Study Shows Bee-pocalypse Caused by Cell Phones
That was headline today on a short article on Laptop a couple days ago. Some more of my favorite definitive ledes: “Cell Phones are killing the bees” (Fast Company), “Why answering your cell phone might be killing bees” (Toronto Star), “Cell phones signals really are killing the bees, study shows” (Digitaltrends.com), “More Scientific Studies Indicate That Cell Phones are Harming Bees” (inhabitat).
So clearly, the next time you order pizza, you’re killing a bee or fifty, right?
Well…no. I, unlike the authors of most of the news articles, actually read the study (you too can find the PDF here). So I thought I’d go ahead and help out a few of these ridiculous articles with their so-called facts:
Article statement: “Researcher Daniel Favre of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has found that wireless signals cause honeybees to become so disoriented that they finally just die.”
Reality: No honeybees died in the experiment. In fact, in trials with short (2-3 minutes), medium (45 minutes) and long (20 hours) exposure to actively communicating cell phones, all the bees eventually returned to normal after a few seconds, minutes or hours, respectively.
Article statement: “Favre’s team conducted 83 separate experiments that tested bees’ reactions to a nearby cellphone.”
Reality: Favre conducted 80 individual recordings from 5 hives. That is HARDLY 80 experiments. In fact, it’s ONE experiment, with a total sample size of 80, spread among different conditions (no phone, off phone, standby phone, active phone) and five hives. There wasn’t even enough power for statistical analysis, this was a qualitative study.
Article statement: “A new study claims to have found the shocking answer [to why bees have been dying off]: cell phones.”
Reality: “(1) honeybees are sensitive to pulsed electromagnetic fields generated by the mobile telephones and (2) under these circumstances, observable changes in the behavior of the bees are not artificial, but can be proven to occur reproducibly.” Note that in this quotation from the paper there is no mention of: 3) this is why bees die. And that’s because such a conclusion can not be reached from the results of this paper, and Favre, its author, does not try to reach it.
Article statement: “[cell phones] confuse them to a point they cannot return to their hives”
Reality: This comes from a different study altogether, one published in India in 2009. It is not available online, and Favre actually cited a news article about the real article, and we’re seeing here just how accurate those can be.
Article statement: “And now that 4G technology is being built-out by the big wireless companies, Favre sees the problem as only getting worse.”
Reality: Favre does not say that.
Article statement: “The study consisted of monitoring bees in France while cell phone activity took place nearby.”
Reality: First of all, clearly there was no actual reading of the article was done, because the bee monitoring was in Switzerland, which is near, but not, France. Also, take note that “nearby” in this case means “directly on/in the hive”. About this Favre says “mobile phones are not present in the close vicinity of honeybees in real life”.
Article statement: “The results showed that the bees were possibly confused by the signals and were unable to return to a normal state for several hours afterward.”
Reality: Actually, that was only when they were exposed to a twenty-hour phone call. When the call was 45 minutes, the bees returned to normal in a couple of minutes. Also, we should again be clear that Favre was making a specific observation about the bees, i.e., how much noise they were making. That does not correlate necessarily with the bees being “confused”.
Article statement: ” The theory posits that the wavelengths used are so similar to a bee’s natural communication method they are being directed in an unnatural way, causing them to die off in droves.”
Reality: No bees died in the experiment. Therefore a direct link cannot be made between bees making more noise and bees dying.
Basically, this is an interesting pilot study, and neither the results nor the author himself makes an attempt to overshoot the results. He suggests further research with range as well as enclosing the hives in Faraday cages. What you should take away is that not only are the articles you may see about this paper not accurate, but you should be skeptical about broad generalizations in any news article about a new scientific development without first reading the actual research.