“The Templeton Prize and Its Relation to Beekeeping”
Bee Culture (2004), Vol. 132 (9):  19-21




Malcolm T. Sanford



I have always been fond of World Watch magazine.1  It speaks to many who are searching for answers in a modern world that seems bent on breakneck change at any cost.  In my career as extension apiculturist, I have often discussed the profound changes that have occurred in beekeeping over the last twenty years through my newsletters and articles.2  Apiculture, in fact seems to be a microcosm of what is occurring all over this old globe. 

A World Watch article in 1999 (Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 12-23), for example, discussed a phenomenon called the “nemesis effect.”  This is a result of a biological system’s response to an introduction.  The article concludes, "... effects are determined, not just by the activities that initially produced them, but by each other and by the ways ecosystems respond to them. They are in other words part of an enormously complex system. And unless we can learn to see them within the system, we have no hope of anticipating the damage they do."

Within this context, I wrote: “Introduced organisms have dramatically affected both the honey bee itself and its management.  In general, these have driven costs up and eroded the bees’ productivity.  The introductions, however, may be more problematic precisely because their final results are indirect and not easily detected within the context of the honey bee system (colony). One example is appearance of parasitic mite syndrome (BPMS), a new bee disease lacking a common symptomology and no specific, identified causal organism.

“The effects of sublethal dosages of fluvalinate (and later coumaphos) on queens and drones also have surprised us, while at the same time the mites themselves are becoming resistant to this chemical.  Beekeepers also put grease patties, essential oils, smoke and other chemicals into colonies in an attempt to manage certain conditions.  The number of surprises that might surface due to these materials used alone, or in concert with each other through synergism, is unknown. The nemesis effect should give all beekeepers pause when contemplating more extensive use of these and other substances in their colonies.”3


Now comes a note in the July/August World Watch (Vol. 17, No. 4), pp. 3-6 under the rubric “Twin Towers and Ivory Towers.”  The author, Ed Ayers, relates that the 2004 Templeton Prize was awarded to Dr. George F.R. Ellis, a South African physicist who specializes in “relativity and its applications to cosmology—the study of the origin and evolution of the universe.”4  Mr. Ayers admits to being vaguely irritated.  “It’s fascinating to hear scientists talk about things that happened billions of years ago and perhaps billions of light years away, but right now we have a billion people living in poverty and a million or so other species headed for extinction.”  So he asked what could Dr. Ellis have done to deserve a prize in a field like that, at a time like this. 


That the Templeton Prize is awarded each Spring by the Canyon Institute of Advanced Studies in Phoenix, AZ “for progress toward research or discovery about spiritual realities” also raises a few eyebrows.  What could a hard scientist possibly say about spiritualities Mr. Ayers also asks.  


Indeed Dr. Ellis studies reveal that historically science and religion have had little to say to each other, the result of reductionism, breaking systems down so that the parts can be analyzed through the scientific method.  Reductionism has become a pattern of thinking that is fairly basic to how most people in the Western world tend to analyze—and try to cope with—any crisis, Dr. Ellis says, but it has its pitfalls.


Reductionism has led to the “unexamined” belief that even the most complex and mysterious of life’s phenomena—mental illness, passion, addiction, hate—can be explained in terms of molecular or atomic phenomena, according to Mr. Ayers.  Taken to its extreme even the conscious choices we make are really determined by biochemical activity at a microscopic level.  Dr. Ellis says this is mistaken, and thinks humans have free will, and that we are much more than the sum of our molecules.  Mr. Ayers concludes that many serious thinkers now believe it’s essential to achieve clearer communications between the disparate patterns of thinking and belief on which conflicting human movements are based.


Mr. Ayers says Dr. Ellis’ view could “explain a lot why the world seems to have become so destabilized in so many ways all at once—whether in the incidence of weather catastrophes, terrorist attacks, corporate collapses, cultural conflicts, or epidemiological crises.”  Examples of trying to reduce all behavior (and ultimately thought) to factor-by-factor explanations are legion.  These include the recent finding of large amounts of lead in Washington D.C.’s drinking water caused by a switch from using straight chlorine that was found to be carcinogenic to chloramines which are not.  In essence, Mr. Ayers concludes, “the city was reducing the risk of cancer but increasing the risk of brain damage to thousands of its children.”5


Consider too the air pollution found in most U.S. cities.  Although there are many bureaucracies in charge of aspects of clean, air there is no one responsible for “just air” Mr. Ayers complains.  He directs our attention to the recent disclosures of the U.S. 9/11 Commission concerning failures of various organizations to heed warnings that might have helped prevent or ameliorate terrorist attacks.  Intelligence responsibility was and remains highly fragmented among fifteen national agencies (CIA, FBI, DIA, NSA, NRO, NGA, DHS, etc.) staffed by federal, state, military, civilian, civil service and political appointees, some of which had and have little idea of what the others were and are doing.6  Little wonder terrorists were able to slip through intelligence cracks to deal a devastating blow.


All this reminds me of the often different goals between beekeepers and bee researchers.7  Each group in its own way is seeking to find answers to the numerous crises that affect modern-day beekeeping, especially those surrounding parasitic mites and their control.  Often, however, both groups are not working together to further the welfare of the insect they are involved with.  Reductionist thinking lies behind many of the quick and easy recipes for solving many of these problems.  This is especially true with reference to chemical use.  If one chemical or substance doesn’t work, there must be another out there that does.  In the haste to find a “silver bullet” the bees welfare of ten seems the last thing on many people’s minds.  I am reminded of the time I went on a consulting mission to Egypt.  During a seminar attended by several hundred beekeepers, I was peppered with questions about using this or that chemical or substance.  Finally, somewhat exasperated when yet another fellow asked me whether using salt in colonies was recommended, I said, “poor bees.”  My retort hit a nerve; it got a responsive and knowing chuckle from the audience.


It is relevant to recall that many of the great discoveries in bee biology were in fact made not by scientists, but by men of the cloth.  L.L. Langstroth comes to mind.  The Ohio preacher discovered the principal of the bee space by observing how the whole colony organized itself, perhaps assisted by his theological training.  It is questionable that he would have been able to find out this valuable piece of information by looking at single bees.


Another was the late, great monk at Buckfast Abbey, Brother Adam.8   Most accounts of Brother Adam’s work indicate that his breeding program was responsible for tracheal-mite resistance.  Indeed Buckfast Abbey stock was and continues to eagerly sought after due to tolerance to Acarapis woodi..  Brother Adam’s activities, however, seemed to have little to do with tracheal mites themselves.  Rather, he simply bred bees that were able to survive the British winters common in his region, in spite of being infested by those mites. 


Two contemporary beekeeping techniques do incorporate a more global (worldly) view in the search for solutions to many of the problems affecting honey bees and by extension their beekeepers.  One is the effort to breed stock on which Varroa mites do not reproduce well.  The suppression of mite reproduction, or SMR, is a societal behavior that is responsible for fewer (not eradication or elimination of) mites.9 


Another is hygienic behavior.10  The colony that uncaps and removes damaged or diseased brood is the one most likely to survive, whether challenged by parasites or bacteria.  Reductionist thinking certainly had a role in describing this situation.  Originally thought to be the result of only two genes, new information now suggests perhaps three genes are responsible.  Reductionist thinking, however, also prevented this from being implemented in many beekeeping operations as beekeepers were able to use antibiotics to treat disease, in effect rendering hygienic behavior impotent.


While relevant to many scientists, the biological explanation for how either SMR or hygienic behavior work in honey bees is irrelevant to the practical beekeeper.  Both can be taken advantage of by simply using conventional breeding techniques, the same as those employed by Brother Adam. 


Perhaps those looking for solutions to many of the globe’s current ills might take a page out of the beekeeping manual and employ a more worldly view.  As Mr Ayers concludes: “Whether it’s the lead in Washington’s water, the automotive pollution of the world’s air, the blindered view of what constitutes security, or the arrested-adolescent belief that only individuals matter, the one hopeful conclusion I can draw is that reductionist solutions lead to far more frustration than satisfaction.  When Ellis wrote the critiques for which he was awarded the Templeton Prize, he wasn’t just another cloistered academic theorizing about the number of angels that could dance on a pinhead.  He was contributing to the possibility of a sustainable human future—using a mode of thinking that is far more realistic than are the technocratic fantasies of so many of our industrial and political leaders.”




1.      World Watch Magazine Web Site <http://worldwatch.org/>, accessed July 7, 2004.

2.      M.T. Sanford, Apis Newsletter, University of Florida <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/>, accessed July 7, 2004 and Apis Newsletter at Yahoo.com <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Apis_Newsletter/>, accessed July 7, 2004.

3.      M.T. Sanford, Apis Newsletter, May 1999 <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis99/apmay99.htm#2>, accessed July 7, 2004.

4.      Templeton Prize Web Site <http://www.templetonprize.org/purpose.html>, accessed July 7, 2004.

5.      Environmental Protection Agency Web Site <http://www.epa.gov/dclead/>, accessed July 7, 2004.

6.      Pittsburg Post Gazette March 25, 2004<http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04085/290935.stm>, accessed July 7, 2004.

7.      M.T. Sanford, Apis Newsletter, March 1998 <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis98/apmar98.htm#1>, accessed July 7, 2004.

8.      Buckfast Abbey Web Site, <http://www.buckfast.org.uk/bees.htm>, accessed July 7, 2004.

9.      M.T. Sanford, Beekeeping in the Digital Age, Bee Culture, December 2001 <http://beeculture.com/beeculture/digital/2001/column38.htm>, accessed July 7, 2004.

10.  M.T. Sanford, Apis Newsletter, September 1998 <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis98/apsep98.htm#1>, accessed July 7, 2004.