Last night I went to see the new animated "Bee movie". It was a cute entertaining movie and I would recommend it to anyone, however, one thing in the movie bugged me =). In the very beginning of the movie there was a black screen and on it they wrote the infamous myth that "According to all known laws of aviation the bee should not be able to fly, but unaware of this fact, the bee continues to fly anyway.
This is of course nonsense, and it annoys me a little bit that they could not do a Google search to find out whether their claim is true or false… So Seinfeld, if you read this, Bees have been studied intensively, and according to the laws of aerodynamics they can fly. The citation above is based on the assumption that insects fly like airplanes and thus need same wing-area, an assumption which is simply not true. Bees and insects in general are small compared to airplanes and they accomplish their lifting force in qualitatively different ways. We do not know the details of how all insects fly, however, bees have in fact been studied rather intensively, and they can fly. If you are still in doubt take a look at any one of these links:
Caltech – Transcript of the original research
Wikipedia – Go to "bee flight"
Ask Dr. Galapagos – Detailed analysis of this question
Skepticality discussion board – Discussion on all explicit and implicit claims in Bee Movie
Seinfeld and his friends are hardly the sole perpetrators when it comes to spreading superstitions. I have always been a fan of the series X-files. In the X-files (which I have heard is based on real cases) you have two FBI agents, Mulder and Scully. In a typical episode Mulder and Scully gets a case with weird circumstances and they go to investigate. Mulder always come up with a supernatural explanation, often involving grey aliens with pear-shaped heads, whereas Scully always comes up with a scientific explanation involving hallucinations and rare scientific phenomenon. Sounds like a perfect setting right?
The only problem is that in every episode Scully's scientific explanation is always ridiculed. In the series you often see the supernatural events actually occurring, sometimes they happen right in front of Scully, and yet she sticks with her scientific dogmatism – looking really dumb in the process.
My worry here is simply that a lot of people will walk away from their screens believing that scientists are extremely narrow minded people, even though they are not. I would bet that no scientist would ever claim that bees cannot fly – we see that they do. Just because there currently is no satisfactory theoretical explanation for a certain phenomenon does not mean that one has to deny its existence, and I don't know any scientist who would think like that. As a student of the brain I constantly come across examples where a phenomenon has been detected "e.g. consciousness", and yet there is no good theoretical account of how that phenomenon is caused. Much of science is devoted to finding such explanations – how are bees able to fly even though they have so small wings?, how does this thing that we call consciousness come about in the brain? Scientists do not deny inexplicable phenomenon, they study them and try to come up with an answer, a noble endeavor indeed.
Ps: My productivity has been a little poor lately. The reason is simply that I have been extremely busy. My blog is not about to die…