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Cell Phones Don't Kill Bees (STUDY)

Bee Cell Phones

First Posted: 05/19/11 09:17 AM ET Updated: 11/16/11 05:50 AM ET

The Internet is all abuzz about a reported new study suggesting cell phones cause the world's suddenly dwindling population of bees.

Now the British tabloid the Daily Mail is getting stung.

The paper recently published a story about a study that suggested in the first sentence that cell phone signals "could be partly to blame for the mysterious deaths of honeybees."

Problem is, the actual study never said such a thing.

The story was based on research done by Swiss researchers who studied the effects of cell phones on bees by placing active phones in or near hives.

Apparently, the bees were able to tell when the handsets made and received calls, and the insects responded by making "piping" sounds, the high-pitched tones that spread the message through the colony that something disturbing is happening.

The media swarmed around the story, but while the study provided evidence that bees do get agitated by cell phones -- as do most humans, at times -- there was no proof that they caused death, despite the use of the phrase "could be partly to blame."

As the website CleanTechnica pointed out, the Daily Mail article explicitly states, all the way down in paragraph 17, that "the study did not show that mobile phones were deadly for bees."

CleanTechnica columnist Jeremy Bloom, who helped expose the fallacy, tried to jokingly explain the discrepancy between the headline and the part of the story that admits there was no actual evidence of bee deaths by surmising the headline writer may not have read that far.

"It's the headline writer's job to pump things up to make sure that folks read the article. So he went all out," Bloom wrote.

Whoever wrote the Daily Mail headline did indeed go all out, using headlines like "Why a mobile phone ring may make bees buzz off: Insects infuriated by handset signals;" taglines like: "Phone signals confuse bees and cause them to begin flying erratically before suddenly dying" and photo captions like "Researchers placed mobile phones in bee hives under controlled conditions and monitored the results. They found the phone signals confused the bees who began to fly erratically before dying suddenly."

To its credit, however, the Daily Mail did include comments from British-based bee expert Norman Carreck of Sussex University, who said the study was "interesting," but didn't prove that mobile phones are responsible for colony collapse disorder, a condition that has affected, according to some estimates, nearly half the bee population in the U.S.

"If you physically knock a hive, or open one up to examine it, it has the same result," Carreck said. "And, in America, many cases of colony collapse disorder have taken place in remote areas far from any mobile phone signals."

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Filed by David Moye  |