Misreporting Bee Killing Insecticides

This issue reminds me of pharmaceutical companies removing thimerosol from vaccines. Even though there was absolutely no evidence of adverse effects from thimerosol (canned tuna poses a higher mercury exposure than thimerosol in vaccines) , it was nonetheless removed from products in the face of public protest. GMO foods are also an interesting case where they pose no healt dangers, yet there is widespread public protests against them.

One has to wonder if caving to public opinion will backfire at some point.

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One pedantic point…
I am a hobby-level beekeeper and I’ve worked for a company that produced pesticides.

From the article:

As the GLP has reported, honeybee populations are growing, including in North America, where hive numbers recently reached their highest levels in more than two decades. Bumble bees are not in danger of extinction. World beehive numbers are at an all time high.

It is true that honeybees are not on the “edge of extinction” as some hyperbolic press articles have suggested. However, the text and associated graph provided misses a critical point that net growth is driven by the need to ensure commercial beekeeping keeps pace with crop requirements. Commercial beekeepers (and beekeepers in general) have increased colony production in response to increased losses. In fact, from the linked article they state:

The stability of colony numbers and pollination services fees, however, suggests that beekeepers have, in aggregate, adjusted to elevated rates of colony loss.

It’s important to understand that something big remains amiss in the bee world. The mechanisms for this increase of loss are probably multi-factorial. Here’s a useful summary from Cornell (Ag & Life Sciences).

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I thought this was up for serious debate among scientists.

Debate over increased colony losses or the factors behind the losses?

Whether this is something to worry about or not.

CCD numbers have gone down a bit so that’s a good thing. Honeybee extinction is not likely.

Personally, I’m worried about declines in a number of insects and amphibians and the various causes behind those drops (e.g. introduction of competing species & parasites, possible chemical toxicology, climate changes, loss of habitat). But neonicotinoids killing all the bees, no. I think that pesticide class should be monitored.

The amphibian die off seems to be more real than a beepocolypse.

Yep.

Still, beekeeping has taken multiple hits over the past few decades with parasites and diseases jumping species and/or migrating to places where they’re weren’t common in the past. Some of that is related to global trade and earlier beekeeping practices. Fortunately, that’s being met with new treatments and practices, plus breeding programs for resistance. Bee research has certainly had a renaissance. So, it’s definitely more complicated than it was previously and there are more losses but it doesn’t seem headed to a meltdown.

When scientists support alarmist rhetoric where it isn’t warranted, well that doesn’t breed trust.

I think this can be a real issue. In working with non-majors in general education chemistry courses I’ve tried to use case studies on current topics like climate change, bee colony collapse, and the role of sugar in heart disease. It’s difficult because students have a hard time seeing subtlety and nuance in language used by scientists and mostly just pick up on whatever they’ve seen on social media. They are generally terrible at evaluating the quality of sources of scientific information. As much as faculty may dislike Wikipedia, I’d recommend it any day over the stuff students typically use.

I can understand why scientists who are passionate about their subject, and don’t see any movement in the public sphere, can fall into alarmist language. I think it backfires often enough that it’s really not helping the cause of scientific literacy, in general.

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