London, England (CNN) — A new study has suggested that cell phone radiation may be contributing to declines in bee populations in some areas of the world.
Bee populations dropped 17 percent in the UK last year, according to the British Bee Association, and nearly 30 percent in the United States says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This bit of silliness resurrects a fanciful hypothesis first raised when honey bees started disappearing a couple years back. Somehow electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers was messing with the bees’ navigational system, leading to the empty hives characteristic of CCD.
The idea was widely reported by a credulous media. Perhaps this is because some science journalists- we’re not naming names here- care more about cell phones than about science. It turned out that those rumors emerged from an inconclusive study using cordless phones- not cell phones- and that the authors themselves stated the work was irrelevant to CCD.
Now researchers in India have addressed the cell phone issue directly, placing active cell phones inside hives for a few months. They conclude that the bees with phone service were unproductive relative to control bees, and that there might be something to the cell phone/CCD idea:
Abstract: Increase in the usage of electronic gadgets has led to electropollution of the environment. Honeybee behaviour and biology has been affected by electrosmog since these insects have magnetite in their bodies which helps them in navigation. There are reports of sudden disappearance of bee populations from honeybee colonies. The reason is still not clear. We have compared the performance of honeybees in cellphone radiation exposed and unexposed colonies. A significant (p < 0.05) decline in colony strength and in the egg laying rate of the queen was observed. The behaviour of exposed foragers was negatively influenced by the exposure, there was neither honey nor pollen in the colony at the end of the experiment.
Let’s look more closely at the methods:
Four colonies of honeybees, Apis mellifera L, were selected in the apiary of the Zoology Department, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Four colonies?! That’s it?
That’s all we need to see to know this study isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. A sample size of four- two of which were controls- is woefully inadequate to overcome the random ups and downs that normally occur among colonies in any apiary. And the p value from the abstract? The paper doesn’t explain how they arrived at it, or even what test they used. It’s just a regurgitated number with no context.
In other words, there is still no link between cell phones and bee declines.
Do CNN’s science reporters have any understanding of statistical power? Or are they too busy texting to learn?
source: Sharma & Kumar (2010) Changes in honeybee behaviour and biology under the influence of cellphone radiations. Current Science 98: 1376-1378.