Yikes, it's been a month since I posted here. I blame the worsening perception that no one is actually ON LJ anymore. Frankly when I tried to restart ljshootout and got ONE submission I think it sent me into a spiral of lost hope in LJ.
But its not too late to join the current season of ljshootout and thus restore hope in LJ! I had set the deadline "one week or when we get seven submissions" .... so its still open!
Anyway, I thought I'd return here with an entry-length status I had shared on FB, which has been reposted by others so apparently its of interest.
There's an article that I've seen a bunch of people post and three different people posted to my wall in 24 hours asking me for my opinion of it: "Scientists Discover What's Killing the Bees and It's Worse Than You Thought." (Spoiler alert: Scientists have not discovered what's killing the bees, and its not worse than you thought)
First of all, let's cut out the middle-man, the QZ writer, and his typcial alarmist "certain doom!" predictions which have nothing to do with the article he's reporting on. His source is this article from PLoS ONE which came out yesterday.
The PLoS article is made out of solid research, and I know two of the authors. (Pro-tip: you can just skip down to the discussion section to get to the meaty bits of it)
The basic conclusions are things we already know: bees are exposed to a LOT of different pesticides out there, up to 21 in one field. And at levels over the documented median lethal dose in two fields! What's interesting is that the neonicotinoids --which everyone has been shouting about lately-- show up but don't have a remarkable effect other than REDUCING incidence of N. ceranae infection (a major bee disease).
The study did show that fungicides have a worse effect on bees than previously believed. And I've heard it myself in the field from farmers -- "aw no worries mate this is a fungicide we're spraying it won't effect your bees at all." Fungicides kill off beneficial bacteria bees use for various purposes, and according to this study, also increase gut cell mortality, which is probably the primary reason bees exposed to fungicides in this study were three times more likely to become infected with N. ceranae.
What is actually fairly shocking to me is the degree to which they showed that bees brought in to pollinate nearly ANY of the "new world" crops (ie those that evolved independently of honeybees) by and large did NOT pollinate those crops. This, frankly, probably has a bigger potential impact on the industry, if all the money being spent paying beekeepers to pollinate those crops is essentially just a waste of money.
In conclusion, if the QZ writer actually fully comprehended the article he'd have realized that what he's written, that "one bad winter could leave fields fallow" actually runs contrary to the research of this article -- since the study shows honey bees actually DON'T POLLINATE most of our crops (though not mentioned in this article, the "big one," corn, is also not insect pollinated) . And it's probably not worse than you thought, because this writer and many others have been doing their best to keep you thinking we're on the edge of a fictional "beepocalypse."
So the PLoS article is great. the QZ article isn't awful but only brings some muddling of the facts and confusion to the table. Any time you read an article written by a journalist about a scientific article which they've cited, I recommend skipping ahead to the discussion section of the scientific article.