(: the best of :) THURSDAY: What Einstein Didn’t Say about Bees

There’s a whole history of what Einstein didn’t say about bees . . .

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10 April 2014


In 1994, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein appeared in popular circulation:

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

Einstein didn’t say that. If the great scientist ever said anything about bees, publicly, he was probably quoting someone else. The statement above was made by whoever circulated the quote in 1994 and “creatively” attributed it to Einstein.

But, then, who said it?

The prize for the closest match goes to Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck who said in his 1901 book, “The Life of the Bee”:

“[You’ve seen the bee] to whom we probably owe most of our flowers and fruits (for it is actually estimated that more than a hundred thousand varieties of plants would disappear if the bees did not visit them), and possibly even our civilization, for in these mysteries all things intertwine.”

While not packing quite the punch of the modern (apocryphal) Einstein quote, Maeterlinck is perhaps the oldest commentator to link the disappearance of bees with a dire result for humanity.

While there’s no record of Einstein ever saying anything about bees, there is a short history of bee quotations attributed to him.

The Canadian Bee Journal” included a bee quotation attributed to Einstein, in 1941, but no one has ever been able to actually link the quote to Einstein. Even the writer says that he or she is quoting from memory:

“Remove the bee from the earth and at the same stroke you remove at least one hundred thousand plants that will not survive.”

Not until 1966, did “The Irish Beekeeper” attribute a bee quotation to Einstein that mentioned the end of mankind:

“Professor Einstein, the learned scientist, once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared.”

But no one can find any source of, or reference to, the quotation above. “The Irish Beekeeper” attributed the quote to a 1965 issue of a French periodical, Abeilles et fleurs.   Unfortunately, despite a thorough search of that periodical’s contents, no such quote, attributed to Einstein or anyone else, could be found.

In his 1992 book, The Diversity of Life, Biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote:

“[I]f all [the bees] were to disappear, humanity probably could not last more than a few months.”

But this is, certainly, Wilson’s statement and not anyone else’s.

Finally, during a 1994 demonstration by beekeepers in Brussels, members of the National Union of French Apiculture handed out pamphlets attributing the following quotation to Albert Einstein:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”

Again, Al never said that.  And we may never know who did.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

& Belleville, Illinois

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THURSDAY: Kiera Wilmot Arrest — “Zero Tolerance” . . . of What?

22 August 2013*

On April 22, 2013, seventeen-year-old Kiera Wilmot was expelled from high school after school security officers summoned police who arrested Wilmot for a felony.  As her mother would later explain, Kiera had found an on-line science experiment demonstrating the action of a volcano.  She prepared the needed materials–measuring out two ounces of toilet bowl cleaner, a fingernail sized piece of aluminum foil, and an eight-ounce plastic water bottle.

At school the next morning, she performed the demonstration for several classmates.  Locating an isolated area of the schoolyard, well away from any structures, she directed her friends to a much more than safe distance for the performance.  The cap sprung off the bottle with a small pop landing a few inches away.  A small puff of smoke-like vapor escaped from the bottle.

Although small and quiet, school officials called it “an explosion,” and said her “device” was “a bomb.”  The budding bomber was quickly “apprehended.”  When she explained what she had done and why, school authorities knew that “what they had most feared had come upon them”: bomb making on school property.  School security officers immediately called the police.

Kiera was not suspended.  Instead, she was expelled from school.  Then, she was handcuffed and arrested in front of her classmates and “hauled off to jail.”  She was charged with two felonies, “possession of a weapon on campus” and “discharging a destructive device.”  Later, prosecutors dropped the charges, but only in exchange for her agreement to perform community service.  Reportedly, Kiera is completing the remainder of the school year at an “alternative” school “for troubled kids.”

The family has retained an attorney because they are concerned that even a felony arrest could affect Kiera’s ability to obtain a passport or board a commercial flight.  Often, a felony arrest must be disclosed in college or employment applications.

This episode is a particularly sad result of a new set of “Zero Tolerance” policies extended to include felony arrests and, at least, threatened prosecutions.  If we had these school polices in 19th century America, we might be going to square dances for entertainment instead of watching movies and listening to recorded music.  Of course, we could read but, for the most part, reading would be a lot easier during the day.

Why?  We would have no music because the phonograph might never have been invented if we’d had these school polices when Thomas Edison was a child.  Edison, the boy, would have never been depicted in the 1940 Hollywood movie, “Young Tom Edison.”  Instead, he would have spent his youth in juvenile detention.  Then, some enterprising prosecutor would have found a way to try Edison, the boy, as an adult and kept him locked up for most of the productive years of his life.

Worse yet, not only would there never have been a movie about Edison, but there wouldn’t have been movies.  Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera and the projector–after inventing the high-powered electric light necessary for the projector’s operation.  Although digital DVD’s and CD’s have replaced his original analog designs, without his inventions, there would have been nothing to digitize.

Why would Edison have spent his life in the slammer?  The very young Edison burned down his family barn.  But in those less enlightened days, he wasn’t arrested and charged with a felony.  Rather, Edison’s father rehabilitated him by spanking him with a stick.

Edison’s inquiring mind, curiosity, and tendency to tinker continued to produce unfortunate incidents throughout his youth.  As a teenager, Edison got a job on the railroad.  Working on a train, he built his own laboratory in an empty car.  However, his experimental work was cut short when he caused an explosion setting fire to the train.  The incident ended his railroad career.

At his next job, Edison was experimenting with an electric battery and burned a large hole in the floor.  Then, the battery acid went through the floor.  Then, through a desk in the room below — his employer’s desk.  Again, he found himself unemployed.  Fortunately, he continued until he found his niche, rather than finding himself in prison.

If Great Britain had our modern school policies in the 19th century, the European continent might be a giant Nazi state. Why?  By the late 1930’s, war with Germany had so devastated Great Britain that it seemed only practical to negotiate a peace and allow Hitler’s ambitions in continental Europe to continue unhindered.  There was really only one man who, with his intractable opposition to Hitler and the Nazis, galvanized the will of the British to resist.  But, with our modern school policies, that man, Winston Churchill, would have probably been in prison instead of in Parliament.  So, he would never have become Prime Minister at that crucial moment in history.

Unlike Edison, Churchill’s childhood behavior wasn’t motivated by curiosity, but by a bold desire to disrupt.  At one point, the youthful Churchill terrified bystanders by detonating an substantial “explosive device.”  This wasn’t a pop from a plastic bottle, but a frightening explosion.  However, he didn’t go to prison.  He was just sent home permanently: expelled from school.  Serious and wild misbehavior (with consequent expulsions) were so frequent with Churchill that his family finally hired tutors to provide him with the Victorian equivalent of home schooling.

We often say that our children are the only real promise of the future.  They are our most valuable assets and investments.  And, our schools do need more support.  However, we must ask what our schools are doing with what they already have?  What vision of the world dominates our children’s school life?  Is it a vision of confidence, curiosity, courage, and boldness, or is it a paralyzing and demeaning fear . . . of everything?

In some measure, our educators must be responsible for school policies.  However, the parents are also the shapers of school culture.  But which parents?  If some parents are paralyzed with fear, they will pass this on to their children–who will all but faint with panic with each boisterous misadventure and hapless prank of their more daring classmates.  Are the parents of these fainthearted students’ the shapers of school culture?  Are these the loudest voices school officials hear when formulating policies?

From the point of view of our children, school policies define their role models–the “winners.”  Our children will emulate those who are praised and will reshape themselves to fit their school culture.  That culture is something they will carry with them long after they have left school and become adults.

The I Ching is one of the primary sources of Chinese philosophy.  One of the oldest books on earth, it was intended to give advice for every occasion.  Roughly translated, one of those occasions is called “Nourishment.”  The advice:  “Consider what you want to grow and nourish it.”

Consider our schools.

What do we want to grow?  What are we nourishing?

*Authors Note: This post was first published on 20 June 2013.

For more on Kiera’s story:

Fla. Teen Lands in Space Camp After Unexpected Science Project Explosion Triggers Arrest