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Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Bees? 419

Mz6 wrote with a link to an article on The Independent site about a most unusual scientific theory. "Some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail. They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world — the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops."
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Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Bees?

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  • by stevedcc ( 1000313 ) * on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:09AM (#18740087)

    I for one am extremely suspicious about claims that bees are being wiped out by mobile 'phones. Here's an example of why:

    US = 301,505,000 people in 2,718,695 sq miles = 111 people per sq mile
    UK = 60,609,153 people in 94,526 sq miles = 641 people per sq mile

    So, why is it that the US is suffering this major disappearance of bees when the UK isn't? Seeing as the density of mobile phone signals is going to be FAR higher in the UK? Ok, i accept that mobile phones in the UK work on different frequencies, but from what I've heard, the same thing is happening in Poland and Spain [], which both have far lower population densities than the UK, and the same mobile phone frequencies. Of course, Poland and Spain import far more US Genetically Modified crops than the UK does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:34AM (#18740227)
    ??? There's much better 3G coverage in the UK than the US.

    Personally, I think it's much more likely that in the UK and the rest of europe, people frown on excessive pesticide use, and when it is delivered, it's often by carefully targetted ground-based spraying, whereas in the USA, they spray lots more nasty shit from planes.

    Given it's bees, I think it could just be a virulent fungus or mites or virus that just hasn't jumped across to the UK yet.

    Also, UK and Ireland in particular have a diverse population of pollinating bees that aren't honey-bees that mightn't be susceptible to whatever is hurting the other bees - the cold-adapted furry "bumble bee" exists in several subspecies. Irish ones rock - they grow as big as the last joint on your thumb, look like little furry flying teddy bears (don't try to cuddle them though. You can sometimes get away with stroking them, but they don't really like that either). Yes, there are creatures called "bumble bees" in the USA, they look like small-scale models of the ones you get in northern europe though, so I'd guess they're probably a different species.

  • Re:What study? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:50AM (#18740309)
    Well, in the CV, there's

    - Einwirkung hochfrequenter elektromagnetischer Felder auf Bienenvölker - Eine theoretisch und empirisch ausgelegte Fallstudie"
    - Elektrosmog - Einwirkungen elektromagnetischer Felder auf lebende Organismen"
  • by dorpus ( 636554 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:15AM (#18740437)
    Speaking as a PhD candidate in biostatistics, the article quotes thoroughly discredited theories of the effects of cell phones on humans. Unfortunately, the media routinely quotes the opinions of obviously fraudulent scientists, or quotes others out of context, to sell the "conspiracy theory" angle to the willing masses.

    Medical misrepresentation in the media has a long history -- in the 18th century, when a British physician developed a smallpox vaccine based on cowpox, newspapers at the time described people turning into cows, causing a national panic. Mistrust of vaccines lingered for decades afterwards. In 1999, anti-vaccine hysteria again surfaced when an extremely poorly designed study managed to be published in Lancet, claiming that 80% of children with autism had received the MMR vaccine. (80% of British children received vaccinations in the first place.) Lancet retracted the article, and years of wasteful research went into re-examining the vaccine theory -- plenty of other locations had rising incidences of autism despite reductions in vaccination rates. There is no controversy among epidemiologists today, but the media continues to describe this as a "controversial theory".
    The incidence of autism has since leveled off, suggesting that the observed increase was just based on changes in diagnostic criteria and public awareness; the true prevalence has likely never changed.

    The bee disorder in question is probably caused by viruses such as black queen cell virus or bee paralysis virus. Also, South African apiaries have had a problem with transposons (jumping genes), possibly viral in origin, that cause drone workers to produce children, disrupting the hive. Despite what you may have learned in high school, honeybees are a domesticated species with an unnatural pattern of reproduction in the first place. Wild bees do not always have strict hierarchies.

  • by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:26AM (#18740501)
    We had a good article [] in our local paper about the bee issue. It turns out they're just fine here (meaning there's the usual number of hive deaths).

    In fact, some farmers say they are puzzled about the dire news stories appearing in local, state and national media in the past several weeks.

    "It's not new this year," Williams said. "If you know what I mean."

    Many beekeepers are skeptical of the reports or at least how they're adding up. For 100 years, beekeepers have logged periodic reports of sudden and inexplicable bee die-offs. People refer the latest die-off by its initials "CCD," but one Georgia beekeeper instead calls it the "SSDD" crisis for "Same Stuff, Different Day."

    There have been a few good theories as to why they're dying off in certain places:

    Most empty hives have been discovered at large, commercial migrating bee farms - and that has led some beekeepers to theorize that it's the stress of being trucked cross-country that's killing the bees.

    "The (bee's) instinct is to go out and collect pollen and nectar, and that's what they do. When they can't get out of the hive, it puts them under stress. They need to go to the bathroom on a regular basis, but they won't go in their hive," said Ken Ograin, an Elmira beekeeper.

    Some people blame the high-fructose corn syrup that beekeepers feed the bees in the large-scale operations.

    "People think that's not the best thing to feed them. There's a lot of argument about that," Scher said.
    At this point, bringing cell phones into the mix is just plain silly.
  • by arcite ( 661011 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:53AM (#18740599)
    Clearly its in everyone's best interest to find the cause...and cure.

    "The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

    CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

    Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."

  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @10:17AM (#18741013) Journal
    I am (was) an amateur apiculturist, that is, I used to have my own hive of pet bees.

    My grandfather was a semi-hobbiest beekeeper who made a decent living after retirement selling beekeeping equipment, and taught me all about the wonder of the bees. I don't claim to be the worlds leading authority on bees, but I find them pretty fascinating, and know a bunch about 'em.

    Anyways, I don't see Occam's razor being applied here. Here is what devastates bees:

    1) Foulbrood.. Comes in two varieties, American and European.. Makes the larva basically rot in their pupas. It can be prevented with teramiacin (sp?! its a horse medicine), but the only cure for an infected colony is fire, and lots of it - mandated by the authorities. It's been somewhat of an epidemic since the 80s. There is lots of talk about it spreading because of commercially sold queens, and or colonies. Ie; The industry developed a bee that makes lots of honey, but is succeptible to this. This accounts for a *lot* of missing bees.

    2) Africanized bees? A lot gets made of "killer bees", but once they move into a colony, that colony doesn't collect as much honey - and you don't see as many bees.

    3) Climate or other environmental problems. Bees will abandon a location if it isn't suitable. It's common to have a swarm (too little food or too much space, so half the bees pack up a new queen and leave) that leaves the original colony to die - too few bees left to tend to the queen, or an incapable queen is a death sentence to a hive.

    I can't believe the "scientists" would skip past an obvious sign of climate change and jump straight to cell phones. I've never heard this before, and frankly, it sounds like a bunch of horse-shit.

  • by serbanp ( 139486 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @11:19AM (#18741423)
    Hey now, this is a true statement. Every bee keeper knows that feeding his bees with sugar, be it HFCS or cane syrup, sickens the bee.

    This feeding occurs during the winter months. The normal way of caring for the bees during that time is to leave in the hive some fully capped honey frames to feed the bees. Greed (errrr, that's economy effficiency) makes the bee keepers to replace the frames with syrup.

    The problem is that the sugars are harder on the bee's digestive system, making the bee weaker as she enters the spring. The winter generation dies anyway after less than 4 weeks after beginning the harvesting but a weak bee can't collect enough to feed the offsprings and the hive risks collapsing.

    In a sense, corn syrup is to a bee what corn feed is to a cow.
  • by drix ( 4602 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @12:16PM (#18741859) Homepage
    No, actually they aren't. You're talking about a single observation on a small segment of the overall population, and somehow extrapolating this into a commentary about the status of the entire species. (Odd how one data point can establish a trend arguing against the effects of global warming, but 200 years' worth of data demonstrating its presence are roundly dismissed as insufficient.) It's telling that the article you linked to doesn't even try to establish a mechanism through which warming would help the polar bears. The ways in which it might hurt them, though, are well-documented and plausible, and they are already being seen in action in the well-studied Hudson Bay colony.

  • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:06PM (#18742295) Journal

    There also appears to be an obvious short-term fix to this, which is to breed the bees intentionally, either in captivity, or for the agriculturalists to hire an apiary to raise the bees near them, and harvest honey from the same crop.
    That's what beekeepers do: breed bees intentionally. Management of queen and drone production is an important job for spring and early summer, when the bee-keeper has decided how many hives to operate. The queens mate (lethally) with multiple drones all by themselves. Farmers, especially those raising fruits or other insect-pollinated crops, hire hives to be placed in their orchards or fields at the appropriate times. However, the bee-keeper is the one who gets to keep the honey; the farmer's benefit is a pollinated crop.

    The problem is for a healthy hive to lose its workers en masse. The queen is still producing eggs, but without mature workers the hive is doomed. It appears to be unrelated to the varroa pestilence which spread from Europe into North America in the 1970s and 1980s, and devastated many bee-keepers' livelihoods.
  • Re:Or is it GMO's? (Score:2, Informative)

    by nightgeometry ( 661444 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:12PM (#18742341) Journal
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:35PM (#18742513) Homepage Journal

    t says that whatever is happening is natural, and has happened enough for Nature to have built in defenses against whatever it is.

    If I set off a teargas canister in a field, every critter in the area will move away from it quickly. That does NOT mean that teargas canisters occur in nature or that they have existed for millions of years.

    The microwave pulses from some radar systems will scatter a flock of birds. AFAIK, RADAR is fairly recent in the natural world as well.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:58PM (#18742713) Homepage Journal
    Great info there. The problem, a I understand it, is less the CCD itself and more the scale. The problem seems to be on a far greater scale than would seem to have been expected. This does not require any new mechanisms, but does require an explanation for how we get from historical CCD norms to current CCD levels. It may be as simple as there being better monitoring, better reporting, more experience at triggering sudden panic attacks in the media, etc. However, I see nothing wrong with researchers taking the time to find out.
  • by the phantom ( 107624 ) * on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:51PM (#18743103) Homepage
    Not to take your obvious attempt at a joke too seriously, but I take it that you don't like apples, almonds, cucumbers, or pumpkins, either? Much of the vegetable food that you eat is dependent upon bees for pollination. Much of the food that is fed to livestock that you might eat is dependent upon bees for pollination. If bees were to completely disappear, we would lose out on a whole hell of a lot more than just honey.
  • by edb ( 87448 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:17PM (#18744127)
    Most empty hives have been discovered at large, commercial migrating bee farms - and that has led some beekeepers to theorize that it's the stress of being trucked cross-country that's killing the bees.

    Many amateur beekeepers (including my wife) are finding 90% or more of their hives wiped out here in California. These hives are not commercial, do not migrate.

    Some people blame the high-fructose corn syrup that beekeepers feed the bees in the large-scale operations.

    This is generally known to be not the best thing to feed bees, and weakens them. The beekeepers here are not feeding their bees sugar water.

    This problem is real, even if it is not happening everywhere. It is quite widespread in California, and many other places, more so than in memory or written records of the beekeepers.
  • by Civil_Disobedient ( 261825 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @06:18PM (#18744619)
    it's that Crazy Frog ringtone

    It's Axel F [], goddammit. Axel F, written by Harold Faltermeyer [] in 1984 for the movie Beverly Hills Cop [], the protagonist of which, played by Eddie Murphy, was named Axel Foley.

    NOT "the Crazy Frog" song.

    Oh, and for the record, that Puff Daddy song, I'll Be Missing You []? That was written by this dude called Sting, in a song called Every Breath You Take in 1983.

    Goddamned kids these days. They're all "But I hate the 80s!" yet conveniently ignore the fact that three-quarters of their "culture" is ripped off from the 70s and 80s. /rant
  • by bongk ( 251028 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:46PM (#18745287)
    If you read the FAQ from the Colony Collapse disorder working group you'll find that Genetically Modified Crops and Cell phone Radiation are not likely causes:

    "What are examples of topics that the CCD working group is not currently
    investigating? GMO crops: Some GMO crops, specifically Bt Corn have been
    suggested as a potential cause of CCD. While this possibility has not been ruled out,
    CCD symptoms do not fit what would be expected in Bt affected organisms. For this
    reason GMO crops are not a "top" priority at the moment.

    Radiation transmitted by cell towers: The distribution of both affected and non-affected
    CCD apiaries does not make this a likely cause. Also cell phone service is not available
    in some areas where affected commercial apiaries are located in the west. For this reason,
    it is currently not a top priority.

    Causes still under investigation include:
    What potential causes of CCD is the Working Group investigating? The current
    research priorities under investigation by various members of the CCD working group, as
    well as other cooperators include, but is not limited to:
      Chemical residue/contamination in the wax, food stores and bees
      Known and unknown pathogens in the bees and brood
      Parasite load in the bees and brood
      Nutritional fitness of the adult bees
      Level of stress in adult bees as indicated by stress induced proteins
      Lack of genetic diversity and lineage of bees
  • Slashdot editors should have listened in Physics class. This is the fourth time in 3 years, if I count correctly, that Slashdot editors have been fooled by the SAME scam.

    See my previous comment, posted January 13, 2005: Distinguish between real science and junk science. []

    Planck's constant [] is so small that interactions between electromagnetic waves and molecules cannot be chemically specific. The 2,000 MHz radiation from cell phones is felt as heat, a very, very small amount of heat, almost certainly not measurable.

    Anyone may have theories. Someone could say, for example, that pigs have started flying and they have been eating the bees. The only real science, however, is based on what is already known through experimentation. That requires an understanding of what is known.
  • by stonecypher ( 118140 ) <stonecypher&gmail,com> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:41PM (#18745695) Homepage Journal
    If I set off a teargas canister in a field, every critter in the area will move away from it quickly. That does NOT mean that teargas canisters occur in nature or that they have existed for millions of years.

    No, but it does mean that toxic gasses have existed for millions of years. Believe it or not, most creatures don't actually react when presented with fundamentally new stimuli; with the exceptions of neophobic animals like rats, and animals which think something about the deployment is threatening - like maybe the tear-gas canister hisses, or whatever - you're more likely to see animals go towards the grenade than away.

    "But it's painful, of course they're going to run away." Yeah, why do you think pain exists? That's an evolved defense against generic caustic gasses, fires, et cetera. The gas in teargas was chosen specifically because it does a damned good job of setting off our natural reaction to the gasses in forest fire smoke. Just because humans can imitate the source of a biologically hardwired behavior doesn't mean that the behavior doesn't have an originating source. You'll note that tear gas is fine-tuned to piss off human biology; several other biologies on earth, such as insects, lizards, fish and hippies are completely unaffected, and still other biologies, such as deer, are killed by tear gas.

    For comparison, set off a can of teargas in a container, then put the resulting liquid in the water of a tank containing crabs with an easy path out. The crabs will not react, if you're careful to not splash the water. They'll die quite ignorant of what's happening. We don't just magically run away from things. Biology has to know they're harmful before we'll bother. Most humans will silently asphyxiate in a room full of carbon monoxide, because the body doesn't know how to differentiate it from oxygen, and just sort of quietly fails.

    There are tons of things humanity has made that are quietly toxic, and a few that were already in nature, like radon. The teargas reaction is not random. It's highly evolved and for a damned good reason. Animals set up shop in toxic sludge all the time.

    every critter in the area will move away from it quickly.

    Actually, many insects and smaller animals don't have the good sense to do so, and anything without exposed mucus membranes, like most lizards, won't have a good reason to leave. Only some classes of animal react to teargas, because many animals use different holy-shit triggers for fire. If you throw a quiet teargas grenade next to a seal, the seal will bat it around for a while, try to eat it several times, and end up getting bored and finding something to kill.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead