Public Science and Contributions

& Media engagement around bumblebees


Contributions like this are essential to us and what we hope to accomplish as scientists. The model of scientists safely tucked away, and perhaps locked within, their ivory towers is a perfectly acceptable way to work... or it used to be. The question of whether it is a sustainable approach these days is much less certain. Scientists also have to be willing to get their hands dirty in the public arena. This doesn’t require, or even imply, that we agree to lose our scientific integrity in the process. When carefully considered and openly discussed, the kind of science we do can be policy relevant. In the context of scientific consensus, such contributions can even be policy prescriptive. But the actual decisions are made by politicians and regulatory agencies.


Public science, engagement, and efforts to make a difference

We also give a fair number of science presentations in areas beyond traditional scientific venues. We think this is particularly important these days, as there is an unusual amount (for Canada) of disinformation about basic scientific evidence for conservation and global change. We need to present the evidence as it actually exists to enable more informed decision-making.

Public decision-making isn’t going to be made better if scientists don’t help the general public and political establishment understand the nature of discovery and the evidence that exists for some of the most pressing environmental challenges.

If you want to reach a huge audience, the media can be very helpful. The broadcast media and newspapers continue to include excellent, highly professional people who usually try to get the facts correct. There are also “the crazies”, but they’re not very subtle and they’re not hard to spot. It takes practice to communicate in brief and comprehensible terms: the purpose of communication is to convey a message memorably and undestandably. Practice helps. So does a bit of background reading on how to work with the media without leaving your scientific integrity at the door. This last point is critical: scientific excellence might lend a platform for public communication, but credibility is the foundation.

My lab does a lot of media work around biodiversity conservation, climate change, and the need to defend science in Canada, among other areas. It’s just a normal part of the job, but it is important to remember that working with the media means keeping a different set of rules in mind when having a conversation. First and foremost: YOU’RE ON THE RECORD. It is possible to have conversations on background information, but this must be agreed explicitly in advance. Otherwise, when you say something, you might be quoted on it. This can be embarrassing if you get taken out of context. Everyone makes mistakes when working with the media - might as well just accept that - but learn from every experience. Refine. Repeat. Improve. And be very careful about distinguishing what can be said confidently on the basis of scientific knowledge and what may be a matter of personal opinion, ethics, politics, etc.

We’ve been on CBC’s The National several times, other national news things (Global and CTV), local TV news, lots in the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen (never in the National Post though.... and I’m fine with that) and other papers in North America, and a lot of radio, especially CBC Radio 1. We did a show with Rick Mercer once around our anti-malaria intervention and research - that was an incredibly interesting experience too. He’s extraordinarily funny and none of his hilarious remarks with us were scripted.

The trick is: care about what you’re saying and say it concisely, accurately, memorably, and WITHOUT JARGON.

I encourage students and PDFs to do media work.

Media engagement around “Climate change impacts on bumblebees converge across continents”, published in Science in July, 2015

Media coverage for this paper was global and in many languages. We have not tracked all coverage. The publication of this paper, edited by Dr. Sacha Vignieri at Science, was the subject of a press event that the American Association for the Advancement of Science organized. The AAAS and their chief press officer, Natasha Pinol, decided this work seemed significant (we were just happy to have addressed the reviewers’ comments) and we worked with them and our colleagues at York and University of Calgary to assemble multimedia materials for the onsite press event. Natasha’s efforts deserve great credit and so do those of the uOttawa media crew. Here is a partial list of media that excludes much non-English coverage and most radio broadcasts. We will expand the list when we have a more complete picture of how this work was covered.

The broadcast media and newspapers continue to include excellent, highly professional people who try to get the facts correct. There are also “the crazies”, but they’re not very subtle and so far we’ve avoided them successfully (except around the bumblebee work - they found us). It takes practice to communicate in brief and comprehensible terms, but I don’t usually find it too hard to do. Practice helps. So does a bit of background reading on how to work with the media without leaving your scientific integrity at the door.

We were misquoted a few times and some media outlets suggested that climate change is a silver bullet killer for bumblebees, and that nothing else matters. That just isn’t right at all and it isn’t what we said. It isn’t even what we implied. We did find a distinct effect of climate change that was not due to neonicotinoids or habitat changes, but we already know those factors kill bees. Honestly, how anyone can find it surprising that insecticides kill insects is beyond me (neonicotinoids are insecticides). Nevertheless, neonics and habitat losses are not a silver bullet explanation any more than climate change is. We are hitting bees with everything we’ve got. It’s like claiming that because smoking causes lung cancer, it is impossible to suffer health problems for any other reasons.

Oh, and this work led to many wingnut emails also. We have been informed, in no uncertain terms, that we are secret agents for the pesticide industry, that cell towers cause global pollinator declines, and that Satan is responsible. Oh yes, and that tomatoes don’t need bumblebees. Ever. The climate change deniers trolled out over this too, but didn’t say anything unusual or factual. We receive many nice messages also.

Publications similaires | Similar publications      

Bumblebees being crushed by climate change (Science Magazine)

Climate change crushes bee populations (Nature Magazine)

Climate change causing bumblebee habitat loss, say scientists (The Guardian)

Bumblebees trapped by warming climate, study finds (Globe and Mail)

Le territoire des bourdons se rétrécit sous l'effet du réchauffement climatique (Le Monde)

El mundo se queda sin abejorros (El Pais, in Spain and Brazil)

Klimawandel verkleinert Lebensraum fur Hummeln (Frankfurter Neue Presse)

Bees Are Losing Their Habitat Because of Climate Change (Time Magazine)

Buzz Kill for Bumblebees: climate change is shrinking their range (NPR All Things Considered)

Bumblebees Are Being Bumped Off by Climate Change, Scientists Say (NBC News)

10 Things to know for Friday (ABC News)

Bumblebees feeling the sting of climate change (CBS News)

Buzzkill: Global Warming Is Wiping Out the Bees (U.S News and World Report)

Climate 'vice' constricts bumblebees' natural ranges (BBC News)

Climate vice squeezes bumblebee habitat from north and south (New Scientist)

Climate Change Is Shrinking Where Bumblebees Range, Researchers Find (New York Times)

Bumblebee habitats are shrinking at an alarming rate, and scientists are blaming climate change (Washington Post)

Rising temperatures due to climate change are latest threat to bumblebees (Los Angeles Times)

Bumblebees Are Getting Trapped In A 'Climate Vise' As Hotter Temperatures Shrink Habitats (Think Progress)

Bumblebees Are Getting Squeezed by Climate Change (

Climate change is killing off bumblebees: study (CBC National)

Global warming shrinks range of pollinating bumblebees (Scientific American)

We’re boiling the bumblebees (Business News Network)

Bumblebees Can't Handle the Heat, Can't Escape the Kitchen (Slate Magazine)

Buzzkill: global warming shrinks range of pollinating bumblebees (Daily Mail UK) (Aussi paru dans | Also appeared in 3 autres sources d'information | 3 other news outlets)

Bee population tumbling as global warming 'squeezes' them into smaller habitats (Mirror)

Scientists propose international effort to assist bumblebees to migrate further north after study finds rising temperatures linked to their decline (The Independent)

Climate Change Is Shrinking Bumblebee Habitats, Population: Study (International Business Times)

Bumblebees could be wiped out by global warming (Irish Examiner)

Plight of the bumblebee: climate change puts insect at risk (Irish Times)

Bumblebees are losing southern habitat as the climate warms (Mashable)

Le fragile vol du bourdon (Le Devoir)

(21:27 - 23:55) The National for July 9, 2015 (CBC News The National)

Study blames climate change for shrinking bumble bee populations (CTV News National) (Aussi paru dans | Also appeared in 27 autres sources d'information | 27 other news outlets)

Bumble bees struggling to survive warming world (Toronto Star)

Rising Temperatures Are Squishing Bumblebee Habitats (VICE)

Climate change killing off bumblebees at alarming rate: study (Global News National)

(3:20 - 5:40) Global National – July 9 (Global News National)

Global warming is the cause of bumblebee decline: study (CBC Radio - As It Happens)

New study points to climate change as cause for decline in bees (CBC Radio – All in a Day)

Bumblebees squeezed by 'climate vise,' study says (Ottawa Citizen) (Aussi paru dans | Also appeared in 8 autres sources d'information | 8 other news outlets)

Déclin rapide des bourdons en raison des changements climatiques (Le Droit)

Changements climatiques : les bourdons en péril, dit une étude (Radio-Canada) (Aussi paru dans | Also appeared in 2 autres sources d'information | 2 other news outlets)

Bumblebees at risk of extinction as climate change shrinks range (Metro Canada) (Aussi paru dans | Also appeared in 5 autres sources d'information | 5 other news outlets)

Réchauffement climatique : urgence pour les bourdons (24 Matins)

Climate change is putting a deadly squeeze on bumblebee populations worldwide (The Verge)

Warmer climate threatens to have a devastating effect on bee populations (Western Morning News)

Bumblebees and Narrowing Range: Climate Change is Only Reason (Nature World News)

A 'Climate Vise' is Squeezing Bumble Bees' Range (Climate Central)

Bumblebee Habitat Shrinking Due to Climate Change, Plus 12 Other Animals at Risk (Weather)

Earth Is Losing Its Bumblebees (Live Science)

Climate Change is Destroying Bee Habitat and Shrinking Bumblee Populations (Science World Report)

Global Warming Causing Great Loss of Bumblebee Habitat, Say Researchers (Sci-News)

Here's Why All the Bees Are Dying (Mother Jones)

It's too hot for bumblebees in the south—and they're not moving north (Quartz)

Research shows bumble bees suffering in a changing climate (Calgary Herald)

Bumblebees dying, losing ground due to climate change (Straits Times)

Bumblebees are no longer travelling thanks to climate change, says new study (Metro 52.2M)

Study reveals alarming effects of climate change on bumble bees (Digital Journal)

Bumblebees Are Dying Out Thanks To Climate Change (Vocativ)

Bumble bee ranges rapidly shrinking across continents due to climate change (660 News)

Bumble bees struggling to survive warming world (Our Windsor) (Aussi paru dans | Also appeared in 3 autres sources d'information | 3 other news outlets)

Study: Bumblebees in North America, Europe feeling climate change's sting (Guelph Mercury)

Climate Change Is Shrinking Where Bumblebees Range, Researchers Find (Demanjo)

Other recent news and events

1 in 6 species at risk without action on climate change, study finds

Media: The Globe and Mail

Date: Thursday, April 30, 2015

Consensus predictions for climate change impacts indicate sharp increases in extinction rates

‘Brontosaurus’ comes thundering back in science’s name game

Media: The Ottawa Citizen

Date: Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Taxonomic revisions are common and can change the public perceptions of well-known species.

Three species of bats added to Ottawa’s endangered animals list

Media: The Globe and Mail

Date: Friday, December 19, 2014

After a two year delay, and in contrast with rapid provincial action, the federal government has at last responded positively to the emergency listing request put forward by COSEWIC in 2012.

Protection for at-risk species falters

Media: The Globe and Mail

Date: Monday, December 1, 2014

Canada’s federal government has prevented new species from being added to the at-risk list for years, in apparent contravention of the requirements of the Species At Risk Act.

Bumblebees in trouble

Media: CBC Radio 1

Date: Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bumblebee species are in danger of extinction and they need your help. Citizen science for bumblebees!

Long winter may have lasting effects across Ontario

Publication: Global News

Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

After a long and cold winter, the first of its kind in decades, there could be substantial biological consequences, like rolling back newly-established populations of giant swallowtails across Eastern Ontario. Such species arrived recently because of rapid climate changes.

UN climate body backtracks on risk of species extinction

Publication: Toronto Star

Date: Monday March 31st, 2014

With regards to the risk of species extinction and climate change, Jeremy Kerr, Department of Biology, discloses that, "there is a lot of evidence of biological impact (of climate change) but there is not much evidence of specific extinction."

Biologists wait to see whether warm-weather insects survived brutal winter

Publication: Ottawa Citizen

Date: Tuesday April 1st, 2014

The giant swallowtail is a gorgeous butterfly from Canada’s extreme south. Biologists won’t know for certain until warm weather begins, but they’re watching to see whether the butterfly and other warm-weather insects will survive the coldest winter in 20 years. Jeremy Kerr, Department of Biology, reveals that this year will be especially insightful for understanding how climate change is going to alter the geographic range of species.

Monarch butterfly count in Mexico reveals steep decline

Publication: Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Austrian Tribune, Ottawa Citizen

Date: Tuesday March 26, 2014

Overwintering monarch butterflies in Mexico have declined sharply once again. The latest population size is the smallest ever recorded. Jeremy Kerr, uOttawa Research Chair in Macroecology and Conservation, comments on causes and prospects for recovery.

Climate change denial is among the most pernicious and harmful forms of anti-science misinformation that is propagated by mercenary representatives of private interests. The arguments presented by deniers are nearly always nonsensical, but they are intended to obfuscate and confuse, not advance the honest interests of scientific research or policy development. In short, they are ideologically-based or actually just arguments-for-hire that give the public a theatrical impression that there is somehow a lot of debate about whether human activities cause current climate change. There have been many efforts to counter these activities. Jeremy has engaged with a number of these efforts in various ways, recently through a course on recognizing and debunking denier claims at the University of Queensland, available as an online course: See also terrific sources of information drawn from peer-reviewed science at Skeptical Science.

Recent news and events

Calgary’s hive hobbyists raise awareness for honeybees

Media: The Globe and Mail

Date: September 25, 2015

Encouraging honeybee colonies in cities can be helpful but let’s remember the native pollinators also.

Vanishing Canada: Why we’re all losers in Ottawa’s war on data

Media: Maclean’s

Date: September 18, 2015

Harper’s Government has destroyed/degraded Canada’s capacity to measure most everything. Ideology before evidence.

How climate change shrank the tongues of  long-tongued bumblebees

Media: The Atlantic, Science Magazine, The Scientist, Mother Jones, Grist, etc.

Date: September, 2015

Comments/perspectives on new research on rapid evolution in bumblebee traits as an indirect result of climate change.