Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

21 December 2010

Something Ate the Moon

Last night North America had the king seats for a total lunar eclipse. These astronomical phenomena hold a special place in the history of science as a whole. In ancient Greece, Aristarchus was observing a lunar eclipse when he realized that as the shadow crept across the face of the moon, it was in the shape of an arc, not a straight line. He then posited that this meant that the Earth itself was curved (since the Earth is what must be casting the shadow). Furthermore, this observation helped Aristarchus come to the realization that the Earth is not the center of our solar system, but rather the Earth must orbit the Sun. All this was discovered centuries before Copernicus and Galileo. The ancient Greeks were even able to estimate for the relative sizes and distances of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. While we are much more precise with our modern techniques, Aristarchus was on the right path.

With that said, last night I went out and took some pictures of the lunar eclipse. These aren't the greatest of pictures since my SLR and telescope are packed away right now and all I had available was my camera I use for basic photography in the field. However, you will clearly be able to see the curvature of the Earth as the shadow moves over the surface of the moon. [note: I just realized that you cannot enlarge the photos by clicking on them. I will see if I can remedy this. Apparently, Blogger shrunk them all down to 400x300. I will probably just have to break down and subscribe to a photo hosting site to fix this]

Below is a shot of the eclipse just as it was starting.

Below it has progressed a little bit further.

And below shows it further still

Around about this time, I wasn't getting the eclipsed portion of the moon very clearly so I toyed around with the shutter speed and got the image below. Both the image above and below are at about the same point during the eclipse. The lower picture shows the eclipsed poritions of the moon and washes out the little sliver yet to be eclipsed.

Below shows the eclipse in near totality.

And here was the last decent shot I got of the event last night.

08 December 2010

Back From Hiatus

I have been away for a while… a good LONG while. However, I am still going to try and keep this blog running. Truth is, I like this blog. I find it is a good way for me to express my ideas about various topics that interest me and get feedback on those selfsame topics. I also find it good practice to keep writing about technical concepts in a less than technical manner. Or, to paraphrase Albert Einstein (who was paraphrasing Ernest Rutherford), you don't truly understand your [sed/strat] unless you can explain it to your [friends in a bar].

That said, sometimes the real world just gets too busy for me to make regular updates to ITV, let alone pay attention to it at all. I had some grand plans for when I finished my thesis such as: move over to Wordpress, start semi-weekly updates, break down the infernal tome of archaic knowledge over a series of posts, etc. What I didn't expect was how complex my schedule could become. I had to move, find work (of a sort), research PhD programs, attend conferences (which included helping prepare presentations for conferences), write applications to graduate programs, retake the GRE (prior scores expired. Good news, both scores went up [still waiting on the essay score]), and work on condensing my Masters into a journal article for submission (got a rough draft done, but it isn't ready for "showtime" yet)…. And my schedule doesn't look like it will be easing up anytime soon with campus visits, grant writing, helping to get a lecture series organized and developing a "training manual" about local sed/strat for docents at the museum I am currently working with. I have developed a greater respect for all the geobloggers out there who have been able to balance the real world and blogging.

    So, with that in mind, I have decided to set more realistic expectations of what I hope to accomplish regarding ITV. I will no longer be moving from blogger (it's got problems, but I can endure them for the time being). Semi-weekly updates might be a bit optimistic. I will try and post monthly updates at the very least. I am also scrapping the idea of talking about my thesis, since I am trying to get it into a journal. Once it's in a journal, I probably will just let someone else in the geoblogosphere eviscerate it.

    With that said, I am currently working on December's update. Watch this space.

28 July 2010

Our Achilles Heel Has Been Exposed

I was just perusing Facebook, and one of my friends posted this story. Apparently insurgents have figured out the quickest way to get a geologist to ingest poison is to place it in the guise of beer. Truly, a more fiendish plot has never been devised.

However, love of beer (and knowledge of geology) also happened to save the targeted geologist:
The Corona bottle sat on his counter for the next two weeks Yeager [the targeted geologist] says, because Corona is one of his least favorite beers. He finally opened it during a going away party as the other drinks began to run low.

“I pulled it out and when I popped it there was no fizz and the cap was loose,” says Yeager. “Because this one didn’t have fizz you wonder if it went rancid or not, and I just kind of sniffed it and I went ‘Oh, that doesn’t smell like beer.’ ”

Yeager, a geochemist familiar with acids, realized it smelled like sulfuric acid – otherwise known as battery acid. He called a friend over who had the same reaction to the smell. Yeager poured the “beer” into the toilet and it foamed and fizzed, leaving “no question” in his mind it was sulfuric acid.
Geology saving lives once again.

19 June 2010

Of Boycotts and Impact Factors

Well it has been a while since I visited this corner of the internet. I am also WAYYYY behind in my blog reading (so, by now, this may be old news to people). I suppose that is what happens when the real world imposes itself. So to get back into the swing of things, here is a quick summation of a relatively minor story with potentially significant implications.

The Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is planning to raise the cost of subscription for the University of California Library System (UCL). NPG's argument is that UCL's subscription is currently being subsidized by other universities. So NPG wants to raise UCL's subscription fee to be more in line with what other universities are paying (though as Larry Moran notes, NPG has yet to mention that they will lower the subscription costs for these other universities).

More to the point, this change will effectively raise UCL's subscription fee 400%. Simply put, with the financial woes of the UC system, UCL might be unable to fit this into the budget. In response, UC professors have proposed a boycott of NPG. Not only will they stop the subscription (which may be unavoidable in any situation), they will no longer serve as peer-review, and they will no longer submit articles.

This is potentially a large problem, not just for NPG but for any research publication that is for-profit. Primarily because the consumers of research journals also supply the content of research journals. To put this in perspective, people talk about the power that the Baseball Players Union has when negotiating with the team owners. Imagine how much power the Baseball Players Union would have if they not only supplied the product (i.e. played the game), but were also the predominant consumers (i.e. they were the largest, or only, group purchasing tickets and attending/watching games). This analogous to the situation with researchers and research publications. That is the amount of leverage researchers have when dealing with scientific journals. It should be interesting to see how this situation develops in the coming weeks.

While this is an interesting story in its own right, the principle organizer of this boycott made an interesting statement justifying the lack of article submission (via Sandwalk):
In many ways it doesn't matter where the work's published, because scientists will be able to find it
If this is indeed the case (which given inter-library loan and the predominance of digital copies of papers, it is), this should have an interesting effect on the concept of evaluating the impact factor of journals. I have no idea whether this will make the concept of an impact factor obsolete, or whether it just grants journals that have cheaper (or free) access to online papers higher impact factors.

14 May 2010

I don't know what to do now

*Phew*. You may have noticed it's been rather quiet here on In Terra Veritas recently. Only a few quick posts linking to TED talks that I liked. There's good reason for this. I've just willed into existence another Damnable Tome of Archaic Knowledge.

I've turned in the final version of my Masters Thesis to all parties that require an electronic copy, filled out all the paper work, cleared out my office, and now.... I have no clue what to do next. It's a good feeling though.

21 April 2010

"Amazing" TED Talk

I saw this through the JREF page on Facebook. James “The Amazing” Randi talks about psychics and homeopathy. It is a quick introduction to why psychics are frauds and homeopathy is a waste of money.


I like what Randi is saying, but I wish he would be more clear in his presentation. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fine talk, but it felt rather scattered. I highly recommend people visit his website to learn more about what the JREF is all about.

14 April 2010

Fear of Science will Kill Us

Just a quick post. This has been going around on Facebook, probably on the blogosphere as well, but I wanted to add it to this blog as well.

Last year Michael Specter wrote a very good book about the growing trend of denialism in this country. I don't know when the paperback version is due to be released (or if it already has), but I recommend reading it. Recently, Michael gave a TED talk on the same subject (available through CNN). The video, and an accompanying article, is also available here.

07 April 2010

Two Steps Closer Toward Becoming a Misnomer

Just a quick post since I am working on my final revisions. I logged onto my reader today to try and clear out some of the stories. It is a losing battle. I can't seem to read all the stories I would like to these days. But this Headline caught my attention:

This was the most depressing quote in this brief article:
Warmer temperatures have reduced the number of named glaciers in the northwestern Montana park to 25, said Dan Fagre, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He warned the rest of the glaciers may be gone by the end of the decade.
I would suggest making plans to visit the park sooner rather than later. I also have some posts from when I visited the park a couple summers ago.

01 April 2010

Capsize Tectonics Theory

I really hope that Hank Johnson releases a press statement that says "April Fools", but I don't think that will happen. The real "gem" comes after Rep. Hank Johnson (D. GA) is done talking about the approximate dimensions of Guam. If you can make it to the 1:30 mark, get ready for a grand example of Epic Fail.



Also, that Admiral deserves a cookie. I don't know how he could calmly state "We don't anticipate that". I would have been yelling about how stupid the Rep. from Georgia is. Then again, maybe the Admiral doesn't deserve a cookie if you feel the respectful insolence approach is the correct way to go in this situation.

06 March 2010

Ooh Neat.

So I just got this email forwarded to me:
Dear colleagues,

WITH APOLOGIES FOR CROSS-POSTING

Following the earthquake in Chile at the end of February the Geological Society of London has made available a range of papers on the Lyell Collection covering the tectonics of the region. See:

Chilean tectonics: February earthquake open access collection:
http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gsl/publications/lyellcollection/page7188.html

These papers will remain open access until the end of April 2010.

Please share information widely with colleagues, and do let me know if you have any queries.
There are some pretty cool papers over there, including 9 papers written by Charles Darwin from his voyage on the Beagle. They also have papers available for the Haiti quake. So go, read, and enjoy learning about geology.

05 March 2010

41 'Angry' Scientists*

ResearchBlogging.orgYesterday was a good day. I turned in the final draft of my thesis before my defense, I went to the local bar with some friends, and I generally had a pleasant evening reading popular fiction. Then I checked my email around 10:30 pm. My advisor sent me an article pertaining to my general research area. He is underwhelmed and said the article was "hot" off the presses. My mood was deflated and, reading the author list, I thought this group admitting uncertainty about the bolide impact extinction hypothesis was less likely than meeting a fundamentalist Christian who views the Bible as allegorical.

Perhaps you've seen the headlines. It's Official... according to Yahoo! Experts Reaffirm.... according to Eureka Alert. And Scientists Settle.... according to the LA Times.

It's nice to know the media is still capable of framing a non-story in contentious terms. The article that started this recent round of hullabaloo is here (Science requires a subscription, but I'd be surprised if your local library/university didn't subscribe. Or you might be able to pick up the article at a newsstand).

My take on this article is along the same lines as my advisor. There is nothing new in this article. Nothing that warranted its publication. It is billed as an impartial assessment of the facts as they stand. However, it is little more than a restatement of Alvarez et al., 1980. And, like the prior study, it makes the same mistake of overreaching the dataset. I concede that this paper demonstrates that a bolide impacted the Earth at approximately the KPg boundary, but this was established in the Alvarez study. I further concede a likely crater for this event is Chicxulub, but this was established by Hildebrand et al., 1991. These are the paper's strengths, but I don't understand why it takes 41 authors 4.5 pages to retread old ground.

You read that right. FORTY-ONE authors. One more author and they would have achieved the Adams Quotient of Verisimilitude. The only reason I can see why this paper, that says nothing new, had 41 authors would be to attempt to give the impression of a false consensus (I have no proof that is what they were doing, but that is the impression it gave me). If this is true, this paper boils down to nothing more than an argument of authority.

This paper fails in the exact same way that Alvarez et al., 1980 fails. It does a brilliant job of demonstrating that a bolide impacted the Earth around the same time as the end Cretaceous extinction event. However, it never establishes causation. Correlation does NOT equate to causation. In fact, you could not ask for a better example of this fallacy than the first sentence of their conclusion:
The correlation between impact-derived ejecta and paleontologically defined extinctions at multiple locations around the globe leads us to conclude that the Chicxulub impact triggered the mass extinction that marks the boundary between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras ~65.5 million years ago.
Now, I don't want to give the impression that just because I criticized this article I must be against the bolide impact extinction hypothesis. This is not the case. I don't think we have sufficient data to draw ANY conclusions regarding the causal mechanisms of ANY extinction event. Furthermore, I don't think we have a sufficient data set to even determine the RATE of ANY extinction event.

While it is good to have a skeptical eye when examining science, it is important to not become a denialist. One technique I have found that helps me walk the line between healthy skepticism and outright denial is list what evidence it would take to convince you of the contrary. If that evidence is reasonable for the situation, it is likely you are just expressing skepticism rather than denial. So in that spirit, here is the evidence/advances that I want before I am willing to begin to draw conclusions regarding causal mechanisms in an extinction event:

1) Standardization of the terms "Catastrophic" and "Gradual". It seems like a little thing, but nobody has adequately defined these terms in this context. For example, ask yourself if "Catastrophic" refers to a rate (if a rate, where is the cutoff? Is this cutoff based on anything or is it arbitrary?) or does it refer to a magnitude (same questions, where is the cutoff and what is the cutoff based on?)? I've seen both usages in the literature. This is actually one of the side projects I have been working on. But if someone beats me to it, all the more power to them.

2) We are able to surmount the Signor-Lipps effect. This is the biggest obstacle to overcome in extinction studies. Sadly, I have seen very few studies that turn the Signor-Lipps effect inward to examine itself. Though there are some, and I remember writing about one. They make for good reads too.

3) We are able to distinguish between an extirpation event and an extinction event. Did the taxa really die out where we find the highest in situ fossil? Or did the taxa just shift their geographical extent, and settle down in an environment that isn't conducive to preservation?

That should be a good start. I can see it taking an entire career to fully address these three issues.

One more thing before I finish this post. When I was an undergrad, in my sedimentary basin analysis class, several of us had "goofy" answers when we didn't know the answer to a question our Prof. asked us. Mine was about "arboreal deposition", I liked the idea of sand suspended in trees. Anyway, a friend of mine was a fan of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and his response when he didn't know the answer was to state "Meteors Did It!". In that spirit, I photoshopped a "propaganda" poster for the bolide impact hypothesis. Enjoy!
*: an homage to "12 Angry Men". I have no way of knowing the disposition of the scientists who wrote the article in Science.

Works Cited:

Alvarez, L. W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F., and Michel, H. V., 1980, Extraterrestrial cause for the Cretaceous Tertiary extinction: Science, v. 208, no. 4448, p. 1095-1108.

Hildebrand, A. R., Penfield, G. T., Kring, D. A., Pilkington, M., Camargo Zanoguera, A., Jacobsen, S. B., and Boynton, W. V., 1991, Chicxulub Crater; a possible Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary impact crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: Geology, v. 19, no. 9, p. 867-871.

Signor, P. W., and Lipps, J. H., 1982, Sampling bias, gradual extinction patterns, and catastrophes in the fossil record, Geological Implications of Impacts of Large Asteroids and Comets on the Earth: Special Paper - Geological Society of America, p. 291-296.

Schulte, P., Alegret, L., Arenillas, I., Arz, J., Barton, P., Bown, P., Bralower, T., Christeson, G., Claeys, P., Cockell, C., Collins, G., Deutsch, A., Goldin, T., Goto, K., Grajales-Nishimura, J., Grieve, R., Gulick, S., Johnson, K., Kiessling, W., Koeberl, C., Kring, D., MacLeod, K., Matsui, T., Melosh, J., Montanari, A., Morgan, J., Neal, C., Nichols, D., Norris, R., Pierazzo, E., Ravizza, G., Rebolledo-Vieyra, M., Reimold, W., Robin, E., Salge, T., Speijer, R., Sweet, A., Urrutia-Fucugauchi, J., Vajda, V., Whalen, M., & Willumsen, P. (2010). The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary Science, 327 (5970), 1214-1218 DOI: 10.1126/science.1177265

01 March 2010

Wow, I really don't know what to say.

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist
Edit: I think I figured out which post has earned me the nomination: Un-Natural Disasters. I figured I would post a quick link to the article to make it easier to find. My other Research Blogging posts are: Permo-Triassic Boundary NOT the Event of the Season and Martian Fans. Both were fun articles to write, I hope you enjoy them too.
___________________________________________________________________
So I heard that BrianR of Clastic Detritus was nominated for best research blogging tweeter (Awesome, and congrats BrianR). I was curious about the geoblogging representation and I found a rather pleasant surprise:

I've been nominated (and made it as a finalist apparently) for best blog in the Conservation and Geosciences category. Huzzah! I doubt that I will win, my vote would be either Highly Allochthonous or Dave's landslide Blog, but I am flattered by the nomination. On a side note; Any engineers, mathematicians, or computer scientists out there could take the best research blog in your category easily.

23 February 2010

Science Scouts

This has been going around the internet. Science Scouts. I know some bloggers have already found this, as they have left comments under certain badges. I decided to post this for two reasons. First, I didn't want to forget about this site, as it looks like they update the badges every once in a while and I find them funny. Second, I needed a break so I quickly photoshopped together the badges whose requirements I've fulfilled. The background sash color is the color universities use to recognize colleges of science (golden-rod means 'science' I suppose).



There are some odd loop-holes though. For example, I have shocked myself (unintentionally... I got too near an electric fence that was "off" according to the land-owners anyway) so that warrants the "experienced with electrical shock" level III badge, but I haven't accomplished levels I or II.

So visit the site, read through the comments, have a chuckle. My current favorite comment is Lyndsey's in reference to the "has done science whilst under the influence" badge.

12 February 2010

Happy Darwin Day

Time flies. Why, I feel like it's only been a year since we last celebrated Charles Darwin's Birthday [/bad joke]. Anyway, I don't have much for this year except for a comic I found somewhere online (can't remember where off the top of my head).


Oh, it might have been from Facebook. If anybody hasn't joined the group "I Bet We Can Find 1,000,000 People Who DO Believe in Evolution Before June", today might be a good day. And yes, there has been ample comment on the use of the word 'Believe'. I'm willing to let it slide and mentally swap 'Believe' with 'Accept'.

11 February 2010

Irony, thy name is Stein

I was perusing through Hulu the other evening, when I came upon that most dreaded and detestable of genres.... Reality Show (which bears no semblance to reality). This one was called America's Most Smartest Model (ugh, the grammar is "humorous", that means quality right?).

Anyway, I found a science based episode. I find it very schadenfreudelicious to read through students answers that are unintentionally funny. I figured what could be better than watching people fumble over basic scientific concepts on TV? So I clicked watch.

I didn't make it to the first commercial break. Far too painful.

However, all was not lost. I did come across a very delectable bit of irony. Ben Stein is one of the judges (why? I don't know?). Furthermore, Ben Stein explains the concept of science. An added bonus is some of the contestants expression towards the word "science". The video is 25 seconds long, and is rated TV-MA probably because the clip is Ben Stein talking and only mature audiences can withstand his "Drone of Ignorance"...

Nicely, stated Ben. However, didn't you summarize science somewhat differently in another forum? If only there was some way to look for a video clip...


The above is an excerpt from an interview of Ben Stein advertising his *ahem* "documentary" expelled. Oh well, at least Stein was able to find a suitably embarrassing position as judge to the only people on the planet who he might be smarter than...

As Stein said: "If [they] can't do [science], it will raise serious questions about their intellectual capabilities". So, by Ben's own standards, he must have serious reservations about his own 'intellectual capabilities'. Now I'll let him continue his decline to intellectual impotence unimpeded.

For a more thorough deconstruction of Stein, might I recommend part 24 of Thunderf00t's ongoing series "Why do people laugh at Creationists" (highly recommended viewing).

03 February 2010

Faith-"Healing" Kills

I am appalled by this. This morning, NPR reported on a family in Oregon who lost their 16 year old son to renal failure. What appalls me, is the family DID NOTHING to prevent the loss of their son. They belong to a church group that practices faith-"healing", which spurns modern scientifically-based medicine in favor of praying.

Let me say this again. The family LET their 16 year old son die.... of RENAL FAILURE. Kidney problems can be VERY painful. Their son's kidney failure was brought on by a urinary tract blockage that resulted from a minor birth defect. This sort of birth defect would have been detected when he was still an infant (if his family ever took him to a doctor). From there, the family could have been on the lookout for warning signs, and this whole tragedy could have been avoided. Science-based medicine is good about these things. Prayer is not.

What's worse is the family had a track record for ignoring science and letting family members succumb to preventable illness:
The teenager died of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage that doctors testified could have been treated up until the day he died.

The Beagleys' 15-month-old granddaughter, Ava Worthington, died in March 2008 of pneumonia and a blood infection that also could have been treated.

Instead, Neil and Ava were anointed with oil while the family prayed and laid on hands.
The defense attorney had an interesting note.

But one of the defense attorneys, Wayne Mackeson, insisted the trial was about the care they provided as parents, not about their beliefs [Me: which, I concede, are apparently "fringe"].

"It's never been a referendum on the church. This case involves parents who didn't understand how sick their child was," he said. [emphasis added]

Now don't get me wrong. I am appalled by the fact that people ignore science and reason, and let bronze age mythology rule their lives. But I agree with the defense on this case, it isn't their belief that science is apparently an affront to religion, it is that they are totally unqualified to act as a parent. However, this argument of ignorance does not give them a pass (the defense wants the sentence to be reduced to probation). I understand it is the defense's job to get the best result for their client, but the possible sentence of 16-18 months seems lenient to me. Especially since this group has a track record for not understanding how sick some child is (their grand-daughter died just 9 months prior under similar circumstances).

We aren't talking about the sniffles or a sore throat. We are talking about RENAL FAILURE. The 16 year old's Blood-Urea-Nitrogen level was 288 milligrams/deciliter (kidney failure starts around 60, normal levels are between 7 and 20). Science-based medicine could have saved this kid, "up until the day he died". Science-based medicine could have saved the grand-daughter's life. Faith-"healing" robbed these kids of their lives.

31 January 2010

Un-Natural Disasters

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgResearchBlogging.org
Sergio Mora published a paper in the Journal of the Geological Society (here subscription is required for full text*). This was published back in December 2009, but it took on new (and rather unfortunate) significance in Haiti recently. It is really an excellent paper, he presented something similar as the keynote speaker at the 1st North American Landslide Conference in Vail, CO 2007. My summary doesn't do the paper justice, so I strongly suggest anyone reading this post find a copy of this article.

Sergio's paper "Disasters are not natural: risk management, a tool for development" labels "natural" disasters as the result of economics and/or political shortsightedness. While it is true that the processes of the earth contribute to these disasters, most of these processes can be mitigated (or avoided completely) if proper precautions are taken. For example, landslides are natural processes, but a landslide is not called a "natural disaster" unless it adversely affects a human population center . The way to avoid these disasters is through risk management:
Risk management is inspired by the anticipated reduction of losses (human and material) that natural hazards may cause in the future. It is a policy by means of which the possibility of losses is identified, analysed and quatified, and at the same time measures of prevention, mitigation, reduction and retention or transfer of risk can be proposed and executed.
Ultimately, Dr. Mora argues, proper risk management is not regarded as "high priority" by the decision-makers in a society. "[R]isk management is still regarded as a cost, not as an investment". Governments tend towards a reactive stance regarding natural hazards rather than a preventative stance. However, there is a key to correcting this perception. It revolves around educating both the general public and the policy makers about the potential hazards, and how to mitigate these hazards, in a given area. In short, scientists should take a more active role in shaping policy.

Scientists, while far from having a perfect knowledge of natural hazards, should be able to help lead policy towards taking sufficiently safe precautions to avoid the brunt of the hazards. However, even with this input, the losses incurred through hazards are steadily rising.
Considering these poor results, it seems reasonable to ask why the historical memory is lacking and why risk management performance is so deficient in many countires that are so frequently and intesely affected by natural hazards. Perhaps a part of the answer lies in the fact that, so far, the scientific community has been incapable of generating awareness in decision-makers, of provideng them with tools to address their politiacal arguments in a convincing way towards establishing public policies, and in incorporating risk management in public-private investments and planning.
The clearest example of limited historical memory, on the side of the politicians, would be how often (and to what end) they bring up natural hazard mitigation. Using the U.S. as an example, I'm sure that every geoblogger remembers the confluence of cosmic irony when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindel scoffed at "volcano monitoring" only to have Mt. Redoubt erupt less than a month later. Another example, from U.S. politics, would be the New Orleans flood. Michael Chertoff famously argued that nobody could have predicted such a disaster could have occurred (though scientists had predicted such an event).

This tends to be the pattern of politicians mentioning natural hazards. Either label preventative measures as wasteful spending, or when (not if) the disaster occurs, claim that nobody could have predicted such an event. Only the situation is more dire in poorer countries, such as the ones Dr. Mora focused on. It is one thing when a country's economy is resilient enough to offset some of the shortsightedness of its leaders, it is entirely different when the country is among the poorest of the poor. This tends to disproportionately affect poorer nations, and as a result increases these nations' future vulnerability to hazards.

I also like Dr. Mora's definition of 'vulnerability' for this scenario. "[Vulnerability] could be summarized as 'the exposure, fragility and deterioration of elements and aspects generating and improving social existence'." He then breaks vulnerability down as a measure of 5 factors.
  1. the degree of exposure to hazards
  2. the degree of fragility (inverse of resilience) of the elements exposed
  3. the social-economic value of possible losses
  4. the alterations to the human quality of life (deaths, injuries, trauma, forceful displacements, etc)
  5. the impact on environmental-natural goods, services and functions.
He also points out that vulnerability can replace an adequately designed society with one of lesser quality. This can further weaken/divide society. Because the more affluent are capable of rebuilding/recouping losses, while the impoverished cannot. This can act to further divide a society, which increases future vulnerability... and so on.

Sergio's solution is one that focuses on education. This is something that scientists hear quite often. Scientists need to be better communicators toward the public. Unfortunately, there are very few publications that suggest how exactly scientists should go about doing this. The best solution I've heard, though it may have been tongue in cheek , is for scientists to pretend they are talking to first-graders (especially important when talking to politicians). Sergio suggests:
The first step that the scientific community should take is learning the language of political decision-makers and private investors. The goals of this pursuit can be to: (1) orientate and influence decision-makers to incorporate risk management in national development planning, public policies and investment processes; (2) foster interest in, and awareness and appropriation of the topic, so that national leaders leaders and entrepreneurs will commit themselves to the actions of risk management
Dr. Mora takes it a step further by offering suggestions as to how one could go about accomplishing these goals:
The means of achieving such a strategy should take into account the following: (1) understanding the idiosyncrasy of decision-makers and adapting the technical content of information and action proposals; (2) presenting the message in an attractive way, making it profitable from the managerial and political standpoints; (3) highlighting the advantages of preventive vision, as well as the responsibilities acquired by inaction; (4) making clear that it will not be acceptable to plead ignorance, considering the present information available; (5) underlining the fact that development and reduction of vulnerability are two inseparable processes.
I particularly like suggestions 4 and 5. Geologists may not know everything there is to know about Earth processes (we don't), but we know a hell of a lot more than the people making the decisions and exposing their constituents to unnecessary risk. I think the biggest thing geologists can do, aside from educating the public (which hopefully we all do to some extent already), is to reverse the thinking regarding risk management. Sergio points out that risk management should be thought of as "a long-term investment ([presently] it is considered a cost)".

*so go to a library/university to download it unless you are a member of the Geological Society.
_______________________________________________
Citations:Mora, S. (2009). Disasters are not natural: risk management, a tool for development Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology Special Publications, 22 (1), 101-112 DOI: 10.1144/EGSP22.7

20 January 2010

Another comic

It's been pretty quiet around here recently, what with a thesis defense in the works and grad apps just sent off. So here is a quick comic to tide over any who stumble upon this humble corner of the intertoobz. Phil Plait posted this comic to his blog recently. It is a spot on representation of science and any branch of pseudoscience, I might even have to start following this strip (Calamities of Nature). As soon as I get color ink for my printer this one is going up on the office door. Enjoy!

15 January 2010

EEdiocy Part the second

I've been absent for a bit. Traveling around, going to conferences, visiting family, getting applications submitted. So I haven't gotten around to the rest of what I had originally intended to be a three part series on the woeful behavior of the Japan Times. Fortunately, a reader of the Times wrote in to criticize the articles himself.
I am glad to see that The Japan Times is publishing in-depth articles on scientific topics such as the "Our growing Earth?" series on geology by Jeff Ogrisseg. But these articles prompt a reminder of an all too common logical fallacy: "Albert Einstein got bad grades in school. I am getting bad grades. Therefore, I am a genius."

The current widely accepted theory of plate tectonics was once widely dismissed, but this cannot be used to argue that another theory, currently dismissed, should become accepted. Nearly all theories are wrong.

The expanding Earth theory must explain where all the additional mass comes from. This is not some minor detail. We are talking about a planet's worth. To explain it, the expanding earth theorizers must overturn a great deal of established physics. Of course, all those physicists might be wrong, too, but I wouldn't put money on it. And, by the way, I am not a geologist.

Tobias is spot on. The EE proponents seem to overlook Carl Sagan's quote:
"But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
I had intended to finish this off. However, after finishing off the first post I found it to be more of a joyless task whose only potential rewards run along the lines of an ulcer or high blood pressure. What has been said before, by other geobloggers and myself, is enough to discredit the EE concept. The failure of EE advocates to realize this in no way affects geology.

So if anybody wants to read as Neil Adams gets his ego stroked, I will point them here.
And if anybody wants to engage in this tiresome exercise on the third article, I will point them here.

Disclaimer

All the Latin on this page is from my vague recollections from High School. There are mistakes in the text. I just was trying to get the point across

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM
The photo of the travertine spring was taken in the small opening in the center of the image.

Lectio Liber