The New York Times last week proclaimed finding the cause of colony collapse disorder in the honeybee population a great murder mystery, so we thought we’d extend their metaphor and let everyone know—the butler didn’t do it.
Lots of folks seemed sure that it was the pesticides used by farmers that were killing the bees.
Turns out they were wrong. A new study published last week and reported in the New York Times shows that it was a combination of a fungus and a virus working in tandem that was killing off the bee populations. Scientists aren’t yet sure exactly how they worked together—did one make them sick and the other kill them off?—but they’ve got a pretty good idea that it was iridovirus and microsporidian that were the culprits.
But wait. What about the surety proclaimed earlier this year? An April 7, 2010 article in The Daily Green entitled “To: Bees; From: Scientists; Re: Pesticides that are killing you” said “bees are encountering agricultural and landscape pesticides almost wherever they go” and that “this toxic cocktail is their staple… their day to day diet… now made from poisonous parts per million . . . We live in the same pesticide-laden soup our bees do, and now we can prove it’s a killing field.”
And a March 22, 2010 Rodale Institute promotional item for the book Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale shouts in its headline, “Scientists blame pesticides for honeybee decline; New research finds systemic pesticides in 60 percent of tested honeybees and their hives in U.S., Canada.”
The less-credible activists aren’t the only ones guilty of proclaiming pesticides to be the killers. The headline of a Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies “Environment 360” article says “Behind Mass Die-Offs, Pesticides Lurk as Culprit.” The story goes on to say that there are too many pesticides in too many places to build a definitive case against one in particular, but the “evidence…is accumulating fast.”
To sum up, we return to the murder mystery metaphor. In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the great detective Sherlock Holmes says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Interestingly enough, the fictional Mr. Holmes retired from detective work to become–you guessed it–a beekeeper, producing a definitive work on the subject: “A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.”
We can only hope that this premature indictment of pesticides serves as a lesson to trust the science when it comes to agriculture. Farmers know what they’re doing because the proven science is sound—they can’t change methods whenever an activist proclaims some new theory—especially when the theory turns out to be flat-out wrong.