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A new product that’s the bee’s knees!

I wasn’t sure where to start in finding the topic for my first post here. (By the way, hello!) My problem was solved, however, while listening to the local Public Radio station in my car the other night. The program that was on was CBC’s As It Happens. Aside from their having a pretty nifty and hip theme song, I’ve liked this program because of the conversational approach to the news they cover. In any case, what caught my ear was a five minute segment about the Bee Station.

Some quick background – I own a business, and sell websites to make a living. As a result, I don’t begrudge anyone coming up with products to sell.  Hurray for capitalism. However, what bugs me about what I heard was the marketing angle. It turns out that I do have a problem when people try to cash in on fear. I also have a problem with people selling something that won’t do what they claim it will do.

The Bee Station is supposedly a way you can help your friendly neighborhood bees by providing a nest and feeding stop for them on their busy routes. Explaining his product, Jamie Hutchinson (designer of the Bee Station) tells the show’s hosts that because bees have been dying, the remaining ones are working harder. His website repeats the point…

Our bees are dying at an alarming rate and the remaining bees are working twice as hard to keep our planet alive.

That was the first thing that made me tip my head and think “huh?” The questions that came to mind were along the lines of, “how do the surviving bees know they’re supposed to be working twice as hard?” and “is there some kind of bee work quota that they are trying to maintain?” In my admittedly limited understanding of bees, it seemed to me that a bee will work as hard as it needs to in order to survive and support the hive, with no regard to the situation of other bees or any danger to humans. When I contacted him for his opinion, Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist at UC Davis agreed.

So bees are not like a marathon runner (an analogy used in the radio interview) in need of an energy drink because they’re running twice as hard. The emotional buildup continued in Jamie’s interview, as it does on their website…

Our bees are dying at an alarming rate and without them we’re in real trouble. Our food, clothes and very survival depends heavily on the pollination carried out by this little, stripy workforce.

For those of you playing the skeptic game at home, you should have several logical fallacy points racked up by now. In general, the arguments that I heard made on the radio program were an appeal to emotion. The website also paints a similar picture… it’s not just the bees that need to be saved, you need to save your wife and children! Quick buy this product now!!! If you don’t, we’ll be naked, hungry and then dead! Along with cashing in on the concern for dying bees, the appeal to fear is made by pointing out that without bees our whole world will come crashing down. The final pitch is then made with an appeal to flattery.

The Bee Station is your chance to help our bees… The Bee Station is the perfect gift for anyone with an interest in the environment or design.

So, if you buy buy this product you can feel good about yourself. You’ll have saved the bees, and by extension, the world. (Or given the same as a gift.) In reality, there are better ways to make a difference. An expert I contacted at the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory agreed that flower planting (in particular, planting a diverse range of types of flowers) would make more sense, and that feeding stations were likely not the answer.

Eric seemed to feel similarly, and told me that honey bees don’t cluster outside the hive (which would seem then to mean they don’t need a Steve Jobs looking rest stop). If the main use of this product is acting as a feeder, there are definitely less expensive ways to provide sugar syrup to honey bees.

And seriously, looking at the above picture, can’t you just imagine next year’s hottest product from Apple… the iBee? It would connect wirelessly to the Internet and regularly update a Twitter page with the number of bees, local weather, etc. (Mr. Jobs, if you make this I expect some kind of compensation.)

Anyway, back to my main point… the interview was difficult to listen to because it was deceptive, and was intended to get people thinking they were making a difference by spending their money. In my mind this is akin to homeopathy. The true danger is in preventing someone from doing anything actually beneficial. You want to help save the bees? Plant some bee friendly flowers. Get started by buzzing over to the Pollinator Partnership’s Pollinator Friendly Planting Guides website. (And be thankful that I didn’t find a way to work a popular Beatles song title into this article! The temptation was strong…)

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