The Romer Lecture: Honeybee Democracy

The Romer Lecture

April 4, 2012, 7:30 pm, Hepburn Auditorium
Title: Honeybee Democracy
Guest: Dr. Thomas D. Seeley

Honeybees make decisions collectively-and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or death problem of choosing a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. Seeley will describe how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together-as a swirling cloud of bees-to their new home. He will argue that these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to achieving collective wisdom. A decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, diverse solutions should be sought, vigorous debate of the options should be encouraged, and the majority will should be counted on for a dependable solution. We will see that with the right organization, decision making groups can be smarter than even the smartest individual in them.

Dr. Thomas D. Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, where he teaches courses in animal behavior and does research on the functional organization of honey bee colonies. He grew up in Ithaca, New York and began keeping and studying bees while a high school student, when he brought home a swarm of bees in a wooden box. He went away to college at Dartmouth in 1970, but returned to Ithaca each summer to work for Dr. Roger A. Morse at the Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University, where he learned the craft of beekeeping and began probing the inner workings of the honey bee colony. Thoroughly intrigued by the smooth functioning of bee colonies, he went on to graduate school at Harvard University where he studied under two ant men (Drs. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson), began his research on bees in earnest, and earned his Ph.D. in 1978. After teaching at Yale for six years, he worked his way home to Ithaca/Cornell in 1986, where he has been ever since. In recognition of his scientific work, he has received the Senior Scientist Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on the internal organization of honey bee colonies and has been summarized in three books: Honeybee Ecology (1985, Princeton University Press), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995, Harvard University Press), and Honeybee Democracy (2010, Princeton University Press).

Dr. Seeley's books will be available at the lecture as well as the Brewer Bookstore. A book signing will take place following the lecture. We hope you will join us.