The Other I

February 18, 2009

What bees can teach us

Filed under: Political thoughts,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 9:34 pm

I have just read a review of research studying how bees find a new nesting site when their nest gets over-crowded. 

First, scouting bees leave the nest looking for new sites.  When each one finds a potential nest, it returns to the nest and communicates to the rest of the community through a waggle dance, indicating the scout’s opinion of the new possibility.  Then the scouts go out and inspect each other’s sites found and then again go back to the nest, where the assessments of the pros and cons of the site are communicated through a variety of waggles.  This process is repeated and eventually leads to a consensus among all the bees.  Then the swarm then moves home, leaving a smaller colony to continue residence in the original nest.

But does it work?  surprisingly, researchers have found that the best site is almost always the one that is selected – even when there have been only small differences between the “best” and the “almost best.”

The researchers also discovered that if a scout that is very good at finding nesting sites does not share its information with the bee community, the entire swam is at risk of becoming homeless and vulnerable.  

Conversely, if bees just follow a leader bee and do not check out the suggested new site themselves, the chances of choosing an inferior nesting site are greatly increased.  Following the party line is no better for the group than isolated independence.

In other words, the best option is to listen carefully to what other experts say, and then to check out the evidence for oneself before joining the group in reaching a consensus.

Apparently, when he was in the White House, George W Bush did not welcome the expression of opinions that he did not already share.  And several of the bankers whose banks are now more or less owned by the British taxpayer actually fired risk-assessors who told them the bank was taking risks that were dangerous.    

(So just in case the moral of the story isn’t embarrassingly obvious, it’s another reason why intolerance or refusing to listen to people who don’t already agree with us, is so risky.)

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