Plight of the Honeybee

We often enjoy perusing The New York Times website’s 10 most emailed stories to get an idea of what the masses are passing along to their friends, family, and coworkers. Currently vacillating between the number one and number two positions is an article about honeybees disappearing.

The article is a look at what the top North American bee researchers are doing to find out the causes of colony collapse disorder (what the experts are calling the demise). It also mentions that those experts are working with government officials to come up with a plan to curb the crisis.

It’s an informative article that points to the three top contenders causing bees to disappear: a fungus, a virus, or a pesticide.

What caught our attention was that the article didn’t consider the possibility that radiation from cell phones might be interfering with bees’ ability to navigate, thus preventing them from returning to their colony. That story caused a lot of buzz last week, and was carried by such reputable papers as the Independent.

But the buzz was unfounded. Turns out that the study, which the researchers who conducted it said was too small to be statistically significant, looked at the impact of electromagnetic fields similar to those used by cordless phones—not cell phones—on colony activity. They found that there might be an affect…and from there things got out of control. According to an article in the International Herald Tribune:


Those searching for answers for the recent disappearance of millions of bees in the United States - what researchers are calling colony collapse disorder - jumped on the possible explanation though there was one particular, cellphones and cordless phones emit different types of radiation and what you learn studying one type is not necessarily significant to the other, according to the researchers.


"We cannot explain the CCD-phenomenon itself and want to keep from speculation in this case," Jochen Kuhn, a professor in the physics department at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany who co-authored the bee study, wrote in an e-mail message. "Our studies cannot indicate that electromagnetic radiation is a cause of CCD."

Bottom line: There’s no evidence that chatting on your cell phone is harming bees. A big pat on the back to the Times for putting the cell phone theory in the same paragraph with other unfounded explanations—such as the “rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven”—where it belongs.


Obfuscation, wildly improbable (but eyecatching) headlines, and simply stupid conclusions have pretty much been the norm when discussing "the environment."
In Houston, Texas, one of the most polluted cities in the U.S., with hundreds of petrochemical plants, and perhaps 10 million internal combustion engines, the city council decided that a ban on smoking cigarettes would make the city more attractive to visitors, thus choosing cosmetics rather than viable solutions.
Penn State University, which has been doing extensive research into the CCD (Colony Decline Disorder) phenomonen, reported to Congress in April that they have isolated three possible causes of CCD.
1. New or re-emgerging pathogens (either biological-microbial or chemical).
2. Environmental chemicals which may be causing the suppression of the honey bee immune system and thus triggering the CCD.
3. A combination of the above stresses working together to weaken bee colonies and causing the final collapse of the colonies.
More information can be found at the site of the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium, including Penn State's apiary specialist, Dr. Diana Cox-Foster's testimoney to Congress. See