Ecologist? • Global
Warming Can Be Stopped, World Climate Experts Say • Current
Gelf gets to the bottom of a dubious
quote about bees attributed to the great physicist.
by Vincent Valk
April 25, 2007
had no particular expertise or even interest in ecology,
entomology, or bees."—Roni Grosz, curator
of the Albert Einstein Archives
Albert Einstein was probably the greatest physicist of the 20th
century. He was not, however, an alien visitor, nor a professional
basketball player, nor president of the United States. Nor a biologist.
Nor an entomologist. Nor an ecologist. Nor a beekeeper. So Gelf
thought it was strange when the following quotation—attributed
to Einstein—appeared widely in recent media coverage of a
mysterious bee-massacring phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
|"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe
then man would only have four years of life left. No more
bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals,
no more man."
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about this oft-quoted line is that
Einstein probably never said it. Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert
Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, tells
Gelf, "There is no proof of Einstein ever having said or written
it." While Grosz notes that it is extremely difficult to disprove
a quote, he "could not remember even one reference to bees in Einstein's
Allowing for the possibility that a friend of the great physicist
overheard him say the line in a bar one night, and then decided
to preserve it for posterity, Gelf is still pretty sure that this
quotation has been passed from one article to another like a bad
game of Telephone. (None of the many writers who used the quote
and were contacted by Gelf responded to our inquiries.)
Fortunately, the internet has collected a trove of information
about the quote. Starting with a link on a Boing Boing post, we
found a thread on the hoax-outing site Snopes, where we discovered
evidence that the remark goes back at least as far as a January
1994 Associated Press article by Paul Ames on a beekeepers' protest
of a meeting of EU agricultural ministers.
Ames traces the quote to a pamphlet distributed by the National
Union for French Apiculture (UNAF) at said protest. Coverage
of the same event in the Scotsman and the Guardian mentions the
same pamphlet. We contacted the UNAF in an attempt to locate
the phantom pamphlet, but the group did not respond to the English
or French versions of our email. We poked around internet databases
and a local library in search of mentions of Einstein in relation
to bees, but were unable to discover any instance of the quotation's
appearance in the media prior to January 1994.
Since 1994, Einstein's quote has found its way into a plethora
of newspapers, including the Washington Post, Der Speigel,
the Independent, and the International Herald Tribune.
While some of this coverage dates from before the current mystery
over bee deaths, the line has grown in prominence as Colony Collapse
Disorder has received more media attention. Most recently, newspapers
have printed over-the-top pieces worrying about whether cellphone
signals are killing off bees. The International Herald Tribune
article largely rebukes this idea, but it does not call the Einstein
remark into question.
Even if the quotation's origins go back no further than 1994 and
the wishful thinking of an over-eager French pamphleteer, the idea
that the disappearance of the bee would lead to the destruction
of man in short order may not be as preposterous as it sounds.
While nobody knows for sure what would happen, and the four-year
time frame suggested by "Einstein" seems arbitrary and probably
exaggerated, it is certain that if every bee were to die tomorrow,
it would be an unmitigated disaster for human agriculture.
Einstein or not, "no more bees, no more pollination, no more plants,
no more animals, no more man," is a contention backed by at least
some evidence. "The world would be a very different place without
the pollination services of bees," says Maureen Maxwell, of BeesOnline,
a New Zealand-based beekeeping and honey-producing outfit. "They
are directly responsible for many of our food and floral crops.
Without them, there would be a [greater] reliance on artificial
fertilizers, which would increase toxic runoff into our waterways
and gradually pollute our food sources and living environment."
According to a recent article on Colony Collapse Disorder in the
New York Times (that mercifully does not mention Einstein), last
October the National Academy of Sciences indicated that American
agriculture may be too reliant upon the honeybee as a pollinator.
A Reuters article claims that agricultural production dependent on
bees amounts to $15 billion annually and close to one-third of the
American diet. The extinction of bees would lead to some very undesirable
scenarios, though they fall somewhat short of apocalypse.
Yet Einstein's quote persists. It recently was made into the centerpiece
of a bit on Real Time with Bill Maher. It continually pops
up in news items and (an admittedly unscientific) Google search
on "Einstein" and "bees" returns more than 780,000 hits. Maxwell
tells Gelf that she is asked about it regularly when she gives
educational tours of her facilities. So why, precisely, do reporters,
commentators, and people in the bee industry, continue to attach
the insect—and its admittedly serious current dilemma—to
a man who, according to Dr. Grosz, "had no particular expertise
or even interest in ecology, entomology, or bees"?
Gelf can only speculate, but hitching your story, argument, or
life's work to a cultural eminence such as Einstein has an undeniable
appeal. Dr. Grosz tells Gelf that "there are numerous fake, twisted,
and distortedly translated quotes out there attributed to Einstein.
Unfortunately, the internet allows wrong information to proliferate
at lightning speed without any control." (We'd like to add that
the internet also makes it easier to correct such misinformation.)
Still, we suspect that the likes of Einstein and other, similarly
revered figures, will continue to be attached to supposed profundities
that have little or nothing to do with them. In that vein, this
reporter would like to add the following bit of wishful thinking:
"If the Attorney General does not tell the truth to the Judiciary
Committee, then the President and Vice-President shall be removed
within six months."—Mahatma Gandhi
Go ahead media swarm, have at it!
(Special thanks to Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Mark
Turner for their help researching the origins of the Einstein
quote, and to Jennifer Sterling for French translation work.
If anyone has any more clues about the quote, please email
- Vincent Valk
Global Warming Can Be Stopped, World
Climate Experts Say
By John Roach
May 4, 2007
Humans have the means to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions
and avoid the catastrophic consequences of global warming, a major
climate report released today concludes.
But in order to stabilize the climate, the transition from fossil
fuels like coal and oil needs to occur within decades, according
to the final report this year from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC)
Delegates representing a network of 2,500 scientists, economists,
and policymakers from more than 120 nations hammered out details
of the report at a week-long, closed-door meeting in Bangkok,
"What is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need
for human society as a whole to start looking at changes in lifestyle
and consumption patterns," Rajendra Pachauri, the panel's chair,
said at a press conference today.
The report outlines options communities can take, from using more
renewable energy sources like solar and wind to using efficient light
bulbs and planting trees. Even controversial nuclear energy is considered
a viable option.
In addition the report says countries must adopt policies that put
a price on carbon emissions and provide incentives to spur the development
of energy-efficient technologies.
Widespread embrace of these measures could stabilize the amount
of greenhouse gases at 2000 levels, according to the report.
Failure to adopt these measures, however, could send heat-trapping
gases spiraling an additional 90 percent by 2030.
"If we continue to do what we are doing now, we are in deep trouble," Ogunlade
Davidson, a co-chair of the working group that prepared the report,
said at the briefing.
This is the third IPCC report released this year.
The first concluded global
warming is almost certainly human caused. The second warned
of the consequences
already occurring and yet to come such as massive human death
and disease, droughts, floods, and storms.
Today's report outlines a series of options to prevent the worst
"We have a really monumental challenge on our hands," Vicki Arroyo
of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia,
said in a telephone interview.
Scientists and policymakers have argued over which options to emphasize
in the fight against global warming. For example, many environmental
groups are concerned about hazardous waste from nuclear energy if
that option is widely promoted.
But given the immensity of the challenge, Arroyo said, the "luxury" to
ignore any of the available options does not exist.
"We really need to tackle this problem from every angle we can," she
Daniel Kammen directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory
at the University of California, Berkeley. He said in a telephone
interview that the market has yet to show which methods will prevail.
"The critical issue isn't to pick and choose too much but is to
say, if the governments are going to listen to this report as they
should, there is actually a large number of technologies that are
available to explore and look at," he said.
Some of the technologies are ready to enter the marketplace now,
he added, while others will require further research.
Kammen and Arroyo both said that the cost to the global economy
of acting now to curb greenhouse gas emissions is far less than doing
Economics and Caps
The new report also assesses the likely economic effects of stabilizing
the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The lower the concentration of gases, the lower the impact of global
warming but the greater the brunt to global economic activity, the
According to the report, stabilization of greenhouse gases at the
low end of the range—445 parts per million—would limit
global temperature rise to about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees
Doing so, however, requires a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
by 50 to 85 percent by the middle of this century.
Achieving this would shave about 0.12 percent off global gross domestic
product (GDP) each year, panel co-chair Bert Metz explained at the
Stabilization at the high end of the range—710 parts per million—would
see a temperature rise as high as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees
Celsius) and allow greenhouse gas emissions to increase 10 to 60
percent by 2050.
This scenario would blunt GDP by about 0.06 percent a year.
Officials in China, the U.S., and India fear that the most aggressive
cuts would slow economic growth too much and had reportedly pressed
for their nations to be excluded from the report.
The University of California's Kammen said such fears are "false."
Though the U.S. and China are the world's top two consumers of coal,
a particularly dirty fossil fuel, the countries also happen to have
ample biofuel and wind resources.
"So the switch-off job is not as hard as many people are portraying," he
In a statement released today, the environmental group WWF said
the IPCC report shows it is clearly possible to stop global warming
if action is taken now.
"The IPCC has delivered a road map for keeping the planet safe.
Now it's the turn of politicians to do more than just pay lip service," said
Hans Verlome, director of the group's climate change program.
"We can stop climate change before it's too late."
see "Timeline: The Frightening Future of Earth"
Did antimatter 'factory' spark brightest supernova?
07 May 2007
The brightest supernova ever recorded may have been triggered
by an exotic process involving antimatter in an extremely
massive star, a new study says. The explosion may offer a
rare glimpse of how the universe's first generation of stars
The explosion was first spotted on 18 September 2006 and
named SN 2006gy. It quickly became apparent that it was something
out of the ordinary.
To begin with, it broke the record for the intrinsically
brightest supernova ever recorded. Other events, like SN
1987A, have appeared brighter to us, but only because they
took place much closer to Earth.
An early analysis of the explosion suggested it might be
the result of a stellar corpse called a white dwarf star
smashing into the core of a bloated red giant star.
But new evidence suggests it was something even more exotic.
It now appears to have been an extremely massive star meeting
its end in a highly unusual way that involves the production
of antimatter, according to a team of astronomers led by
Nathan Smith of the University of California in Berkeley,
The researchers used visible and infrared observations from
facilities such as the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton,
California, as well as X-ray measurements from NASA's Chandra
space telescope to investigate the nature of the explosion.
Watch an animation comparing
views of SN 2006gy at different wavelengths.
With 100 times the energy of a typical supernova explosion,
SN 2006gy was simply too energetic to be explained by the
explosion of a lightweight object like a white dwarf star,
even if it were to collide with the core of a red giant,
says team member Craig Wheeler of the University of Texas
in Austin, US.
"That kind of explanation could not produce the energy we're
seeing," he told New Scientist.
The researchers argue instead that it was the explosion
of a very heavy star that was born with as much as 150 times
the mass of the Sun. Heavy stars normally collapse to form
black holes at the end of their lives, but it has long been
theorised that especially heavy ones could instead be completely
ripped apart by an exotic process called pair instability.
In the bowels of such a stellar titan, the high temperature
and pressure conditions are ripe for the conversion of light
into particle pairs in which one particle is an electron
and the other is its antimatter counterpart, a positron.
This causes a drop in pressure that makes the star unstable.
It begins to contract, which eventually ignites runaway nuclear
reactions that rip the star to shreds. Watch an animation
of a pair instability supernova.
The huge amount of radioactive material spewed into space
from the shredded core of such a star could explain the extreme
brightness of SN 2006gy, the researchers say.
"It isn't quite proof yet, but it smells kind of like a
pair formation supernova," Wheeler says. "I think it's the
opening of a new chapter in supernova research."
Avishay Gal-Yam of Caltech in Pasadena, US, a member of
the team that initially suggested the white dwarf collision
scenario, says in light of the new data, a scenario involving
a massive star looks more likely to be correct.
He and colleagues had initially been sceptical of that possibility
because only old, relatively lightweight stars appeared to
lie within the galaxy that SN 2006gy exploded in, NGC 1260,
which is 240 million light years from Earth.
"Additional, very sensitive observations of the core show
that it has just a [few] young, massive stars, right where
the supernova exploded," Gal-Yam told New Scientist. "So
an explanation of the supernova which requires a massive
star, which initially seemed unlikely, now becomes more plausible."
He says the idea that the massive star exploded as a result
of the exotic pair instability scenario is an exciting but
speculative possibility that would need confirmation with
There had previously been some speculation that another
unusual supernova, SN 2006jc, was also
the result of pair instability.
But Alex Filippenko of Caltech, who is a member of Smith's
team, says that is unlikely. SN 2006jc was intrinsically
much dimmer, suggesting that it spewed far less radioactive
material into space, he says. "I think it very unlikely that
the same physical mechanism operated in SN 2006jc as in SN
2006gy," he told New Scientist.
SN 2006gy may have offered an unprecedented view of the
process that killed off the universe's first stars, he says.
The event shows that some extremely massive stars can avoid
collapsing to form a black hole, and instead seed the universe
with heavy elements when they die. Heavy elements are needed
for the formation of planets and life as we know it. "The
first-generation stars may have produced and dispersed heavy
elements in this manner," Filippenko says.
The event may also presage an even more spectacular explosion
in our cosmic backyard. The star that produced SN 2006gy
appears to have blown off a lot of material prior to the
One of the most massive stars in our own galaxy, Eta Carinae,
has also been shedding large amounts of material, suggesting
that it, too, might be about to die in a pair instability
supernova, Filippenko says. If it does go, it will appear
amazingly bright because at 7500 light years, it is much
closer than SN 2006gy was.
article on Eta Carinae ]
Articles of Random
To Page Top
Star Nearly as Old as the Universe
||Long before our solar system formed
and even before the Milky Way assumed its final spiral shape, a star
slightly smaller than the Sun blazed into life in our galaxy, formed
from the newly scattered remains of the first stars in the universe.
System Is "Bullet Shaped"
||Our solar system flies through space
in the shape of a speeding bullet, according to data from NASA's two
of Life" to Catalog All Species on Earth
||Scientists announced plans today to
put descriptions, pictures, video, and sounds of the world's estimated
1.8 million named species on the Internet for free.
dies in monstrous explosion
||A massive star about 150 times the size
of the Sun exploded in what could be a long-sought new type of supernova,
Nasa scientists have said.
Light Behave As A Solid? A New Theory
||“Solid light will help us build
the technology of this century,” says Dr Andrew Greentree of
the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne.
The Brain's Backup System Compensates For Stroke
||Researchers have pinpointed in humans
how a "backup" brain region springs into action to compensate
for disruption of a primary functional area, as happens during stroke.
Their finding offers new insight into how the brains of stroke victims
can quickly reorganize to enable the beginning of recovery of movement.
May Be Used To Regenerate Tissues, Organs
||Research at Northwestern University
has shown that a combination of nanotechnology and biology may enable
damaged tissues and organs to heal themselves.
Warming Can Be Stopped, World Climate Experts Say
||Humans have the means to drastically
cut greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the catastrophic consequences
of global warming, a major climate report released today concludes.
Planet Weighs as Much as 2,500 Earths
||With temperatures ranging from 1000
to 2000°C, gravity 15 times stronger than Earth's, and a year that
lasts just 5.6 of our days, HAT-P-2b is not a planet you'd want to
visit for vacation.
Mercury: Tiny Planet Has Molten Core
||Mercury's metallic core is at least
partially liquid, say scientists who studied the tiny planet using
Earth-based radio telescopes.
US astronaut dies aged 84
US space pioneer Walter Schirra, one of the original Mercury Seven
astronauts who flew Nasa's earliest flights, has died aged 84.
Explosion on Mars Created Weird Formation
||A mysterious area of layered bedrock
on Mars that has puzzled scientists was formed by a volcanic explosion,
new research shows.
'super-Earth' found in space
||Astronomers have found the most Earth-like
planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water
running on its surface.
in Reincarnation Tied to Memory Errors
|| People who believe they have lived
past lives as, say, Indian princesses or battlefield commanders are
more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a
face climate change risk
||Billions of people face shortages of
food and water and increased risk of flooding, experts at a major climate
change conference have warned.
study questions value of school software
||The use of certain educational software
programs to help teach reading and math did not lead to higher test
scores after a year of implementation, according to a major federal
report released April 5.
odd double explosion hints at antimatter trigger
||A star that survived a massive explosion – only
to be destroyed in a second blast just two years later – has
piqued the curiosity of astronomers. Its bizarre death might be due
to the production of antimatter in its core towards the end of its
Earliest Human Ancestors Have More Apelike Faces?
||The earliest direct ancestors of modern
humans may have looked more like apes than previously thought, a new
Southwest Drought Could Be Start of New Dust Bowl
||The unprecedented drought that has gripped
the southwestern United States isn't almost over, researchers say,
it may have only just begun. ... That's the consensus of all but 1
of the 19 climate models used as the basis for this week's upcoming
report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according
to a new analysis.
Cohen, emeritus professor and winner of world's top math prize, dies
||Cohen won two of the most prestigious
awards in mathematics—in completely different fields. He won
the American Mathematical Society's Bôcher Prize in 1964 for
analysis and the Fields Medal, considered the "Nobel Prize" of
mathematics, in 1966 for logic.
Glaciers' Sloughing Of Ice Has Scientists at a Loss
||Some of the largest glaciers in Antarctica
and Greenland are moving in unusual ways and are losing increased amounts
of ice to the sea, researchers said yesterday.
map to probe Europa's secrets
||Scientists have produced a global geological
map of Jupiter's moon Europa, which has been proposed as a destination
for a future space mission.
wife's diaries go online
||The diaries of the wife of naturalist
Charles Darwin have been published online.
Other News Items...
White House Spins Iraqi Polling
Tony Snow says two polls on Iraqi optimism are "diametrically
opposed." A close look shows otherwise.
March 23, 2007
Results of an ABC News survey
of public opinion in Iraq found much pessimism as the fourth
anniversary of the war approached. When asked for comment, White
House Press Secretary Tony Snow cited a British poll which
he said offered a "different conclusion." The British poll's
summary did sound less gloomy, but a close look at the numbers
showed that the actual results of the two polls are similar.
On March 19th, ABC News, and its news media
partners, announced the
results of a new survey of public opinion in Iraq, the third in
a series of Iraqi polls it has conducted roughly every year
and a half beginning in February 2004. The previous poll
was released in November 2005, and its findings were trumpeted by
President Bush as proof that "Iraqis
are optimistic -- and that optimism is justified." At that time
we found that
Bush was citing the polls findings selectively, and that neither
Bush nor his critics had accurately painted the full complexity
of Iraqi public opinion.
time the Bush administration isn't embracing the latest
poll at all. It found "a draining away of the underlying
optimism that once prevailed." Conclusions were so unrelentingly
negative that the report is titled, "Ebbing
Hope in a Landscape of Loss."
When asked about these findings at a press
briefing, Press Secretary Snow replied that "there
was also a British poll at the same time that had almost diametrically
opposed results." That mischaracterizes the British poll.
Snow is referring to a poll conducted by the
British firm Opinion
Research Business . There is nothing in the ORB poll results
that contradicts ABC's poll findings. In fact, when the
two survey companies asked similar questions, their results were
very much in line. For example:
Compared to the time before the war in Spring 2003,
are things overall in your life much better now,
somewhat better, about the same, somewhat worse or
ORB "British" Poll
everything into account, do you feel that things
are better for you now under the present political
system or do you think things were better for you
before under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein?
-“Better under the current system”
-“Better under the previous regime”
So the British poll found a somewhat
greater share of its sample – 49 percent as opposed
to 42 in the ABC poll – saying that life is better
under the current regime. However, the difference is not much
more than the statistical margins of error (+/- 1.4% for ORB,
+/- 2.5% for ABC). The polls were completed within 11 days of
each other in February and early March.
What is different is the way the British poll
presents its findings. The press release from ORB says:
poll shows that despite the horrendous personal security problems
only 26% of the country preferred life under the previous regime
of Saddam Hussein, with almost half (49%) preferring life under
the current political system.
This language is markedly more positive than
the summary of the ABC poll, despite there being little
real difference in the results. It is ABC's poll, however,
that digs far more deeply. ABC asked 54 questions (beyond demographic
ones such as, "age" and "profession") to the British
poll's eight. ABC (and its partners, the BBC, USA Today and
ARD German TV) asked Iraqis dozens of questions about quality
of life, compared with ORB's two or three. ABC can also measure historical
trends by comparing three sets of answers to the same questions
over a 36 month period.
It's worth considering the source of the British
poll. ORB lists Britan's
Conservative Party (the tories) as a client, the leader
of which describes it
as "sister party" to the U.S. Republicans. The Conservative Party
supported the invasion of Iraq and supports the presence of the
"Coalition of the Willing" there.
Press Secretary Snow was pushed at the March
19 press briefing to comment officially on the ABC poll and he
reiterated that, " there
was a British poll with twice the sample that reached a different
conclusion." ORB's sample size is 5,019. ABC's is 2,212. Either
way, the actual numbers of the British poll seem only
to bolster the grim conclusions of ABC's.
Continue reading to view comparisons
of three other similar questions from the two polls.
- by Justin Bank
Which of the following structures do you believe
should have in the future?
unified Iraq with central government in
-"A group of regional states with their own regional
governments and a a federal government in Baghdad"
-"Dividing the country into separate independent states"
ORB "British" Poll
On balance, which of the following alternatives would
you prefer for the future of
-"The current system, Iraq a single country
with a central national government"
-"A new federal system with independent regional
governments for areas such as the Kurdish North,
Sunni West, and Shia South"
Have you or an immediate family member – by
which I mean someone living in this household – been
physically harmed by the violence that is occurring
in the country at this time?
Do you have any close personal friends or immediate
family members living outside this household who have
been physically harmed by violence that is occurring
in the country at this time?
ORB "British" Poll
Which of the following have you personally experienced
in the last three years?
-"The murder of a member of my family/relative"
- "The murder of a friend or colleague"
-"The kidnapping of a member of my family/relative"
-"The kidnapping of a friend or colleague"
-"None of the above"
ORB "British" Poll
of the following comes closest to your own opinion
about the state of
at the moment?
is in a state of civil war"
is close to a state of civil war but not in one yet."
is still some way from a civil war"
don’t think Iraq will ever get as far as
a civil war"
is or is not involved in a civil war at this time?
Langer, Gary, "Voices From Iraq
2007: Ebbing Hope in a Landscape of Loss," ABC
News. 19 March 2007.
Bush, George, "President's Address
to the Nation," White
House. 18 Dec 2005.
Snow, Tony, "Press Briefing," White
House. 19 March 2007.
Opinion Business Research, "March
07 - Despite violence only 26% preferred life under Saddam," News
Release. 7 March 2007.
Bush says 70 per cent of Iraqis see their lives going well, but
MoveOn.org says most Iraqis want US troops out. Both sides are
right, up to a point.