“These things aren’t to study. They’re to turn up very loud and say, hey, once upon a time, everything was just as easy as this”

May June 2010 Garden, River of Flowers, Cambridge 011

The title of this brief post is a quote by Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, from an interview that the BBC reported just this morning, regarding the forthcoming release of previously unheard Zeppelin material.  You can read the story and hear the interview here.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not averse to sprinkling musical references into my posts, and this was a great quote that seemed to chime with something else I read this morning.  Over at the Small Pond Science blog, evolutionary ecologist Amy Parachnowitsch has a thought provoking post entitled “Save the bees, but maybe not this way“.  I’ll let you read it for yourself, but in a nutshell Amy is concerned about the scientific legitimacy of a “Save the Bees” campaign being crowd funded by online activist network Avaaz.org.

I share this concern and it worries me that whoever is organising the campaign is exploiting the genuine desire by people to “do something for the bees” without any regard for what exactly it is that’s “being done”.  It seems to me to be purely a campaign fund-raiser by people who don’t understand the issues or how science works, the message being: “These things aren’t to study. They’re to turn up very loud and say, hey, once upon a time, everything was just as easy as this”.

The organisers promise “the world’s first large scale, grass-roots supported, totally independent study of what’s killing our bees that decisively challenges the junk science of big pharma”.  As Amy notes, this is hugely offensive to independent scientists who are working on bee conservation issues (such as myself).  But without ever actually saying what they are going to do with the money, they’ve already had pledges of money from over 78,000 people!  If only raising funds for real research was that easy!

To reiterate what I said in the comments to Amy’s post, something that really worries me is that over-emphasis on pesticides and honey bees as single issues affecting “pollinator conservation” deflects attention from other factors which are at least as important, such as habitat loss. Colleagues and I have a manuscript in preparation at the moment showing that native bee and flower-visiting wasp extinctions in Britain began in the mid-19th century and reached their highest rate during the period 1929-1959, during a time of rapid agricultural intensification (but prior to the introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides that is currently exercising many people).  Loss of pollinator diversity is an issue that has deep roots.

In actual fact, although wild bee diversity is declining in the UK, overall abundance seems to be stable as some species are doing extremely well, including a new natural colonist, the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) which is spreading fast and is locally common.  But clearly greater diversity provides us with future insurance against losses of other species.

There are positive things that can be done for pollinator populations by every citizen, beyond giving money to crappy, pseudo-scientific campaigns, as I talked about in a recent post of mine.  So please don’t contribute to this Avaaz.org request, and use the money you save to buy some wild flower seeds and/or the Led Zeppelin reissues.  It will make the world a better place.


3 thoughts on ““These things aren’t to study. They’re to turn up very loud and say, hey, once upon a time, everything was just as easy as this”

  1. Pingback: Save the bees, but maybe not this way | Small Pond Science

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