Prof. Jeff Ollerton – ecological scientist and author

What Einstein didn’t say about bees – UPDATE – May 2021

It’s more than 6 years (!) since I wrote this post. Over that period I’ve been asked many times about the Einstein bee quote and I’ve always replied that it’s made up, and that further more, Einstein was a physicist: he had no interest in bees!

Turns out, that’s not quite correct. There’s still no evidence that Einstein stated the infamous bee quote; however he does seem to have had an interest in bees. A newly-discovered letter from the great man mentions his admiration of the work of Karl von Frisch, whose research on the honey bee ‘waggle dance’ earned him a Nobel Prize. There’s a couple of news stories online about this: here’s one from Cosmos, and another from The Conversation. The original paper discussing the letter, by Adrian Dyer and colleagues, can be viewed here.

So I will have to moderate my response in the future, but it doesn’t change the big picture: Einstein never said it!


In the 100th anniversary year since Albert Einstein published the paper on his General Theory of Relativity, it’s saddening to think that one of the things that he will be best remembered for is something he did not say.  There are various versions of it, but they all amount to the same thing:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

This statement could be dissected and disproved in numerous ways:  for example, there’s over 20,000 species of bees, so what is “the bee”?  Plus most of our crops are not bee (or even insect) pollinated, they are wind pollinated grasses such as wheat and rice.  Etc. etc.

But what is particularly annoying about it is – EINSTEIN NEVER SAID IT!  As far as anyone is aware he had no interest in bees whatsoever and the original source was a Canadian beekeepers’ journal in the 1940s.

It’s even more annoying that, despite the fact that we’ve known the statement is both factually incorrect and not by the great man, documentary film makers and journalists are STILL using it to support their work.  The latest example I’ve seen is this documentary, the poster of which is shown above.

Rant over: back to reading paperwork for a meeting this afternoon.

UPDATE:  I’d forgotten that Tom Breeze at University of Reading posted a fuller account of Einstein’s (non) quote last year – here’s the link.