Famim Ahmed

Researcher, Dismislab
Debunking the Claim That Einstein Said the Survival of Earth Depends on Bees
This article is more than 1 year old

Debunking the Claim That Einstein Said the Survival of Earth Depends on Bees

Famim Ahmed

Researcher, Dismislab

The internet is awash with various claims surrounding the animal kingdom. One such claim that has gained popularity on social media, YouTube, and even mainstream media, is that the survival of the earth depends on the survival of bees, attributed to scientist Albert Einstein. However, despite the widespread circulation of this quote, there is no evidence to substantiate that Einstein ever made such a claim.

On October 15th, a honey seller posted in the Women and e-Commerce Trust (WE) group, which has over 1.3 million members, extolling the virtues of honey. In the post, the seller attributed a quote to Albert Einstein, stating, “If all the bees in the world were to perish for some reason, the human race would also perish within four years.”

This quote has been circulating since 2011 and has been posted by numerous profiles, groups, and pages over time. The quote has even made its way to mainstream media, with one feature published in Daily Prothom Alo using the Einstein claim about bees on October 16th, 2019. In July of the same year, the quote was used in a report titled “A World Without Bees Would Live for Only 4 Years” on the YouTube channel of Ekattor TV. Additionally, the quote was used in a Facebook post by Dainik Bangla in May of last year and can be found on two YouTube channels (1, 2).

Did Einstein really say this?

Efforts to verify the claim that Albert Einstein said, “If all the bees of the world perish for some reason, the human race will also perish within four years,” have turned up no evidence that he ever made such a statement, according to a 2008 factcheck report on Snopes. The report states that searches of Einstein’s books, speeches, and statements failed to find any reference to bees or a four-year time frame. “The New Quotable Einstein,” published by Princeton University Press, also contains no such references.

The Snopes report suggests that the false statement first appeared in a leaflet in 1994 produced by the National Union of French Apiculture, a beekeepers’ organization in Brussels that was protesting cheap imported honey, costly sugar, and a proposed reduction in tariffs that would make imported honey products even cheaper.

According to Snopes, European beekeepers demonstrated in Brussels in January 1994 to protest the proposed tariff reductions and to emphasize the importance of bees and beekeepers. The demonstration included chants and slogans highlighting the vital role of bees in producing crops and cereals.

In “The New Quotable Einstein,” edited by Alice Calaprice and published in 2005, and an extended edition, “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,” published in 2010, a letter from 1951 that contains a statement similar to the disputed quote appears on page 479 in the “On and to Children” chapter. In the letter, Einstein wrote to six children in Louisiana: “Without sunlight there is: no wheat, no bread, no grass, no cattle, no meat, no milk, and everything would be frozen. No Life.”

Quote Investigator, a website dedicated to tracing the origins of quotations, offers another explanation for the supposed Einstein quote. According to the site, Einstein’s name was first linked to the idea in 1941 when Canadian writer Ernest A. Fortin wrote in the Canadian Bee Journal that he remembered Einstein saying that the removal of all bees would cause at least 100,000 plants to die.

The four-year time frame appears to have originated with French journalist Pierre Pascaud, who wrote in a Paris-based magazine in 1965 that Einstein had calculated that if bees disappeared, humans would live for just four more years.

Will the extinction of bees really spell doom for humans?

Bees are one of the most important pollinators in the world with approximately 20,000 species. Although extinction of bees would have adverse effects on global food cycles, the doomsday scenario is likely exaggerated.

A 2006 study published in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences” found that up to 60 percent of food grains do not depend on biological pollination. Pollination can also occur via air, in addition to organisms such as ants, butterflies, hornets, bats and other insects and animals.

Dr. Michael Pocock, an ecologist at the UK-based research institute ‘Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’, stated in a 2014 Forbes article that insects contribute $4.1-$6.7 billion dollars to plant pollination, with bees accounting for a fifth of that amount. Although famine may occur if bees were to disappear, Dr. Pocock dismissed Einstein’s popular quote and stated that there is no chance that humans would become completely extinct because of the extinction of bees.

Dismislab’s factcheck of multiple sources concludes that there is no basis to claim that Einstein had made the statement connecting the extinction of human race with that of bees.