in Musings

Einstein Once Said …

Albert Einstein once said

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Einstein also had this to say:

“Computers, working together, may one day generate facts out of thin air.”

Amazing how one can prop up any myth or fact simply by attributing it to Einstein, isn’t it? This silly bee quote making the rounds is yet another example of this.

I call bullshit. Einstein knew a lot about the universe. He blazed trails in physics like few others. He rightfully earned his place in science with his theories of relativity and others.

But Einstein didn’t know boo about bees, and I’ve got a crisp twenty to anyone who can prove otherwise.

If one does a Google search on “einstein bees,” one gets 893,000 results as of today. There are some otherwise reputable publications that have spread this quote, like Der Speigel and The Telegraph (UK). None seem to have proper attribution for this quote, nor seriously questioned whether Einstein ever had anything to do with bees. Der Spiegel seems to have been the first to spout this nonsense, as far as I can tell. Even Snopes has tried to track this down and come up empty.

It’s true that things on the Internet sometimes take on a life of their own. In this case, however, the myth apparently first took hold in the so-called “mainstream media,” and from there was echoed both in print and online.

This same press likes to take swipes at Wikipedia and other self-described news sites when their facts aren’t properly checked. And it should. Fact-checking should be embraced by all. The press, simply by virtue of making news its business, is not immune to nor excused from fact-checking. If the Internet can amplify a falsehood at lightning speed, it simply accelerates a process that has always occured in the mainstream media. One outlet breaks a story and the rest play catch-up. Its like dogs who bark only because other dogs are barking. Eventually one should find out why the first dog barked. Just because you read it on the Internet doesn’t make it so and just because you read it in the New York Times (*cough* Judith Miller’s WMDs *cough*) doesn’t make it so.

The Internet is a truly amazing phenomenon, putting a staggering wealth of information at your fingertips, yet it does not, cannot, nor should not do your thinking. As far as I am aware thinking is not being considered as a new feature.

Nothing can take the place of one’s ability to think for oneself. It is still your responsiblity, gentle reader, to judge whether or not information is accurate, no matter the source.

Don’t be seduced by the buzz.

[Update 15 Apr] Welcome, fellow fact checkers! This post has risen to #3 on a Google search for “einstein bees.” I noticed a burst of traffic on this post and have discovered via BoingBoing that the Independent has also repeated the bogus Einstein quote. At this point I think the quote has taken on a life of its own and will probably never die.

I should also stress that I am by no means a scholar of Einstein. I’m just saying that if Einstein said it, I want to see the citation. So far no one has provided any citation.

I will attempt to contact a few biographers of Einstein to see what they have to say about this.

[Update 15 Apr, 5 PM ET:] I heard back from Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson. He’s never heard of this quote, either.

  1. But Einstein didn’t know boo about bees, and I’ve got a crisp twenty to anyone who can prove otherwise.

    I call bullshit.
    There’s nothing that says he did know much about bees, but nothing that says otherwise either.
    I would bet that he knew more than the average person about bees.
    That being said, this quote is probably pulled out of thin air, and so far no-one can show where it came from.
    I don’t know much about bees either, but whether this quote is legit or not, i can tell you, if all the bees suddenly died, it will not be good for anyone. Many, many plants and crops count on bees for pollination, if the bees go, so do they, if they go, all the animals that count on those plants go etc. I don’t think 4 years is that far-fetched whether or not Einstein said it.

  2. You’re wrong … who cares if Einstein knew anything about bees. He’s just stating the obvious … and YES it is a true quote!

    You’ve bypassed the point of his quote to highlight you’re own misunderstandings about the media.

    THE POINT IS … the bees are dying off and very quickly! Without the bees to pollinate we have no food and with our population in America just passing 300 million we need to be concerned with this issue.

    You think depending on foreign oil is bad … what are we going to do when we depending on foreign food?

Comments are closed.


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