ISP #24 – Mind Your Own Bees-ness

BLERG I M DED

BLERG I M DED

Originally broadcast June 14, 2014, here’s our conversation about colony collapse disorder – what’s up with that?

Mind Your Own Bees-ness

Intro:

Welcome to the Irreverent Skeptics Podcast. I’m your host, Rico Suave. Joining me today, on June 14, 2014, are Mike Bohler and Michael McElroy. Today we’ll be talking about beeeeeeeeeees, so don’t forget your bug spray and protective gear! Or maybe we won’t need it after all, since bees are apparently dropping like flies. [Pause for laughter.]

But first, I’m going to drop a rant-bomb on you about the latest shitty headlines from the news.

Jon’s News Headlines Review – or, hey world, go fuck yourself:

School shootings!

Police shootings!

Catastrophic Iraq war failures!

Politicians being assholes about POWs!

Dem Beez:

[Mike]

From Wikipedia:

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture (beekeeping), and were known by various names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease), the syndrome was renamed colony collapse disorder in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honeybee colonies in North America. European beekeepers observed similar phenomena in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and initial reports have also come in from Switzerland and Germany, albeit to a lesser degree while the Northern Ireland Assembly received reports of a decline greater than 50%.

But who cares, right? Bees are assholes. I’m allergic to bees; if they sting me, I swell up like a goddamn balloon. Good riddance! Well, not really… Wikipedia continues:

Colony collapse is significant economically because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by European honey bees. According to the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the worth of global crops with honeybee’s pollination was estimated to be close to $200 billion in 2005. Shortages of bees in the US have increased the cost to farmers renting them for pollination services by up to 20%.

And the USDA Agricultural Research Service says:

Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables are dependent on pollinated by honey bees. These are the foods that give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.

Honey bees are not native to the New World; they came from Europe with the first settlers. There are native pollinators in the United States, but honey bees are more prolific and easier to manage on a commercial level for pollination of a wide variety of crops.

… Annual losses from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent. … If losses continue at the 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry. Honey bees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of honey bee pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs.

So clearly we’ve got a serious problem here. Wikipedia lists 118 crop plants that are pollinated at least in part by bees. I found a page on beekeeping from the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the school:

The following midwestern crops must be pollinated by bees to produce fruit or seed:

Alfalfa, apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, clovers, cranberries, cucumbers, muskmelons, nectarines, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums and prunes, pumpkins, raspberries, squashes, sunflowers, trefoils, and watermelons.

The following crops set fruit or seed without insect visits but yields and quality may be improved by honey bees:

Eggplants, grapes, Lespedeza (which is a genus of about 40 plants often used as forage crops in the southern US), lima beans, okra, pepper plants, soybeans, and strawberries.

And finally, honey bees visit several important crops but do not improve their yields of fruit or seed. These include the following:

Field beans, peas, string or snap beans, and sweet corn.

So what’s behind all of this? Well… nobody’s really sure. Wikipedia again:

The mechanisms of CCD and the reasons for its increasing prevalence remain unclear, but many possible causes have been proposed: pesticides, primarily neonicotinoids; infections with Varroa and Acarapis mites; malnutrition; various pathogens; genetic factors; immunodeficiencies; loss of habitat; changing beekeeping practices; or a combination of factors.

To give you an idea of how many different plausible factors might be involved here, let me quote a brief snippet from the abstract of the study Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study, published in PLOS One in August 2009:

We initiated a descriptive epizootiological study in order to better characterize CCD and compare risk factor exposure between populations afflicted by and not afflicted by CCD.

Of 61 quantified variables (including adult bee physiology, pathogen loads, and pesticide levels), no single measure emerged as a most-likely cause of CCD. Bees in CCD colonies had higher pathogen loads and were co-infected with a greater number of pathogens than control populations, suggesting either an increased exposure to pathogens or a reduced resistance of bees toward pathogens. Levels of [a synthetic chemical] used by beekeepers to control the parasitic mite Varroa destructor were higher in [unaffected] control colonies than CCD-affected colonies.

So the study investigated 61 potential causes, but the conclusion seems odd to me as a non-scientist:

This is the first comprehensive survey of CCD-affected bee populations that suggests CCD involves an interaction between pathogens and other stress factors. We present evidence that this condition is contagious or the result of exposure to a common risk factor. Potentially important areas for future hypothesis-driven research, including the possible legacy effect of mite parasitism and the role of honey bee resistance to pesticides, are highlighted.

Here’s why I find this odd: if you do a study of 61 quantified variables and find no single measure that seems to be the most likely cause, how do you conclude that there’s a common risk factor or some sort of contagion going on? It seems to me that “there’s probably a common risk factor” is just another way of saying “we don’t think it’s random, but beyond that, we have no clue what’s going on.”

Not to mention, if you go into a study with 61 variables, there’s a huge risk of going on a fishing expedition and just looking for the one variable that seems to show statistically significant differences between the control and affected colonies. It’s something you see pseudoscientists do a lot, especially with alternative medicine: do a study of a population of people with a variety of maladies, find one problem that seems to get better more often than the others, then attribute the improvement to your woo-du-jour. So while I’m glad to see this study withholding any solid conclusions, the implication of a contagious cause seems shaky to me.

What’s more, as part of the 2008 farm bill, the US Department of Agriculture formed a steering committee on the subject of CCD. In 2012, the committee released its fourth annual Colony Collapse Disorder Progress Report, which noted:

Although a number of factors continue to be associated with CCD, including parasites and pathogens, poor nutrition, pesticides, bee management practices, habitat fragmentation, and agricultural practices, no single factor or pattern of factors has been proven to be “the cause” of CCD.

The report represents the work of a large number of scientists from 8 Federal agencies, 2 State departments of agriculture, 22 universities, and several private research efforts, so there’s a good chance that this is one of the most comprehensive reports on the subject to date – and even they don’t know what the root cause is.

In all my research on the subject, it seems to me that we’re likely dealing with a wide variety of problems that are all getting the CCD label. I’m not sure what the average layperson can do about it; if anything, it seems like this is something that agricultural industries are going to have to figure out for themselves.

Of course, so far we’ve only considered sane causes that have some scientific support. What does the pseudoscience community have to say? Well, according to them, CCD is caused by all sorts of nefariousness:

  • Electromagnetic radiation, especially from cell phones:
    • From Natural Health Strategies (a lovely Orwellian name):
      • Researchers at Panjab University in northern India wanted to test the theory that radiation from cellphones and other electronic gadgets may play a part, at least, in the mysterious disappearance of honeybees that has puzzled scientists for several years. … The researchers put two cellphones each in two hives for three months. The phones were turned on–thus the honeybees exposed to the electromagnetic radiation from the phones–two days out of each week, twice on each of those days. Each exposure period lasted 15 minutes, and was timed to coincide with the bees’ peak period of activity, at 11 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. The experiment took place from February to April, and covered two brood cycles. Remember, these honeybees were not exposed to daily radiation, as was misreported by CNN. The cell phones were turned on only twice a week, for 2 fifteen-minute periods per each of those days, for a total of one hour’s exposure per week. A third hive had two dummy cellphones, thus no radiation from them, and a fourth had neither real nor dummy cellphones. These were the two control hives.
      • The results are stunning, especially if you haven’t put much credence in the possible connection between Colony Collapse Disorder and cell phone radiation. The study looked at both biological and behavioral differences between the bees which were exposed to radiation and those which were not exposed. The biological aspects measured were brood area (this refers to the space within the hive occupied by eggs, larva, and pupae) and the egg laying rate of the queen. Behavioral aspects measured included colony growth (total quantity of bees, quantity of honey stores, and quantity of pollen stores in the hives) and foraging habits (efficiency and rate of activity, as well as rate of return to the hive).
      • There was a dramatic decrease in the number of bees returning to the hive exposed to cell phone radiation. By the end of the three months that the experiment lasted, “there was neither honey, nor pollen or brood and bees in the colony. “The present study therefore suggests that colony collapse does occur as a result of exposure to cellphone radiations,” the researchers concluded.
    • Wait, we’re supposed to take this seriously?
      • First of all, cell phones are exposed to more EM radiation than they emit, just by virtue of existing in the modern world.
      • Second of all, unless you had the hives in faraday cages, they were constantly receiving EM radiation – period. You didn’t have a control hive!
      • Third of all, cell phones emit non-ionizing radiation only. Unless the phones are somehow heating up the hives, they aren’t to blame.
      • Finally… EACH GROUP HAD A POPULATION SIZE OF ONE, AND YOU’RE DRAWING CONCLUSIONS FROM THIS?!
  • HAARP:

    • HYPERSTEALTH!!!.com claimed in 2007 that HAARP transmissions could be jamming bees’ homing ability. “[HAARP] transitioned to full power and military use just prior to the summer of 2006 with an increase in output from 9.6 kilowatts to 3.6 megawatts. The corresponding timing and range with the Colony Collapse Disorder suggests recent transmissions from the array could be the most likely cause of the bee problem.”

    • Just… no. Like I said in the introduction to the subject, such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture It was only the name Colony Collapse Disorder that came around in late 2006, when it started happening more often. And HAARP was actually shut down for most of 2013, but CCD didn’t go away. Besides, HAARP is going to be shut down permanently later this year.

  • GMOs/high-fructose corn syrup:
    • From NaturalNews (I’m not going to link to them):
      • … one area that has been largely overlooked is the role high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) plays in killing off bees, as the vast majority of it comes from genetically-modified (GM), pesticide treated corn crops.
      • Richard A. Callahan from the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health examined the effects of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide, on bee colonies as part of a recent review. Part of this research involved using HFCS that had been derived from corn crops treated with imidacloprid, for which the pesticide ended up getting into the end product.
    • So this actually has nothing to do with GMOs or HFCS, but rather just imidacloprid, which could be used on ANY crop.

Mike Bohler’s Photo’s of a Collapsed Hive.

collapsed hive 1

collapsed hive 1

collapsed hive 2

collapsed hive 2

collapsed hive 3

collapsed hive 3

collapsed hive 4

collapsed hive 4


 

WUTs:

Tony Perkins Says Gay Rights Advocates Want Anti-Christian Holocaust, Will ‘Start Rolling Out The Boxcars’

From Right Wing Watch:

After Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission unanimously upheld a judge’s finding that a baker unlawfully discriminated against gay customers, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins invited the baker’s attorney, Nicolle Martin of Alliance Defending Freedom, to discuss the case yesterday on his show “Washington Watch.”

Perkins reacted to the discrimination case by offering a comparison to the Holocaust: “I’m beginning to think, are re-education camps next? When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?”

“I guarantee that we are going to continue to see the witch hunt,” the lawyer said.

Well, at least it’s a good sign that he’s “beginning to think.” Keep it up, Tony, you’ll catch up to the other preschoolers soon enough.

Found on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog:

Gibbering creationist dumbass Callie Joubert recently wrote a paper that was published (unsurprisingly) in Ken Ham’s Answers Research Journal. It’s one of the most fantastic examples of pseudo-intellectualism I’ve seen in a while. In the paper, he appears to be arguing that our mind isn’t a product of our brain, but… well, I’ll let Joubert speak for himself.

Now if a person is not a brain, and a brain is not the thing that perceives, thinks, interprets, feels, desires, decides, and so on, which is what I will argue, then it has serious implications for what Christians are teaching about the person and brain in the light of Scripture. …

Thesis 2: “The mind is what the brain does, and the brain is a causal machine… The ‘user illusion,’ nevertheless, is that a decision is created independently of neuronal causes, by one’s very own ‘act of will'[…]”

If I reach for a broom to pick it up, then one of the things I do is just that: I decided to reach for the broom and pick it up. But if that is something I do, then it follows that it is something I know that I do. If you ask me why I am doing what I have just done, I will immediately be able to tell you. However, by lifting up the broom, which is what I do, I made a whole lot of things to happen which are not in any sense things that I do, but which I am nevertheless the cause of: I would have made air-particles to move; I may have freed an ant heap from the pressure that had been upon it by the broom; I may also have caused a shadow to move from one place to another. Now, if these are merely things that I made to happen, as distinguished from what I do, then I may know nothing about them. But, and this is the crucial point, it is not to say that if I am unaware of making things to happen in my brain (or body) when I think a thought, experience an emotion, or will an act that I am not the cause of the events happening within it[.] Thesis 2 is therefore incorrect.

The paper goes on from there. Definitely check out Hemant’s blog for a link to the paper; it’s worth a laugh. The best response I saw to this came from a comment by the user Psychotic Atheist:

  1. When our tooth hurts we point to the tooth not to the brain, proving the source of the pain is not our brain.
  2. I’m the one moving the broom, not some stinking brain.
  3. I don’t hypothesize there is a dog, I see there is a dog. Therefore the brain does not use metaphorical hypotheses in perception.
  4. You can’t point to representation occurring in the brain (there are no paintings or maps in the brain) therefore the brain does not represent what it perceives. When I see a dog, I see it directly. I do not see a representation of a dog.
  5. A painter who retains the images of dogs in his brain to paint later, proves that the brain does not represent things. Painters paint with paint, the brain cannot paint, ergo no representation occurs, because no paints! (and also of interest, apparently; there are no brushes in the brain).
  6. Brains cannot intend or generate meaning. Therefore they cannot use symbols.
  7. Since brains cannot learn, they cannot analyse or decipher. This is evident by referencing common English speech tradition. We say a person knows things, we don’t say their brain does. QED. Bonus points: Brains are gooey and bloody, not full of books or records!
  8. When I remember a dog, there is no dog in my brain, the dog is sat by the fire! I cannot see into my skull, so even if there were a dog there, I couldn’t see it!
  9. Not being able to see inside the skull (8), means we can’t retrieve information from the brain, nor store information in it.
  10. Since the brain regenerates every few years it becomes a different brain. But this does not absolve people of moral responsibility. So we aren’t brains.

….

Conclusion. We are not brains. The brain allows us to perceive, think, know, understand, decide, feel…but because we’re not aware of it, it’s not us.

In other words… because this guy has never thought about thinking, that means he isn’t his brain. But here he is trying to think about thinking, so… wut? (The best part is that he uses the phrase “commonsensically speaking” in the paper and it still passed peer review. Those creationists… so rigorous.)

Links and Attributions:

Wikipedia: Colony Collapse Disorder

Wikipedia: List of crop plants pollinated by bees

POLLINATION BY HONEY BEES (College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

USDA Agricultural Research Service: Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

PLOS One: Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study

USDA Agricultural Research Service: 2012 Colony Collapse Disorder Progress Report

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