This is about human beings, allegiances and reason.
First of all, I am in total agreement with Watching the Deniers. We must make the reasoned argument, but we must realize that the reaosned argument will not win over many people, unless we make an emotional/allegiance-based argument for reason in the mix.
And the drawback of reason as an allegiance principle is that we offend people who are our allies for reasons of allegiance to principles other than reason. This is the old topic of toxic environmentalism (Whole Earth Review 1985). It's toxic environmentalism I smell in the resistance to the good news in the bee colony collapse disorder breakthrough.
So to review, I recently pointed out Bee Story A. The Times piece was mostly about the social context of the breakthrough, making only a few substantive points. But it was the buried lead that I found most notable by far:
Dr. Bromenshenk’s team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal.In typical worthless newsprint style, no link to the article was provided, but fortunately the first author is easy to search for, and the actual publication in question is here: Iridovirus and Microsporidian Linked to Honey Bee Colony Decline; here's their conclusion:
We used Mass spectrometry-based proteomics (MSP) to identify and quantify thousands of proteins from healthy and collapsing bee colonies. MSP revealed two unreported RNA viruses in North American honey bees, Varroa destructor-1 virus and Kakugo virus, and identified an invertebrate iridescent virus (IIV) (Iridoviridae) associated with CCD colonies. Prevalence of IIV significantly discriminated among strong, failing, and collapsed colonies. In addition, bees in failing colonies contained not only IIV, but also Nosema. Co-occurrence of these microbes consistently marked CCD in (1) bees from commercial apiaries sampled across the U.S. in 2006–2007, (2) bees sequentially sampled as the disorder progressed in an observation hive colony in 2008, and (3) bees from a recurrence of CCD in Florida in 2009. The pathogen pairing was not observed in samples from colonies with no history of CCD, namely bees from Australia and a large, non-migratory beekeeping business in Montana. Laboratory cage trials with a strain of IIV type 6 and Nosema ceranae confirmed that co-infection with these two pathogens was more lethal to bees than either pathogen alone.Cause for celebration, I thought. Silly me.
Fungicides tend to be to most toxic of chemicals. Do we have good human and environmental toxicity data for these chemicals? Do we understand the fate and transport of these chemicals? Or, do we just close our eyes and spray? Even if we feed the chemical directly to the bees, the bees will then touch every blossom within a thousand yards. That is hard to do, even with a good spray program!Mbloudoff followed up with
CCD was always a problem of colonies being moved from industrial monoculture to industrial monoculture. Sure, Kansas grows alfalfa, but they buy their seed and do not bring in truck loads of bees to pollinate. Our local beekeepers did not have CCD. In short, an alternative solution is to have diversified agriculture and keep the bees on site. Once climate change makes industrial monoculture unprofitable, then we will go back to diversified local agriculture. How many residual chemicals do we want in the environment?
The CCD researchers did not ask, “What is best for the bees?”, they asked, “What makes industrial monoculture profitable?” There are 3 local beekeepers in our area, and they love CCD because now the price of honey is now high enough that they can make a small profit on their “hobby.” The local pear grower is happy, because the local beekeepers now keep enough hives that he does not have to buy pollination services. On the other hand an almond grower 50 miles away is distraught at how much the price of pollination services have gone up. It is the almond industry that has the high powered lobby and PR program.
What a scientist didn't tell the NYT about his study on bee deaths: he works for insecticide manufacturer http://bit.ly/c68loNAnd that brings us to Bee Story B:
What the Times article did not explore -- nor did the study disclose -- was the relationship between the study's lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.Sorry but W. T. F.
What does "opposite side? mean? There are sides? I thought there were mysteriously dying bees. Is someone pro-bee-death? Supporters of prior research need to be acknowledged in formal publications? When did that happen?
Bromenshenk's company, Bee Alert Technology, which is developing hand-held acoustic scanners that use sound to detect various bee ailments, will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees. Two years ago Bromenshenk acknowledged as much to me when I was reporting on the possible neonicotinoid/CCD connection for Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, which folded before I completed my reporting.Why is he reduced to that sort of a protest? Whether he is friends with his previous funder or not is just not relevant.
Bromenshenk defends the study and emphasized that it did not examine the impact of pesticides. "It wasn't on the table because others are funded to do that," he says, noting that no Bayer funds were used on the new study. Bromenshenk vociferously denies that receiving funding from Bayer (to study bee pollination of onions) had anything to do with his decision to withdraw from the plaintiff's side in the litigation against Bayer. "We got no money from Bayer," he says. "We did no work for Bayer; Bayer was sending us warning letters by lawyers."
Look, I don't have a bug in this race. I think agribusiness is problematic until sustainability works into their practices. On the other hand I have seen no sign that small farms on the whole are better stewards of the land than large farms. I am not at all sure about pesticides; I am horrified at the practices of most meat raisers; I think we should all eat lower on the food chain and expect that most of us soon will. So that's what I think; I do think about these things sometimes. But what I think about those things doesn't affect how I respond to new findings. That would be backwards.
First evidence. Then reasoning. Then conclusions. Is that so hard, people?
This attitude toward real progress in understanding colony collapse really doesn't sit well with me. There is no reason that the disease will or won't support your politics about land use. There is no reason to blame the scientist for finding results that don't support your ideology. If the results weigh for more pesticide use, that's what they do. Nature makes no promises to adhere to your fantasies any more than anybody else's. If the facts contradict your beliefs, you change your beliefs, not the facts. If the facts merely have nothing to do with your beliefs, then don;t try to substitute other facts.
The reporter seems to be a smart person, Rhodes scholar and all, but she obviously knows nothing about science. This is inexcusable, and the enthusiasm with which it is being received in some quarters is worse. Even the original Times story was a botch, focusing more on the institutions than on the very important result. I am more and more convinced that science writing, at least primary science writing, needs to be done almost exclusively by trained scientists.
Most of all, let me emphasize in the strongest possible terms. The fact that the principal investigator had some association with a corporation doesn't invalidate his work any more than some association with government funding would.
This argument ad instititionem (sorry for the butchered Latin) is catastrophic. It's against the rules. That way lies disaster.
Corporations and governments are part of modern life. That's the way it goes. For instance, if you can't treat someone as a fair source if they've ever gotten a speck of research money from an oil company, you need to follow some other blog, since I'm disqualified.
This way of thinking backwards from a desired conclusion is no prettier on one side of the aisle than on the other. Please grow up. Please stop.
Update: Many don't take my advice.
Update: Dina Spector steps up a couple of days later with a far more compelling article defending the pesticide connection. Ms Eban could take some pointers from Ms Spector. Thanks to Hank Roberts in comments for the link. Still, it is far from satisfactory. This paragraph, for instance, remains in the realm of innuendo:
Dr. Diana Cox-Foster, professor of entomology and insect biochemistry researcher at Pennsylvania State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, is part of a research team that has done extensive toxicology sampling of bees, wax, and pollen taken from hives that experienced dead-outs associated with symptoms of CCD. On average, the team found anywhere from six to 35 different chemicals compounds in a single hive. "The pesticides bees are bringing in from pollinating represent all different chemicals that we use in agriculture, yards, even inside our homes," said Cox-Foster. In combination, some of these mixtures of chemicals may cause increased toxicity to bees that are not apparent when found individually.No connection to the topic at hand follows. So although this is closer to the mark, Spector still relies on handwaving.