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Largest-ever study of controversial pesticides finds harm to bees (nature.com)
729 points by etiam on July 2, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments

Losing bees would suck so bad. Lots of plants co evolved, requiring pollinators. Orchids are the weirdest, with special moths unique to them [1]. But so much stuff depends on bees. A whole bunch of kinds of fruit trees, different kinds of beans, even celery.

Hand pollination is possible, of course, but that seems like such a pita. Perhaps it's possible to automate.

We have a perfectly good, self optimizing system that constantly moves to optimality. If we could just lighten up a little, not push quite so hard, or even just do localized trials of intensive use pesticides and fertilizers, we could find a balance of what the system can support.

Either go slow and look for local optimizations that are then distributed widely, or engineer immunity, or both.

Ugh. I guess if it was easy, it wouldn't be a problem.

> Hand pollination is possible, of course

You must be kidding. I can't think of many things that would less possible to do by hand.

We have 10 acres which is mostly in manuka (i.e. manuka honey), spaced a metre apart from each other. When I stand next to any one of those trees and watch the bees flitting hither and thither doing their thing, I am just amazed by nature.

Vanilla is hand pollinated in the Indian Ocean Islands (and I suspect that it's the case everywhere in the world outside of Mexico).

Great, how many tons of vanilla do we consume every year?

Enough for proving than human pollination, though not optimal, is possible.

Why even is it under discussion. Just stop harming the bees.

When they are gone, so are we.

Bigger, more profitable yeilds is not what we should be focusing on. Saving the bees and humanity in the process is slightly more important imho

I can't believe the idea that humanity depend on bees.

Sure, no more bees would be a very, very bad news. But humans are a pretty hardy specie. First, we are omnivores. Second, we have conquered the whole planet and live in huge numbers. And third, we are really smart. Besides cosmic scale events, I don't think of many scenarios that could damage humanity beyond recovery.

As far as i know, no, humanity won't disappear when bees would do (even though I have seen people claiming it). Sure, some plants might solely depend on bees for pollination, but there are also plants which don't and there are also other pollinators. See https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/30495/do-bees-p... for example:

    The authors of the FAO analysis concluded that the proportion of global food production
    attributable to animal pollination ranges from 5% in industrialized nations to 8% in the developing world.
That being said: it is pretty hard to predict waht would happen suppose there were no bees at all. I doubt it would be nice though.

Lets say that millions of people would die without bees then to put things into context.

Pesticides are not enough to explain all the harm to bees. Fungus and parasites can destroy colonies too. We have to consider how to live without as many bees as we have now, because we don't know how to save all the bees.

The right thing to do is it wait until all the conclusive evidence is in. It is anti-science to not think about the corporate bottom line.

It _may_ not be caused by the pesticide, changing or stopping the use of the pesticide could not be necessary and then we would have accidentally saved the world while having less profit.

I get that this post is sarcastic/satirical, but it still feels like you're disagreeing with me?

> Pesticides are not enough to explain all the harm to bees.

How do you know this? Because of the possibility (and it will always exist) of something else able to harm bees we should take no action?

> "we don't know how to save all the bees"

Is this forgone conclusion? Sounds like you are begging the question [1]

I am reminded of, http://i.imgur.com/couhw4k.jpg

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

I'm not saying the bees will definitely die off. I'm saying we don't know. We need to be prepared in case it happens.

Edit: I definitely didn't say that we should take no action.

Edit2: If you're asking "what else has been killing bees en masse", here's a list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_collapse_disorder

I am sure we agree, just not the delivery.

Naturally Harvested vanilla currently can go for $600 dollars a pop. Although the plant was originally from Mexico, 80% of the worlds' natural vanilla is now harvested in Madagascar.

It is highly unlikely any of you have tasted "all natural" vanilla as 99% of food products in the super market utilize an artificial version of the same critical flavor compound found in the plant: vanillin.

Vanilla plantations do not have the capacity to satisfy the worlds' demand with or without insect pollination.

I can't say as I've paid much attention and I'm sure the majority of ice cream is made from artificial vanilla, but:

Vanilla beans appear to be about $6-7 each retail and $4-5 wholesale according to these random websites, despite there apparently being a bean shortage currently:



Additionally, Haagen-Dazs, a mass-market brand, offers ice cream with real vanilla:


I sincerely doubt that it's "highly unlikely" that most people have tasted real vanilla in their lifetimes.

I also sincerely doubt that it's "highly unlikely" that most people have tasted real vanilla in their lifetimes. We are in total agreement here because I never said "lifetime" I meant highly unlikely that people have tasted real vanilla in the vanilla product that they buy from the super market. I thought the 99% statistic made that clear... Apologies for not being more detailed, but please don't put words in my mouth, I never said "lifetime."

Also thanks for specifying the price of individual beans. If you calculate the price per pound you will see that it fluctuates,.. last I heard they were $600 per pound. Just to let you know, when people go shopping for vanilla beans, most people don't buy one bean at a time, they buy it by weight because each bean can have a different weight, FYI.

In one small edge case. I doubt it would be as easy to pollinate everything by hand.

Gotta love HN comments.

"We could hand pollinate, but that would really suck."

"OMG how could you say that, hand pollination would be awful!"

You're right, I shouldn't have made that understatement. What I actually meant was "impossible" instead of "not that easy".

"Would really suck" is a bit of an understatement.

But on the upside, >= 80% labor participation rate!

It's not even an edge case. Almost all of the worlds' vanilla flavor is synthesized artificially.

The best example of hand pollination is China where the entire bee population is basically decimated. Almost all of Chinas' farms ALREADY use hand pollination.

Soy is self pollinating.

Corn, rice and wheat wind pollinate (along with a lot of other grains).

So most calorie production doesn't depend on insect pollination. Vegetables and fruits tend to though.

Physically possible? Sure. Economically and logistically possible? Doubtful.

Not even physically possible.

It's been done by hand in China. Not sure if we can replicate that in the west though.

They were actually better at it than the bees from memory.

Wage costs I'm sure would be an issue. Sounds like a crazy idea, but can't we just stop using pesticides that have provably been shown to harm a critical part of our food chain? I don't particularly care if Bayer loses profit, or if I have to pay a more realistic price for fruit and veg.

> can't we just stop using pesticides that have provably been shown to harm a critical part of our food chain?

We could, but there is money lost in the process. Both for the people who produce, but also consumers. This needs regulation to become a reality.

You never know, someone might come up with a mini-drone to do it at some point in the future...

Something something Black Mirror.

It might even self replicate into intelligent colonies ...

Another weird and fascinating co-evolution of plants ant their pollinators is the genus Ficus (e.g. edible fig plants). The tiny wasps that pollinate the fruit actually die inside it, while a new generation is hatched, mates, then the males burrow a tunnel out of the fig and die, why females continue the cycle.

While true in terms of how they initially evolved, in terms of how they are cultivated, figs don't necessarily require pollination by wasps (or at all). Parthenocarpy, the bearing of fruit without pollination, was probably first cultivated in fig trees thousands of years ago, and is still common today. Some fig cultivars do require pollination to bear fruit, but many don't.

> While true ...

This just broke my brain.

I think it's time for me to go to bed...

How can you go to bed if you're still stuck in the loop?

Luckily he had his watchdog timer enabled, and so was able to detect the tight loop and soft reset.

good one, I skipped right past not even noticing it.

It's so amazing that we all think differently :)

We can always just replace bees with robotic replacements as soon as technology allows. What could go wrong?

Need for more processing power, more manufacturing units, more electricity.

However it's already a self-sufficient efficient eco system only if we could stop deliberately destroying.

Just CRISPR existing bees to be more resilient.

Reference to an episode of "Black Mirror"

>What could go wrong?

What happens when birds try to eat the fake bees? What happens when they break? Do we just leave them there? What would their batteries made of? Any dangerous material Lithum is not something you want on your water supply

>What happens when birds try to eat the fake bees?

That's why we need robotic birds.

When are the androids and electronic sheep coming?

But what about the cats who eat the fake birds?

Equip the fake birds with laser pointers.

When wintertime rolls around, the cats simply freeze to death.

I personally want more lithium in the water supply. It has been shown to reduce crime, suicide and all cause mortality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1699579 https://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/opinion/sunday/should-...

Did you see the Black Mirror episode, "Hated in the Nation?"

Yes, my comment was in reference to that. :)

There's no science that says any part of the Earth-human system "constantly moves to optimality". Like, literally any part. It's an out-of-control rollercoaster that we may or may not be able to steward to our liking. "optimality" is a human construct.

I agree, and would extend that to the earth system in general. The universe does not care for good, bad, optimal, or suboptimal; the universe simply is.

I think steward/stewardship was a good choice of word on your part there

Optimal for whom? May be it does move to optimality, but not for humans, so human science does not find it.

How would you define "optimality"?

Consider: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_power_principle

Darwin might disagree.

Perhaps you can say evolution is accidental, without intention. Quite a happy accident in my opinion.

Evolution does not necessarily move towards optimal systems, by any definition. It may find local optima, but the process has no guarantees it's moving towards a global optimum.

I am guessing your downvoters have never heard of mass extinction events.

EDIT: Here.... let me google up an example. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxygenation_Event

A billion years of living things eating each other. Quite happy, indeed.

Honey bees aren't native to North America at least. If they went extinct, native plants would be fine.

native species in north america don't comprise much of what people in north america eat.

Those foods are pollinated by livestock bees, not wild bees. In a livestock setting, bee colony pressures are manageable, and are an economic concern, not an existential environmental concern.

It's likely that bumblebees are equally affected.

A bit but nowhere near as much. Native bees have many advantages. They have vastly more genetic diversity and there are several species. Farmers don't transport them around the country and around the world spreading disease and parasites much faster. And their hives aren't often messed up by humans. And they are better adapted to this environment.

Honeybees are suffering from multiple problems including outbreaks of disease and parasites. Even without pesticide they would be doing bad.

Anecdotally bumble bees are a very common sight here. And I'm surrounded by fields that are sprayed often.

Bumble bees don't pollinate some plants as they are too big - their size also makes them better at pollinating other plants.

Well, sort of. Bumblebees are probably as susceptible as honeybees, but native bees will preferentially eat from native plants. If most farmers aren't spraying many native plants, the exposure will be less.

> ...but native bees will preferentially eat from native plants.

Do you have a source for how significant this factor is? I would like to believe it, but it sounds a lot like wishful thinking.

Not really; my source is a lecture at a beekeeping meetup (where the lecturers range from top academics to 'a little bit crazy'). I believe the study in question was trying to assess how honeybees, an invasive species, impacted native bee populations; the study found little impact, and attributed it to the preferential feeding. (The replanting of large swaths of America with invasive plant species, such as wheat, presumably does have an impact on native bee populations.)

I'd also note that many native bees also have a much shorter lifecycle - they will be active for a very brief time at a very specific time of the year, when their target plants are flowering, and then they lay their eggs, which will remain dormant / develop slowly for nearly the full year, to hatch again at the appropriate time. This means that you can successfully avoid killing them by timing your pesticide application to avoid flowering plants. Honeybees, on the other hand, are active year round (though confined to their hives in the winter).

A larger threat mentioned in the talk to native bees was actually global warming. Many native bees operate in narrow bands of latitude, only going so far north and south. With the increases in average temperature, we're seeing the southern border of many native bee species move north ... but for whatever reason, not the northern border. I'm not sure why that would be (maybe there are plant species they depend on which spread too slowly?), but it creates a worrisome picture of their habitat being squeezed out of existence.

Bumblebee colonies are also much smaller than honey bee colonies.

What about the non native farmed plants? And the bees that aren't native are in steeper decline than native ones because they aren't farmed.

Oh, thats okay then. Totally. Nothing to see here folks, North America is going to be JUST FINE!

Nobody said anything about honey - just bees. The only fine we should be talking about is the fine for what these people have already done. There would obviously be and has been a massive deleterious effect from the loss of so many pollinators. Monsanto's shareholders and other like minded criminals should fined out of existence as a warning to others who would seek to destroy our world for profit. Show absolutely no mercy and go after even private holdings for good measure. Change the law if needs be and act retrospectively. The world must act in concert against the cynical and greedy polluters be they corporations, individuals or states.

What % of the native plants are edible?

I'd define as "native" anything that was around before the Europeans showed up. Corn, potatoes, many kinds of beans, tomatoes. Those were all domesticated, and I don't know how you'd count them as a percentage.

Good classification... and point...

It would be interesting to know "If I were to survive 100% only on native (pre-EURO/Colonizers) food-stuffs, what would my diet look like?"

Don't forget too meat - much if the meat we eat depends upon pollenated foodstuffs - if we were to raise cattle, sheep and chickens only on grasses and local foods we'd likely have far lower heads of animals per farm and higher costs (which I'd argue for many would be a good thing, but for those who can't afford it, it would be devastating)

From what I've read, grains and soybeans are both self pollinating, so the meat supply is safe, so long as the Haber process holds out.

I found this interesting page:


Looks like corn, wheat, soybeans, and potatoes, are safe. So you can still have your burger, fries, and Coke. ;-)

"Honey bees" is not usefully descriptive. Please elaborate.

Actually it is. The European, or Western, Honey Bee, Apis mellifera


Right. Even if you include all the other Apis species, none of them are native to North America.

Oddly, I happened to have just read something which stated that roughly 2/3 of what bees pollinate in the U.S. are almond crops.

A quick Google reveals that almonds do indeed require a lot of bees, in addition to water.

There is essentially no current risk that almond farmers will lose access to the livestock bees that pollinate their crops.

Well, I wasn't claiming there was, but not quite sure what to infer from your comment.

I mean, I know (from recent reading) that there's a fairly intensive operation to maintain hives exclusively for almond farming. Are you saying these are not affected by CCD, neonics, or whatever?

CCD manifests itself as greater overwintering losses to colonies. Bee farmers have lots of colonies. They can split colonies and buy new queens. It's not like Dutch Elm disease; it doesn't kill all the bees.

I see. So are you saying that the "bee problem" is overblown and we can farm our way out of it?


The use of a corporation like Monsanto...control. Food used to be food. Now, it's patented ingredients. Control of food, along with control of health care, currency, education, war, religion, entertainment, water, the media... Instead of gradual, spontaneous unifying of the world's Nations, it is being hastened, directed by unseen hands. "GMO is the way to go." Illegal to collect rain water in some U.S. States. Fiat money and centralized banks. Control. Banks too big to fail. The countries with which we are at war do not yet have central banks. Dropping population to a more manageable number.

Note that the new HONEST act is designed to stop the EPA being able to act in studies like this because the environmental data can't be independently reproduced.

See https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/how-to-g... and various other coverage.

Don't you love the cozy, feel-good names politicians attach to horrible legislature?

This is straight from 1984 double-speak

Yep. Especially when something encompassing FULLOFSHI initially and ending with a T would be far more apt if not appropriate.

here is the problem I have with the way it was done before this bill was passed: The EPA was allowed to used scientific research that was not publically available for review. This seems contrary to everything I have been taughgt about critical thinking and the scientific method of research Am I wrong?

Reproducible is different from "available for review." The purpose of the bill was most likely for any corp to cast doubt on a finding, and/or pay for shill-scientists to not be able to reproduce it, giving reason to incapacitate the EPA.

I think the EPA should be allowed to err on the side of caution. Their job should be to regulate chemicals and practices for the protection of the environment. It isn't mistake to prevent a company from harming the env. I'd like the logic to be inverted; Everything that interacts with the environment should be guilty until proven benign. Default to deny. As we get more technologically advanced, the number of mistakes that can only-happen-once is ever increasing.

I've heard this claim a few times before (always from people trying to handcuff the EPA rulemaking process, funny enough) and I haven't looked into the specifics too closely, but my experience working with and around EPA on regional air quality issues has been that the regulations lag at least 10 to 20 years behind the science.

So for any researcher using environmental data, would they need to involve the EPA in it for them to take action on the results in the future?

American farming practices are a perfect storm of detriments to the honey bee. Widespread use of pesticides is, of course, directly bad. The monoculture of crops also exacerbates the accumulation of pesticides, since bees get a smaller variety of food. And due to the heavily managed style of beekeeping, hives are closer together and are inhibited from swarming, leading to even more propagation of Varroa mites.

American farming practices are, as a sibling comment of this one says, really the only reason there are large numbers of honey bees in America. Honey bees aren't a native species, and feral honey bees were eradicated from North America ~20 years ago by the Varroa destructor mite.

Your parent comment cited two specific cases of farming practices that harm bees, and you're responding with the general case of all combined farming practices. Why not go even more general and note that, whatever benefits farming might provide to bees clearly aren't enough in the context of all factors, because bee populations are in decline.

I'm sure you can find specific farming practices that are beneficial to bees, but I don't think you can make a good faith argument that i.e. pesticides are the reason there are large numbers of bees.

I think I'm trying to say, talking about how farming practices have harmed American honey bees is a little like talking about how farming practices have harmed dairy cows.

I get what you're saying, and what you're saying is factual, it's just not useful information. Pesticides at least are a clear cause of hive collapse, and lumping pesticide use in with the larger monolith of "farming practices" only serves to obfuscate the problem.

No one is arguing that we should throw out all of modern farming practices, so there's no need to jump to their defense.

> hives are closer together and are inhibited from swarming

Can you expand on this? I've been thinking about getting a hive and coincidentally was wondering about this earlier today -- can you let a hive swarm without losing it? I.e. does a spritely new queen take half the hive with her? Is it healthier for the hive to do so?

If you have some trees around the hives the swarm will usually hang there for a few hours so it is entirely possible to catch it. These swarms are the best since they are ready to build new home and they build really really fast if you catch them and put them into new hive. What is left in the old hive are half of the bees and new queen.

Now about hive health. There is this thing called Varroa and if you let the hive swarm half of it goes with the swarm and the other half stays. Varroa I mean. What is really good with swarming is that the hive now has a virgin queen and she doesn't lay eggs right away and a lot of Varroa dies off because they can't reproduce. They need eggs and bee larvae to do so. The swarm with old queen has an interruption as well because they need to build comb and cells where the queen lays eggs.

In my beekeeping years ago I kept hives healthy ( fight against Varroa ) entirely with letting them swarm.

Just to write it once again since by your writing I think you are confused...Old queen leaves with the swarm.

To clarify the parent comment, Varroa is a parasite that lives on honey bees and can spread diseases harmful to the bees. It's one of the suggested causes of colony collapse disorder.

They also eradicated feral honeybees several decades ago (all honeybees in the US are alien to the continent; almost all today are livestock, not wildlife).

We manually spilt hives and get the same effect, without the swarming and worried neighbours and hunting down the swarm.

One of the ways is to manually split indeed.

Although I must say that natural swarms show greater vigor when building new comb than splits. Even packaged bees built faster than splits. That is of course my experience and you have to keep in consideration that I didn't add any foundation to new colonies so that was maybe one of the reasons. I let them build their own comb on a narrow strip in the frame/top bar and never tried with full foundation.

How do you catch a swarm?

You make it fall into a box. Shake the branch they are resting on, or brush them off until they fall. You cant tell if the queen made it into the box depending on the behavior of the workers already in there. If you missed it, goto step 1.

We had a swarm in our orchard at the weekend and I watched a local beekeeper do exactly this. The queen must have gone into the box as all the bees still left on the tree or flying around soon followed into the box.

You can just pick up gently and put it in a box, they do not sting in this phase unless you treat directly the queen.

During yesterday's evening walk past a corn field, it occurred to me that the impending roboticization (?) of farming may enable synergistic multiple plant fields/plantings on a large scale. What was the old (apocryphal, or not?) Native American combination: Corn, squash, and beans? (I'm just going by memory, as I was yesterday evening while walking.)

We may be on the edge of a new wave of a more organic farming, on a mass scale. Using plant communities and synergies to reduce or need for the more simplistic, mass application of chemicals.

Without even getting into all the genetic engineering and the like that is sure, however you feel about it, to continue.

I have also had that idea. Instead of giant machines only capable of harvesting monocultures, couldn't we downscale to small, autonomous vehicles that can farm efficiently on a vegetable garden at scale. Many cheap drones to farm the way our ancestors did using manual labour

That would be quite the change. In fact, it could enable many people to produce a lot on their own land, because they don't have to spend all the time doing it.

The sound is a problem in this plan. Bees are very sensitive to vibration. They would probably desert any cultured place with drones working continously. Can be avoided if you schedule the drone work, but must be adressed.

I wonder what the range of their sensitivity would be, for various scenarios.

If you have a bot passing through every couple of days, would they continue to visit the rest of the field where the bot is not currently present?

Very interesting factor to consider and be concerned about.

For any homesized plot the drone don't have to work all that much, and some of it can probably be done by night. Still something to keep in mind.

There's a few indie projects out there now that automate veggie-patch-scale farming. They more often use a large pick-and-place type system than a small rover, though.

(Example: FarmBot https://farmbot.io/ )

The Restoration Agriculture scene might be interesting to you.

I can't find a great page to link to, but this has a decent, short description of what they are doing:

https://www.forestag.com/pages/mark-shepard > Trees, shrubs, vines, canes, perennial plants and fungi are planted in association with one another to produce food (for humans and animals), fuel, medicines, and beauty. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts and various fruits are the primary woody crops. The farm is entirely solar and wind powered and farm equipment is powered with locally produced biofuels that are not taken from the human food chain.

The part that interests me is, they can grow half as much of a crop per acre as a monoculture, but they can do it for like 10 different crops in the same area.

And they don't have to spray it with poison, so there are cool things like tree frogs out there.

Except that American farmers pioneered long haul transport of bees. In many ways its due to American farmers that the bees even exist.

That the bees even exist so widespread in America, yes.

There had been more competing pollinators.

Further the trees that they polinate are "old world" plants:

    The almond is a species of tree native to the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and North Africa.
The narrative that somehow pesticides are bad because they unatural is disingenuous as it forgets that every part of this system is artificial.

Funded by Bayer and Syngenta.

The extremely cynical interpretation is that Bayer patented the first neonic in 1985 and the major one (Imidacloprid) is now off-patent.

Bayer would probably love it to be banned, so that everyone has to switch to some newer, less tested, more patent protected discovery of theirs.

It's a cute story, but Bayer has disputed the results of this study, still disagrees that their pesticides impact bee populations, and shows no signs of phasing out sales as far as I know.

>still disagrees that their pesticides impact bee populations

I know that you are using the word pesticide, but the insecticide is question... would kill insects like bees?

It would be a convenient Discovery. It sounds like it would also confirm they knew of harm, per another another poster they are disputing the outcome of the study. I don't they have a replacement lined up

Did anyone ever assert that neonicotinoids were harmless to bees? I thought the questions were about whether the harm was sustainable at an effective level of use, whether (and how quickly) bee populations (and which species) could adapt to their presence, whether harm to pollinators could be mitigated by changes in the way we use these pesticides. The harm also had to be compared to the benefit of their use (generally in terms of improvements in crop yield and quality). An ideal environment for pollinators has to be measured in terms of the requirement to feed a population of human beings that has doubled in my lifetime, and like it or not, pesticides and other chemicals are part of that. The reason neonicotinoids were originally attractive was reduced toxicity to mammals and birds, so it's not a no-brainer to replace them with something else.

As far as I remember the story from many years ago:

FDA panel found the link, they recommended stopping the chemical.

The head of FDA pocketed the research/recommendation in his desk until "further".

It was half a billion dollar industry of which that guy got a piece of the money through some channel.

Net result:

USA had to import bees from Australia.

EU banned the set of chemicals

My grandfather, after 50 years of bee keeping lost half of the swarms, until we figured out what's happening and what's killing them.

Lobbying shoduld be made illegal.

I thought it was the EPA, not the FDA, that regulated pesticides in the US. I have no recollection of reports of either the FDA malfeasance you claim nor of any reports of widespread re-import of domestic bee colonies. In fact, I had thought that importation of such colonies was pretty tightly regulated due to pathogen and parasite concerns. In other words: citation needed.

"US had to import bees from Australia"? They're not a native species. All US honey bees are "imported".

Importing because of a recent mass wipeout is different than using descendants of previous imports.

Without stipulating that this actually happened --- that bee farmers today are relying entirely on Australian imports --- you're still begging the question. Why? What difference does it make?

Personally, I think any mass death event of an important species is extremely worrisome, irrespective of their source, and necessitates root-cause analysis and careful examination of the current equilibrium.

I think one important thing to point out here is this is a _insecticide_ study, not an _herbicide_ study, because they're very very different things.

That being said, I'd like to see the results replicated independently. As there article points out, there are a bunch of asterisks in the claims... and a lot of conflicting conclusions.

EDIT: Use the correct term pointed out to me

Herbicides are a subset of pesticides.

(I know, I used to think “pesticide” meant it killed creatures, but plants are also pests.)

Yep, you are indeed correct.

The correct comment should be: This article is about a specific class of insecticide, not a herbicides.

Coincidently, I learned that Neonicotinoids means 'chemically similar to nicotine', I thought that was a coincidence at first.

A lot of “compounds of interest” such as nicotine, opium latex, and capsaicin evolved as part of the natural defense mechanisms of plants against insects and herbivores.

So "nicotinoids" means "chemically similar to nicotine", and... "neo-" means new. Some of the literature refers to nicotinoids and some to neonicotinoids.

What I haven't been able to figure out is if there was essentially a "second wave" of nicotinoids that someone -- a scientist or marketer -- figured was deserving of the "neo-" prefix.

One random, uneducated guess from me: Maybe the "neo-" prefix is only for those that don't show up in nature, so they have to be produced in labs, and are thus "new" to the environment?

Indeed but people confuse the two. Almost all of the issues with pesticides come from insecticides specifically. Insectices are designed to kill animals after all.

Here's WaPo on why you want to read more than just the headline on this:


Whoaaa! see

"Do Neonics Hurt Bees? Researchers and the Media Say Yes. The Data Do Not. " at


wherein they state:

"One problem: The data in the paper (and hundreds of pages of supporting data not included but available in background form to reporters) do not support that bold conclusion. No, there is no consensus evidence that neonics are “slowly killing bees.” No, this study did not add to the evidence that neonics are driving bee health problems."


"But based on the study’s data, the headline could just as easily have read: “Landmark Study Shows Neonic Pesticides Improve Bee Health”—and it would have been equally correct."

Funny, I was just going to mention my good friend Jon Entine as someone to watch out for. Thanks for providing the hook.

Jon Entine is a media-savvy corporate propagandist and pseudo-journalist who fronts the opinions and positions of chemical corporations by pretending to be an independent journalist. He has ties to biotech companies Monsanto and Syngenta while playing a key role in another industry front group known as the American Council on Science and Health, a thinly-veiled corporate front group that Sourcewatch describes as holding “a generally apologetic stance regarding virtually every other health and environmental hazard produced by modern industry, accepting corporate funding from Coca-Cola, Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsico, and the American Beverage Association, among others.”


That Slate are engaged with a special partnership with Entine's propaganda mill speaks exceedingly poorly of Slate.

Specific to the Slate article, Entine claims that bee populations aren't dying. The supporting link is to an article that states ... bee populations are dying, and where they aren't dying and leaving corpses behind, they are simply vanishing without a trace. Sadly for Mr. Entine's argument, neither death nor disappearance makes for a health bee colony. He's attempting to mislead, misdirect, and language-lawyer his way around a point. He fails.

I've encountered him previously. Ironically, if his propagandistic techniques weren't so over-the-top self-parodying, he might have snuck past my bullshit filter.


The author of the Gplus screed should spend some time looking at Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Twitter history. He might then understand the context of the article Entine wrote. But then, both that piece and the Propagandists article do little more than make guilt by association attacks.

There's also Etine's "If you can't attack the science, attack the scientist". Which a) has been pulled from his website but b) exists on the Internet Archive and c) points to an article at The American, motto, "The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute" (yet another Libertarian / Free Market Fundamentalism disinformation mill), and which goes into gory detail projecting the whole mechanism of personal and reputationa attacks, on the other party.

Ironic as those attacks were polished and perfected by the Libertarian / Free Market Fundamentalism crowd, as well documented by Robert Proctor, Naomi Oreskes, and others.


The substance of that particular article: Entine's defence of the now largely deprecated chemical bysphenol A, a/k/a BPA, an endocrine disruptor.

"based on other evidence -- largely from animal studies -- the FDA expressed "some concern" about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and young children."


You're talking to him.

Entine's own stock in trade is largely reputation attacks, smears, and playing loose, if at all, with the facts.

Again: first time I came across him, my first response was neutral. But that (and the Slate) article are so content-free and slippery that my hackles went up. That paid off.

Even my biotech friends are coming around to that viewpoint (having been initially critical).

Who would be the best person to contact at Slate to request they suspend their relationship with him and his studies?

There's a Feedback link at the bottom of every Slate page.

feedback@slate.com is the email address.

This is one area where the scientific method feels like a subpar approach to deciding policy. I'll grant that it's likely better than the alternative in most cases but man does it create some really dangerous blind spots.

The EU temporarily banned the chemical four years ago on the precautionary principle.

I like this approach: the harm done by not being able to use these pesticides for a while, were they to turn out to not be harmful, would surely be outweighed by the risk of further harming the ecosystem.

This approach was also under attack while negotiating TTIP and other trade agreements. Ironically it was badmouthed as unscientific - as if it's better to throw any new heavily patented chemical on the market and let science figure out reliably that it's problematic - something that can take up to 20 years if it's with possible at all with enough scientific rigor - of course public research can't get any details due to patents and trade secrets - also ecosystems are not exactly easy to replicate in the lab.

>of course public research can't get any details due to patents and trade secrets //

Not sure about other jurisdictions but UK patent law allows an invention to be worked for research purposes.

Presumably companies don't get licenses to produce chemicals for widespread release to the environment without disclosure of the details, so trade secrets shouldn't be a problem?

"Although the study found that neonicotinoids have an overall negative effect on bees, the results aren’t completely clear-cut: the pesticides seemed to harm bees at the UK and Hungarian sites, but apparently had a positive effect on honeybees in Germany. Pywell notes that the German effects were “short lived”, and the reason for them is unclear. They might be linked in part to the generally healthier state of hives in the German arm of the trial, he speculates"

Bollocks! Neonics harm bees because that is what they are designed to do - break insects. I'm not an expert but there have been rather a lot of articles in New Scientist describing "confused" bees relating to neonics over the last few years.

The data say what they do, and the article seems to reflect this.

Threshold and compound effects are not unknown in science.

Though given a comment on funding sources (Bayer and Sygenta -- formerly Zeneca), some skepticism may be warranted.



the last paragraph is rather enlightening...

Isn't this a satire website? The next article is named "Leaving the fridge door open to halt global warming".

See nisa's recommendation for the 'about' link, which is very informative.

the 'about' link on that site is also worth a read!

Time to bring back DDT. It was banned for misinformed reasons without any evidence to show that accumulation contributed to cancer or anything else nasty in mammals.[1] Neonics are reported to be 5,000-10,000 more toxic to bees. [2]

A 5 minute walk in fields around me will lead to at least 3 ticks latching on. We're now facing the Lone Star tick that causes a life threatening meat allergy (wtf) and Lyme's disease. I've also personally reported one of the first cases of West Nile virus in this state from a found dead bird. Now there's Zika, which seems great for humans. Oh and we can't forget the re-proliferation of bed bugs as well. But yeah, we should keep trusting the newer classes of pesticides that don't work as well and haven't been studied as thoroughly.



Bed bugs are practically immune to DDT. I looked into this a few years ago because DDT seemed like a perfect fit for the problem. (Mattresses are indoors, easy to saturate and used for more than a decade.) Turns out the LD50 for DDT is like 100000 ppm.‡ Think about that. Ten. Percent. Of their body weight.

(IMHO, DDT should be allowed for mosquito nets, as long as they are only used indoors and people know to incinerate the old nets instead of throwing them out. It is so darn effective and we were so boneheaded stupid the first time around.)


> Bed bugs are practically immune to DDT. I looked into this a few years ago because DDT seemed like a perfect fit for the problem. (Mattresses are indoors, easy to saturate and used for more than a decade.) Turns out the LD50 for DDT is like 100000 ppm.‡ Think about that. Ten. Percent. Of their body weight.

Ugh, noted. Thanks for the correction. I am aware of some resistance among specific mosquito species as well, but the residual repellant effect still makes it crazy useful for application on screens, nets, and tents.

Kept re-reading the first part of your post to make sure the LD50 wasn't 100% - literally drowning them. 10% is better but that's an alarming dose requirement.

The source you link to has its own agenda: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/JunkScience.com

Who cares? We all have our own agendas. It's a well-sourced page and hence why I linked it.

If you don't believe me about agendas, see other HN discussions regarding bike helmets, software patents, and housing.

Having an agenda doesn't mean it's immediately untrue, but it's worth being more skeptical. Are the sources picked because they support the agenda, and are the sources faithfully represented? A desire to see a particular outcome can skew these, and you should be more cautious compared to someone more independent.

DDT was brutal on the bird population. My father worked with state DNR to bring back the Bald Eagle population after DDT decimated it due to the soft eggshells it caused.

So basically we (as humanity) have three choices:

1) use neonicotinoid pesticides and killing off the bees

2) use DDT and kill off birds + danger to mammals

3) revert back to more traditional agriculture, and risk not being able to feed people

Basically, we're choosing between different evils :/

Presently we produce something like 5500 kcal per person on earth. Much of it to feed animals. Producing enough nutrition is not the issue - distribution and patterns of consumption are (and these are more political barriers than physical ones).

We could also scale back our agriculture by reducing our dependence on animal products. There are a number of mass produced crops that go in large part to feed animals that we then turn into food at a net energy loss. But in general, we'd rather paint ourselves into this corner than eat our vegetables.

>2) use DDT and kill off birds + danger to mammals

No danger to mammals, kill some birds (the hawk/eagle shell thinning was a lie[1], does kill some songbirds in high doses but I guess so does Teflon stoves), kills far less helpful insects.

It's the only one out of the three options where you don't risk killing hundreds of millions of people with disease and/or famine.


The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons has also published articles claiming that HIV does not cause AIDS, that global warming is not human-caused and is beneficial anyway, that abortion causes breast cancer, and that vaccines cause autism. It is published by a far-right advocacy group and is neither a credible nor neutral source.

Yeah, other than the fact that the raptor population bounced back after DDT use was curtailed.

The issue has been pretty extensively studied and while you can cherry-pick individual studies the broad consensus is that DDT was one of the contributing factors.

>Yeah, other than the fact that the raptor population bounced back after DDT use was curtailed.

The raptor population was bouncing back right as we started to introduce DDT. It's a funny thing that happens when you stop incentivizing shooting of the birds (wasn't until the early 40's they got federal protection, and it takes time for populations to recover). If you'd have read the sources I've linked (and the any of the citations in those sources) you'd see you're wrong.

'But my father', anecdotes are nice when they come along with data. Stringing together multiple studies is the best way to disprove an established narrative... but unfortunately the amount of time it takes to disprove well applied bullshit greatly outweighs the time it took to apply it.

EDIT: Also while I'm at it. Ever think to consider that thin shells might have been caused by greatly increased mercury and lead levels of the time? We banned TEL and reduced coal consumption since then. Look at nearly every study that concluded DDT had to be to blame for thin shells and you'll find they noted increased lead, mercury, and aluminum levels along with... but never put it into their conclusion.

There's enough humans walking around and 200,000 new ones are being added to the pool every day.

It's not really a choice.

> There's enough humans walking around

There's an awful lot of debatable thinking hidden in those 5 words.

You think we need to increase the human population of Earth?

I doubt andybak does. But as soon as you get into the ways you stop 'them' breeding you end up in a very dark place.

That is true and andybak is correct. I have been thinking more and more about this and the mind certainly wanders to dark places.

On the other hand, it is a problem that keeps getting bigger.

It feels a bit like the elephant in the room. Either because of the aforementioned "solutions" that come up initially[1] or because "science will fix it" since it has been shown that once people have it well they stop having a lot of kids.

Still, every five days there's 1 million more people on this earth and it doesn't look like most of these people will have it good in the near future. And meanwhile everything else just has to make room for more of us. It just doesn't seem sustainable.

[1] And who am I to stop people from having kids? I've got two myself.

You know we've passed "peak child", right?

The only thing that's still causing the population to increase is the inconvenient decrease in untimely death.

I find that more convenient than inconvenient.

> revert back to more traditional agriculture, and risk not being able to feed people

Given that the average American watches TV for something like 8 hours per day, I'd say there's roughly zero risk of not being able to feed people.

This is actually good news. Colony collapse disorder has been a pretty mysterious problem up until now. Identifying a possible cause gives us a chance to stop it. This might not even require legislation.

Now that farmers are aware of the link many will choose to reduce or stop using neonicotinoids entirely. If they don't do this voluntarily, they may be forced to do so by commercial beekeepers. Many farms rely on commercial beekeepers who they hire to transport bee hives to their fields when pollination is required. These beekeepers may simply refuse to hire out their bees to farms using neonicotinoid pesticides. It threatens their livelihood directly after all.

This is certainly bad news for neonicotinoid producers, at least in the short term. It's possible that neonicotinoids are not the problem and that reducing their use will do nothing to stop CCD. However, it seems inevitable that this is something that will be tried. We can only hope that the alternatives that farmers choose don't turn out to be even worse for bees.

Pesticides harm your brain too apparently:


Organophosphates are very nasty indeed, if you look at research into those with large exposures, farmers, sheep dipping in particular;



or this; "The present findings suggest OP pesticides are more harmful than previously thought, even at low levels of exposure."


Then there is the Gulf War Syndrome which has been associated to high levels of insecticide use;


and this more recently, 'Pesticides: an update of human exposure and toxicity'

" A huge body of evidence exists on the possible role of pesticide exposures in the elevated incidence of human diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer, Parkinson, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, asthma, bronchitis, infertility, birth defects, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, diabetes, and obesity. Most of the disorders are induced by insecticides and herbicides most notably organophosphorus, organochlorines, phenoxyacetic acids, and triazine compounds."


" In summary, young children may be especially vulnerable to pesticides because of the sensitivity of their developing organ systems combined with a limited ability to enzymatically detoxify these chemicals (13,123,126-131). According to the National Academy of Sciences (13), children's OP exposures are of special concern because "exposure to neurotoxic compounds at levels believed to be safe for adults could result in permanent loss of brain function if it occurred during the prenatal and early childhood period of brain development" (13). Because there is so little information available on the levels and routes of children's pesticide exposure, it is not feasible to conduct a risk assessment predicting the likelihood of adverse effects based on animal studies. Thus far, there are no data in children to support or refute the hypothesized health effects of chronic low-level pesticide exposure."


"We conclude that PT and PO are genotoxic, while DF shows mitogenic activity. An important finding of this study is that PT had higher genotoxic potential than PO, which warrants for further investigations to correctly evaluate the hazards of exposure to these chemicals."


"Collectively, our results implicate gluconeogenesis as the key mechanism behind organophosphate-induced hyperglycemia, mediated by the organophosphate-degrading potential of gut microbiota. This study reveals the gut microbiome-mediated diabetogenic nature of organophosphates and hence that the usage of these insecticides should be reconsidered."


It must be painful to pay 3+ million for a study which ends up doing you a disservice. I wonder if these researchers will be able to find work outside of academia in the future now that other corporations know that they can't be corrupted.

Reminds me of this excellent Radiolab episode: http://www.radiolab.org/story/what-dollar-value-nature/

Even people who care nothing for the irreplaceable beauty of nature ought to consider how much measurable economic value we risk destroying in the name of short-term profits. Of course (as the podcast explores) it's a complicated equation, but still a very compelling one.

Sounds like perfect Monstanto, destroy the ecosystem, kill bees, get loads of money....

Bet this was planned long way before this research was done. Surely, folks in the industry understand from A/B outcomes same as we do understand IT.

Our kids might get slightly worse earth ecosystem then we have now.

Wouldn't this be a good challenge for evolution?

yes we can automate, replace bees with robots. yes. we are the greatest.

Is smoking tobacco harmful to your health? Is lead in petrol poisoning children? Is the earth heating up due to mankind's actions? Are bees being harmed by pesticides?

Seems like all these things have answers that, being honest, we all knew the answer to long before the question was "settled". But there was an awful lot of money to be made prolonging the ambiguity.

I (and I'm sure many others) feel exactly the same way. But we also need to admit the possibility of something like confirmation bias. So, you've mentioned several cases where we finally got a result which was exactly what we expected all along. Those cases stand out to use because they our brains naturally prefer them to cases where we were wrong. So then I have a couple of questions.

When were we wrong? What are some other cases which didn't turn out like we expected? It may be harder to think of them but they must exist. What would have been the consequence of acting too early on those cases based on our speculation, now that we know we had been wrong?

Do you think we should start to take a more proactive approach to these kinds of problems? I mean, should we look at a problem and assume it's caused by whatever happens to look like the culprit?

One example of where we are wrong is the commonly held belief that saccharin causes cancer. I mean, it's artificial, it's cheating to get sweetness, it has to be bad right? Turns out the initial studies looking at bladder cancer in rats were misleading (lots of confounders).

See this link for some basic information: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/d...

There is a further good writeup on it in the great book "The Biology of Cancer" by Robert A Weinberg, but it is a textbook.

Is second hand smoke extremely harmful? Obviously it is, except science proceeded to show it doesn't seem to be.


Is dietary cholesterol harmful? Obviously it is, except no experiment or even commonly advanced scientific hypothesis ever said it was. The hypothesis was that saturated fat intake raised blood cholesterol levels which in turn lead to more heart disease. But common wisdom was that somehow this meant egg yolks must be deadly. And shrimp.

Oh, and then the saturated fat hypothesis didn't replicate well.

And so forth.

In contrast to your sentiment, I wish we actually based more policy on well replicated science, rather than what is "obvious."

Yes, keeping people confused about the science is an industry tactic. However, saying "we all knew the answer" is just hindsight bias, not real knowledge. Respect the science, don't pretend it didn't need to be done.

Yeah, it was necessary to have solid proof, but really? Insecticide is harmful to insects? This was in doubt? Reallllly?

If you're curious about what's going on in the world, yes, you will be curious about whether insecticides affect all insects, and how much they're affected. (After all, there are many different species.)

I didn't mean to imply that we shouldn't test the assumption. I just meant that it's not unreasonable to expect that a broad-spectrum insecticide family would have a good chance of affecting any given insect type.

It's still more ambiguous than stated given the differing results per country(both positive and negative) and they didn't control for fungicide use.

We clustered sites into triplets (>3.2 km between sites) and randomly allocated sites to one of three treatments: (i) clothianidin applied at 11.86 to 18.05 grams of active ingredient per hectare (g a.i. ha−1) with a fungicide (thriam and prochloraz) and nonsystemic pyrethroid (beta-cyfluthrin) (trade name Modesto); (ii) thiamethoxam applied at 10.07 to 11.14 g a.i. ha−1 and combined with the fungicides fludioxonil and metalaxyl-M (trade name Cruiser); and (iii) control OSR receiving a commercial fungicide (thriam and dimethomorph in Germany and Hungary and thriam and prochloraz in the United Kingdom) but no neonicotinoid seed treatment.

Fungicides may have synergistic effects when used with pesticides. [0][1][2]

The other study, "Chronic exposure to neonicotinoids reduces honey bee health near corn crops" is a bit more credible. Corn is a non-uniform seed and more apt to ablate the seed coat and generate significant dust issues, hence Canada's regulation to for seed lubrication. Ground persistence and mobility make setting up adjacent pollinator refuge sites a potential source of neonicotinoids in addition to the irrigated surface water. That corn is wind pollinated and only provides a nutrient poor pollen kind of exacerbates that, I think. Contrast that with western Canada where CCD hasn't been observed in canola regions, canola seed is uniform and canola provides both nutritious pollen and nectar.

I still don't think an outright ban at this point is the right choice especially given the limited alternatives and research into those alternatives. Organophosphates are significantly worse for both humans and bees. Pyrethrins aren't exactly safe for bees either, with both being broad-spectrum insecticides and requiring more frequent application via foliar spraying. Even IPM guidelines for a pest like the flea beetle rank several types of neonicotinoids above using pyrethrins[3].

There really aren't any easy solutions but, reevaluating the use of prophylactic seed treatment should be worth a consideration.

[0]: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ps.4449/abstract

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3558502/

[2]: http://lib.gig.ac.cn/local/ejournal/ETC/ETC1996/1504/ETC-199...

[3]: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r783301411.html



Please don't violate the guidelines by trolling like this here.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see anything in the commenting guidelines about this.

It's still a pointless comment that would be better suited to Reddit. But it's not in contravention of the guidelines as far as I can tell.

It doesn't pass this:

> Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face-to-face conversation. Avoid gratuitous negativity.

and sidles up to this:

> Please avoid introducing classic flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say about them.

The sad thing about our world today is that I actually thought you were serious until I read the very play part of your comment ("for the rich")

We need to hear all sides of this debate before coming to any conclusions.

It's probably time to inject as much political vitriol into this as possible, and pretend to debate this controversial 'study' and so-called 'science' for another several decades at a minimum to really verify the science. If the bees aren't politicized and ranted against by talking heads, politicians, and cable TV pundits, how will we ever know what to think of them?

Bees are for wimps, pollinating is part of the study thumping pro-science evidence based agenda!

Sadly your irony it's too close to the current reality of science.

* https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14680497 [The US government is removing scientific data from the Internet]

Could you please not troll like this on Hacker News?


My apologies, not meant to troll but rather be a commentary on how our nation handles science and data.

I've just gone through the rules, what was your issue with this comment? In what way do you see it as trolling?

Good, now can they confirm/publish that pesticides cause harm to HUMANS?

Errr, you mean "study whether" not "confirm/publish", since that would be assuming the conclusion.

There are, in fact, pesticides that have no effect on humans.

(and in fact, sadly, some of the things people think are "natural alternatives" are much worse for humans, like copper sulfate)

“pesticides” covers a broad range of substances.

Which do you mean?

Glyphosate specifically

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