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    Research Thoughts: Bees, ethics, and citizen science
    By Mel. White | October 10th 2010 05:04 PM | 1 comment | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Mel.

    I am a PhD candidate in the field of information science, volunteer Naturalist for the Trinity River Audubon Society and a volunteer fossil preparator...

    View Mel.'s Profile
    Under the science/environment topic, one tidbit of hot news this past week was a paper linking a synergestic effect between a fungus and a virus and the death of honeybee hives.  What was not reported is that the paper's lead author, Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, received funding from Bayer Crop Science to uncover what caused the deaths.  Bayer Crop Science is hardly a disinterested party, as they manufacture pesticides.

    Bromenshenk (who was a witness in a lawsuit by bee farmers against Bayer) is reported as saying that the paper "
    did not examine the impact of pesticides."

    http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/08/news/honey_bees_ny_times.fortune/index.htm
    The article also states:
    Bromenshenk vociferously denies that receiving funding from Bayer (to study bee pollination of onions) had anything to do with his decision to withdraw from the plaintiff's side in the litigation against Bayer. "We got no money from Bayer," he says. "We did no work for Bayer; Bayer was sending us warning letters by lawyers."
    So... he goes to work for people who are sending him warning letters?  I have a hard time understanding what sort of peace offer might be put on the table that would induce someone with whom you are involved as a legal adversary to accept money and do work for you.  Of course, this might be an old funding request, might be a coincidence, might be many things but the funding source coupled with his withdrawing from the lawsuit is quite interesting.

    I also have an issue with the "did not examine the impact of pesticides."  I haven't read the paper and don't know the study area, but bee foraging range is reportedly 3-5 miles from the hive.  I can't think of many places in America that are 3-5 miles away from any place touched by insecticides or herbicides.  These honeybees in the study were pollinating onion crops.

    At the time of the report, I thought it was an unusual answer -- going a bit against the grain of what I thought I knew.   While I can see fungus and a virus contributing to this, I would also suspect multiple factors at work.

    Meanwhile, I checked on our hives out at Trinity River Audubon Society here in Dallas.  I saw nothing unusual (I did see bees!) but now that I think of it, I'm not sure what a "normal" hive looks like at this time of year.  I need to get back in contact with the beekeepers who set up the hive and find out.

    One thing the beekeepers said that struck me greatly was that bees are a "canary in the coal mine" species and, like frogs, will die off when the environment becomes degraded.  I'd been thinking of them as a measure of the health out at TRAC (which is a brownfield remediation site). but it also occurs to me that local beekeepers could be enrolled to test the accuracy of these claims.  I'm sure some sort of treatment exists for these things... and the question would be whether treated hives still fall victim to colony collapse.

    Beekeepers have the expertise to be citizen scientists in this area, whose comments and observations can provide valuable research data.  Hopefully their valuable contributions aren't being ignored.

    Comments

    Hank
    I get your point but I am generally not influenced by 'the funding taints the results' because I believe scientists are ethical regardless of where they work.   Are all studies funded during the Obama administration to be devalued by Republicans?  Does anyone believe NSF and NIH committees have no bias or that academics are more honest than others?   

    The unfortunate culture war by government-funded scientists against corporate ones is that a whole lot of government-funded scientists have priced themselves out of academic jobs (price goes down when there are far too many jobs for the PhDs available) which means they will get jobs their friends will sneer at even though they haven't changed as people.

    You address some legitimate concerns but if the only reason for concern was the funding source, it detracts a little from the conclusion, especially since you established judgment early yet didn't read the study.