Results for “bees”
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The new Fable of the Bees

This Leah Sottile WaPo piece is excellent in many ways.  Here are a few bits:

Bees are still dying at unacceptable rates…Ohio State University’s Honey Bee Update noted that losses among the state’s beekeepers over the past winter were as high as 80 percent.

…Researchers say innovative beekeepers will be critical to helping bees bounce back.

“People ask me, ‘The bees are going to be extinct soon?’ ” said Ramesh Sagili, principal investigator at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab. “I’m not worried about bees being extinct here. I’m worried about beekeepers being extinct.”

Commercial beekeepers are leaving the sector and innovative bee hobbyists are taking on a much larger role:

“I feel a social responsibility to provide good bees,” Prescott said. “It makes me happy to look at the part that I’m playing.”

…Obsessing over bee health was unheard of 50 years ago, said Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota professor of entomology. “In the past, it was very easy to keep bees. Throw them in a box, and they make honey and survive. Now, it takes lots of management.”

The story has some excellent examples:

Henry Storch, 32, does it because he felt a calling to beekeeping. A farrier by trade, Storch said he could make more money shoeing horses. But five years ago, he became obsessed with the notion that he could build a better bee…He barely flinched as a bee stung him on the upper lip.

…Storch’s mountain-bred “survivor” bees are like open-range cows: tough, hardened and less in need of close management than the bees he trucks to the California almond fields. Storch compares the effort to growing organic, non-GMO food.

The good news is this:

Amid the die-off, beekeepers have been going to extraordinary lengths to save both their bees and their livelihoods.

That effort may finally be paying off. New data from the Agriculture Department show the number of managed honeybee colonies is on the rise, climbing to 2.7 million nationally in 2014, the highest in 20 years.

Recommended.  To trace the longer story, here are previous MR posts on bees.

Square Dancing Bees and Quadratic Voting

It’s well known that bees dance to convey where useful resources are located but how do bees convey the quality of the resource and what makes this information credible? Rory Sutherland and Glen Weyl argue that the bees have hit upon a key idea, quadratic dancing or as I like to put it, square dancing.

Seeley’s research shows that the time they spend on dances grows not linearly but quadratically in proportion to the attractiveness of the site they encountered. Twice as good a site leads to four times as much wiggling, three times as good a site leads to nine times as lengthy a dance, and so forth.

Quadratic dancing has some useful properties which can be duplicated in humans with quadratic voting.

Under Quadratic Voting (QV), by contrast, individuals have a vote budget that they can spread around different issues that matter to them in proportion to the value those issues hold for them. And just as with Seeley’s bees, it becomes increasingly costly proportionately to acquire the next unit of influence on one issue. This approach highlights not only frequency of preferences but also intensity of preferences, by forcing individuals to decide how they will divide their influence across issues, while penalising the single-issue fanatic’s fussiness of putting all one’s weight on a single issue. It encourages individuals to distribute their points in precise proportion to how much each issue matters to them.

They offer a useful application

Consider a firm that wants to learn whether customers care about particular product attributes: colour, quality, price, and so on. Rather than simply ask people what they care about — which leads to notoriously inaccurate results, often where people affect strong views just to maximise their individual influence — a business, or a public service, could supply customers with budgets of credits which they then used to vote, in quadratic fashion, for the attributes they want. This forces the group of respondents, like the swarm of bees, to allocate more resources to the options they care most about.

Weyl’s paper with Eric Posner is a good introduction to quadratic voting and here are previous MR posts on quadratic voting.

The new Fable of the Bees literature

From the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, there is a new paper by Randal R. Rucker, Walter N. Thurman, and Michael Burgett (Dept. of Entomology), here is the abstract:

The world’s most extensive markets for pollination services are those for honey bee pollination in the United States. These markets play important roles in coordinating the behavior of migratory beekeepers, who both produce honey and provide substitutes for ecosystem pollination services. We analyze the economic forces that drive migratory beekeeping and theoretically and empirically analyze the determinants of pollination fees in a larger and richer data set than has been studied before. Our empirical results expand our understanding of pollination markets and market-supporting institutions that internalize external effects.

This is a deep and thoughtful analysis which extends the tradition of Steven Cheung.  There is an earlier ungated version here.  Here is a related paper from UC Davis, and here is a related paper on the economics of honeybee pollination in Georgia.  Here is a very good summary of the main piece.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

“Agitated honeybees exhibit pessimistic cognitive bias”

Via Michelle Dawson, here is a new paper by Melissa Bateson, et.al.:

Whether animals experience human-like emotions is controversial and of immense societal concern [1,2,3]. Because animals cannot provide subjective reports of how they feel, emotional state can only be inferred using physiological, cognitive, and behavioral measures [4,5,6,7,8]. In humans, negative feelings are reliably correlated with pessimistic cognitive biases, defined as the increased expectation of bad outcomes [9,10,11]. Recently, mammals [12,13,14,15,16] and birds [17,18,19,20] with poor welfare have also been found to display pessimistic-like decision making, but cognitive biases have not thus far been explored in invertebrates. Here, we ask whether honeybees display a pessimistic cognitive bias when they are subjected to an anxiety-like state induced by vigorous shaking designed to simulate a predatory attack. We show for the first time that agitated bees are more likely to classify ambiguous stimuli as predicting punishment. Shaken bees also have lower levels of hemolymph dopamine, octopamine, and serotonin. In demonstrating state-dependent modulation of categorization in bees, and thereby a cognitive component of emotion, we show that the bees’ response to a negatively valenced event has more in common with that of vertebrates than previously thought. This finding reinforces the use of cognitive bias as a measure of negative emotional states across species and suggests that honeybees could be regarded as exhibiting emotions.

Are bees more Bayesian?

It appears, therefore, that a swarm's scout bees do something sharply different from what humans do to reach a full agreement in a debate.  Both bees and humans need a group's members to avoid stubbornly supporting their first view, but whereas we humans will usually (and sensibly) ive up on a position only after we have learned of a better one, the bees will stop supporting a position automatically.  As is shown…after a shorter or longer time, each scout bee becomes silent and leaves the rest of the debate to a new set of bees.  Figure 6.7 shows how this regular turnover in which scouts are dancing can help a swarm's scouts quickly reach an agreement…

In other words, the bee algorithms allow attrition (a time-honored process of improving the scientific community) to operate at an especially rapid pace.

That is from the fascinating book Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D. Seeley.  Here is the book's home page.  Here is a good review of the book:

In the final chapter, Seeley suggests five lessons we could learn from bees.

†¢ Compose a decision-making group of individuals with shared interests. Here bees have a higher stake than us: all members of a colony are related (sisters) and nobody can survive without the group.

†¢ Minimise the leader's influence on the group. Here we humans have much to learn.

†¢ Seek diverse solutions to the problem. Humans realised only recently that diversity is good for a group.

†¢ Update the group's knowledge through debate. Here again, bees are superior to us, as each scout's "dances" become less effective with time, no matter how good a new site is, while stubbornness can lead humans to argue forever.

†¢ Use quorums to gain cohesion, accuracy and speed. Impressively, bees came up with this concept long before the Greeks.

As a departmental chair at Cornell University, Seeley says, he applies these principles at faculty meetings with great success.

Definitely recommended.

How Germans use bees

Airports in Germany have come up with an unusual approach to monitoring air quality. The Düsseldorf International Airport and seven other airports are using bees as “biodetectives,” their honey regularly tested for toxins.

…Beekeepers from the local neighborhood club keep the bees. The honey, “Düsseldorf Natural,” is bottled and given away as gifts.

The article is here and I thank David Wessel for the pointer.

Thursday assorted links

1. Against CBDC.

2. Confirmation of radar data on Tic Tac.  And the Navy filmer, now a commander, claims he received “jamming cues” on his data stream.  Lots of additional detail in the chat.

3. Cowen’s Second Law: “Beer mats make bad frisbees.”  And what’s in the new infrastructure bill (NYT).

4. “The study maintains that the term “rough fish” is pejorative and degrading to native fish.

5. “Joe Biden is overseeing one of the largest cuts in legal immigration in history.

6. Buy property in El Salvador? (NYT)

7. Data on the ideological Turing test.

In which ways are Democratic economists Democrats? (or not)

In a series of tweets (try this one), Matt Yglesias has been arguing that academic economists are far more Democratic than the U.S. population as a whole, though less left-wing than most other academics.  I agree with his claims, which are backed by plenty of data, but I wish to add some further thoughts.

Very often political views follow our socioeconomic class and the peer groups we are trying to impress or join.  Thus those claims from Matt are true for American policies only.  If you took a leftish (but not Marxist radical) Democratic U.S. economist, and asked that person what Mexico should do to improve, I think the answers would include the following:

1. Build state capacity to win the drug war, legalize or decriminalize some drugs too.

2. Make it easier for firms in the informal sector to enter the formal, taxed sector, and thus make it easier for them to grow.

3. Invest more in education for underprivileged Mexican youth.

4. End the state monopolies in industrial products.

5. Do something about corruption (but what?).

6. Diversify the economy away from Pemex and fossil fuels.

7. Maintain NAFTA and try to maintain and indeed rebuild the health of the earlier democratization.

Now, that is pretty much the same as my list!  To be sure, the rhetoric on some of these proposals, such as #2 and #3, would be different coming from this imaginary leftish Democratic economist.  (Lots more talk about “inequality” on #2 and more about the benefits of regulation on #3, for instance, whereas I would stress the benefits of firm growth.)  But I don’t think the substance of the proposals would be all that different.

Whether you wish to say the leftish economist has a right-wing perspective on Mexico, or vice versa, is a moot point.  Or are we all centrists on Mexico?  There is in any case a reasonable coincidence of policy recommendations once you remove people from their immediate socioeconomic environment.  And surely that makes the Democratic economists just a little suspicious to the non-economist intellectual Democrats, as you can see from the Twitter fury directed at Matt Y. for what were purely factual claims.

There is a reason why they call it “the Washington Consensus.”  I can assure you that the World Bank and IMF economists are not a bunch of Republican wanna-bees.  But the Washington Consensus works, at least on average.

If you asked a non-economist Democratic voter what Mexico should do, I am not sure what answers you would get.  But it is hardly obvious you would get the above list (I’d love to see this done as a study and compared to the Republican answers).  Maybe the non-economist would talk about foreign aid more?  Immigration more?  I really don’t know.  But they probably are not very aware of the dismal productivity performance of Mexican SMEs and what a problem that is, and probably not very aware of the various state monopolies.  They probably would mention corruption, however, and also public safety and winning the fight against the drug gangs.

When it comes to U.S. disputes, the Democratic economist probably would be more “off the rails” than the typical Democratic voter (sorry, you’ll have to find your own links here, there are plenty), if only because that person is more aware of the socioeconomic conflicts and more aware of what one is supposed to believe.  The more symbolic the dispute, the further from the median voter the Democratic economist is likely to be.  But that is the education doing the work, not the economics background.

If you want to get a Democratic economist making sense, just get that person talking about some other country, follow most of the policy advice, and remove the word “inequality” and a few other catch phrases.

Interestingly, there is a subset of Republican economists who don’t talk sense no matter what the country under consideration.  For instance, they might think that “income tax cuts for Mexico” would do a lot of good.  In this sense they are the more consistent “cosmopolitan ideologues,” taking that phrase as a truly joint concept.  Since most economists are Democrats, perhaps examining “the remnant Republicans” is selecting for excessively consistent ideology.  The remnant Republicans are less likely to insist that “every country is different,” a’ la Dani Rodrik.  If they were so flexible, they probably wouldn’t still be Republicans.

As a final note, I fear we are entering a world so “well-informed” about affective polarization, and with Woke concepts so globalized, that at some point the majority of the Democratic economists won’t talk sense on Mexico any more either.  But we are not yet there — maybe in five to ten years?  Maybe never?  And where will the Republican remnant end up?

What I’ve been reading

1. David Thomson, A Light in the Dark: A History of Movie Directors.  One of the best attempts to make the auteur notion intelligible to the modern viewer, he surveys major directors such as Welles, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Godard and others.  Stephen Frears is the dark horse pick, and he recommends the Netflix show Ozark.  I always find Thomson worth reading.

2. Wenfei Tong, Bird Love: The Family Life of Birds.  Now this is a great book, wonderful photos, superb analytics and bottom-line approach throughout.  By the way, “Superb fairywrens are particularly adept at avoiding incest.”

3. William Deresiewicz, The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech.  Ignore the subtitle (which itself illustrates a theme of the book), this is the best book on the economics of the arts — circa 2021 — in a long time.  “The good news is, you can do it yourself.  The bad news is, you have to.”  Every aspiring internet creator, whether “artist” or not, should read this book.  If you don’t think of your career itself as a creative product — bye-bye!

I very much enjoyed Richard Thompson (with Scott Timberg), Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice, 1967-1975, still smarter than the competition and you don’t even have to know much about Thompson.

Dorothy Sue Cobble, For the Many: American Feminists and the Global Fight for Democratic Equality is a serious and thorough yet readable account of what the title promises, with a minimum of mood affiliation.

Joanne Meyerowitz, A War on Global Poverty: The Lost Promise of Redistribution and the Rise of Microcredit. A history of antipoverty efforts, with an emphasis on the shift toward “enterprise” in the 1980s, with the microcredit treatment being mostly pre-Yunus.

Mathilde Fasting has edited After the End of History: Conversations with Frank Fukuyama.

Julian Baggini’s The Great Guide: What David Hume Can Teach Us about Being Human and Living Well is not written for me, but it is a lively and useful introduction to one of humanity’s greatest minds.

Don’t forget Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Bettering Humanomics: A New, and Old, Approach to Economic Science.

Arrived in my pile there is William D. Nordhaus, The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World, and in September Adam Tooze is publishing Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy, and also for September there is Gregg Easterbrook’s Blue Age: How the US Navy Created Global Prosperity — And Why We’re in Danger of Losing It.

Have you noticed there are lots of books coming out now?  How many were held over from the pandemic?

Friday assorted links

1. “Unlike some of these contests, the winner isn’t chosen at random. Instead, “your level of enthusiasm for watching home improvement shows will be a strong factor in the selection process,” according to the contest website.”  Link here.

2. Inequality amongst children.

3. Can bees smell Covid-19?

4. Which incentives for vaccines are most effective for which groups? (NYT)

5. Magnus Carlsen edition: That was then, and this is now (link fixed).

6. The best Ursula Le Guin books?

Betting and Bonding with the Kids

Jeff Kaufman has some good parenting tips:

A few weeks ago Anna (4y) wanted to play with some packing material. It looked very messy to me, I didn’t expect she would clean it up, and I didn’t want to fight with her about cleaning it up. I considered saying no, but after thinking about how things like this are handled in the real world I had an idea. If you want to do a hazardous activity, and we think you might go bankrupt and not clean up, we make you post a bond. This money is held in escrow to fund the cleanup if you disappear. I explained how this worked, and she went and got a dollar:

When she was done playing, she cleaned it up without complaint and got her dollar back. If she hadn’t cleaned it up, I would have, and kept the dollar.

Some situations are more complicated, and call for bets. I wanted to go to a park, but Lily (6y) didn’t want to go to that park because the last time we had been there there’d been lots of bees. I remembered that had been a summer with unusually many bees, and it no longer being that summer or, in fact, summer at all, I was not worried. Since I was so confident, I offered my $1 to her $0.10 that we would not run into bees at the park. This seemed fair to her, and when there were no bees she was happy to pay up.

Over time, they’ve learned that my being willing to bet, especially at large odds, is pretty informative, and often all I need to do is offer. Lily was having a rough morning, crying by herself about a project not working out. I suggested some things that might be fun to do together, and she rejected them angrily. I told her that often when people are feeling that way, going outside can help a lot, and when she didn’t seem to believe me I offered to bet. Once she heard the 10:1 odds I was offering her I think she just started expecting that I was right, and she decided we should go ride bikes. (She didn’t actually cheer up when we got outside: she cheered up as soon as she made this decision.)

I do think there is some risk with this approach that the child will have a bad time just to get the money, or say they are having a bad time and they are actually not, but this isn’t something we’ve run into. Another risk, if we were to wager large amounts, would be that the child would end up less happy than if I hadn’t interacted with them at all. I handle this by making sure not to offer a bet I think they would regret losing, and while this is not a courtesy I expect people to make later in life, I think it’s appropriate at their ages.

I also recommend the board game Wits and Wagers. In the game you make bets based on questions like “In what year was the computer game Pong released? or “How many ridges are on the outside of a dime.” It’s a clever and fun game because it teaches you not only to estimate and bet accordingly but also to adjust your bets based on seeing how other people bet. Thus, it often happens that a player will less background knowledge can win, precisely because they are less confident and so pay more attention to the information available in other people’s bets. Aumann would approve.

Hat tip: Julia Galef.

Bee Fact of the Day

Murder hornets are in the news. Japanese honey bees have an amazing defense:

Wikipedia: Beekeepers in Japan attempted to introduce western honey bees (Apis mellifera) for the sake of their high productivity. Western honey bees have no innate defense against the hornets, which can rapidly destroy their colonies.[3] Although a handful of Asian giant hornets can easily defeat the uncoordinated defenses of a western honey bee colony, the Japanese honey bee (Apis cerana japonica) has an effective strategy. When a hornet scout locates and approaches a Japanese honey bee hive, she emits specific pheromonal hunting signals. When the Japanese honey bees detect these pheromones, 100 or so gather near the entrance of the nest and set up a trap, keeping the entrance open. This permits the hornet to enter the hive. As the hornet enters, a mob of hundreds of bees surrounds it in a ball, completely covering it and preventing it from reacting effectively. The bees violently vibrate their flight muscles in much the same way as they do to heat the hive in cold conditions. This raises the temperature in the ball to the critical temperature of 46 °C (115 °F). In addition, the exertions of the honey bees raise the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the ball. At that concentration of CO2, they can tolerate up to 50 °C (122 °F), but the hornet cannot survive the combination of high temperature and high carbon dioxide level.[45][46] Some honey bees do die along with the intruder, much as happens when they attack other intruders with their stings, but by killing the hornet scout, they prevent it from summoning reinforcements that would wipe out the entire colony.[47]

Detailed research suggests this account of the behavior of the honey bees and a few species of hornets is incomplete and that the honey bees and the predators are developing strategies to avoid expensive and mutually unprofitable conflict. Instead, when honey bees detect scouting hornets, they transmit an “I see you” signal that commonly warns off the predator.[48]

By Takahashi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=348351

The demise of the happy two-parent family

Here is new work by Rachel Sheffield and Scott Winship, I will not impose further indentation:

“-          We argue, against conventional wisdom on the right, that the decades of research on the effects of single parenthood on children amounts to fairly weak evidence that kids would do better if their actual parents got or stayed married. That is not to say that that we think single parenthood isn’t important–it’s a claim about how persuasive we ought to find the research on a question that is extremely difficult to answer persuasively. But even if it’s hard to determine whether kids would do better if their unhappy parents stay together, it is close to self-evident (and uncontroversial?) that kids do better being raised by two parents, happily married.

–          We spend some time exploring the question of whether men have become less “marriageable” over time. We argue that the case they have is also weak. The pay of young men fell over the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. But it has fully recovered since. You can come up with other criteria for marriageability–and we show several trends using different criteria–but the story has to be more complicated to work. Plus, if cultural change has caused men to feel less pressure to provide for their kids, then we’d expect that to CAUSE worse outcomes in the labor market for men over time. The direction of causality could go the other way.

–          Rather than economic problems causing the increase in family instability, we argue that rising affluence is a better explanation. Our story is about declining co-dependence, increasing individualism and self-fulfillment, technological advances, expanded opportunities, and the loosening of moral constraints. We discuss the paradox that associational and family life has been more resilient among the more affluent. It’s an argument we advance admittedly speculatively, but it has the virtue of being a consistent explanation for broader associational declines too. We hope it inspires research hypotheses that will garner the kind of attention that marriageability has received.

–          The explanation section closes with a look at whether the expansion of the federal safety net has affected family instability. We acknowledge that the research on select safety net program generosity doesn’t really support a link. But we also show that focusing on this or that program (typically AFDC or TANF) misses the forest. We present new estimates showing that the increase in safety net generosity has been on the same order of magnitude as the increase in nonmarital birth rates.

–          Finally, we describe a variety of policy approaches to address the increase in family stability. These fall into four broad buckets: messaging, social programs, financial incentives, and other approaches. We discuss 16 and Pregnant, marriage promotion programs, marriage penalties, safety net reforms, child support enforcement, Career Academies, and other ideas. We try to be hard-headed about the evidence for these proposals, which often is not encouraging. But the issue is so important that policymakers should keep trying to find effective solutions.”

Saturday assorted links

1. The zero dollar budget movie that topped the box office.

2. Fanta Traore at Fortune covers black economists.  Good to see the recognition, but how about Virgil Storr (my colleague, recently promoted, thousands of citations)?

3. Werner Herzog interview.

4. George Akerlof essay on the biases in economics.

5. Geoguessr, a new game, an automated version of the old Andrew Sullivan, “view out your window” where is this photo.  And what the queen bees really are saying.

6. The success story of Nigerian-Americans.

7. “Median age of COVID-19 patients in Florida was 37 last week, compared to the 60s months ago.

8. Are the ambidextrous less authoritarian? (speculative)