I’m angry. Really, really angry. And it’s all Kenny’s fault.
Kenny S., one of our long-time blog followers, alerted me to a blog posting dismissing a new study on colony collapse disorder (CCD). The post was devoid of any evidence of bogusness, other than a link to “great reporting” by New York Magazine. Aside from the general snarkiness of this article, we’re breathlessly informed that Fortune magazine (a hotbed of scientific inquiry) uncovered an unholy connection between the lead author (Dr. Bromenshenk) and Bayer. That article recounts Dr. Bromenshenk’s sins, which include (1) accepting research money from Bayer, (2) not serving as an expert witness in a legal case against Bayer and (3) not studying every single possible cause of CCD.
Next I looked at the contested study, which is in an online journal. Apparently none of the reporters/bloggers have bothered reading this, because they could easily discover the following:
1) there are 18 authors from many institutions, not just Dr. Bromenshenk and “Army scientists”;
2) the methodology was specific for protein analysis (not for pesticides nor any other nonliving factor);
3) funding was not provided by Bayer or any other corporation;
4) competing interests, such as Dr. Bromenshenk’s company, are openly acknowledged;
5) the article does not suggest anywhere that pesticides are blameless in CCD.
The body of the article is pretty technical and I’m not an entomologist. Still, this is in a peer-reviewed journal (albeit online rather than print). You can see the review process and the list of academic reviewers if you were so inclined (as anyone who writes about science should be). Thus, qualified scientists (in addition to the 18 authors) find this to be a legitimate study.
Let’s look at Dr. Bromenshenk’s research history. (For the record, I don’t know him and had never heard of him until yesterday.) He’s published at least 26 scientific articles (in journals including Science) on various aspects of bee biology for the last 27 years. To do these studies, he needs funding. Guess what? Universities don’t provide funding. Magazines don’t provide funding. Bloggers don’t provide funding. Other than a handful of relevant government agencies (like NSF or USDA), most big grants come from corporations. Like Bayer.
Now this is why I’m mad. There’s widespread perception among nonacademic types that corporate grant money “buys” results. That’s insulting. Most scientists do what they do because they love the thrill of discovery. There’s no thrill if you’ve rigged the results. Moreover, if you rig the results you’re going to be found out…eventually. A scientist with 27 years of credible, scientifically reviewed research is hardly a data rigger. And he’d have to convince 17 coauthors to go along with the scam.
Near the end of the Fortune article (and ignored by subsequent articles and blogging) was Dr. Bromenshenk’s efforts to get Bayer and the beekeepers to talk to each other. Though he was able to get Bayer to appoint a beekeeper advisory board (to assist with experimental design) in an effort to increase “trust and transparency” with the public, it hasn’t been terribly successful.
So here we have a man who’s devoted more than a quarter of a century to studying bees, who has published extensively in the peer-reviewed literature, who is trying to shed light on why bee colonies are dying, and who has tried to bring the pesticide industry and environmentalists to the same table. You tell me why he’s being pilloried.