Two weeks ago, a friend and I sat in the local Starbucks. I vividly recall we were talking about how small changes in our environment can have a large impact, and the example I came up with were bees who don't only produce honey, but pollinate many fruits. He was stunned to hear about the large effect that a loss of bee population could potentially have on our food supply, and asked me for details. As it turned out, he told this to another friend. Who, one week later, replied (forwarded to me), and asked if he'd seen the recent newspaper articles "You're absolutely correct about the bee problem affecting our food supply!"
Anyway, I only knew that because the recent bee-problem was pointed out to me already last summer, I think by Lubos (I couldn't find the comment though). What is new this April is that the bee-problem got a catchy name: the colony collapse disorder (already on Wikipedia), and is blamed on mobile phones by The Independent: Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?. They argue with the results of a study by German researchers at Landau University:
"Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause."
The word 'limited' already sounds very suspicious, and indeed the link is more than weak. For one, it is extremely implausible that this effect should have set in rather suddenly last summer. Mobile phone nets have gradually been extended over a far longer period of time. Also, it is very unlikely that such a mobile phone disorientation 'spreads out' as it seems to have done from the USA to Europe, this doesn't make sense at all:
"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."
But more importantly, mobile phones are rarely placed in bee hives. If one tries to find out what the researchers from Landau did, it turns out they indeed placed the 'base station of a mobile phone' directly in the bee hive. Now, if you don't speak German, let me be precise here: the German word commonly used for the English 'mobile phone' (or cell phone) is not 'Mobiltelefon', but 'Handy' (also written 'Händi' in best Denglish). The device the researchers used is not a cell phone, but a cordless home phone. What was placed directly in the bee hive was the base station of that phone.
An very conscise description of their experiment is available online. Unfortunately, it is (except for the abstract) in German. But even if you don't speak German, look at the pictures and illustrations
Verhaltensänderung der Honigbiene Apis mellifera unter elektromagnetischer Exposition
There is follow-up article in Spiegel who tried to clarify the misinterpretation of the researcher's results (again in German unfortunately): Werden Bienen tot telefoniert? (Are Bees phoned to death?), which also quotes Prof. Jürgen Tautz, bee-researcher at the university Würzburg: "I am sure: a healthy, not stressed, bee colony will not be affected by cell phone networks."
Ah - I just realized this wasn't even the reason for me writing. No, I meant to comment on the quotation that has been attributed to Albert Einstein in this context:
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
(„Wenn die Biene von der Erde verschwindet, dann hat der Mensch nur noch vier Jahre zu leben; keine Bienen mehr, keine Bestäubung mehr, keine Pflanzen mehr, keine Tiere mehr, keine Menschen mehr.“)
If one does a Google search on 'Einstein Bees' it gives 981,000 results today (two days ago it was only 893,000).
I've read a lot of Einstein stuff, and I can't recall I ever came across something remotely like this. Nowhere could I find a source for this alleged quotation. It seems it goes back to this article by Walter Haefeker (see last paragraph), but there it ends without a reference. It is not listed in any book with Einstein quotations. There are various other people who have pointed out that this quotation is most likely made-up, at least completely unconfirmed see e.g. here, here, or here.
Update April 21st: See also Lubos' post.
Update April 29th: Gelf-Magazine has an article about the alleged Einstein quotation titled 'Albert Einstein, Ecologist?' which confirms my doubts about its authenticity
"Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, tells Gelf, "There is no proof of Einstein ever having said or written it." While Grosz notes that it is extremely difficult to disprove a quote, he "could not remember even one reference to bees in Einstein's writings."
TAGS: BEES, EINSTEIN, HONEY BEES, CCD