I don’t know about my entomological colleagues, but I am getting rather snippy over stories about the latest thing that’s killing bees.
Some of this I think is related to the false sense of urgency mainstream media seems to need to create about all stories. OMG NOT THE BEEZ!!! (obligatory photo of Nicholas Cage inserted here).
Some of it is also the way in which the honeybee problem is framed. It’s presented as a simple cause/effect relationship between bee declines and some unknown toxic thing. A new identity of this cause is covered breathlessly every few months, but the reality of the research suggests there is no single cause. As I said in an interview, it’s not that there isn’t a smoking gun, it’s that there are 20 guns.
This morning several people sent me a link to this article:
Researchers from the University of Southampton believe nanoparticles emitted from diesel engines could be affecting bees’ brains and damaging their in-built navigation skills.
They believe this may stop worker bees finding their way back to the hive.
There is also a theory that diesel fumes mop up flower smells in the atmosphere, making it difficult for the insects to find food.
There were several things about this article that made my antennae twitch. First, it’s from Huffington Post, which has a pretty dismal reputation for science reporting. But then I found almost exactly the same article on the BBC website. And PhysOrg.
So, clearly, there is a consensus that this is newsworthy. And I can see why–people are interested in nanotechnology, and in bee disappearance. But what lay readers ask when they forward these stories to me is along the lines of “Did you know that truck exhaust is killing bees?”
Even though it is coverage of an investigation that is planned. It isn’t based on any research results yet.
We don’t know there is a relationship.
I am sure the researchers have some preliminary evidence, or they would not have gotten funded. And it’s certainly an interesting question that is worthy of study. My question for my readers is: Is this really national news?
I don’t think it is. I think it’s interesting, but I’m not so sure it’s ready for prime time. My reasoning is partly because the evidence just isn’t there yet; and partly that releasing it as news gives it the weight of evidence. You can see people jumping to conclusions all over the web:
But when it comes to serious alarms, dear reader, consider only the small print of this week’s news. Not banks or battles, but bees, dying in their millions, perhaps poisoned or brain-damaged by diesel fumes.
Most of the news stories are careful to say this is an investigation–but what is clearly being heard is “diesel fumes are hurting bees.”
I find myself in the problematic position of not wanting something to be covered widely as news because people aren’t listening or thinking carefully enough. (Which, frankly, could cover a lot of the daily news cycle, not just stories about insects.)
What do you think?