Bee Apocalypse Science Scandal? Did Scientists "Fix Evidence" To Ban Neonic Pesticides?


Bee Apocalypse

Yesterday, I got a beg letter from the Bee Action campaign by the Friends of the Earth that asserted:

You may have heard that diseases, pests, climate change have all been implicated in the global bee die off. But now, a growing body of science points to the world's most popular pesticides as key contributing factor.

Nionicotinoids—or neonics—are a powerful class of pesticides used on 140 crops.

The FOE is pushing for the adoption of the Save Our Pollinators Act that would ban neonics until the EPA evaluates…

…the published and peer-reviewed scientific evidence on whether the use or uses of such neonicotinoids cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators, including native bees, honey bees, birds, bats, and other species of beneficial insects…

Well, surely any proposed bans should be based on firm scientific findings. But what if the relevant "findings" have been with malice-aforethought manipulated by environmental lobbyists? Say it ain't so!

In today's Times (London) an article, "Scientists accused of plotting to get pesticides banned," reveals that four senior European scientists with links to prominent environmentalist organizations apparently hatched a plan to pollute the scientific literature with an article whose predetermined conclusions would damn the pesticides. According to a note* obtained by the Times, the four researchers carefully selected in advance the scientists who would do the "peer-review" in order to insure the publication of the cobbled together article. They further arranged to have a policy statement arguing for a Europe-wide ban on the pesticides published simultaneously.

From the Times:

Research blaming pesticides for the decline in honeybees has been called into question by a leaked note suggesting that scientists had decided in advance to seek evidence supporting a ban on the chemicals.

The private note records a discussion in 2010 between four scientists about how to persuade regulators to ban neonicotinoid pesticides. …

The leaked note says that the scientists agreed to select authors to produce four papers and co-ordinate their publication to "obtain the necessary policy change, to have these pesticides banned".

A paper by a "carefully selected first author" would set out the impact of the pesticides on insects and birds "as convincingly as possible". A second "policy forum" paper would draw on the first to call for a ban.

The note, which records that the meeting took place in Switzerland on June 14, 2010, says: "If we are successful in getting these two papers published, there will be enormous impact, and a campaign led by WWF etc. It will be much harder for politicians to ignore a research paper and a policy forum paper in [a major scientific journal]."

The scientists at the meeting included Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, chairman of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, and Piet Wit, chairman of the ecosystems management commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an influential network of scientists and environmental groups.

For a superb round up of the science and, sadly, the politics regarding the effects of neonicotinoids on bees, see "Bee deaths and neonics," by Jon Entine who is the executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project.

For example, Entine's article reports:

Four Canadian scientists led by Cynthia D. Scott Dupree, an environmental biologist at the University of Guelph, undertook a large-scale study of honey bee exposure to one neonic, clothianidin, which is applied as a seed treatment. The study was centered in southern Ontario, which advocacy groups have contended has been particularly hard hit by neonic-related bee deaths.

Designed in cooperation with the US Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada, it was industry funded, but executed under Good Laboratory Practice Standards.

The scientists observed bees foraging heavily on the canola. As numerous other studies have suggested, they found, "Although various laboratory studies have reported sublethal effects in individual honey bees exposed to low doses of neonicotinoid insecticides, the results of the present study suggest that foraging on clothianidin seed-treated crops, under realistic conditions, poses low risk to honey bee colonies."

Assertions by entomologists that neonics play a limited role in bee health infuriates some environmentalists convinced this mystery is solved: Let's just ban neonics, they say, and move on.

It seems that the distinguished scientists mentioned in the Times are taking advice from the Queen in Alice In Wonderland:

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first — verdict afterwards.'

*NB: I don't have access to a copy of the note cited in the Times, so I would be really grateful if someone would send it along or give a me link to it so I can share it with readers.

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