[photo] Mark Jeftovic

easyDNS CEO, Career Contrarian & AntiGuru

Einstein Never Said That.

I’ve seen this one drift across my Facebook feed too many times now that I have to comment on it:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four more years of life left”

This quote is then attributed to Albert Einstein in a type of “case closed” punctuation mark and it has taken on a life of it’s own. In extreme cases I’ve seen it linked to the “Mayan Prophecy” of the world ending on December 21st, 2012 (which the Mayan calendars never really “predicted” at all, but I digress).

The implication behind this meme is basically that Einstein was a genius, Einstein said without bees we’re all dead, thus we need to do something about the unexplained disappearance of bees.

The problem with all this isn’t that the unexplained collapse of bee colonies isn’t serious, it is. The problem is that people unwittingly “buy in” to memes like this and tend to strengthen their own credulity. They forfeit their duty to apply some critical thinking and simply believe it and worse perpetuate it.

For starters, there is no citable Einstein quote of this. It appears in none of his books, none of his speeches nor in any of his known correspondence. According to Snopes.com (the undisputed masters of debunkery), this quote seems to have surfaced around 1994 and was employed as propaganda during protests staged by Brussels beekeepers.

Ok, nevermind that he never said it, let’s pretend for a moment that he did.

So What?

There seems to be an innate tendency by the gullible to hear this quote, think about bee colony collapse, and then become very concerned. Almost as if Einstein has pronounced sentence. After all, if he’s the guy who came up with E=MC2, then calculating the length of time it would take for bee extinction to lead directly to human extinction must be trivial, right?

Just because Einstein was a celebrated physicist  doesn’t mean that he knew everything. He may even have been a genius, so what? Geniuses are not omnisciencent and are rarely even multi-talented. That is to say, you may have a genius in chess, for example, who doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. (In fact a couple of chess grandmasters started a hedge fund last year called “The Genius Fund” on that basis…and have never been heard from again.)

Genius doesn’t qualify anybody to speak with authority outside their own expertise, and citing an utterance from some genius talking about something outside his specialty doesn’t back up your thesis. Big government, big spending, big deficit “economist” Cullen Roche once made this mistake by quoting  Einstein’s criticism of the gold standard.

“The gold standard has, in my opinion, the serious disadvantage that a shortage in the supply of gold automatically leads to a contraction of credit and also of the amount of currency in circulation, to which contraction prices and wages cannot adjust themselves sufficiently quickly.”

In this case, this really was something Einstein said, in his treatise “The World as I See It” (note the title, it is not “The World as I Have Computed It To The 1000th Decimal Point”) He also went to opine that:

  •  large cities should be abolished
  • unemployment should be eliminated through a statutory reduction in working hours
  • prices should be controlled via the money supply – and that a “healthy” level of inflation should be cultivated “as Keynes proposed” provided that the State could make ‘productive use’ of the ‘windfall’ inflation produces (and how is that working out for all of us these days?)
  • older people should be excluded from “unqualified work” and guaranteed an income instead.

A basket of economic ideas ranging from nutty to  highly debatable to delusional.

Why Do I Care?

Good question. It’s probably because I have a “thing” about seeing wrong, incorrect stuff being believed and spread by credulous lemmings. Possibly stemming from some traumatic experience in my past that I’m diligently repressing….

1 Comment to Einstein Never Said That.

  1. February 26, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink


    Known only to our paper’s editor, very late in his life, Einstein, puttering in his garden, still looking for his unifying theory of the universe, stumbled across his less famous but equally important… B=mc2, where b=Bees, m=the mass of all bee fertilized flowering plants, and c squared, the number of all grains of pollen necessary to fertilize these flowers. He published his findings in the annals of his local garden club where they were stored on a dusty shelf and rapidly forgotten.

    Just kidding….there is no evidence that Albert Einstein actually said what the editor’s quoted above. In fact he most assuredly did not. Google “Einstein bees,” and you’ll get the whole story: this quote surfaced for the first time in the early 1990s, long after Einstein’s death! Also, Professor Einstein was a physicist, not an entomologist, entomologists are the real authorities on this matters. It is a sad state, when to get credibility, and readers attention, writers quote a famous genius with out any research, attribution or citation. That said, the validity of the statement seems dead on, let’s get pesticides/insecticides out of bee’s habitats as rapidly as possible!

Real Time Analytics