working hard at finding a lucrative solution.


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