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Posts Tagged ‘mobile phones’

Bees on their knees

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Honey bee on wax flower

“It is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes.”
Carl Gustav Jung

More and more publicity is being given to the alarming collapse in bee populations in the US and Europe, the latest being in yesterday’s Independent in an article entitled Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

“It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail.

“They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.

“The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

“Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

“The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.”

The article goes on to say:

“The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left”.

“No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.”

However, looking into more detailed, balanced and less sensationalist commentaries on the subject, such as the article on Colony Collapse Disorder in Wikipedia and the work of the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, based primarily at Penn State University, a different picture begins to emerge.

Firstly, although wild and feral populations have been under stress for many years from habitat destruction, urbanisation, pesticide misuse, crop pattern changes and probably cellphone use as well, the phenomenon appears to be limited to ‘farmed’ bees — colonies kept and managed as commercial enterprises, and in particular, those of large commercial migratory beekeepers, some of whom have lost 50-90% of their colonies. Large-scale non-migratory enterprises are affected to a lesser extent. Large-scale migratory enterprises developed with the advent of modern hive construction, allowing colonies to be transported long distances and keepers to make a business from pollination services as well as, or instead of, honey production. The traditional small-scale self-employed beekeeper has been relegated to the status of little more than hobbyist.

Migratory beekeepers

US migratory beekeepers loading tractor-trailer load of bees for transport from South Carolina to Maine to pollinate blueberries.

According to Wikipedia:

“Honey bees are not native to the Americas, therefore their necessity as pollinators in the US is limited to strictly agricultural uses. They are responsible for pollination of approximately one third of the United States’ crop species, including such species as: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries; many but not all of these plants can be (and often are) pollinated by other insects, including other kinds of bees, in the US, but typically not on a commercial scale. While some farmers of a few kinds of native crops do bring in honey bees to help pollinate, none specifically need them, and when honey bees are absent from a region, the native pollinators quickly reclaim the niche, typically being better adapted to serve those plants (assuming that the plants normally occur in that specific area).”

In other words, the critical crops affected are non-indigenous, artificially grown and maintained by man-made means, and are not part of the natural ecosystem of the area. So quoting Einstein and invoking the spectre of a worldwide disaster seems a little premature. (The dependence of the US agrarian economy on managed pollination is a direct result of pursuing large-scale monoculture which is naturally prone to catastrophic failure due to its inflexibility and lack of diversity.)

Secondly, the die-off has been logged for a good 35 years, progressively increasing over time such that between 1971 and 2006 it’s estimated that 50% of the US population of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) has disappeared. In late 2006 and early 2007, the rate of losses reached new heights and the term ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ was coined to describe this more catastrophic turn of events.

Before the CCD label was attached to the phenomenon, it was variously known as autumn collapse, May disease, spring dwindle, disappearing disease, and fall dwindle disease, reflecting the fact that most die-offs were occurring at the change in seasons. The search for the cause has concentrated primarily on pathogens, pesticides, mites, genetically modified (GM) crops and cellular phone signal proliferation which have all been proposed as causative agents.

A preliminary survey by the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group revealed that a period of “extraordinary stress” affected the colonies in question prior to the die-off. To date, this is the only factor that all of the reported cases of CCD have in common. Most often, the stress involved poor nutrition and/or drought.

Some researchers have attributed the syndrome to the practice of feeding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and protein supplements to augment winter stores. This was common to most beekeepers in Penn State’s survey. Most beekeepers affected by CCD report that they use antibiotics and miticides in their colonies, though the lack of uniformity as to which particular chemicals are used makes it seem unlikely that any single such chemical is involved. Others have identified the characteristics of immune disorders, similar to AIDS in humans. Specifically, according to researchers at Penn State: “The magnitude of detected infectious agents in the adult bees suggests some type of immunosuppression.”

The picture rapidly emerging from all this is of yet another species falling victim to large-scale commercially-driven farming methods. Limited genetic diversity combined with the cumulative effects of high doses of artificial feedstuffs (one of the early symptoms of impending CCD is that the colony is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement), repeated antibiotic and pesticide treatments, unnatural environments and lifestyle (migratory keepers regularly transport their hives considerable distances, often across different climate zones which, for a creature with sophisticated navigation relying on precise environmental orientation, can only be enormously stressful and disturbing), all contributing to severely degraded immune systems in chronically-stressed insects. This leads to massive numbers of fatalities in the adult worker population in times of extra stress, and as immune deficiency increases, so the stress threshold becomes progressively lower, hence die-offs no longer occur just at change of seasons or periods of drought and low food supply. Note that it’s the adult worker bees that are affected – the bees most likely to suffer from repeated dislocation.

Toxic chemical load is among the mechanisms which are more realistically proposed as causes of AIDS in humans.

When is the human race going to learn that we can’t go on employing short-sighted unidimensional linear logic in relation to living systems? It results in such crazy practices as increasing the toxic chemical load (antibiotics and miticides) in response to illness which is inevitably produced by our unnatural, inhumane and artificial chemical-based husbandry methods. The fact that commercial bee populations are dying off in such large numbers really isn’t at all surprising. The only thing to be wondered at is the resilience of the species in surviving for so long in the face of such an onslaught.

“Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another.”
Gottfried Leibniz

Irrational behaviour take 2

Monday, August 7th, 2006

“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.”
Nicholas Butler

Computers too, it seems, are prone to bouts of seemingly irrational behaviour. I wonder if that’s been the subject of any systematic studies …

I was on the phone to customer services trying to sort out a solution to my daughter’s temperamental mobile phone. It was suggested I take it in for a software upgrade. Being as I’d mentioned the nearest store I knew of capable of doing this is 30 miles away, the helpful representative checked his system.

“I’m showing one much closer to you than Edinburgh.” he says. Intrigued, I asked him where, fully expecting him to say something like Galashiels which, although in the Scottish Borders, is no nearer than Edinburgh. “Penzance!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “It’s showing as only 12 miles from your location.” I don’t think he was quite prepared for the explosive hoot from my end. Made my day, it did. Penzance is only about 520 miles away from here and about as far away as you can get while still remaining in the British Isles.

Bias-binding and the PEKing order

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

“Research is subordinated (not to a long-term social benefit) but to an immediate commercial profit. Currently, disease (not health) is one of the major sources of profit for the pharmaceutical industry, and the doctors are willing agents of those profits.”
Dr Pierre Bosquet, Nouvelle Critique, France, May 1961

These days it’s hard not to conclude that the general public throughout the world are being thoroughly stitched up when it comes to the question of reliable information about health matters.

As a minor example, I happened to come across a 2005 study on mobile phone use and the incidence of acoustic neuroma (M J Schoemaker, A J Swerdlow, and others: Mobile phone use and risk of acoustic neuroma: results of the Interphone case-control study in five North European countries. British Journal of Cancer (2005), 1-7) which found a slight but statistically insignificant increase in incidence of acoustic neuroma related to mobile phone use based on 678 cases and 3553 controls in the UK and four Nordic countries over a period of 10 years. The study concludes “… that there is no substantial risk of acoustic neuroma in the first decade after starting mobile phone use. However, an increase in risk after longer term use or after a longer lag period could not be ruled out.” (emphasis added)

The study only looked at one particular type of cancer based on the assumption that acoustic neuroma would be the most likely cancer to develop from an EMF radiation source held close to the ear. Acoustic neuromas are rare, and the assumption that the effects of EMF radiation will only be visible closest to its source (given that EMF radiation is effective over considerable distances, hence its use in mobile phones!) in exactly that way is questionable. And of course a specific study of one type of cancer like this can’t in any way be extrapolated to all cancers.

Yet how did the “responsible” press headline this story?

BBC: Mobile phone cancer link rejected (30 August 2005)
The Guardian: Mobiles’ 10-year all-clear for cancer (31 August 2005)
The Independent: Using a mobile phone regularly does not cause cancer, scientists conclude (31 August 2005)
Reuters: No brain cancer link to mobile phones, study says (30 August 2005)

Never let truth stand in the way of a good story …

But at least we can be thankful that these headlines were only gross exaggeration, as opposed to the outright lies promulgated by The Lancet in claiming an end to homeopathy based on the meta-analysis by Shang et al published last August.

It emerges that the Shang et al meta-analysis was an offshoot from a Swiss government study, the Programm Evaluation Komplementärmedizin (PEK), which was designed to allow politicians to assess whether or not five complementary therapies – anthroposophical medicine, homeopathy, neural therapy, phytotherapy and traditional Chinese herbal therapy – should be included in the list of services covered by the Swiss compulsory health insurance scheme (KLV). The cost of complementary therapies were, until 1998, reimbursed under the basic national scheme, but a change in the regulations in 1998 put the decision over which therapies were or were not valid for reimbursement in the hands of the Swiss Department of Internal Affairs (EDI). Public outcry forced the government to back-peddle and the five most popular therapies were reinstated in the KLV scheme from 1999 to 2005, on condition that each therapy was provided by FMH-certified physicians only, and that a simultaneous study in each therapy’s effectiveness was carried out (the PEK study). The decision on whether the therapies were retained within the basic health insurance scheme after 2005 would depend on the demonstration of their efficacy, appropriateness and cost effectiveness.

The study was set up under the Federal Office of Social Insurance (BSV) with a well-defined management structure and review board of internationally-acknowledged experts. It received widespread praise for the quality of its design and the degree of cooperation and transparency amongst its participants. As each area of the study began publishing their findings, the project was cited as an exemplar for future CAM research.

But as the extent of the findings in favour of the five therapies began to become clear, in 2004 PEK’s management structure was abruptly changed and the control of the study was passed to the Federal Office of Health (BAG). From that point onward, many attempts were made to interfere with and derail its emerging conclusions. Transparency was immediately compromised. Economic data showing the cost benefits of CAM were suppressed. The economist preparing to present the results of his work was dismissed without reason and placed under a gagging order. Other departments were prevented from publishing their work.

One member of the PEK steering committee, Dr med Peter Heusser, was so disgusted by what he witnessed that he has written an account of what happened, Medizin und Macht am Beispiel des Programms Evaluation Komplementärmedizin PEK (currently only available in German, but machine-translated here), and this brief summary is drawn largely from his account.

The Swiss authorities – both the government and the Federal Office of Health (BAG) – tried to sweep the PEK study under the carpet. A conference scheduled for April 2005 to present and discuss its results had to be cancelled because the Federal Office of Health prevented the publication of the study data. Some collaborators were even coerced into deleting all PEK-related data from their computers. The final meeting of the PEK international review board (six professors from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the UK responsible for the scientific quality of the study), scheduled for June 2005 for a final assessment of the project, was cancelled. (The review board eventually produced a summary report in September, which is highly critical of the political interference in the study.) Many contributors had their contracts terminated before their work could be completed. The recommendation in the final draft that homeopathy, anthroposophical medicine and herbal medicine should stay in the compulsory health insurance scheme was deleted in the final publication.

Review board member Harald Walach PhD protested:

“I protested on behalf of the international review board whose membership was against this highly unusual procedure. I had an interesting exchange of e-mails and letters with the vice-president of the Swiss federal health agency, which told me a lot about the irrelevance of scientific data in the face of political decisions. What I basically learned was that the data gathered by the researchers were absolutely irrelevant to the decision. The vice-president, in an e-mail to me, literally called the data “waste products which do not bear any relevance to the political decisions.” It is important to highlight this situation in the face of editorials and information in the public press, which seem to imply that the Swiss decision was based on evidence about the higher costs and ineffectiveness of complementary medicine. Very likely, the opposite was true: The data probably suggested some cost effectiveness and they certainly did not imply zero effectiveness. But this information was held back from the public in order to veil the political nature of the decision, I assume.”

Walach concludes his editorial,

“This is a very interesting, informative, and, in fact, very sobering piece of recent history in the evaluation of complementary medicine. Public authorities, health systems researchers, and, in fact, all CAM researchers should at least take some note of this process in order to understand the complexities of the issues at stake and of the power-plays of different stakeholders in the game.”
(Walach, H. The Swiss Program for the Evaluation of Complementary Medicine (PEK). Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, April 2006; Vol 12, No 3, pp 231-232)

The Swiss government pre-emptively decided to exclude all CAM therapies from the compulsory health insurance scheme as of 30 June 2005, effectively ignoring not just the weight of scientific findings and economic benefits (which could save SFr millions on the health budget) which were emerging from the still-to-be-completed PEK study, but also the weight of Swiss public opinion.

In this context, the appearance of the Shang et al meta-analysis in The Lancet two months later – notably pre-empting the final report from the PEK international review board – can do little else but appear even more biased and reverse-engineered than it does already in its own right (see Myths and Misconceptions). A letter to The Lancet from the Swiss Association of Homeopathic Physicians raising objections to the study was not even granted publication.

None of this – aside from the initial frenzy surrounding the announcement of the conclusions of the meta-analysis on homeopathy – appears to have raised so much as a whisper from the English-speaking international media.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that Switzerland is ranked as 8th most competitive nation in the 2005 World Competitiveness Yearbook. (In comparison, the UK came 22nd.) And it’s also ranked 8th in terms of the major exporting countries of chemical and pharmaceutical products. Around 5% of current global pharmaceutical R&D is attributable to Swiss companies. Since many university medical research laboratories would cease to exist without the support of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s perhaps no surprise that “at the end of 2004, professors of the medical faculties had expressed the intention at a meeting of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences … to do everything in their power to prevent complementary medicine remaining in the basic insurance. A dean voiced the prevailing opinion: “We must provide hand grenades [literal quotation, personal communication of a participant of that conference] against complementary medicine.”” (Dr med Peter Heusser).

On a more metaphysical note, it’s interesting too how the number 8 appears twice in the Swiss rankings (not to mention being the final ridiculously small number of homeopathic trials selected to represent the therapy in the Shang et al meta-analysis) given its numerological associations with executive character, political skills, handling of power and authority, working for a cause, command, ambition, lacking humanitarian instincts, repression and materialism … and itself a figure, in the form of the lemniscate, often connected with the maxim “as above, so below”.

More comment on this topic:
Dr Manish Bhatia

“The prerequisite for today’s medical policy is naturally the currently predominant system of medicine. The sick are the source of income, therefore it is necessary for sick people to be there, yes, it proves advantageous if one makes the people artificially sick.”
Dr med Steintl: ‘International Medical Policy’, 1938, Berlin

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard