Earthquake prediction – some thoughts and four interviews

Since the L’Aquila trial has caused a lot of attention and an outcry of the scientific community, topics like earthquake prediction and earthquake forecasting are widely discussed in blogs and media. Often enough, people that claim to be scientists pretend they could predict earthquakes. These pseudo-predictions are based either on measuring geophysical phenomena (like temperature, gas emissions, electromagnetic fields, light phenomena, sun-moon-earth tidal forces and interactions etc.), animal behaviour (toads, snakes, dogs etc.) or even crazier things (horoscopes, blasphemy, earthquake weapons…). None of these “methods” works. Earthquake prediction is currently not possible. Continue reading “Earthquake prediction – some thoughts and four interviews”

What’s up? The Friday links (47)

The German research vessel R/V Polarstern is an ice-breaking mega laboratory and the heart of the German arctic and antarctic research. It is maintained by the AWI Bremerhaven (Alfred Wegener Institut for Polar and Marine Research). When I studied Geophysics at Leipzig University, I had to chance to visit this great ship during an excursion. Now the Polarstern is on her way for the Antarctic again, and this time the ship and the crew will spend the winter down far south for the very first time. Follow their campaign via the AWI blog or the GEO blog.

Continue reading “What’s up? The Friday links (47)”

Catch 22

In the wake of the verdict in the L’Aquila earthquake trial big words were not spared. Is this a “battle between science and politics”? Is the decision taken “more reminiscent of Dark Ages magical thinking than modern scientific understanding”? Is this trial “likened to persecution of Galileo”? In reaction to the verdict, a common tendency in the earth science and risk community seems to move towards a ‘withdrawal’ from our commitment to society. But is this the right thing to do?

This short-sighted verdict may indeed very well alienate society’s strongest ally when it comes to safeguarding society against potential dramatic consequences of earthquakes. But is society helped when scientists systematically overexaggerate the potential hazard to cover themselves against possible legal consequences? Such attitude would completely erode the credibility of science. And when a hazard becomes really serious, society will turn a deaf ear to the advice of the scientists. Society isn’t helped either when scientists withdraw in their academic ‘ivory towers’ and completely ignore their societal role. This would only give ‘charlatans’ carte blanche to preach doom.

Eventually, scientists do not have a choice! Scientists have to stick to their responsibility towards society. In risk communication they will have to be as clear and honest as possible, but without devaluing the nuance inherent to science. Scientists have to keep confronting authorities that run away from their responsibilities. And scientists will have to keep investing in an ‘informed citizenry’, to provide them all necessary tools to become aware and resilient with respect to the inevitable earthquake. But at the end, scientists should be able to say and write freely and unconditionally wherever their science leads them!