Monday, October 11, 2010

Bias in Bee Study?

A New York Times article described the ongoing bee collapse mystery as solved by the collaboration between a university scientist and the U.S. Military.

Since I love honey I follow "bee" news carefully. This story was interesting but it didn't answer a few critical questions.

The story attributes the colony collapse to the combined force of a fungus and a virus. However, the article notes that neither of these two agents alone is capable of killing bees. Here is how the article phrases it:

NYT: "It’s chicken and egg in a sense — we don’t know which came first,” Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment,” he said. “They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies.”

Yet the chicken or the egg conundrum actually simplifies the story inappropriately because, as the article points out, some 3rd factor plays a role because the bees were only vulnerable to the combined impact of the virus and the fungus because their nutrition had been compromised. As the article explains:

NYT "both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised."

So, what might have compromised the bees' nutrition. The article suggests:

NYT: "Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role."

NOWHERE in the article is it mentioned that PESTICIDES may play a role. Guess why? The bee study's lead author received money from the manufacturer of the pesticide implicated by other scientists and bee keepers in the demise of bees.

Here is what the common dreams article by K. Eban reports:

"What the Times article did not explore -- nor did the study disclose -- was the relationship between the study's lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant."

The common dreams article goes on to cite the concerns of other bee scientists who have studied bees and pesticides and found conclusive evidence that pesticides do impact bees adversely.

If we put both stories together we get a clearer understanding of what may be happening. Bees weakened by pesticides are succumbing to fungi and viruses.

The New York Times was once again remiss for biased reporting.

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