Mystery spurs bizarre theories, stinging rebuttals
BELTSVILLE, Md. — The answer to what happened to the nation's vanishing honeybees is simple, a caller told entomologist May Berenbaum: bee rapture. They were called to heaven.
No, wait, it's Earth's magnetic field, another caller told the University of Illinois professor.
When Berenbaum went on the Internet, she found a parody news site that quoted her as blaming rapper Kevin Federline and his concerts for the disappearance of the bees. Berenbaum loved it.
The sudden disappearance of one-quarter of the nation's honeybees has brought out some strange ideas.
"I just can't get any work done," Berenbaum said. "I'm overwhelmed by e-mails. I can't keep up."
A couple of bee myths are big on the Internet.
A small German study looking at a specific type of cordless phone and homing systems of bees exploded over the Internet and late-night television shows. It morphed into erroneous reports blaming cellphones for the honeybee die-off, which scientists are calling colony-collapse disorder, or CCD.
The scientist who wrote the paper, Stefan Kimmel, emphasized there is "no link between our tiny little study and the CCD-phenomenon ... anything else said or written is a lie."
Jeff Pettis, top bee researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, laughs at the idea. He said whenever he goes out to investigate dead bees, he cannot get a signal on his cellphone because the hives are in such remote areas.
Also on the Internet is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein on how humans would die off in four years if not for honeybees.
The quote is wrong on two counts.
First, Einstein probably never said it, according to Alice Calaprice, author of "The Quotable Einstein" and five other books on the physicist.
"I've never come across it in anything Einstein has written," she said. "It could be that someone had made it up and put Einstein's name on it."
Second, it's incorrect scientifically, Pettis said. There would be food left for humans because some food is wind-pollinated.
For his part, Pettis jokes that the bees are out creating crop circles, "and it's working them to death."
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