Bees, the New York Times, and claims about “truth”

Vs. tailoring science news while claiming to be a neutral arbiter. From Jon Entine at Genetic Literacy Project, on the New York Times’ Oscar-worthy protestations that it presents “the truth:

Whether a journalist presents a story in good faith but wrongly can be a matter of healthy debate. But increasingly, a more troubling ethical line is being crossed: some writers choose to arrange facts, or even invent them, in ways that grey out nuances to advance a storyline arrived at before independent reporting even commences.

Two recent Times articles on the swirling farm controversy about bee health and food—one two years ago and another last week—raise serious questions about whether the paper’s editors are still wearing ideological blinders on stories involving ‘villainous’ agri-businesses.

In 1994, the Times wrote an editorial about “The Bee Crisis,” in which it noted an alarming 50% crash in feral bees in New York state. It blamed that primarily on pesticides. The next year, the phase out began of the most common pesticides—pyrethroids and organophosphates—used to protect crops pollinated by bees. While effective, these chemicals were known to kill beneficial insects and pose serious human health hazards.

They were replaced by what then and now were considered by most entomologists to be a far safer alternative—neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides whose introduction in the mid-1990s coincided with a stabilization of the global bee population. While sometimes sprayed for particular fruit, vegetable or landscape applications, the most overwhelmingly prevalent use of neonics is as a coating for seeds, which then grow into plants that systemically fight pests.

The bee health and pesticide issue faded from the headlines until the winter of 2006-2007, when some US beekeepers began discovering that many of their bees had mysteriously abandoned their colonies. The bees left behind the queen bee, attended by too few, immature worker bees to sustain the colony, yet with ample viable brood and stored food. This was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD is a periodic but still inexplicable ecological phenomenon that’s been around since at least the 1800s, predating the modern, post-World War II use of synthetic pesticides, says University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, who along with agricultural department researcher Jeff Pettis coined the term a decade ago. vanEngelsdorp, now head of the Bee Informed Partnership, has told me and other reporters, repeatedly, that there have been no instances of CCD over the past five years except cases linked to the Nosema fungus.

But you wouldn’t know that if you depend on the Times as your paper of record. More.

Actually, fewer people every year regard the Times as a paper of record. That’s a feedback loop, really: The fewer the readers, the more of a group mindset the readers have and the more the paper will cater to it.

It’s unfortunate that ecology, despite its importance to us all, tends to attract secular doomsday crackpots. One wishes they would all get religion (an obscure Gaia project on a desert island is what we have in mind) and leave the management of ecologies to people with a more pragmatic, less apocalyptic mindset. People capable of balancing goals, for example.

Note: Curiously, a widespread superstition that persisted quite late into modern times held that one must tell bees about major events such as the death of a member of one’s household; otherwise, they would suddenly swarm away. This implies that bees sometimes departed for no apparent reason centuries ago, leaving people free to speculate as to whether they might have missed something without really knowing much about bees. There is lots we still don’t know.

See also: 2016 worst year ever for “fake physics”?


New York Times Markets The “Truth”

The fact that the Times had to put this on YouTube helps us understand why their doom probably isn’t reversible: