Carnegie Mellon University
June 27, 2016

What Honeybees Can Tell Us About Brexit

By Shilo Rea

John H. Miller headshot

When it’s time to move their hives, honeybees are able to quickly identify a high-quality nesting site without approval from the queen bee.

Carnegie Mellon University economist and complexity theorist John H. Miller argues that there are lessons to be learned by understanding how bees in a hive, and a variety of other systems, interact. Specifically, they provide insight into Brexit, the referendum by British voters to exit the European Union that caused global markets and currencies to crash.

“Brexit seems to be an interesting case of decentralized decision making gone wrong,” said Miller, professor of economics in the Dietrich College’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences and author of “A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life and Society.”

He continued, “In the honeybees, as better choices arise, they get more attention and evaluation. Such a system will eventually sort out the choices and, typically, pick the best one. During Brexit — and I suspect, some of the U.S. primaries as of late — while choices get attention, the evaluation aspect seems to be missing.  For example, Google Trends reported a spike in searches in the U.K. for ‘What is the E.U.?’ and ‘What is Brexit?’ after the voting had ended.”

Learn more about Miller and linking politics with honeybees' search for a new hive