I keep getting emails about this, and inevitably some stuffy know-it-all brings it up at a party. Usually people are sneering at science when they bring up this topic. It’s as if they are saying, “Everyone knows that bees can fly and yet science can’t explain it. Take that science!” To make it sound more “science-y” they’ll throw in words like ‘aerodynamics’ and ‘quantum theory’. Well in your face, know-it-all, sanctimonious jerk! Nothing that you have said is true.
Who started this load of baloney?
The story goes something like this: There was a party in Germany in the 1930s. (That’s where all the smart people were). One of the guests was an aerodynamicist. Someone asked him about the flight of bees and to answer the question he did a quick calculation. Since he was just doing a quick calculation at a party, so he calculated the lift based on smooth, rigid wings and made a guess on the surface area of the wings. Then he compared the lift to the bee’s weight. It was no surprise that the lift he calculated was insufficient to carry the bee.
Naturally, the idiot asking the question took that quick calculation based on limited assumptions to mean that “bumblebees can’t fly”. Then every wide-eyed science nay-sayer in the world somehow heard about it and now the idea just won’t die. They use it to illustrate the power of the mind over body, or that we should ignore science that we don’t agree with.
Well guess what? The calculations were wrong. Bee wings aren’t rigid. Bee wings aren’t smooth. They flex, bend and twist as needed and beat about 130 times per second. None of those things were accounted for in the calculations that were done. If you add those factors into the calculations, bees CAN fly. Big surprise, huh?
The only thing the calculation proved was that bees don’t fly the same way that airplanes fly. It’s not as exciting when I say it that way, huh?
Science is a process of discovering truth in a systematic way. When one guy says aerodynamics show something can’t fly, the proper conclusion is NOT, “Then it must be impossible”. The proper response is, “Since I know that Bees DO fly, upon what principle can it be explained?”
Bees can fly (obviously). Science CAN explain it. It’s actually not that hard. When you hear people make crazy claims about science, you have good reason to be skeptical.