Thursday, 8 May 2014

Avaaz: Before the bees are gone?

For a while now, Avaaz have been spamming out more of their emails, this time regarding bees. But it's not a petition this time - they want you to dig deep to fund their little science project. In short, they want your money so they can fund a research project to find out why bees are dying, because all of that industry funded junk science getting in the way of the facts.

Apart from the astounding irony of an explicitly and openly partisan organisation that has previously run petitions presuming the primary cause of bee declines (pesticides), accusing the other side of junk science when asking for money for your own science project, there are a lot of problems with this "project".

  1. Given Avaaz's open political agenda regarding pesticides, how can we be sure that this study will be unbiased, and not "junk science" as they accuse the industry of?
  2. The language they use, such as "go head to head with big pharma" strongly indicates that they do, in fact, have a strong bias, and this research will be worth about as much as the paper it's (not) published on
  3. The scientific consensus is currently that there is no "silver bullet" to halt bee declines, which are actually caused by multiple interacting factors (of which pesticides are just one). See this TED Talk by a well known bee researcher for more detail
  4. Bee and pollinator declines are now subject to a rapidly growing body of research. There has already been a lot of research, and there is a lot of ongoing research, into the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees, independent of the industry, which has shown that they are harmful to bees. My own university tutor has performed published research about the effect of imidacloprid (the most widely used neonicotinoid) on honeybee learning at concentrations likely to be encountered in contaminated nectar.
  5. In light of #4, it's hard to see how Avaaz think a project like this will be a magical panacea in the fight against pesticides
  6. Avaaz have not stated exactly what the research would be studying ("pesticides" is not a good enough answer, be specific), or who would be performing it
In summation, this is almost certain to end up being junk science. It will divert a lot of money from peoples' pockets to a junk science project that could be spent on other charities projects fighting pollinator decline. A list of the charities working to fight pollinator decline is below:
  1. Friends of the Honeybee is the British Beekeepers' Association's fundraising campaign, and seeks funding for research into honeybee parasites and diseases, particularly Varroa.
  2. Hymettus funds research into bees, wasps, ants, and other pollinators, and disseminates information regarding their conservation.
  3. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust does exactly what it says in the name.
  4. Buglife is a charity dedicated to "saving the small things that run the planet" and has a long-standing campaign to conserve pollinators.
  5. Find your local beekeepers' association - they're all branches of the BBKA and usually charities in their own right, and support beekeepers in the local area. Donating to them can help the association to rent land for their members to set up a communal apiary, help to buy equipment and/or bees for new members, provide training for both beginners and established beekeepers, and potentially a myriad other things.

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