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Science

Cell Phones Aren't Killing Bees After All 253

Posted by Zonk
from the most-reassuring dept.
radioweather writes "A couple of weeks ago, there was a nutty idea discussed in The Independent that claimed the electromagnetic radiation from cell phones was causing bees to become disoriented, preventing them from returning to the hive. The flimsy cell phone argument was used to explain Colony Collapse Disorder. Today the LA Times reports that researchers at UC San Francisco have uncovered what they believe to be the real culprit: a parasitic fungus. Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country."
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Cell Phones Aren't Killing Bees After All

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  • occam (Score:2, Insightful)

    by witte (681163)
    It certainly seems a more plausible cause.
    • by pragma_x (644215) on Friday April 27, 2007 @03:58PM (#18906025) Journal
      I'm not supporting the "mobile phone" argument one bit, but I'm still skeptical of this as the reason. The fungus plays a role, as it really is the simplest explaination for CCD; it's just the smoking gun. You need to slice with the razor one more time.

      Ask yourself: why is this fungus so successful at killing domestic honeybees, why now, and how is it moving from hive to hive so well?

      I think the answer comes down to one of a few possibilities:
      * The honeybees are stressed (diet, environment, travel, etc) and can't fight the infection
      * The plants the bees pollenate are favoring growth of this fungus like never before (GMO's, pesticides, fertilizers, etc)
      * Hives are being kept in containers/conditions that favor fungus growth
      * The fungus is an invasive species and hence, the bees have no/little natural defense against it

      The first one, unfortunately, seems most likely to me. We can *hope* that it's one or more of the others, since they're much more fixable IMO; they pretty much come down to "doing things they way grandpa did" and see if things change.
      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Friday April 27, 2007 @06:42PM (#18906761)
        There could be a number of factors that are contributing, and the recent New York Times article manages to hit on several of them in the space of a paragraph:

        Bee colonies have been under stress in recent years as more beekeepers have resorted to crisscrossing the country with 18-wheel trucks full of bees in search of pollination work. These bees may suffer from a diet that includes artificial supplements, concoctions akin to energy drinks and power bars. In several states, suburban sprawl has limited the bees' natural forage areas.

        So we have a number of possible factors implicated here: (1) the bees aren't properly nourished, which will make them more vulnerable to infection, (2) lots of hives are being crammed into tight quarters, which makes it easy for disease to spread from hive to hive, (3) bees are being moved from place to place, so the infection is being spread all across the country, rather than being localized.

        It actually seems remarkably similar to the kinds of issues that are thought to have led to the emergence of epidemic diseases among humans after the rise of civilization: you started cramming lots of people together into cities so transmission was easier, lots of them were poor and malnourished, so they were easier to infect, and then they were able to travel very long distances (boats, horses, roads, etc.)and spread the infection much faster.

  • by guruevi (827432) <evi.smokingcube@be> on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:38PM (#18904615) Homepage
    I see more and more in common media that everybody tries to blame everything on new technology going from cancer to depression, blamed on cell phones to video games. Yet, they don't bother looking or trying to understand the deeper reasons like our old friends in the mushroom... euhm, fungi world.

    Is it an artifact of ancient religion or superstition maybe? (Like the sun and moon worshipers, or offerers of livestock and enemies, witchhunting?)
    • by blincoln (592401)
      Is it an artifact of ancient religion or superstition maybe?

      I think it's human nature - when something bad happens, most people's first assumption is that it's related to something that changed recently. This is usually at least a good place to start, although obviously jumping to conclusions based on it is the wrong thing to do.

      In this case, the cell phone argument at first seemed hokey to me, but then I thought of a way that it might not be completely ridiculous. Maybe some people with more than an amateu
    • Eh. Phones are such a good target. I mean, you set your phone on your desk, and you get speaker feedback every time it does discovery on a tower, and you think how often that happens when the damn thing is in your pants, and so it seems plausible whenever some group freaks out about this or that thing and blames it on cellphones, until it turns out that they have no fricking evidence, but by that point the idea of dangerous cellphones is even more firmly ingrained in peoples minds, thus making them more lik
    • I see more and more in common media that everybody tries to blame everything on new technology going from cancer to depression, blamed on cell phones to video games. Yet, they don't bother looking or trying to understand the deeper reasons like our old friends in the mushroom... euhm, fungi world. Is it an artifact of ancient religion or superstition maybe? (Like the sun and moon worshipers, or offerers of livestock and enemies, witchhunting?)

      Did it occur to you that human stupidity has a lot to answer

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        we're also the only creature which will pollute our own drinking water, our own air and poison our own food.

        Animals lack the technology to poison the air, but many animals will foul their own water or food supplies. If they don't, it's an instinctive thing and it breaks down rapidly if you, say, put them in a cage. My bird drinks out of a water bottle, which is great because birds always throw all kinds of shit into their water bowls and render it rapidly undrinkable.

        Honestly though, the only reason anima

      • by gurps_npc (621217)
        Bullcrap.

        This is a common myth, usually promoted by people that are not biologists and have ZERO idea of what animals do.

        Ants pollute their own drinking water and poison their own food.

        Hm. Ants are one of the most succesfull species in the world. So are Humans.

        Could it possibly be that garbage is a sign of Success? (Yes) And that the more succesfull a human society is, the more garbage it makes (Yes)? And that the more succesfull ANY animal society is, the more garbage they make? So that only th

        • Could it possibly be that garbage is a sign of Success? (Yes) And that the more succesfull a human society is, the more garbage it makes (Yes)? And that the more succesfull ANY animal society is, the more garbage they make? So that only the most successfull species pollute their own drinking water, air and food?
          Pure genius. Microsoft's business model explained perfectly.
      • by Plutonite (999141)

        Did it occur to you that human stupidity has a lot to answer for?

        A lot of people on slashdot write software and maintain legacy code. You do not want to ask this question.

        Individually we are quite clever animals, but we're also the only creature which will pollute our own drinking water, our own air and poison our own food.

        Pfff, that's nothing. Try this: we are the only species that sexually assaults our own food, and are then forced to marry it [bbc.co.uk]. Unintended consequences? Dude, we rule.

      • ...but we're also the only creature which will pollute our own drinking water, our own air and poison our own food.

        I am absolutely tired of this self-loathing that humanity has assumed. It is time it stopped. No animal has ever built rockets and blasted off the moon, either. Humanity is a wonderful thing. We are the only animals who are able to THINK, and therefore have the power to change our own destiny. There are probably plenty of animals who polluted, through their own biological functions, their envir

      • by cptgrudge (177113)

        Individually we are quite clever animals, but we're also the only creature which will pollute our own drinking water, our own air and poison our own food.

        The phrase "Always drink upstream from the herd." comes to mind. Trouble is that today, we're always downstream from someone.

    • by prelelat (201821)
      I agree, fungi parasites and disease have caused coloney collapse before. I do agree that they should have gone through all the claims such as cell phone usage to make sure they figured it out. I never believed that was the reason(this has happend in other years with less deaths) and I'm glad they found out what it was(I got the impression be farmers who have experianced this before figured it would be something like this). The media jumped on board with the cell phone usage and I think I read a couple a
    • by shaitand (626655)
      'I see more and more in common media that everybody tries to blame everything on new technology'

      That is fairly reasonable since this is a new problem it stands to reason that something new would be the cause. Most of the other things blamed on technology are old problems.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        That is fairly reasonable since this is a new problem it stands to reason that something new would be the cause.

        There are extremely numerous examples of old behavior whose results have finally stacked up sufficiently to cause a problem. Global warming is one of them. The destruction of the Southern coastline of the US, the destruction of the flora that causes drainage to work properly, and related issues made it possible for hurricane katrina to wipe new orleans mostly off the map. Mercury mining in Lake

        • by shaitand (626655)
          'Anyway, it's really not reasonable at all, it was a knee-jerk reaction from people who don't understand physics, just like my girlfriend won't let me put my microwave in the kitchen because she thinks that it's going to harm her somehow, even if it's never in use while she's in the room.'

          'was' is inappropriate because nobody has shown anything contrary to the research that shows cellular signals are disrupting the navigation systems used by bees. This article doesn't even mention cellular signals or reach
          • by rthille (8526)
            Dude, the sex must be great, or you've got a lot higher tolerance for people who can't think logically...that said, I dated one of those. Damn the sex was good, but talking with her made my brain hurt.
    • by CODiNE (27417) on Friday April 27, 2007 @03:10PM (#18905243) Homepage
      I don't think religion has anything to do with it. More likely it's confusion on the whole cause vs correlation thing. Hey even scientists sometimes confuse the two.

      News: Bees are dying in great numbers!
      Reaction: What's changed recently? Ahah! Global warming! Cell phones! VoIP! AppleTV!

      It's really natural to think "What's different?" when something bad happens for the first time in memory. Even if the whole world was atheist I can't imagine things would be much different. Unless you assume everyone would automatically have an I.Q. of 150. Not all atheists are intelligent after all. ;-)
      • by Vellmont (569020)

        Reaction: What's changed recently? Ahah! Global warming! Cell phones! VoIP! AppleTV!

        I think that's part of it. The other part is there's a large group of miss-guided people who have a bug up their butt about some particular thing. The people who think cell phones are harmful blame cell-phones. The people who don't like GM crops blame GM crops. Forget about lack of mechanisms, or these causes not matching or being able to explain the observed pattern, it HAS to be those things, because those things are E
    • by Himring (646324)
      I see more and more in common media that everybody tries to blame everything on new technology

      The real problem is, and always has been, women....
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014)
      Well, to some degree being suspicious of novelty is a human trait.

      But the real story here is how poorly the media are equipped to deal with science or technology stories. They don't have enough scientifically literate reporters. They apparently can't find any reporters who are even interested in science or technology.

      Anybody who takes Science News, which every journalist should has been aware of the bee fungus story for years now. Stories about cell phone radiation have been around for decades.

      But someho
    • I think in history there have been two ways to look at new technology. Fear and avoidance, or exuberant acceptance. But sometimes thing that are accepted as breakthroughs are actually deadly for us. Can you say X-Ray shoe fitting.

      Technology such as cell phones are so mysterious to average non-technophiles, and that mystery is frightening. Fightening precisely because of the past "breakthroughs" that causes people great harm.
    • Because it's damn logical, it's logical to inspect new introduced things for every (perceived) new problem.
    • ...everybody tries to blame everything on new technology going from cancer to depression, blamed on cell phones to video games. Yet, they don't bother looking or trying to understand the deeper reasons...

      Amen to that. Check out this article where a woman passes off her psychosomatic illness as an allergy to technology [dailymail.co.uk].

  • by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:39PM (#18904627)
    they shouldn't use cell phones while flying.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:41PM (#18904683) Homepage Journal
    "I think there is a fungus among us."
    • Yeah, well.

      Milli Vanilli said you can blame it on the rain,
      And if you blame it on the rain, what can be gained so..
      If all fails, you can blame it on bees.
  • by R2.0 (532027) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:41PM (#18904685)
    "Correlation does not necessarily equate to causality"

    Repeat 100x.

    Apply to all the other dumbass pop-sci suburban "crises". Cell phones cause brain cancer. MMR vaccine and autism. Etc.
    • That is correct (Score:2, Informative)

      Correlation does not prove causality, it doesn't disprove it either. Enough anecdotal evidence can justify reasonable suspicion. E.g. brain cancer on the side of the head of people who heavily use cell phones, or children who become autistic within weeks of a vaccination. I don't think anybody with any sense believed the cell phone - bee dying association, since cell phones represent only a small slice of the EMR that is ubiquitous.
    • by Itninja (937614) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:54PM (#18904975) Homepage
      Oh, I'm pretty sure it does. Everybody knows that umbrellas make it rain. It's just common sense. But I guess you elite Harvard liberals wouldn't know much about that. /end sarcasm
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Apply to all the other dumbass pop-sci suburban "crises".

      I hope you're not implying that wide-spread collapse of colonies of bees isn't a crisis.

      The collapse of bee colonies has potentially huge implications for agriculture. Bees get trucked in so that they can be placed in the vicinity of orchards and fields which need to be pollenated so their can be crops. Then, after they get done, they get trucked elsewhere. There isn't a manual replacement for this that works nearly as well.

      As much as people made m

  • Concider this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Handbrewer (817519) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:42PM (#18904713) Homepage
    Its always easier to blame it on something that people don't really understand and/or already fear. Remember the fear of brain tumors from cell phones? Now when a Journalist or whatever hears bees cant find their way home, they obviously feel compelled to link it to the fearsome x-rays (I call them x-rays in the sense that x is unknown and scary rays of course). Surely, such "news" - "sell" more than some boring research into fungi. Nobody, cares about fungus. They care about scary invisible rays.
  • http://caughtinthexfire.mu.nu/archives/snl_bee.jpg [caughtinthexfire.mu.nu]
    What a waste of a talent. Thanks, dope!
  • I thought my mom was just being goofy....
  • Fungi (Score:5, Interesting)

    by uab21 (951482) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:46PM (#18904789)
    ...can do weird things - The Jungle episode of Planet Earth the other week showed fungi infecting insects, *making them seek higher ground*, and then growing out of their dead bodies to spore anew. The behavior controlling bit was the freakiest to me - might explain the mass evacuations if it is something similar to that. I also seem to recall something a while back on /. linking to a study showing parasites 'remote controlling' host insects...
    • Holy crap that was messed up! I sat there watching that with my jaw dropped open, thinking, "Who the hell needs horror movies, when you've got the rainforest? Stop it before it kills again!"

      I like that the ants had developed a response, which was basically to pick up the sick guy, and dump him as far away from the hive as possible. That's a pretty sophisticated response. If the bees picked up on that one, this bee problem wouldn't be a problem any more (assuming that it really is the fungus).
    • by AvitarX (172628)
      Also they found the cat shit worms (I forget the name) cause women to be promiscuousand men reclusive. More disturbing because it is people.

      here [blogspot.com]
    • Re:Fungi (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jdunn14 (455930) <jdunn.iguanaworks@net> on Friday April 27, 2007 @03:31PM (#18905591) Homepage
      If you find this stuff interesting, check out a book called Parasite Rex. It has all the gory details of these and a bunch of other parasites. For example, there's a fluke that lives in a snail, but needs to enter a bird to complete it's life cycle. It actually pushes the snail's eyestalk out and waves around to get the attention of predators.
      • by suv4x4 (956391)
        If you find this stuff interesting, check out a book called Parasite Rex. It has all the gory details of these and a bunch of other parasites. For example, there's a fluke that lives in a snail, but needs to enter a bird to complete it's life cycle. It actually pushes the snail's eyestalk out and waves around to get the attention of predators.

        It's quite scary. Another examples I know of is a parasite that infects grasshopers. It makes the grasshoper seek water ponds/lakes and jump in it and drown. The paras
    • by Reziac (43301) *
      Probably not so mysterious. Those hosts that died on higher ground gave the fungus spores a better chance to catch the wind or a fresh passing host, while those hosts that died in a low spot were out of the wind and less likely to get tripped over. So natural selection selected for parasites that affected their hosts that way.

      Conversely, in the host critter, this might also have selected for individuals that prefer areas unlike those where infected hosts tend to die. This doubtless helped keep the parasite
  • Damn bees (Score:3, Funny)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:47PM (#18904793)
    Stop making phone calls all the time, bees! I see people driving around in cars with those stupid things stuck to their faces all the time. It's a wonder they can concentrate enough to find their way back home. You, being insects, have small brains and could never carry on a simultaneous phone call conversation without losing track of what you're doing and losing the hive. I mean, it's no wonder cellphones are giving bees so much trouble. Turn off the phones, bees, fly back to your hives, puke up our honey, and fly out with new instructions. Stop being lazy and using cellphones.

    You know those phones are sold with that fungus on them, bees.

  • by lessthan0 (176618) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:49PM (#18904845)
    Of course, it is global warming. Both directly and indirectly making the bad fungus thrive this far north of the equator. All problems are related to global warming. No need to study anything anymore.
      1. It does come from the equator area and did not thrive in the cold (until recently).
      2. Or it could be that W's terrorist put it here and we have tenet and the democrats to blame for it all.
      3. Or it could be that it was carried over by China's rockets flying overhead, destroying a fake weather sat. and the parts rained down on us, where actually coated in it.

      Or who knows. It is possible that it simple mutated and it could be that it is simply being spread by mankind's transports.
      Occams solves this.

    • Every time I see seomthing really witty I think to myself "there's no way someone can come up with a post that's funnier than this". And then you just came along.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)
      And what if it is? The Pine Beetle is destroying arboreal forests specifically because warmer winters allow them to thrive.

      While blaming everything on global warming is stupid, taking the opposite position that global warming is harmless is equally, if not more stupid.
    • by feepness (543479)
      Of course, it is global warming. Both directly and indirectly making the bad fungus thrive this far north of the equator. All problems are related to global warming. No need to study anything anymore.

      Crap, here I was just having gotten irrationally afraid of the terrorists when I should have been irrationally afraid of global warming instead!

      Can you just simplify it by telling me who to vote for who will protect me from the other side who isn't doing enough to protect me from... wait, which was it aga
  • by xC0000005 (715810) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:50PM (#18904871) Homepage
    Now we've been dealing with normal nosema for a while. Nosema weakens bees. Imagine if a dozen roaches crawled into your lungs and lived there, multiplying. You'd have trouble breathing, and so do the bees. Nosema leaves the bees barely able to crawl in some cases, so here's how CCD could play out:

    Bees get Nosema in the fall. It weakens them greatly. In the spring as the hive turns the corner to build up, the foragers start taking cleansing flights (hell, the house bees do it too. Anything alive long enought o harden the wings probably takes a flight or two). Nosema leaves them weak, so they fall to the ground on their flight and die of exposure. House bees are held in their position by the presence of foragers but the hive's trying to build up. Soon house bees are pressed into foraging. These are infected too. Now the nurse bees are left. The ones older than five days take a few orienting flights and go at it. Nosema's a pain, so they die. What do you have left? Basically the CCD profile - a queen, the capped brood and a few dozen nurse bees in her retinue.

    You want to know how cell phones kill bees? When you set the phone down on top of one.
    • by feepness (543479)
      Imagine if a dozen roaches crawled into your lungs and lived there, multiplying

      Thanks but I'm going to have to go ahead and take a pass on that one.
  • by rodney dill (631059) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:51PM (#18904895) Journal
    Does this mean Al Gore won't be able to plug Global Swarming as a problem?
  • by csoto (220540) on Friday April 27, 2007 @02:52PM (#18904923)
    ...mating them with heartier wild bees from... AFRICA! Yeah! That'll do it!
  • Actually, (Score:2, Funny)

    by EinZweiDrei (955497) *
    ...there's just a massive apiary chondroitin deficiency -- it's the bee's knees.
  • by mosb1000 (710161)
    Who would have guessed it was a disease and not cell phones? I was so sure, I already threw mine away.
  • Change the headline (Score:4, Informative)

    by shaitand (626655) on Friday April 27, 2007 @03:05PM (#18905161) Journal
    There isn't one word in that article for or against cellular signals disrupting bee navigation systems.

    The article is about one common factor that has been found in many of the hives. The researchers stress that this is only a small sample of the hives and that they don't think this fungus alone could cause the problem.

    Its also depressing because if the fungus is central to the problem there MIGHT be an untested chemical that COULD have some detrimental affect on the fungus... MAYBE.
  • Today the LA Times reports that researchers at UC San Francisco have uncovered what they believe to be the real culprit: a parasitic fungus.

    What they failed to mention was that this parasitic fungus thrives on electromagnetic radiation from cell phones... :P
  • Today the LA Times reports that researchers at UC San Francisco have uncovered what they believe to be the real culprit: a parasitic fungus.

          So now all they have to do is get the fungus to stop using cell phones, and everything should be fine.
  • Monsanto's fault (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Damek (515688)
    Yup, it's gotta be the parasites. But why are they suddenly killing off all the bees?

    Some are saying [zmag.org] (not me, I don't know enough about it) it could be genetically modified food crops.

    The rationale being that genes have been demonstrated to jump species, specifically, even, from crops into microbes in the guts of bees (RTFA).

    Just posting this because I heard about it and it sounds somewhat reasonable, not because I'm advocating against genetic modification of anything.
  • So has the threat from those Killer bees that were supposed to doom us all for the last 20 years been eliminated now? Gypsy Moths and Killer Bees are passe now so I guess it on to the threat of Fungi.
  • I raised bees in Texas back in the 1970's and it was common knowledge then that nosema was a hive killer.
  • I guess this means we have to scrap the theory that quarks released by solar flares are messing up the bees six dimensional navigation systems [synchronizm.com] too?
  • Abraca-duh (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zero_DgZ (1047348)
    NPR had an extensive piece on this parasitic fungus a number of weeks ago and its effects on the overall bee population. As I remember, they had a lot of detailed coverage on the scientists who discovered the phenomenon and have been monitoring/tracking it ever since.

    I guess the crowd of shrill criers never miss a chance for bullshit sensationalism over thinking things through. Or, you know, looking at the rest of the news.

    It's very easy to leap to the Isle of Conclusions, but it's a long swim back...
  • there was a nutty idea discussed in The Independent that claimed the electromagnetic radiation from cell phones was causing bees to become disoriented

    It was so unbelievable, we just had to put it on the front page of /. Giving us two stories (crap and retraction), out of zero.
  • sometimes when I read headlines hear I lose my mind for a second and think I'm in the tabloid section of a supermarket.
  • It's the bills that kill them...

  • Phones carry fungi; never ever use someones phone without knowing the person or get funga!

    (I think /. has fungi too; I get lots of 503 and 500 errors; makes sense though, this fungi weakens them servers!)

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