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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 Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:18AM (#18740125)
    Just playing Devil's Advocate here for a moment...

    The US has several different cellphone frequencies. They refuse to share the same network with each other. This means overlapping coverage from multiple sets of cellphone towers. I think it could easily make up the difference in the sheer number of cellphones.

    Poland and Spain still tend to refute this, but their cause may be something else entirely, or just imagined.

    Heck, it could be something completely unrelated, like the poles of the earth getting ready to flip and throwing all the wildlife into chaos. I am -so- hoping that doesn't happen in my lifetime, and I'm hoping we invent anti-aging before I get senile. ;)
  • by eneville ( 745111 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:20AM (#18740145) Homepage
    Bees are not the only insect that pollinates the plants. If one reads The Origin of Species [] there are mentions of many different ways for plants to propagate. Bees are generally being pushed aside by the wasps, at least here in England. Many other creatures can spread pollen, along with wind itself.

    The problem with plant propagation in the wild is there is a rough 500:1 chance if successful growth to maturity for the seedlings.
  • What study? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gvc ( 167165 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:21AM (#18740151)
    I'm not saying there's no such study, but the The Independent article gives no reference and I see no paper on Kuhn's CV [].

    It looks like the sort of work he might do, but a one-sentence paraphrasal is scant information on which to base any comment.

  • by SnowZero ( 92219 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:25AM (#18740183)
    Add to that the seeming "spread" of this phenomenon. If this was a slow process in the US and Europe as cell phones increased, it would make more sense than some sort of more immediate collapse like we've seen. Maybe if they can show that adding new cell phone towers kills bees in the area, it would make sense. Until then, I'd guess it was some sort of virus/fungus/mite/parasite, or a chemical in a new (i.e. GM) crop.

    Hopefully the strong bees will survive, and repollinate the earth.
  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:30AM (#18740199) Journal
    Perhaps it's simply more to do with pesticide use, or is that too obvious.
  • by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:07AM (#18740393) Journal

    lets get real people. Cellphones are a politicians and media Buzz word

    That's right! Despite the fact that people in the Western world are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, those "bastard" mobiles are still perceived as a threat.

    I'd think bees have killed far more people than mobile phones ever have.

  • Biggest Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tidewaterblues ( 784797 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:20AM (#18740459)
    This biggest problem with this theory is that it does not explain why hive death has started now. We have had more than a critical mass of cell phones for years now, especially in Europe. It also fails to explain this rather telling quote from TFA itself: "The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives."

    This makes it sound like a new disease to me.
  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:24AM (#18740491) Homepage

    Ah, if you RTFA, you should know this: "Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well." Sorta blows your theory out of the water, I think.
    No it doesn't. Mobile phones have been popular in Britain for a long time; if it really was just down to mobile phones in general, this wouldn't explain the sudden jump in numbers.

    It might be suggested that more recent adoption of 3G technologies had something to do with this. However, AFAIK 3G penetration is greater in the UK than in the US, so if that were the cause we'd more likely be "ahead" of you with the bee problem, not behind.
  • Or is it GMO's? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bvdbos ( 724595 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:12AM (#18740693)
    Der Spiegel, a German newspaper, had an article in March [] where the phenomenon CCD [] might have to do with GMO's:

    According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry -- or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."

    babelfish translation of the article [] or the original in German []
  • Re:New Theory (Score:2, Insightful)

    by that this is not und ( 1026860 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @10:23AM (#18741027)
    While you're on the roll, you should jot down some arguements that the people proposing a 'global warming threat' could make use of. Forward your notes to algore.
  • Here's a thought (Score:2, Insightful)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @10:24AM (#18741033) Homepage
    If it was determined that "using the internet" somehow caused damage to the planet, would you stop using it?

    It's a short list so far, I know, but there's this theme over the past few years that seems to be growing in popularity. That would be "things you depend on every day are destroying the planet!!!" Gas, oil and coal for burning to make electricity are killing the planet. The car I drive to work every day is killing the planet. Now my BlackBerry is killing the planet too?

    You know, my first reaction to dying bees was "good, now those GM foods people can shut up about suing mom and pop farmer for having bees cross polinate their crops." Okay, that's a pretty short-sighted reaction but reactions are typically just that. You tend to focus on the closest and most direct thing on your mind which isn't always the most important or significant.

    Yes, we're killing the planet... or at least the aspects of it that we need to survive. Are we willing to actually do anything about it? Nope! Not really. Like most of the people, I'm not in any position to do anything except kill myself and even that wouldn't make a difference... or might make it worse since I have selected cremation and that would probably push the carbon emotions just over the edge enough to kill the planet somehow.

    The reality as I see it is there are a select small percentage of the people who actually CAN do something about it but will not for "pick your favorite reason." My favorite is "corporate responsibility." You know what I'm talking about right? No? How does "they have to act this way by law because they are beholden to shareholders! So they HAVE to continue making a profit!" There are options like quitting, standing up and doing what best for the planet anyway [and being a martyr] or even changing one's business model to continue making a profit while making a positive impact. There are WAYS to make the things happen they just don't want to.

    And I was about to use WalMart's CFB (compact flourescent bulb) initiative as an example, but last time I went to one of their stores, I was really disappointed to see the shelves containing 90% incandescent, but just about everyone buying bulbs were eying the incandescents as well... most likely because they are cheaper on the shelf... cheaper, more plentiful incandescent. When was this WalMart intiative supposed to begin? Doesn't look like it has...
  • When Slashdotters think that a story is fraudulent, they don't say it is fraud, they just make lots of jokes. If the first 50 comments are mostly jokes, then you know the story must have some fake element.

    It could happen to you: If you spend your time playing video games instead of learning about the world, you too can be so ignorant that you fall for every foolish, easily disproved theory.

    Remarkable Occurrences Involving the Bush Family []
  • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <jmorris@[ ] ['bea' in gap]> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @11:39AM (#18741599)
    > 5) these die-offs have been happening since people have been watching, long before there was any RF except for lightening

    And then add in this paragraph in the story in TFA:

    "Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives."

    This tells volumes to anyone with a hint of a clue about biology. It says that whatever is happening is natural, and has happened enough for Nature to have built in defenses against whatever it is. The only time in nature you leave food untouched is when your instincts tell you it is BAD. For that to happen takes evolution a longtime to perfect, thus this crap isn't new. It tells me it is something very nasty but very old, older than H. sapiens and certainly cell phones.

    But cell phone scares are all the rage these days so...... Not saying cell phones don't pose some major risks, but that has nothing to do with a media bandwagon. They start for reasons totally unrelated to science and then in the chase for funding, marginal scientists hook up to the bandwagon and make it self sustaining.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @12:45PM (#18742093) Journal

    4) Some of these frequencies have been heavily used in the past by high-channel UHF television stations with MUCH greater power (like 10,000 times). Ever wonder where channels above 70 went when cell phones started showing up? If it was something to do with these frequencies, all bees would have been gone back in the 70's.

    Not saying that I buy this theory or not but it would be interesting to see if it was related to the pulse nature of GSM transmissions. Did they do any studies to see if analog or CDMA transmissions (continuous) have the same affect? Have they tried placing an inactive cell phone next to the hive to see what happens? Hell, the plastics in the phone could give off an odor of some sort that scares them away -- it may have nothing to do with RF at all. There's just too little information here to draw any conclusions.

    Isn't more research called for?

  • by Frumious Wombat ( 845680 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @12:47PM (#18742115)
    The usual candidate is Variola mite, to which you may be seriously able to add GM-corn which is producing BT (bees do collect and eat pollen as well as nectar), excessive agrichemical usage, as well as Suburbanites, who plant flower-free ChemLawned monocultures which give the bees little to feed on and much to be poisoned with. It's also possible that the filler that the bees are fed isn't metabolized as well, or otherwise weakens them and makes them more succeptable to all of the above.

    There are probably other pathogens imported through globalization (like the Elm blight or Japanese beetle) which the european honeybees aren't resistant to, which will lead to some inconvenience as other pollinators move back into the open niche. This presumes, of course, that pesticide-besotted morons don't poison them first as well.

    Slightly hopeful case in point; when I was growing up the bio-textbook example of adaptation was how some small moth was required to fertilize yucca, and without said desert moth, they wouldn't reproduce. People planted yucca in places (southern Michigan, NJ) that it doesn't belong, and apparently some other pollinator saw an opportunity, as I have seen new ones apparently sprouted from seed in the wild, sopme distance from the domestic plantings. This doesn't mean that the new pollinators are as efficient, and since they might include studly africanized "killer" bees, not as benign either, but we're probably not looking at total collapse.

    When you see headlines like this involving radio-emissions as the cause of everything wrong in the world (as if the percent difference over natural field isn't trivial), you should require the alleged researcher to check one of two boxes, "I am a technophobic idiot who wants everyone to live in an unheated mud-hut like Gaia demands", or "I absolutely despise our over-connected, non-introspective, obnoxious cell-phone culture, and want a reason to make it go away".
  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:20PM (#18742395)
    "Some people blame the high-fructose corn syrup that beekeepers feed the bees in the large-scale operations."

    The US is the only country in the world that uses significant quantities of high fructose corn syrup, because the US Government bans sugar imports.

    The epidemic has moved to Europe.

    Therefore, it is not caused by feeding the bees high fructose corn syrup.

    Also, while the problem of total hive die-offs in the case of CCD may be concentrated in huge commercial bee operations, the small scale rural local bee keeper we know, who's bees mostly stay on his own organic farm, and who's been doing this for a long time, told us that his yields have been down more and more over the last several years and that that's been standard for the industry, even for small operations like his. Even without total hive death, there's been an unusually large number of bees dying off, and surviving hives have been having trouble maintaining population.

    I agree that the cell phone explanation isn't any good, but I don't buy the HFCS or traveling bee explanations either.

    I also think that we should embark on a crash course of research funding in this area, because in case the bees don't start getting better on their own, the long term prospects for humanity don't look so good. With scientific "doomsday scenarios," the populous seems to already be divided into two camps- environmentalists who say every little thing is going to destroy the world in the next fifteen minutes, and conservatives who think that all doomsday scenarios are ludicrous. But every now and then, there's something where the science behind it is just scary enough that we should probably do some serious looking into it, just in case. Since no one's really disputing that
    1. Bees in much of the world have been experiencing a significant unexplained population decline for years and
    2. The food supply for humanity is overwhelmingly dependent on bees
    that we should at least make a serious effort to ramp up research on this problem.
  • by bjdevil66 ( 583941 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:49PM (#18742613)
    It sounds like most people here are against this theory, and they seem to be against it for various, thought out reasons. I'd definitely want more studies done before saying this may be the case, and in the end, I'm betting it's more likely a combination of factors that have combined to be lethal to bees, making it incredibly difficult to discover. However (I don't mean this to be flamebait), if there was something to this cell phone theory (or some other, newer radiation-emitting wireless technology), would the posters at a "news for nerds" site that covers technology be objective enough to see it? Or would it be like global warming, which is such a polarizing issue that seemingly otherwise intelligent people turn into conspiracy theorists or Al Gore bashers? It would be seismic news in the IT industries around the world if there was something to this...
  • by __aailrp9629 ( 238178 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:28PM (#18742941)
    Wouldn't someone standing directly below a vertically-oriented antenna be in its cone of silence?

    I mean, that doesn't mean the RF theory is any less bunk, only that this instance doesn't necessarily mean anything.
  • FWIW, the scientists are merely proposing it as a theory. They aren't claiming more than that it is consistent with a few minor tests. It probably is.

    This isn't to say that this is the correct answer, just that it's consistent with the evidence against which it has been tested. (Probably that evidence forms the background against which it was formulated.) They are suggesting that it might be worth testing further. This seems reasonable. Since the cause of Colony Collapse Disease isn't known, examining new ideas is an appropriate next step.

    There are several proposed reasons (in Slashdot, above) why this theory shouldn't be accepted. If it is to be accepted it would need to be able to answer those objections. To require that it answer them at this point, however, is unreasonable. The mechanisms behind theories are often reformulated several times during the early period of their development. E.g., it could turn out that cell phones use a pulse code that heterodynes to a frequency that matches the length of one of a bees neurons. Since any neural circuit has lots of neurons, lots of frequencies in a particular range would work. It might need to match a particular pulsation pattern, which just happens to match some popular ring-tone...and all that would need being done is abolishing that ring-tone. Were this to be the mechanism, it wouldn't be found without investigating cell-phone/bee interactions. (This is a REALLY silly hypothesis...but I don't know of anything that rules it out.)

    Certainly this is an important enough problem that plausible theories should be investigated. And the plausibility of a theory is judged partially by comparing against its competitors. Also, there's no reason to just investigate one theory. (Different groups should be choosing different theories to investigate, as long as one isn't overwhelmingly probable...and possibly even then.)

    To me the theory being greeted by a number of bad jokes can mean that people think it's an implausible theory, but it can equally well mean that they don't like the possibility that it might be correct. In this case, given this audience, I suspect that the latter is in operation whether the first is in operation or not.
  • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @11:03PM (#18746603)
    I think if this were true, more species than bees would be affected.

    While the article is likely biased against cell phones and their usage, geomagnetic reversal does not explain everything. In particular, why this does not affect other species whose navigation appears to be dependent on the planet's magnetism. That, and why this is a spreading phenomenon, not one that suddenly happens to every honeybee worldwide. After all, changes in the magnetic field should affect the whole planet simultaneously and largely equally.
  • GE crops (Score:3, Insightful)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <<falconsoaring_2000> <at> <>> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @11:26PM (#18746731)

    genetic engineering is vital to our survival and evolution as sepcies

    I have yet to see any proof or concrete evidence that suggests never mind says that genetic engineering is essential to human survival in the next milia. It's certainly not needed to grow enough food for everyone. Enough food is already grown for everyone however because of politics and other human caused problems many people don't get the food they need. Take Zimbabwe. The country used to be the breadbasket of southern Africa. However once Pres. Mugabe forced white farmers off their farms and gave them to his cronies those farms became fallow, uncultivated, so it no longer produces the food it used to.

    Or take Mexico. Many in the US are worried about all those "illegal aliens" or immigrants yet they rarely ask why they are here or trying to get to the US. Many of them do because they are Mexican farmers are being driven off their farms. This is due to NAFTA and the massive subsidies the US government gives to agribusinesses. These US companies are then able to export food to Mexico where they can sale it for less than Mexican farmers can grow the food themselves.

  • by instarx ( 615765 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @06:38AM (#18748429)
    From the article: Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well.

    I call baloney on this bee vs. cell phone theory. Cell phones were commmon in Europe for many years before they became ubiquitous in the US, so the fact that the bee problem started in the US and spread to Europe argues against a causal relationship. If a bee-decline were related to handi use the problem would have started in Europe and spread to the US.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.