Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/May 1890/Artificial Honey and Manufactured Science

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1154065Popular Science Monthly Volume 37 May 1890 — Artificial Honey and Manufactured Science1890Allen Pringle




WE are often told that this is a scientific age, and the statement is undoubtedly true. The world now more than ever before looks to science as a secular if not a spiritual guide. However much their speculations may be questioned and controverted, the scientific book and the scientific man are popularly accepted as authority, at least on matters of physical and historical fact. The veracity of science therefore is, or ought to be, above suspicion. How careful, then, ought the teacher and exponent of science to be that his assertions are true; that his alleged facts are facts; and that even his speculations are free from the appearance of dogmatism! He needs to be especially particular when writing for the general public, for people untrained in science will accept his statements as expert testimony. Errors will thus be sure to mislead his readers, many of whom are without the knowledge that would enable them to discriminate between the true and the false in his assertions.

In The Popular Science Monthly for June, 1881, appeared an article on Glucose and Grape-Sugar, by Prof. H. W. Wiley. In that article the following unfortunate statement was made: "In commercial honey, which is entirely free from bee mediation, the comb is made of paraffin, and filled with pure glucose by appropriate machinery." To say that there was not one word of truth in that extraordinary assertion is the short and proper way to put it, and that is exactly what I undertake to say. There was not a tittle of evidence that any such honey had ever been made up to that time, nor is there a particle of evidence that any such honey has since been made.

Nevertheless, this vile slander on an honest and honorable industry has done incalculable injury to bee-culture in America, if not throughout the world. A lie is said to travel half round the world while the truth is getting ready to start, and this one proved no exception. Though contradicted and refuted over and over again, it still lives and is still going. Newspapers still keep iterating and reiterating Prof. Wiley's slander, but they seldom publish a correction. Thousands of people, common and uncommon, still believe that scientific yarn that comb-honey is manufactured throughout without "bee mediation," and why shouldn't they? The former believe it because the newspapers say so, and the latter because the magazines and encyclopædias say so; for it is a fact that this itinerant fiction has actually found a place in American Cyclopædia and the American supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica. In justice to the latter, however, it mnst be said that the British work, whose publishers repudiate the American supplement, contains nothing of this.

Here is what the American Cyclopædia says on the subject: "Glucose is very extensively fed to bees, which eat it with great avidity, and store it away unchanged as honey. It is also put up directly in trade as honey—with which bees have had nothing to do—being put by means of appropriate machinery into artificial combs made of paraffin" (page 834, vol. viii, edition of 1883).

The American supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica has this information on the subject: "Honey is manufactured on the same plan, only here the bees are employed to assist in the fraud. They are furnished with a supply of starch-sugar, which they store in their combs, when these combs are also fraudulent, being made from paraffin and furnished to the bees, who fill them with glucose and cap them with genuine wax. It is difficult to see how the art of adulteration could be carried further" (page 41, vol. i, Hubbard Brothers, Philadelphia and New York, 1885).

Argument and refutation failing to kill the falsehood, the editor of Gleanings in Bee-Culture—a responsible man financially—offered a reward of one thousand dollars to any one (including Prof. Wiley) who would produce some of the so-called "manufactured" honey, or designate the place where it was made or could be found. This offer is still open and good. The writer of this article also offered through the press a reward of one hundred colonies of bees (equal to about one thousand dollars) to any one who would produce some of this "artificial honey." This offer also is still open and good. None, however, has ever been produced. No one has yet come forward to claim the cash or the bees.

Prof. Wiley had supplemented the assertion above quoted with the following additional information, probably to encourage the manufacturers: "This honey" (that is, the manufactured article) "for whiteness and beauty rivals the celebrated real white-clover honey of Vermont, but can be sold at an immense profit at one half the price." Now, had that business of honey manufacture been as practicable as profitable, the temptation to embark in it would have been almost too much for human nature to resist. But it seems nobody went in, while nearly everybody believed that other bodies were in.

However, Nature's dearth is likely to produce conviction where facts, arguments, and rewards failed to do so. The seasons of 1887 and 1888, especially the latter, were unpropitious for the "busy little bee," and yielded but little honey. The crop was a general failure, not only in America but in Europe. The modicum of honey produced, especially of comb-honey, was soon exhausted, and the dealers as well as consumers, North, South, East, and West, were crying out for honey. The producers were inundated with letters and orders which they could not fill. Now, here was the grand opportunity for the manufacturers of "artificial honey." If the article could be sold "at an immense profit at half the price" of the genuine article, as Prof. Wiley assures us, these bogus manufacturers could have coined money—there were "millions in it" apparently. But they failed to appear. The glucose was available, the paraffin ditto, and the "appropriate machinery" ought, in the interval under the law of progress, to have become still more "appropriate" and perfect in its work; but, strange to say, the famine of honey continued. The tempting prices were offered in vain. Not a pound of the stuff ever "materialized" so far as anybody could find out. Nor was this gap in the extracted honey, caused by the drought, filled by any artificial substitute, which also goes to prove that the prevalent notion that honey is extensively adulterated has very little foundation in fact. Considering the comparatively low market prices of honey the past few years, and the facility with which the genuine article can be produced in modern scientific bee-culture, adulteration would hardly pay for the trouble.

That there is but very little adulteration either of comb or extracted honey may be safely asserted. The prevalent popular belief to the contrary may be accounted for in two ways—by the prevalent ignorance of the character and what I might call the habits of honey, and by the erroneous teachings and misleading reports of the authorities under review. While it may be said, in general terms, that honey chemically consists of sugar and water, in the proportion usually of about seventy-five per cent of the former to twenty-five of the latter,[1] these elements vary so much in their proportions in different grades of honey gathered from so many different flowers at different seasons of the year that there is no sure test, chemical or other, of honey. Even the polariscope, but recently considered a certain test of its purity, and still so considered by some analysts, is found to be uncertain and unreliable. While generally in pure honey the ray of light is turned to the left, some samples, equally pure, though perhaps stored rapidly and capped prematurely, may contain so much cane-sugar that the ray is turned to the right. Hence the mistakes of chemists, relying upon the integrity of the polariscope, in passing up on the purity or impurity of honey. They have pronounced samples adulterated which were known to he the pure products of the flowers gathered by the bees. Every apiarian specialist knows that during the course of one good honey season, beginning with the early spring bloom of willow, maple, fruit, etc., and ending with the fall bloom of golden-rod, buckwheat, etc., he can get nearly a dozen different grades or kinds of honey—in color from the very light, almost transparent linden to the turgid and black buckwheat, and in flavor from the mild and delicious sweet to that which is strong, rank, and quite unpalatable to some tastes. Let a person with no special knowledge of honey be presented with the former for his sight and palate, and then with the latter, and, ten to one, he will declare that the one sample is not honey at all, but a vile imitation. Then, again, good, pure honey, through mismanagement, may become so deteriorated in quality and altered in taste as to at once provoke suspicion of adulteration.

Granulation was also regarded as a sure test of the purity of honey, but it is not so, as some pure grades, containing only the non-cry stallizable sugar, will not granulate; while other samples mixed with glucose will granulate. The light-colored and best grades of honey will be fine-grained in granulation, while other grades will be coarse-grained and present the appearance of sugar for certain to the uninitiated.

When an honest man falls into an error, he is always willing to correct it as soon as it is pointed out to him and proved to be such. Prof. Wiley was expected to do that much at least toward repairing the injury he had wittingly or unwittingly done the whole fraternity of bee-keepers. But Prof. Wiley failed to do so, so far as the public knows. He neglected—I may safely say refused—to make the amende honorable. The apiarists became incensed, indignant, and demanded proof of his assertion or a retraction. The professor of science vouchsafed neither the one nor the other. Finally, after years had elapsed, being still hotly pursued by the apiarists and bee journals, especially the American Bee Journal, Prof. Wiley did manage to make an explanation or "statement"; which, however, in no way improved his position before the public either as an honorable man or a professor of science. About seven years after uttering the slander to the world, he speaks, and makes this astounding admission:

"At the time, I repeated this statement more in the light of a pleasantry than as a commercial reality, for I did not believe that it was possible commercially to imitate the comb." (Letter dated Washington, D. C, May 29, 1888, addressed to W. M. Evans, and published in the American Bee Journal of June 13, 1888.)

In this attempted justification of himself Prof. Wiley says he had heard from a friend of his (now deceased) that comb-honey was manufactured in Boston as stated above. On the strength of that, and that alone, he made the deliberate assertion which I have quoted from The Popular Science Monthly.

Now, after reading and re-reading the context in The Popular Science Monthly article, I find not a shadow of evidence that this statement was meant for a fiction and not for a fact. It is given seriously and deliberately, along with other alleged scientific facts, with no intimation or indication whatever of its spurious character. The readers (and no doubt the publishers) of The Popular Science Monthly accepted the statement in good faith as a fact. The newspapers, of course, accepted it as true from so respectable an authority as The Popular Science Monthly, and even the encyclopædias finally took it in. Indeed, nobody, it seems, took it as a fictitious "pleasantry," or even dreamed it was meant for one, till the exigencies of the case required such a construction (or misconstruction) from the author himself. If it really was meant as a harmless scientific squib, with no malice prepense, the question arises, How is it that the professor neglected to set the matter right when he found that everybody was taking his joke seriously, to the great detriment of an important industry, and the calumnious aspersion of honest honey-producers?

Another example of spurious science is now before me. The Medical Standard for June, 1889, contains a leading article on Embryology, by a learned New York doctor, in which we are gravely informed that "a worker bee is a highly organized creature, with a well-developed brain, wonderful sense-organs, intricate muscular apparatus, and yet it is an offspring of an unimpregnated queen bee." Now, this is all well put and quite true, except the last clause, which is just the opposite, of the truth. Any apiarian specialist could have told the doctor that while it is true that the virgin queen bee lays eggs which produce drones or males, she never deposits eggs which produce females—that is, workers and queens—until after she is impregnated by the drone. Hence, the worker bee is not "an offspring of an unimpregnated queen bee."

While it would be obviously unfair and unreasonable to hold the Monthly morally responsible for the specimen of wily science and its results to which this article refers,-it is, perhaps, not entirely free from blame in allowing the matter to rest uncorrected so long. I take the liberty of here suggesting to publishers of encyclopædias and scientific works the wisdom of first submitting doubtful points and dubious assertions, made by men outside their special departments, to practical men in such departments, whether the latter be learned or unlearned, for the knowledge of an unlearned man touching his own particular line of business (even the science of it) may exceed that of the scientist both in accuracy and extent. Such a course would often save the specialist from humiliation, and spare the* public the infliction of some very queer science, which, not infrequently, fails to dovetail with every-day facts.

  1. According to C. Tomlinson, F. R. S., F. C. S., dextrose thirty-eight per cent, levulose thirty-six, water twenty-two, and the remaining four, salts, wax, pollen, gluten, and aromatic and coloring matters.