Scientific Social


No, Bees Aren’t Going Extinct

Image result for Hylaeus anthracinus

One species of yellow-faced bee – Hylaeus anthracinus Source:

By Steve Booty

If you’ve been on social media lately, you have probably noticed a steady stream of stories about how bee populations are diminishing at alarming rates and how it’s all Monsanto’s (or any other boogeyman’s) fault. All this, even though the number of bee producing colonies are at a 20 year high. I usually ignore these stories until I came across a story on NPR’s website with the surprisingly click baity title of Bees Added To U.S. Endangered Species List For 1st Time.

My first thought was ‘well, there’s no way THAT’S true.’ So I actually read the article (crazy, I know but pleaseImage result for technically true statements, try this at home) and found that, while annoying, the headline is technically true (which is the best kind of true!). Firstly, bees are NOT on the endangered species list because ‘bees’ aren’t a single species but rather the colloquial name given for about 4,000 different species in North America alone. The word ‘bees’ in the title refers to specific species of bee. However, I doubt the average person actually took the time to read it. Rather, most opt for the “See? I told you so! It was all <insert preferred boogeyman here>’s fault!>.”

It turns out that a total of seven bee species, native to Hawaii, have been given protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is seven species out of the state’s 63 known different species of bee. Islands in general tend to be nichy so even slight changes in environment (by any metric) can have drastic effects. The NPR article also mentions that “11 new native species have been found in the past 15 years.” In other words: it’s not ALL bees (#NotAllBees), just seven out of the 63 on one island chain alone; and, it could be a largely natural (though, not without human influence) process of better adapted species taking over niches of poorly adapted species.

Now, I don’t want to diminish the facts here – any species being pushed to the verge of extinction is (probably) a bad thing, but one has to look at the context. Ask yourself some questions before you come to a conclusion:

  • Does this headline fit the story?
  • How many species of bee are now endangered?
  • Is that a lot?
  • Why is that happening?

There is click bait out there. Remember to be skeptical of headlines until you read the article.

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Solar Freakin’ Roadways: The Future of Travel Surfaces or Titanic Waste of Money?

You have probably noticed this video making its rounds on social media.  In the video you are introduced to the Julie and Scott Brusaw, the creators of Solar Roadways. It goes through how beneficial they could be for the economy and the environment and is a very entertaining video to boot. When I first watched this video, I was all about this idea. How cool would it be to jump start the economy with a huge infrastructure project like this?!

However, as Dave from EEVblog and Thunderf00t explain, many of the claims in the Solar Freakin’ Roadways video are unsubstantiated, untested, or even implausible.  For example, Scott Brusaw claims we will run out of asphalt in 50 years because it comes from fossil fuels.  Except asphalt is the most reused material with over 99% of removed asphalt getting reused.

The Brusaw’s have not produced any stop tests on this surface with vehicles traveling at real-world speeds and conditions. How will wet conditions affect the stopping distance on these solar roadways?  No one knows because no one has performed real-world tests.

Roads are dirty. There’s no avoiding that.  But what is going to happen to the glass surface when relatively hard dirt (usually small quartz grains) is driven on top of over and over again? It’s going to scratch the glass, making it less transparent (therefore allowing less light through, lowering the efficiency of the solar panels), wearing away the textured surface.  Check out the pictures of their proposed that surface:

Solar Roadway Surface

Solar Roadway Surface

It looks knobby, almost like bubble wrap.  Imagine what driving over that at 50 miles per hour would sound like!  It would be loud – kind of like driving in a Jeep Wrangler with knobby tires or driving in the rumble strip of a highway.  The sound alone, I think, is enough to keep this idea on the drawing board.

Thick glass will lower the solar panel output and make the LEDs really hard to see in broad daylight, especially when you consider the low angle at which they’ll be viewed.  Speaking of angles, a solar roadway would be lying flat on the ground, not facing toward the sun. This lowers the efficiency of the panels by up to 18%.

According to one calculation, the cost for replacing all of the roads in the lower 48 states would be $56 trillion, that’s over 3 times the United States’ GDP.

A different company, SolaRoad, has installed a 230-foot prototype solar pathway in the Netherlands. This solar pathway was featured in numerous mainstream media sources, including Popular Mechanics.  It has been active for six months and the data are in: it produced more energy than originally thought! But wait… what does that mean, exactly?

As EEVblog’s video explains, not that much.  As it turns out the pathway did not produce any more electricity than a similarly sized rooftop solar array. In fact, a rooftop solar array would have TWICE the output per area of a solar pathway at a fraction of the cost and inconvenience.

So what should we be putting our time and resources toward?

The short answer: above us, not below us.  There are many advantages to putting solar panels on top of parking lots like some stadiums and colleges are doing.  South Korea put solar panels above a bike lane that is located in the median of a major highway as shown below:

Korean Solar Highway

Korean Solar Highway

The Bottom Line

Putting solar panels under the road makes no sense at all and will never be more efficient than putting panels on a roof.  There are just too many disadvantages – both physical and financial – in building roadways (or bike paths) out of solar panels. Back to the drawing board with this one.

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Science Rules! Bill Nye The Science Guy Is Now On Netflix

This past Sunday, while most of us were watching Game of Thrones or the season finale of Mad Men, Netflix released 31 of the 100 best (and our favorite) mid-90’s educational show – Bill Nye The Science Guy!

By combining a wide range of scientific subjects including ecology, biology, chemistry, space science, and physics with fast-paced action and humor, The Science Guy provides informative lessons that both parents and kids of any age can enjoy.

As fellow science enthusiasts, we strive to achieve just a fraction of what Mr. Nye has, and continues to accomplish.

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What is Net Neutrality and What Does It Mean To Me?

While not exactly science, this decision matters to everyone who uses the internet:

On Thursday, February 26th, the FCC approved new rules that classify broadband internet as a utility.

The new rule has the internet talking about itself, but what does it all mean? Luckily, the situation is described in comic form on Michael Goodwin’s website.

P.S. Be sure to read the latest in net neutrality news here:, in addition to the comic! We can’t get ALL of our information from infographics.

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