Although public opinion has coalesced around the belief that the bee death mystery is settled, the vast majority of scientists who study bees for a living disagree—vehemently.
How could a “Harvard study” and a sizable slice of the nation’s press get this story so wrong?.
The buzz that followed the publication of Lu’s latest study is a classic example of how dicey science can combine with sloppy reporting to create a ‘false narrative’—a storyline with a strong bias that is compelling, but wrong. It’s how simplistic ideas get rooted in the public consciousness. And it’s how ideology-driven science threatens to wreak public policy havoc.
Bees are important to our food supply. They help pollinate roughly one-third of crop species in the US, including many fruits, vegetables, nuts and livestock feed such as alfalfa and clover. That’s why the mystery of CCD is so troubling.
One of the central problems with Lu’s central conclusion—and much of the reporting—is that despite the colony problems that erupted in 2006, the global bee population has remained remarkably stable since the widespread adoption of neonics in the late 1990s. The United Nations reports that the number of hives has actually risen over the past 15 years, to more than 80 million colonies, a record, as neonics usage has soared.
Country by country statistics are even more revealing. Beehives are up over the past two decades in Europe, where advocacy campaigns against neonics prompted the EU to impose a two-year moratorium beginning this year on the use of three neonics.