Features

Political Implications of Colony Collapse Disorder

ARI JACOBS, Staff Writer

The proliferation and ambiguity of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon afflicting honeybees across the world that causes worker bees in hives to suddenly disappear, may reflect inherent flaws in the way scientific research is handled in modern society.

Post-doctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Sai Suryan visited Beloit College last Wednesday to discuss such a hypothesis. The pandemic virulence of CCD is no joke for agriculturists. Almond farmers in California, for example, require honeybees for pollination of their almond trees.  Yet since 2005, beekeepers have reported losing 30 to 90 percent of their hives to CCD, increasing economic costs for farmers. Scientists have so far been unable to reach a consensus on the cause of CCD. Complex interactions between insecticides, parasites and crop malnutrition have been suspected to spread CCD.

Why have scientists struggled to pinpoint the culprit causing CCD? According to Suryan, historically established research protocols have hindered entomologists from solving the CCD enigma.

To Suryan, the main problem resides in the disparity of how research is treated by toxicologists and beekeepers. Both researchers practice unique research methodologies. Toxicologists, certified scientists tending to work in academia, usually test only one variable at a time. Many of their research findings demonstrate the effect of a single insecticide on honeybee hives. Publications by toxicologists receive national attention and tend to be written in a casual finality.

In contrast, beekeeper research involves more correlative studies, observing the effect of many factors at once on a honeybee hive. Beekeepers are uncertified scientists and their methodologies lack the firmness of academic precedence. However, Suryan argues that their research does hold the same scientific strength as their toxicologist peers. Their expertise may contribute information that toxicologists cannot acquire by virtue of having distinct, multivariable research methods.

Unfortunately for beekeepers and others in the agricultural industry, beekeeper findings tend to be overlooked by the scientific society at large. Suryan argues that the domination of certain research norms and practices over time has led to particular instances of scientific “ignorance.” Beekeeper research findings do not receive the same national limelight as their toxicologist contemporaries; as a result, scientists fail to obtain the potential benefits of combining toxicologist and beekeeper expertise. Suryan urges that “more democratized methodologies” by entomologists are necessary to make further advancements in CCD research.

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