Are Cell Phones Killing Bees? How the False Meme Spread

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bee movie

You may have seen the sensational stories on the Internet the past 24 hours that it’s finally been confirmed: Cell Phones KILL Bees!

The only problem is… it’s NOT confirmed.

That’s not what the study says. It’s not even what the original article says.

The study

Yes, cell phone radiation harms bees. A Swiss researcher placed cell phones next to hives and recorded what happened. When the phones were active, the bees emitted “piping” sounds – the high-pitched tones that spread the message through the colony that something disturbing is going on.

Piping can be a signal for the colony to swarm… but that didn’t happen here, and the researcher let the phones go as long as 20 hours. He did report that the colony didn’t return to baseline normal state for many hours after the phones were switched off and removed.

Nowhere in the report does it say anything about bees dying. So what happened?

The first story

The original article was accepted for the scientific journal Apidologie last year.

The story was picked up by the British tabloid The Daily Mail yesterday. That paper is known more for its sensationalism than its accuracy, and they don’t disappoint – the second sentence claims “In the first experiment of its kind, a bee expert placed a mobile phone underneath a hive and then carefully monitored the reaction of the workers.”, which is simply not true – there have been other experiments of this type.

But the article actually gets it right on the subject of bee death – it explicitly states (all the way down in paragraph 17)

“The study did not show that mobile phones were deadly for bees”

But the headline writer may not have read that far. And it’s the headline writer’s job to pump things up to make sure that folks read the article. So he went all out.

Headline: “Why a mobile phone ring may make bees buzz off: Insects infuriated by handset signals”
Tagline: “Phone signals confuses bees and cause them to begin flying erratically before suddenly dying”
Photo caption: “Researchers placed mobile phones in bee hives under controlled conditions and monitored the results. They found the phone signals confused the bees who begin to fly erratically before dying suddenly”

-> Next page: How it spread

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Jeremy Bloom

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.

Jeremy Bloom has 40 posts and counting. See all posts by Jeremy Bloom