April 09, 2009

Fear Pimping

Sometimes a story will hit the news, some sort of prediction of major disaster, and you'll see it damned near everywhere. And then, like a throbbing headache, it'll vanish and suddenly you don't see any sign of it.

I figure that usually it means someone is pulling strings to perform a shakedown. Reason is, I know that's what happened in one particular case. A few years ago, all of a sudden the news reports were full of stories about how cell phones might cause brain tumors and all sorts of other health problems. Not that they did but that they might.

It turned out there was one researcher who was working on that exact thing, and his work was funded by grants from the industry. The grants ran out, and the industry decided they didn't want to renew them and give him any more money. So he started talking to reporters. His name never appeared in any of those reports, but they kept coming out, and eventually the industry realized he had them over a barrel and gave in. They gave him a new grant, and he stopped talking to reporters, and the story vanished.

So when a story comes along and is really huge for a while, and then suddenly vanishes, I always wonder, "Who wants to get paid? What did they extort?"

Here's an example: remember last year the stories about how we were all gonna starve because honey bees were dying? Remember that?

It never passed the smell test, on several levels. For one thing, the majority of our food crops don't rely on insects for pollination at all. No grain does; they all depend on the wind to do it.

And a lot of the food plants which do rely on insect pollinizers don't rely on honey bees. Bumblebees are far more important than most people realize in that role, but there are a swarm of others. (So to speak.)

But there is one particular food crop which relies heavily on honeybees: almonds. And there's one particular area in California which has so many almond trees, that something like three quarters of the bee hives in the US get trucked to that area every spring in order to set the almond crop each year. And it turned out a lot of those bees have been dying.

There are a lot of suspects for why it's happening. It may be a disease, or a parasite -- in which case bringing them all into proximity with each other every year is a really good way to spread the fun around and make sure all the bees get it, wouldn't you think?

Just the trucking process may contribute to it.

But that's not my real point. What I find interesting is that I haven't seen a breathless doom-and-gloom news article about bees in months. For a while it was all over the news, and now nothing.

Who got paid?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Weird World at 02:28 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 492 words, total size 3 kb.

1 No clue who got paid. Except for the journalists and advertisers, of course.

I do not live anywhere near California. There is a property belonging to a relative in town that used to have two people keeping their bees there. The relative's hives stayed on the property. The other guy was a friend of the relative who ran a beekeeping business before he retired, and I think only moved his bees around the state. I think they both experienced some measure of die off, which doesn't really prove anything, especially at this 'distance'. When the relative got too sick, the other guy helped out with the bees some, and I think he ended up being given the survivors.

There was some data on who lost what, and what the beekeeper magazines were talking about, but I never had much knowledge in the first place, I've forgotten much, and it would be difficult to tap back into the beekeeper grapevine in a timely manner.

They might have figured out what was going on, and how to deal with it. Or the rate of dying off might have decreased after taking out the most vulnerable populations. Either way, that data would not sell news to anyone but beekeepers and agricultural types. Ignorant fearmongering sells news to everyone.

Posted by: PatBuckman at April 09, 2009 03:14 PM (h7HNv)

2 My suspicion is that it was another researcher, who was studying bees, and who lost his grant.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 09, 2009 03:22 PM (+rSRq)

3 I seem to recall hearing that they'd figured out it was due to a particular fungus that nobody had seen in a while. But you're right, "hey, we figured it out" doesn't sell as well as "oh my god, nobody knows why this is going wrong!"

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at April 09, 2009 04:11 PM (pWQz4)

4 Maybe so. I don't think I was following the news last year. A few years back, I picked up some noise second hand about some of the possible causes of the bee die off, and most of the coverage I knew of was the bee newsletters. Going off your data, and at my current level of imagination, I can't think of any better explanation then yours.

Not like ignoring the mainsteam media for the most part seems to have done me any great amount of harm.

Posted by: PatBuckman at April 09, 2009 04:18 PM (h7HNv)

5 The latest Discover magazine had an article about colony collapse, but you're right - it's not in the news anymore.  It was such a hot topic, M. Night wrote it into his excreble - and ironically titled - movie "The Happening".  Now nothing.  Gone with the sharks.

Posted by: peolesdru at April 09, 2009 11:26 PM (jkHSt)

6 It was in last year's season finale of Doctor Who.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at April 10, 2009 03:23 AM (PiXy!)

I figure that usually it means someone is pulling strings to perform a shakedown.
Or attempting to build support for "urgently required" legislation.

(Which, come to think of it, is all too often the same thing.)

Posted by: Old Grouch at April 10, 2009 09:50 AM (Ppaxm)

8 I wonder if anyone has ever made a list of all the EotWAWKI (End of the World As We Know It) scams. So far, I can only think of 4 1/2 (my brain's clutch is slipping, maybe too much cell phone use.)

(The two Mr. Den Beste mentions)
Disappearing Honey Bees
Cell phone use causes Brain cancer

Electro-magnetic fields causing cancer

And while the "discovery" of cold fusion doesn't qualify in the fear catagory, the hype and hysteria that surrounded it and the fame/profit motive that was behind it match up with the pimping. (So I only give this one half.)

Posted by: Keith Burby at April 10, 2009 04:22 PM (WIEOz)

9 I'm not sure how up-to-date this is, but, "A complete list of things caused by global warming" (or at least have been blamed on global warming)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 10, 2009 04:51 PM (+rSRq)

10 There was also Bird Flu.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 10, 2009 06:44 PM (+rSRq)

11 Is this a joke?

I went to Google News, typed in "Colony Collapse", and found 215 articles on the subject in the small number of media outlets from which Google collects articles just in the past month.

We members of the Gotham City Honey Co-Op ( http://GothamCityBees.com ) are happy to report that major progress has been made, and it is now well-known that the cause of CCD is a mix of disease pathogens from Asia that jumped from other species of bees.  They got to the US in the uninspected "World Trade" that helped to pound us into our current economic mess.

You can read more about it here:

Posted by: Buzzy Beez at April 11, 2009 03:31 AM (WjtNw)

12 When something called "Whitby Today" makes the front page of a Google News search, you can't argue that their results come from a "small number of media outlets"; by my quick estimate, less than 20% of the first 100 results came from recognizable national or international news media sources.

Also, at least 10% of the stories returned had nothing to do with bees...


Posted by: J Greely at April 11, 2009 06:22 AM (2XtN5)

13 Don't forget sharks.  That was summer 2000, before we had that man-caused disaster.

Posted by: peolesdru at April 15, 2009 04:40 PM (SOU9C)

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