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Bees Online

A few weeks ago, the German weekly Die Zeit published my article about the entangled histories of bees, men and mites. It is now online and even received some comments!


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I played around a bit with Google’s ngrams these days and up came some pretty interesting curves.


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The graph shows the how often the words have been found in the books contained in Google’s sample.

As you can see, use of the words “insects”, “bees” and “beetles” shows a distinct downward trend starting somewhen in the 1950s, whereas use of the word “pesticides” increases from the 1960s. “Pollination” begins to be an issue at the beginning of the 20th century.

I also find it interesting (though not surprising) that bees consistently get much more attention than beetles, despite the latter being the much larger group.

If you want to look up the literary treasures in Google’s digital vaults, here is original ngram.

In the German literature, there also is a decline in “Bienen” and “Insekten” from the 1950s. Pollination (“Bestäubung”) however is much more of an issue from the mid 19th-century and “Pflanzenschutz” (which is a bit more general a term than “pesticides”) appears throughout the 20th century.


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These data clearly reflect a shift in interest over the past 50 years. They do not, however, but I think that is clear, prove any causal relationship.

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This is what happens if you leave it all to the spellchecker!

The quote appeared in a piece by Reuters about the decoding of the honeybee genome in 2006. Apparently, the autocorrect dutifully replaced all mentions of “the queen” with “Queen Elizabeth”, thus informing us about some yet unheard of capacities of the British monarch.

Thanks to  Radiolab for referring to this beautiful typo in “Oops. Stories of unintended consequences” and to Craig Silverman for gracefully preserving it on Regret the Error.

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Thanks to @imkerplatform for pointing me to this beautiful infographic by FFunction!

(click image to enlarge)

The one objection I would have is the title – fortunately, extinction is not yet an issue…

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