Yet you have to be really careful with the pronouncements of science laboratories. It is usually a very good idea to check who is funding the organisation and what their self interests are before placing too much touching faith in the pure objective evidence driven honesty of the findings. It is also as well to be cautious and ask a lot of hard questions when a new scientific discovery is presented to us as the answer to our problems. Especially when that relates to agriculture.
Consider for instance what has happened with regard to neonicitinoids. When they were first introduced into agriculture they were sold to us as being a wonderful new way of reducing the environmental impact of pesticides. Instead of spraying chemicals on fields from planes, and misdirecting a lot of dangerous substances, you could simply put the pesticide directly into the seed. When the plant grew it would penetrate every cell and protect the plant without doing any damage to anything else.
Great. Reduced pesticides. Improved environment. Cleaner, healthier food. What was not to like?
Then they started using the stuff. It was cheap. It was effective. It increased yields and allowed large fields of the same crop to grow and prosper without being attacked by insects.
But problems began to emerge that were very inconvenient for the commercial arm of the companies that employed the inventors. Since the poison was in every cell, it was also in the pollen. That meant that the bees and other insects that pollinated the crop consumed significant doses. In the US and in France bee keepers started to notice their colonies died off in a way they had rarely seen before. The adult bees went out to forage but never came back. In the hive there was a queen and some starving brood but the workers had gone.
The explanation should have been fairly simple to arrive at. Bees have complex navigation systems. Neonicitinoids are known to kill bees at very high doses and at lower doses they interfere with a bees internal communication systems. It isn't hard to figure out that if bees spend all day consuming sunflower pollen & nectar or rapeseed then there is a chance that enough of them will get a high enough dose for them to fail to get back home with the food the colony needs and this would causing colonies to collapse. Colony Collapse disorder emerged at the same time that neonicitinoids began to be used.
The nature of the behaviour of insects means that the correlation between the use of the seed and the death of the colonies was not simple and straightforward. Different proportions of bees from neighbouring colonies will go to any one crop. Exposure quantities vary. The mix of how many crops the bees visit and for how many weeks the bees are exposed varies in the wild.
Instead of trying to tease out that complex correlation via careful scientific study the chemical companies behaved as if they had a publicity problem. Any objective proof of direct damage to bees was going to cost them a lot of sales and a lot of money. The last thing they wanted was a reliable body of pure scientific evidence.
So they started to think out what they could say that would defend their sales. At first they denied that there was any connection between the problems bees were experiencing and their product and put forward alternative explanations. It was suggested that the explanation was poor beekeeping. There are, of course, plenty of poor beekeeping practices out there including the mass transportation of huge numbers of bees across the whole of the United States to California to pollinate the almond crop. But these bad practices had been going on for many years and colony collapse disorder was new and began around the time neonicitinoids began to be used.
So the claim changed. It was claimed that bees could never get a toxic dose in fields because the concentration of chemicals was too low. Serious scientific studies were paid for which produced results showing that bees couldn't possibly be killed by the level of exposure they would get in the real world. The outcomes were widely publicised. Unfortunately the evidence produced by these serious scientific studies was almost entirely irrelevant. The studies weren't trying to look honestly for evidence of what was happening in the interests of objective science. The studies were asking a question that would produce answers that were already known and that would be helpful to the corporations that were asking them.
It is indeed objectively true that individual bees could not be killed by pesticides at levels that would be released by plants penetrated by neonicitinoids. The key question was, however, not whether an individual bee could be killed by neonitinoids in practice. The key questions were whether enough damage could be done to enough bees to weaken the colony and how closely the intensive use of neonicitinoids correlated with insect decline.
Fortunately evidence can't be confused, disguised and spun for ever. Last week a reliable large scale study from independent scientists produced rock solid evidence that honeybees are being weakened by neonicitinoids and significantly more colonies die where they are used. This study from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also shows that bumblebees are dying. And other pollinators. Even worse it shows that insects that are nothing to do with pollination are dying because the neonicitinoids get into the soil when the plant dies of pollen is shed. Concentrations of neonicitinoids in hedgerow soils can be actually higher than those in the plant and will persist at high levels for at least a decade. Put simple the evidence from objective scientists is utterly damning.
It now emerges that Neonicitinoids aren't as dangerous as many of us thought. They are much more dangerous. To many more species and for much longer.
Faced with this clear objective evidence the reaction of Bayer, one of the largest producers of neonicitinoids has been very simple. They have changed their propaganda. This is what Dr Julian Little, from Bayer Crop Science in the UK said to the BBC:
"Since most of the oilseed rape grown in the UK was treated with a neonicotinoid seed treatment during the years that this study looked at, we believe its findings would be more correctly headlined that intensive agriculture is causing some issues with pollinators. Whether this is due to the use of insecticides is not clear; a lack of nesting sites and pollen and nectar sources in these areas may also be critical factors."
A genuine objective scientist changes their theory when evidence proves the last one was wrong. Modern corporate science takes a more imaginative approach. Why bother to change your scientific theory just because of a pesky little thing like evidence? It is a whole lot easier and more profitable to just carry on what you were doing and change your propaganda. So, in the face of clear objective evidence that neonicitinoids are harmful, Bayer simply changed their line and tried to muddy the water.
Intensive agriculture is indeed a significant cause of insect decline. But any experienced researcher knows that you do not destroy evidence of one clear causal connection by also observing evidence that there is another. Two things can do damage at the same time and you don't stop trying to deal with the first problem just because you have finally got round to noticing a second one.
And they wonder why science is losing the trust and respect in which it used to be held.
If you wish to read the facts about the damage to insects caused by neonicitinoids see: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms12459
The BBC report on the latest research and Bayer's reactions can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37089385