Chilean earthquake fallout: MSNBC implies nature is "out of control"

Screen capture of the MSNBC website on February 27, 2010 at ~5:30 PM eastern time.

Most of you have probably already heard about the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck today off the coast of Chile. This becomes one of the most powerful earthquakes on record and so far, the death toll has been relatively low - in the hundreds - especially compared to the horrific disaster of the Haiti earthquake from earlier this year. My thoughts go out to all in Chile recovering from the earthquake.

However, I am a little appalled at some of the coverage I've seen for this earthquake. MSNBC has become the vanguard of sensationalist drivel and shoddy science reporting - specifically, the article posted today titled: "Is Nature out of control?" (also seen with the headline "Big quake questions: are they getting worse?") This type of headline is irresponsible, reprehensible "journalism" that the worst hacks should be ashamed to print. I feel like I don't even have to justify it with a response, but honestly, two big earthquakes hours apart in Chile and Japan (or if you want to get bigger, two earthquakes months apart with Chile and Haiti) does not "out of control" make. No geologist would ever even imply this idea - yet somehow MSNBC finds it necessary to use this sensationalist garbage to promote their website. As of Saturday afternoon (2/27), no other major media outlet had such a headline on their front page.

Earthquakes happen, and they happen in a random distribution (more or less), meaning sometimes we get more, sometimes less. Spend any time looking at the USGS earthquake feed and you'll see sometimes we have lots of M3+ earthquakes in a day, sometimes we can go a day or two without really any around the world. More importantly, looking at any of these earthquake patterns in a short timescale (geologically - which means in a human lifetime, maybe two lifetimes) is not sufficient to understand the pattern. MSNBC found one scientist who said that in the last 15 years (relative to the 20 years before that), "the Earth has been more active" - whatever that means - and have blown it up into an armageddon-like story. What does "more active" even mean? Does it mean more total earthquakes? More big earthquakes ? More total seismic energy being released? Does it include volcanoes? What about landslides? Hurricanes? That sort of throwaway line is the sort of thing that feeds the doomsayers and gives science a bad name.

Honestly, I sometimes think I need to go on Cafe Press and get t-shirts made that say "Correlation does not mean causation". Humans perceive connections and patterns in events even when none are there - think about the so-called "Face on Mars". Yes, we've had a number of large earthquakes in the recent past, but have we had a Toba-scale volcanic eruption? Have we had another New Madrid earthquake? The Earth is a big place with a lot of active tectonic margins and even more faults that gather stresses and periodically release them. Sure, they may have some connection broadly speaking, the same goes for the volcano-earthquake connection. However, we have no conclusive proof that these systems are directly related - that is to say, they are not the same as turning your key to start your car engine. Complex systems have many inputs - maybe the volcano that erupts next week would have erupted with a magnitude 4 earthquake, maybe it would have erupted without an earthquake at all. To connect the two merely because they are temporally juxtaposed is not scientifically sound. There is evidence that there could be an effect on nearby volcanism after large earthquakes in some settings, however, it is far from proven.

The point here is that the Earth is an active place - and we have very short experience with seeing events on a global scale. Reckless speculation the likes of which MSNBC (and LiveScience) partook in should be a warning of how the media still has a long way to come when it comes to reporting the facts rather than the hysteria of the natural world.

More like this

I knew I could count on my fellow Science Blogger Dr. Klemetti for a good take on the physical reality of the Chilean Earthquake, so I checked in this morning, only to see him, quite property, take the MSM to task for inane rhetoric, notably an MSNBC headline that reads "Is Nature Out of Control?"…
Photo source (MSNBC). With the terrible news of an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan this morning, my thoughts are with the victims and their families. Is this more evidence of "Global Weirding? TOKYO -- A magnitude 8.9 earthquake slammed Japan's northeastern coast Friday, unleashing a…
I've finally read Dr. Tom Chalko's wackaloon manuscript. It was fantastic. Chalko artfully combines common misconceptions about his subject matter with accessible yet impressively mathy-lookin' slipshod data analysis, and produces an argument that appeals to the innate human desire to make sense of…
The Great San Francisco Earthquake(s) On October 8th, 1865, the "Great San Francisco Earthquake" hit south of the city of San Francisco, magnitude 6.3. On October 21st, 1868, the 'Great San Francisco Earthquake" hit near Haywards, east of the city, across the bay, magnitude 6.8. On April 18th, 1906…

Since the advent of the net I have more or less stopped watching TV apart from the selected movie or sports feature. I turned on CNN today to see the coverage of the Chilean quake and was totally appalled. This is not journalism. This is pandering to the basic fears of uneducated people to raise viewing numbers and secure their own existence by inculcating a very theatrical sense of impending doom that sucks viewers in to compulsive watching. It would work if it hadn't in the meantime got so ridiculous.

I turned it off. My bet is that an increasing number of other people will too. We are watching the death throes of an outdated medium.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

I didn't think earthquakes were ever particularly "under control" anyway....?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

Hey at least the MSM hasn't blamed this on HAARP.

As soon as I heard about it I started hunting for tsunami info. Forget CNN, they accidently showed some good info but didnt explain it. Found a webcam on the S coast of Mexico, but it was looping and not updating. Checked the news from Fiji, they had a 1 foot tsunami wave at the closest island.
SO I went golfing.
When has Nature ever been ...
"In Control" ?? How arrogant.

While not perfect, the best story I've seen on this so far (outside the geobloggers, of course) is at The Christian Science Monitor. CSM often takes a little longer to rush to print, and generally takes time to make a few phone calls and talk to some actual scientists. Yes, they are associated with the Church of Christ, Scientist, but their news reporting- science especially- is first rate. They do an excellent job of keeping their theology, news and marketing separate. I wish other news organizations followed their example.

I agree with Bruce; there's simply no point in trying to get news from TV sources any more.

Earthquakes and volcanoes aside, I sometimes worry about the "Correlation does not mean causation" line. It's perfectly true, but is often used dismissively when it shouldn't be.

I.e., causation does imply correlation, but correlation is, at best, a clue that causation might be involved. If you see correlation, that should be a motivation to look for direct or indirect causation -- which might or might not be there.

Have they changed the article? The one I read started:

Chile is on a hotspot of sorts for earthquake activity. And so the 8.8-magnitude temblor that shook the region overnight was not a surprise, historically speaking. Nor was it outside the realm of normal, scientists say, even though it comes on the heels of other major earthquakes.

It also included the unsensational:

"From our human perspective with our relatively short and incomplete memories and better and better communications around the world, we hear about more earthquakes and it seems like they are more frequent," Arrowsmith said. "But this is probably not any indication of a global change in earthquake rate of significance."

Intex - I definitely agree with your point. I think I am trying to emphasize that mere correlation should not be construed as causation. However, you're on the money that you never know how it might be connected, so investigating these connections is the key.

I was hoping someone on this site would write an article about MSNBC's ridiculous "Nature Out of Control!!" line. I just spotted that a couple hours ago and here you are Erik, right on form to point out the absurdities - talk about a speedy delivery! Well done!

I had an interesting conversation with my mother today after she made the comment that "Natures really acting up lately". I asked her how likely it would have been for her to hear about the Chilean earthquake 30 years ago. She of course said very likely. Ok. yeah... so We dug a bit deeper and I asked her how. She said TV news. So local news would show constant live footage of the carnage the second it happened? She thought about it and said no. International news maybe, but not the way they do it now.

100 years ago none of use would even know about an Earthquake in Chile unless we a) lived there b) had family there and letters/telegraphs came out much later or c) in case of telegraphs being sent out, we picked up a paper also probably much later and read a short paragraph. It would not even be a blip on most peoples radar...

This sort of gets to the core of things. We have so much instant data coming at us these days that I feel our primate brains are having a hard time keeping perspective. We see so much compared to our recent ancestors that it's triggering some sort of panic reaction.

MSNBC's headlines are feeding into it. And the people who are putting this stuff out there are doing it consciously and deliberately. How's that for tinfoil?

We better not have another New Madrid earthquake like the one in 1817; I live in St. Louis, in a brick house built in 1929, and dropped my earthquake insurance after it got too expensive. As for MSNBC and CNNi, I'm smart enough not to buy into everything I see or hear on TV. The earth is not "out of control". Severe storms, eruptions and earthquakes and floods happen but it doesn't mean the apocalypse is nigh. I have yet to see any of the Four Horsemen.

I have not read the MSNBC thing and I doubt I will now that I hear they are blowing it out of proportion. Since I started monitoring the quakes in CA (and the world) I noticed that there seemed to be more quakes in CA than there used to be. So I inquired about it and what has happened it the equipment is more sensitive and picks up more quakes than we were capable of before. So really, there are not any more quakes per se than there always has been. Maybe a few more, but nature out of control?! No, I don't think so. Besides, it was never in control in the first place!

And how do we know there wasn't a mag of 10 or worse some time back? I bet Toba would have made seizmographs go off the charts if they had had them back then.

I think taking a news break is a good idea for everybody to do from time to time. And maybe only looking at the basic headline and leave it at that: Quake in Chile, Quake off Okinawa, Pile up in fog on I5, or something like that. Leave off the details. We need to know what is going on to some extent, but not all the hype. It used to be no one knew what went on in the next village, let alone the whole world. I have a sense that knowing about all the disasters in the world weighs us down and brings on depression in addition to the fast pace we seem to have to lead these days.

I don't have much else to say about it except to be thinking and praying for the people of Chile and not be hyper focused on it.

Thanks for pointing some of the junk for us to avoid out there, Erik. Good job!

Boris, let us know how your friends are as soon as you know. We are here for you.

If you follow the links you'll find that the phrase "out of control" is not reported. It's a comments thread. No shoddy reporting. If there's any hysteria going on here it's closer to this site than MSNBC.

By Andy Crofts (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

It is Lavos (Any Chrono Trigger fans out there). The Bringer of DEATH and DESTRUCTION. LOL I love how they use fear just as badly as Fox does to control the mindless masses (God Fearing)! Good article

By the way I am one of the "Four Horsemen".

Interestingly I had CNN on for 10 or 15 minutes, and the coverage I saw was excellent. The female expert they had on seemed to actually know the subject. Now maybe if I'd have left it on I would have seen the foolish ignornat stuff, but at least that small part of the coverage was high quality.

Of course people are going to ask "is nature acting up on us?". Even though us rational scientific types don't think it is a valid question, psychologically it is a valid inquiry to make. Hopefully it would be followed up with, NO, this is just the normal workings of the planet. But, we have a lot of people believing that the planet is just warming up for the big show -be it End Of Days, or Mayan 2012, or whatever. I'd bet there are far more people who believe that stuff than there are scientific rational types.

Now, I for one, expect that things like the rate of plate spreading probably varies over geologic time. We may even a a long cycle where supercontinents form and suppress heat loss, then breakup creating a period of higher than normal activity. So there are interesting scientific questions along these lines. Its just that the timescales involved are far different than human timescales.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

Nice catch, Eric. As usual with this stuff, the headline is typically a mix of hyperbole, sensationalism, and just plain wrong and then the actual report isn't that bad ... it's the headline writers/editors who are the culprits (usually)

Andy - Whether it be that it linked to an article (and it was to the article) or a discussion board (anyway, since when should a discussion board be linked from one of the banner headlines on the front page of a news website?), MSNBC is wrong for usually such hyperbole and misinformation in their main headlines about the earthquake. Report the news and tell us about the science, not the rating-mongering garbage.

Erik Sorry but it is buried too deep in the human psyche...They asked the same questions a thousand years ago..."Are the God's angry?" At least we don't sacrifice anyone to appease the God's anymore...I say that is at least a step in the right direction.

Randall - I have no problem with people feeling this way, but I do have a problem with a news organization exploiting that feeling.

I understand and if you look at the post I made to Passerby last night both before and after the quake you will see that I REALLY do understand.

I have had over 500 new visitors to my site since last night...people looking for info on Tsunamis and earthquakes. I really don't make anything off of what I post there because I feel like it is wrong to profit off of other peoples fears or misery. I do think it is a good thing to post info which can help someone understand things better and that is really my sole reason for doing it. The news guys see it differently, they see it as all dollars and let's face it disasters sell commercial spots...I wouldn't do it and you wouldn't do it but in a corporate environment you do what will make the most money for the corporation and that unfortunately is what they did.

I saw that headline and in all the other media crap today, I missed the significance. Good catch! I've been complaining all day at Geotripper about the basically horrific coverage of the tsunami and in the end the tsunami happened on the screen and none of the newsreaders actually seemed to notice. They actually covered it with a screaming red news banner.

I'm still shaking! Here, more than 600 km south of the epicenter still was 5 Mercalli, but no major damages occured. The quake was located just in the Constitución-Concepción seismic "lagoon" (I don't know the english term), that was last affected by a M8+ about 150 years ago.
My fear is that this could trigger a new volcanic eruption.

By Guillermo (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

the stupid part is the statement implies that nature can be controlled.

By leon pendleton (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

Be positive, at least they did not blame it on global
warming. Drivelmeisters!

By Richard R (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

Maybe if the Public complain, NBC will fire their Hype Dept writers, and they'll all be forced to get jobs writing for Popular Science.

And just now, the Headlines read "Tsunami Fizzles" - they are SO disappointed!!

This is really irresponible of MSNBC. They know that such a headline will draw a larger audience. It appears that maybe all that they care about - we should boycott them until they retract their statement.

I hate to say it but they all do's not just MSNBC. William Randolph Hearst was the king of Yellow Journalism. Unfortunately it made money then and it makes money now.

My brother has lived in Santiago for decades, and we haven't heard from him since the quake. Not too surprising as the power is out and cell phone towers destroyed. I expect he is OK but unable to communicate.

If you want to see what the fifth largest earthquake {since we have had instruments to record them} is capable of, check out these photos:

The idea that "nature is out of control" is quite laughable. While it is true that humans are affecting nature via climate change and mass extinctions, nature has never been "under control."

It was fascinating this afternoon looking at so many news channels (including the weather channel) focused on the impending tsunami bearing down on Hawaii. They had the advance warning, and they were ready to show the wall of water and mass destruction plowing into the islands. Imagine their disappointment when (fortunately) the possible destructive wall of water didn't materialize.

By Jim Eaton (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

Erik! "Humans perceive connections and patterns in events even when none are there". ;-) A biologist might tell you that this is indeed a survival mechanism and a social anthropologist that the people who got elevated to the positions of Village Shamans and Elders were those able to exploit it. Since our brain essentially is the same as those of our ancestors of 50,000 years ago, the ability to exploit human fears and beliefs is a social survival trait even today...

Erik I think you will enjoy this....Somethings things change but inside people are still the same;)

"This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits of our own behaviour) we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars: as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treacherous by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!"


I saw that headline early on--and did the appropriate eye-rolling in response. However, a closer look showed the story and headline originated at a website called LiveScience, a science news site that also provides syndicated articles to various outlets. It is owned by Imaginova--the former, created by Lou Dobbs of CNN. The author of the story (and supposedly its execrable headline) was the site's Managing Editor, Jeana Bryner.

"Humans perceive connections and patterns in events even when none are there"

Yep. Just like math. 1+1=2 isn't there. It's in your head. As is all of science. It's all just patterns in our heads. These aren't tangible things. Someone needs to remind scientists of this every once in a while. At the end of the day, a scientist is as silly as a witch doctor because they're both just two animals of the same species doing whatever it is that species does. They come into existence, they go, the universe moves on.

It sounds like hippy drivel to me. We have offended Mother Nature and she's taking her revenge! I don't understand why people love superstition so much. Has anyone with easy access to long-period data looked to see if the shock is traveling around the world multiple times? My internet connection sucks and blows all at once so I can't look myself. Seismic stations around Asia should be far enough away to get a decent signal without being off scale.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 27 Feb 2010 #permalink

@ adbsk: While it's correct that scientists can be as silly as any John or Jane Doe, mathetmatics and science are not simply "in your head". They are representations of reality where mathematics as the language of science is used to quantify and describe that reality. @MadScientist: The reason people are so fond of mysticism, superstition et al is, I suspect, that most people (myself included) do not amount to much if we're forced to make a realistice evaluation of ourselves. However, if we indulge in mysticism and other forms of wishful thinking we MAY be so much more and thus acquire a satisfying self-image.

uh, people like you who don't bother to read the 1000's of words JUST written in response to this blog by others who did???


An observation:

There are nearly as many earthquakes recorded on the USGS Current EQ activity map as there are listed for the prior three weeks in the 'Past 8-30 days' map.

Interesting, the increased EQ activity along the Alpide Belt across Asia. Textbook example of nonstochastic, spatio-temporal clustering of geological activity.

@Jim Eaton, I hope your brother is ok and that you will be able to hear from him soon. Let us know when you find out, ok?

Here is an interesting statistic, if you want to call it that. And I suspect most of you know this already, but I just though I would mention it in light of the media blabble.

One of the most active years for earthquakes, one they have on record for having the most quakes in one year, is 1943. I have not looked up the info on this, but I did see it somewhere (it has been a while)that was discussing quake activity.

I think these quakes are nothing out of the ordinary, although I do believe that at some time there will be more and more of them and I am not talking about 2012, either. I don't care who they are that try to predict the so called end of the world, of that day and hour no one knows. In the mean time, it is interesting to watch what happens and study each situation and learn from it. In just a short time, we have seen what can happen to our buildings, no matter how well built, when the earth shakes and a volcano erupts close to a city. We learn to do better planning, hopefully, so we can save more lives. The buildings will go, but people are more important than all the stuff in the world.

I know that is easy to say because I have not been in a disaster and I don't know how I would react. Most liklely like everybody else. Scared, lonely, lost, and wondering where my next meal will come from. With that, let's continue to remember the people in Chile and Haiti. It isn't over yet for Haiti and Chile is just beginning to dig out. The best we can do for them is pray and if you are not in that mode of thought, just think good thoughts toward them.

I totally agree with Erik's post. But I just want to point out that 9 of the top 10 earthquakes since1900 (the last 110 years) have occurred during my lifetime (since the 1940's). So the general perception that major earthquakes are getting more numerous is probably correct.

In a way, it is surprising that people do not get that correlation does not imply causation. Thanks to innumerable crime stories in books, on TV and in movies, the general public knows you can never convict based on only circumstantial evidence. Then again we've seen the media jump to conclusions in criminal cases again and again.
As others have pointed out, it is a systemic problem that is as old as the hills. However, that should not stop us from calling out loudly and repeatedly those who sensationalise and misreport.
Good work Erik.

At least one climate phenomenon associated with increasing global temperatures may contribute to a perceived increase in geological activity: rainfall intensity (short-term total, not annual).

For a good read, see Dave's Landslide blog, Nov 28, 2009 entry, 'The link between rainfall intensity and global temperature'.

See also, ScienceDaily: Feb 28, 2010, 'Tropics: Global Warming Likely to Significantly Affect Rainfall Patterns'.

Dave also posted a prescient entry on Nov 26, 'The damage caused by landslides during earthquakes', a talk he gave to Chilean Geological Congress in Santiago Chile in late November.

Soil degradation and erosion has been pervasive and cumulative over the human history of agricultural development, with a marked increase in soil quality worldwide, due to modern large-scale, intensive farming practices in the past half century.

Coastal urban development has also contributed to erosion by soil disturbance in geotechnically unstable locations and mismanaged landscape ecology that increases fire hazard probability. Heavy rains following protracted dry periods along overdeveloped coastal areas prone to annual major fire events can result in catastrophic landslides, as we have seen recently along the California coast.

Soil erosion, coastal scour (attributed to climate-associated, increased severe storm frequency and urban development), and landslide debris contribute to problematic sediment deposition at regional scale, along seismically active coastal areas.

It's one of many 'natural' factors that may cumulatively contribute to an upshift in earthquake frequency in tectonically labile environments.

I love this blog.

By Dasnowskier (not verified) on 28 Feb 2010 #permalink

Correction: should read 'with a marked decrease in soil quality worldwide'.

Larges-scale volcanic and earthquake events are often represented as stochastic events (apparently random). These complex, chaotic systems are operated upon by numerous physical processes acting over varying space enad time scales. Thus, they are only 'random' with respect predicting failure at an exact location and time.

Three difficulties are encountered when attempting to assign an return period for large-scale events: identifying the exact failure location (depth), detecting, monitoring, and modeling the many interacting processes that contribute to stress failure along and within fault systems at depth, and the relative brevity and data paucity within the event record.

Smaller-scale and short-term events are mathematically not random; they tend to be temporal-spatially clustered.

The 'trick' to improving prediction accuracy for large-scale events will be in bridging the gap in understanding, predicitng and modeling regionally discretized, smaller-scale nonrandom events and apparently random large-scale events.

Technology changes at a dizzying pace but human feelings and fears really don't...I guess that is why I am just a 16th century man in a 21st century world;)

"As, painfully to pore upon a book
To seek the light of truth, while truth the while
Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look.
Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile;
So ere you find where light in darkness lies,
Your light grows dark by losing of your eyes."

Love's Labor's Lost Act 1. scene 1, 72â79

Sorry but catastrophes and seeing human interactions before, during and after a catastrophe will always cause me to dust off my Shakespeare.

That's the thing. I think itâs safe to say that in or modern world every single earthquake is recorded.

Largest measured earthquake, either in your (our) lifetimes or over the last 110 years is a statistic thatâs applicable inside that time scale since humans have built highly refined measuring tools. What about 400 years ago, one thousand? Sure a court in china might have had a contraption to signal a quake but most people just had their physical senses. And if there were no people or no surviving people?

There could have been massive earthquakes in a sparsely populated region for months, small villages wiped off the map. A whole tribe gone. Sometime later some traders come through. They note that the villages/tribe are gone. They existed last season, what happened? Most likely the traders did not frame these events by saying the villagers where victims of the "largest recorded earthquake in modern historyâ despite them likely understanding that the earth can quake.

They chalk it up to "The God/gods/demons/monsters must have been pissed off." Because that is the only thing that made sense to them, that is âwhy- the earth quakes. That was the only thing they could prove or understand with their bag of tools.

And out of these random stories came legends and when many earthquakes happened we tend to get phrases like âThe earth shook for many moons while the gods/demons/angels/giants/unicorns waged war.â We do not get, âThere where aftershocks of 5.0 to 6.0 for months within an area 500 square miles around the epicenter of that 9.0â.

It's fascinating to read the old stories in the context of the physical earth and it's activity.

Part of the reason it seems that there are more and more quakes is because the technology to detect them has become so much better. As I have said before, some time ago, that I was able to view a book that had all the seizmographs of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. That was a treat to see all of them. Anyway, we are able to detect quakes we were not able to then or even in the 1940's. As I have watched the quake maps of CA on a daily basis since about 1995, I have noticed that over the years the number per week seemed to increase. In '95, there were an average of about 250/week. Now it can be anywhere between 450 and 700. I asked a seizmologist about that and he told me it was because of the advance in technology, that we are capable of detecting quakes we haven't been able to before.

We have always has thousands of quakes here in CA. I fail to see any indication of mathimatical regularity to the quakes. There are some areas that seem to have more of them, but they are not regular by any means. Of course, I am not a mathmatician. Math was one of my worst subjects, but I did ok; just not the best in the world. I would like to see some evidence of mathematical regularity to small events. I just don't see it. To me, quakes and volcanic eruptions are random, not mathematically predictable. Otherwise, it would seem to me that we would be able to predict these events already. I think the scientists have been looking for that for a long time. At least the mathmeticians.

There has been some checking out of weather and quakes, too. My dad once remarked to me that he thought it was earthquake weather when the clouds looked sort of weird. I don't think there is any such thing as quake weather. Now, repeated heavy rains may affect a fault close to the surface, but I doubt the water gets down far enough to cause a quake. As for denuding forests and such, that can cause landslides. Fires in CA happen from human causes and also Tstorms. One of the problems in CA is people building homes near chapparel brush and not clearing it around their homes far enough. That is why there is a 100' clearance now instead of the old 30'. Another problem is arson. Some of our largest fires were deliberately started. Some of them are accidental due to somebody mowing at the wrong time and creating a spark. I know about fires. I live with them. Where I live, we know it is a matter of time. Not if, but when. And believe me, a fire can be just as disasterous as a quake. I think sometimes we forget about that until one like the Oakland fire happens.

I suppose I have been on my soap box long enough. Point is, we live with disasters and what we can do in some cases is prepare as in having better building codes and such. Even here, there will be some quakes that the best built buildings won't be able to stand up to. That is the nature of it.

Since we are talking about myth now, I thought I would just toss this into the metaphorical fire;)

by Micha F. Lindemans
Loki is one of the major deities in the Norse pantheon. He is a son of the giant Farbauti ("cruel striker") and the giantess Laufey. He is regarded as one of Aesir, but is on occasion their enemy. He is connected with fire and magic, and can assume many different shapes (horse, falcon, fly). He is crafty and malicious, but is also heroic: in that aspect he can be compared with the trickster from North American myths. The ambivalent god grows progressively more unpleasent, and is directly responsible for the death of Balder, the god of light.

Loki's mistress is the giantess Angrboda, and with her he is the father of three monsters. His wife is Sigyn, who stayed loyal to him, even when the gods punished him for the death of Balder. He was chained to three large boulders; one under his shoulders, one under his loins and one under his knees. A poisonous snake was placed above his head. The dripping venom that lands on him is caught by Sigyn in a bowl. But every now and then, when the bowl is filled to the brim, she has to leave him to empty it. Then the poison that falls on Loki's face makes him twist in pain, causing earthquakes.

On the day of Ragnarok, Loki's chains will break and he will lead the giants into battle against the gods. Loki is often called the Sly One, the Trickster, the Shape Changer, and the Sky Traveler.

Encyclopedia Mythica

What has really changed in the last 50 years or so is the development of mega-cities, many of which are located close to earthquake faults. So when there is a big earthquake, the likelihood of many people being harmed and huge economic losses is much greater than just a few decades ago when the population was smaller, more dispersed and not jammed into substandard high rises. That, coupled with the development of instant communications via internet, etc. brings the news and noise right into our households hightening the sense of immenent threat even though the underlying geologic forces at work are unchanged.

Nature has NEVER been under control. Any geologist will tell you this. In fact the "out of control" phrase is utter nonsense.

Very useful website:

Ranking/list of major earthquakes of the 20th and 21st century, pre-20th and Other major events, respectively. Updated today to include yesterday's EQ.

Recent paper suggesting clustering effect window of large-scale earthquakes may span more than a decade and thousands of kilometers.

Long-Term Influence of Giant Earthquakes: Backward Empirical Evidence and Forward Test. Warner Marzocchi and Jacopo Selva (2008) Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 98(3):1102-1112.

Comment on the moment scale of the 1960 Chile earthquake.
"The seismic moment released in the largest event that occurred during this century, the 1960 southern Chile earthquake, represents about 30-45% of the total moment released from 1900 through 1989 (large earthquakes). "

Source: Seismic moment catalog of large shallow earthquakes, 1900 to 1989. (1994) Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 82(3):1306-1349.

The second eruption 1960 (May 22) earthquake may have contributed to the fissure eruption, May 24-July 22, of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle, ~36 hours after the first an a few hours after of the two primary EQ events. The second major shock occurred during a very heavy rainfall. This volcano had been quiet since 1922; it has not erupted since 1960.

Passerby That all sounds kind of like the "Butterfly Effect" when I think what we have here is really more like the "Black Swan Theory" ;)

Rather than babble on fear mongering news headlines, it is cogent to consider real potential for additional triggered events (earthquake or eruption) in the region.

See: The influence of great earthquakes on volcanic eruption rate along the Chilean subduction zone. Watt, Pyle and Mather (2009) Earth Planet Sci Lett 277(3-4):399-407.

Abstract: Seismic activity has been postulated as a trigger of volcanic eruption on a range of timescales, but demonstrating the occurrence of triggered eruptions on timescales beyond a few days has proven difficult using global datasets. ...We show a significant increase in eruption rate following earthquakes of MW > 8, notably in 1906 and 1960, with similar occurrences further back in the record. Eruption rates are enhanced above background levels for ~ 12 months following the 1906 and 1960 earthquakes, with the onset of 3â4 eruptions estimated to have been seismically influenced in each instance. Eruption locations suggest that these effects occur from the near-field to distances of ~ 500 km or more beyond the limits of the earthquake rupture zone. This suggests that both dynamic and static stresses associated with large earthquakes are important in eruption-triggering processes and have the potential to initiate volcanic eruption in arc settings over timescales of several months.

According to John Seach, the aftershocks are running along for 600km and there are 21 active volcanoes in the vicinity of the quakes so there could be some volcanic activity because of the quakes. Time will tell.

@Eleanor: Calibrated seismic records do not extend much beyond 1940. I believe the earliest seismographs were built by the Germans using the Inverted Pendulum to drive a mechanical amplifier, but it was quite a few decades later before a calibration scheme was devised (and the galvanic device with a balanced photoelectric cell pair were already common; I don't think anyone calibrated the old inverted pendulum). So basically you knew there was an earthquake somewhere, but who knows how far or how powerful it was.

The other thing is that large earthquakes are relatively rare events (compared to the many thousand small ones which occur daily around the globe). There will be periods where you have more such events and periods where you have fewer. These events are rare enough that I doubt the instrumental record is long enough to show up any trends.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 28 Feb 2010 #permalink

Spot-on paper with excellent graphics, modeled geotechnical situation preceding this earthquake:

Moreno, M., Klotz, J., Melnick, D., Echtler, H. P., Bataille, K. (2008) Active faulting and heterogeneous deformation across a megathrust segment boundary from GPS data, south-central Chile (36-39 deg S). Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 9, Q12024

The MSNBC headline and lead-in for the story on the home page now says:

Chile's magnitude-8.8 earthquake isn't the biggest shocker that region has seen, but one seismologist says Earth seems to be more active than it was in the 1975-1995 time frame."

and the headline and subheading on the stories page itself reads:
Seismic shockers are to be expected, but planet seems to be more active"

This story and headlines are carried over from, so you should direct your comments to them as well:

The author is Jeanna Bryner and you can contact her by clicking on her byline.

Don't get mad at me but it seems like you really need to direct your comments as much to "Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science and Technology" as to Jeanna Bryner and MSNBC.

We always look for connections between things. The connection between large impacts and massive flood basalts (Deccan and Siberian Traps) comes cross-discipline via planetary geologist observations of jumbled terrain opposite the Caloris Basin on Mercury, comparison of the near and far sides of the moon, and Hershel crater and its opposite side on Mimas. Appears that the force of the impact is focused around the core of the body and focused on the opposite side of the body. All that energy has to do something.

But you are all correct that correlation does imply causation. On the other hand, it does pose an interesting connection that may or may not be worth exploring. And if you view a volcanic vent as a giant pressure cooker, rearrangement of the structure via a local quake or large impact may be enough to open up the vent. The only one we observed directly was St. Helens in 1980 where a quake caused a collapse of part of the cone and uncovered the vent.

A more interesting thing to consider would be a connection between periods of quiet solar activity and massive volcanic eruptions. The Watts Up With That blog gets into a volcanic eruption - global cooling conversation from time to time, and those connections have been physically measured (Tambora, Krakatau and Pinatubo).

But one of the things that seemed to happen from time to time during the last couple millenia are periodic times of quiet sun (Dalton and Maunder minimums are the most famous). If that wasn't bad enough, there were also very large volcanic eruptions during those times that exacerbated the global cooling (possible Krakatoa around 550 and Tambora).

Is there a connection between times of quiet sun and large volcanic eruptions? Don't know. But it may be at least worth going back a couple thousand years and seeing if we can list all the big ones, plot them against the times of quiet sun and take a look. It is most likely that they are taking place on an irregular basis and are simply less dangerous during times of high solar activity. Might be worth taking a look, though. Cheers -

Please do a google search, find the David Pyle and Tamsin Mather paper I referenced above, and read it. The authors provide insight into this question, with excellent cautionary logic as well regarding observation/record completeness.

There IS temporal-spacial clustering of high-energy eruption and rupture events evident over the past (see Fig 3), but the pattern is periodic, not random and not necessarily increasing over time. This paper suggests that the observed recent increase is yet another punctuated change in major geological event rate, alluded to in the 2007 Long-term influence of giant earthquakes paper, too.

Key points raised here:

1. escalating and rolling human health and social costs with each large event are associated with an ever-increasing human population density in active seismic zones, especially in developing nations with inadequate building code controls, and

2. potential for human perturbation of the natural environment that may influence stress additive processes, nudging stress accumulation rates upward and potentiating high-energy failures.

No. The solar cycle immediately preceding the major 1960 Chile earthquakes (2, one focal and one diffuse) was one of the largest in terms of solar activity, in the past 250 years.

Again, the rate of change, rather than the max/min values of stress and stressors, appears to be important for understanding and modeling dynamic process interactions within chaotic complex systems.

Agimarc Sorry but I don't think St Helens was caused by an earthquake, there were 10,000 earthquakes that proceeded it but they were caused by the volcano and were a sign of the coming eruption and not the cause. Erik or Boris correct me if I am wrong but I don't think anyone has ever identified a distant quake as the trigger for St Helens.

Also while we are technically still in a solar minimum sunspots have been on the increase since December, the Haiti and Chile quakes happened during a time when the Sun was much more active than it has been since 2004. I look at that stuff myself...I can't find a good paper on it or see any real cause and effect for volcanoes or earthquakes and the Sun.

Events may be cyclical, but I believe the cycles are random. In other words, not every so many years on a regular basis, as in every 10,000 years or 1,000,000 year, ect. There are some areas of CA that have what you would call "normal" swarms, one being at the south east end of the Salton Sea. Another area that has swarms once in a while is in Nevada near the border with CA and that is the Adobe Hills. Then there is Mammoth (and Long Valley)which is having some activity that is not much, but it seems to be having around 50 quakes a week in the area with maybe a third to a half at Mammoth itself. The area is a large one that is also south of the caldera.

As I have been monitoring these events, (since just before the major swarm in the resurgent dome area at Long Valley)there is no rhyme or reason behind when they occur. At least not since I have been checking on them. Now over the last million years or so, well, maybe, but I doubt it. In the mean time, I will probably check out some of the papers that have been mentioned here. If the scientific evidence is there, ok. If not, then I go back to the randomness of volcanic and quake events. I do not see any regularity of any of this. Regularity to me is one every ten years or something like that.

Enough said for now.

BTW, correlation is NOT, repeat, IS NOT causation!!! Unless there is a direct link!!! And with what we are dealing with, it is very hard to prove a direct link.

Dr. Gao may have violated one of the primary guidelines for any professional when being interviewed - never speculate. However, it was not his decision to elevate his comments above those of others and use them as the basis of hyperbolic headlines. At least he is a seismologist. As shown by many post by Orac over at Respectful Insolence, journalists have no problems treating sensational poorly backed claims by cranks as being as equally valid as sober statements by professionals backed by careful research.

As for the assertion that somehow solar and volcanic activity are linked this is an extraordinary claim and demands extraordinary evidence. First such a correlation must be shown with robust statistics, then a plausible mechanism that explains how solar radiation can effect magma generation and ascent within the crust and upper mantle.

Damon and Randall - the MSH earthquake was related to the magmatic intrusion going on at the volcano leading to the May 1980 eruption. The seismicity was part of the earthquake swarm related to magma movement, and it was one of these earthquakes that triggered the avalanche. So, MSH is an example of an earthquake triggering an eruption, however, not in a direct fashion. Instead, the magmatic seismicity trigger a landslide that then caused the eruption.

Erik the earthquakes were caused by the magma movement and not the other way around. There wasn't a known distant quake unrelated to the magma movement that triggered the volcano....was there? The quake that caused the landslide was caused by the volcano and not something triggered by a separate seismic event that had nothing to do with the volcano....that was the point I wanted to make.

I never said MSH was caused by a distant earthquake...I said it wasn't. The quake that caused the landslide happened because of the volcano and not the other way around...or is that not correct?

@EKoh #71: Except for the polar circles, eruptions occur within 24 hours of sunrise. So - the sun obviously causes eruptions. Of course there are some poorly understood situations which occur at the polar latitudes in which the 24-hour period abruptly changes to a 365-day period, but nonetheless there is a perfect correlation!

By MadScientist (not verified) on 28 Feb 2010 #permalink

@agimarc: We only know historic sunspot activity to some degree due to (often sporadic) observations over the past 400 years or so. Beyond that we know next to nothing. I don't see how sunspot activity can be linked to large eruptions; the sun cannot drive the primary mechanisms for volcanic activity. In fact with remote sensor systems which I deploy I rely on the fact that the sun cannot affect the earth's temperature significantly beyond a meter or two below the surface within any single season. Since the sun's output doesn't change all that much even between the most active and most quiet periods, I cannot see how that small change would suddenly have a great impact on something which the overall solar output does not have much effect on. You may get some situations where the sun drives circumstances incidental to volcanism, but even then I cannot imagine any reason for active years being more important than quiet years.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 28 Feb 2010 #permalink

@MadScientist #77
You're right, how could I have possibly missed that. Even more striking is the fact that all eruptions occur within one year of a solstice (give or take a day). The change in daily solar input obviously has an effect.

I agree with your post but headline writers did not write the content.

BTW this statement of yours about 3+ earthquakes is not correct, "sometimes we can go a day or two without really any around the world."

A 3.1 is a very minor thing and there are many each and every day. There have already been over 60 5+ aftershocks to the 8.8 quake and little comment, because even a 5+ is no big deal unless one occurs in an place where earthquakes are rare or kills many due to infrastructure failures.

When it comes to stupid journalism, Italy is second to none... here's a link frmo the "corriere della sera" website (one of the biggest italian newspapers).…

Just a quick translation: "Haiti, Japan some days ago, and now Chile. Is the Earth shaking more than usual? Scientists are recording and defenseless watching the Earth's sudden violence without understanding."

The rest of the article is definitely less sensationalistic, but the title... BOOM!!!

I believe my eyes were opened regarding the total inability of a major news agency to report factual details on a technical subject in 1988. I watched aghast as a 60 minutes reporter Ed Bradley proceeded to question an aircraft mechanic on the consequences of a certain airplane component failing. This mechanic had been fired by the airline for poor performance and insubordination when he refused to put this scratched and gouged component on the airplane. When Ed asked the guy what what would happen if this failed he claimed "it could be catastrophic". Ironically, I worked for the manufacturer, and my boss had just asked me to review how much damage the component could sustain before failing for some unknown lawsuit. I found myself screaming liar at the TV set. I realized that the show simply wanted the mechanic to utter those words so they could get more viewers. There was no questioning of an independent expert who had no reason to lie. It's happened over and over since the.

By Dan in Seattle (not verified) on 28 Feb 2010 #permalink

Like I said in the post above;

"Also while we are technically still in a solar minimum sunspots have been on the increase since December, the Haiti and Chile quakes happened during a time when the Sun was much more active than it has been since 2004. I look at that stuff myself...I can't find a good paper on it or see any real cause and effect for volcanoes or earthquakes and the Sun."

So please don't think I was implying there was a connection between increased or decreased sunspots and increased seismic or volcanic events because that is not at all what I was trying to say.

@Mic22: Definitely one of the more stupid newspaper titles, and while the article itself is more pragmatic, it doesn't give an answer to the question - it rather states that even with the technology and knowledge available today, scientists are as helpless as ever when it comes to earthquake prediction. Yeah, right. We knew that since a while, and I fear that earthquakes will not be predictable for a long time if ever. That's because they are created by extremely complex processes happening in places to which we have no access.
To all those who ponder about links with solar activity and planetary constellations - it is fundamental to understand that earthquakes happen because the Earth is active and dynamic, and they would happen anyway whatever solar activity and planetary constellations we have because stresses build up due to plate tectonics and need to be released every now and then, usually this happens when the stresses increase beyond a certain threshold. It's the rocks that break along a fault, so it depends on the physical properties of these rocks, and on the speed and direction of plate movements, and whether there is water or other fluids in the fault areas, and a zillion other factors, which are all confined to this one planet. So even if solar activity or an alignment of the planets might exert a minimal gravitational or other force on the Earth, the energy involved is a minuscule fraction of the forces that work within the Earth, so they might help to accelerate things a tiny little bit but in the end it doesn't really make much of a difference.

I have never heard that the May 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens was triggered by a distant major earthquake, also because I recall that between a M 7.8 in Iran in September 1978 and a M 7.7 in Algeria in October 1980 there was not much going on in terms of large earthquakes globally. What is true is that a very local and shallow M 5 earthquake (triggered by the magma movement within the volcano) unleashed the catastrophic collapse of the unstable north flank of the volcano, which in turn led to the exposure and explosive decompression of the magma which had pushed into the volcano during the previous weeks.

On the other hand the large 1991 Pinatubo eruption was preceded, about a year earlier, by a M 7.7 earthquake centered about 100 km from the volcano, and it is generally believed that the earthquake might have had an influence on the reawakening of the volcano. But remember that many other large eruptions have occurred without preceding large earthquakes, and many large earthquakes have not been followed by significant earthquakes. These things can, and in most cases do, happen entirely by themselves, because the physical processes necessary to generate them are all there.

No news from my Chilean friends; I suppose there are still problems with the e-mail.

FWIW I keep a pretty constant eye on NZ's seismic network (from the safe distance of continental Europe) ;-) and there was no evidence of any upswing in local seismic activity despite the strong signal of the Chilean quake.

More interestingly is the odd bit of HT shown on various NZ volcanoes in the last few weeks (including Taranaki) Nothing serious as the RSAM plots show but still interesting to see these things are still very much alive and breathing.

re my opinion on TV news channels: guess I was kind of harsh in my first post here but I hate the speed and shallowness of most TV reporting. It can be and sometimes is a brilliant medium when you get a proper documentary done but I have major problems with the sensationalist reporting that many news stations fall prey to. The bit I saw on CNN was the ten minutes before Acapulco was about to be "hit" by the first tsunami. This was tortured reporting at its best and not far removed from the 2012 kind of thing, aimed solely at stoking the public's fascination with disaster.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 01 Mar 2010 #permalink

Speaking of reactionary headlines and news story from The Times Online, business section this morning:

'Buy farmland and gold,' advises Dr Doom.

There is a grain of truth in his Faber's cautionary over Washington oligarchy's inability to recognize three glaring facts: 1. the Federal government can't spend it's way back to financial health; 2. The Military-Industrial Complex isn't working as post-Cold War economy base; 3. "We are no longer in Kansas, Toto" - former financial largess of a large workforce tax inflow of the past four decades was long gone before Y2K. We now have serial pseudo-economy bubbles, waves retirements of folks who feel 'owed' and have scant savings and crappy health, and dwindling manufacturing job base.

The Middle East and Asia will no longer finance US debt as long as the US appears fiscally imprudent and unhealthy in the longterm, from escalating Federal deficit.

The rest of the article, much like the target of our blog host's rant, is pure conspiracy drivel about dirty wars and survival in the event of social collapse.

MSNBC reporting on environmental issues has been hopeless for years. I don't know if it's sensationalism, stupidity or agenda driven. Their coverage of climate change ranks close to the bottom with Newsweek's Sharon Begley in terms of being biased and one-sided. I'm waiting for the headline correlating earthquake intensity with global warming. They have done this with tropical cyclone intensity and with the recent northern hemisphere snowstorms. Right now, I think they'll put anything in a headline and expect people to believe it.

Mostly what I go to MSNBC for is to do the jigsaw puzzle.

Erik, you hack, you've done it again. You really should stop trying to attempt media commentary because you're so bad at it.

First and foremost it really looks like you never bothered to read the article.

(From the very 1st paragraph): "...the 8.8-magnitude temblor that shook the region overnight was not a surprise, historically speaking. Nor was it outside the realm of normal, scientists say, even though it comes on the heels of other major earthquakes."

The answer to "Is Nature Out of Control?" is an emphatic no! Why would you assume that the answer is yes unless you didn't read it, or you were too concerned with pushing your own agenda that you decided to overlook what the very 1st paragraph said?

(Arguably the answer to the question could be a "yes" in the sense that we cannot control earthquakes, but that is beside the point.)

What is more troublesome is that right now there is some of the best geological based science reporting in recent memory, explaining why the Chile earthquake was less catastrophic than Haiti and why only a small tsunami occurred.


You're selectively cherry picking and misrepresenting facts to fit your agenda. Again.

Quantos - and again, you miss the point. MSNBC sold the article as "nature out of control" and followed it up clearly with the subheadline "Experts: Planet more active". This is misleading and inaccurate. One "expert" was the evidence of this assertion in the article (which, I made clear in the comments, was fairly well put together) and they left it up for days trying to make it seem as if the earth was heading towards increased activity. No misrepresentation and clearly no agenda - and you can see, many people agree here that MSNBC was definitely trying to sensationalize this. All the other media outlets have done a great job with coverage - notice that I made no blanket statement about any other, in fact I complement them on the fact that they didn't go down that road. I'm more than happy to link to good jobs that the media has done - and I hope it continues. However, name-calling and trash talk? Nice way to have a dialogue about the state of science in the media?

Quantos I don't always agree with Erik, I also know he doesn't always agree with me but we don't let things degenerate into name calling. Would you go to someone's house and use their home and hospitality, then call them names and treat them like crap? He has allowed you to be here and given you a forum to speak your opinion....please try to speak it in a civil manner.

"To offend and judge are distinct offices,
And of opposed natures."
Shakespeare The Merchant Of Venice Act 2, scene

I suppose we all should sympathise with the hard-working editors and journalists who have to present news that ensure happy sponsors. Without "adequate" ratings, revenue will drop and along with it it wages and job security. I suppose we have to accept sensationalist headline (and sub-headline) mongering as long as the article as such is balanced and scientifically sound, is that what you're saying Campos? I'm afraid that Dr Klemetti's observations are indeed correct.

Erik, I did not miss the point.

MSNBC "sold" the article as "IS Nature Out Of Control?" a question that honestly many people are wondering given the spate of high profile powerful earthquakes recently. It is not "exploiting" feelings to answer those questions.

The article quotes a geologist saying that there have been a greater number of powerful earthquakes in the last 20 years vs. the 20 years previously, adding that it "Could simply be the natural temporal variation of the stress field in the earth's lithosphere."

This is factually correct. The full article expands on it to say that though there have been more as of late, that it does not mean that the world is changing seismically for the worse over the long run.

MSNBC and Live Science did not act irresponsibly by posing and answering a question that many people are wondering. If someone draws an incorrect conclusion, they are the ones at fault for only reading a headline, adn not actually reading the article, which they had full access to if they could see the headline.

As far as "name-calling and trash talk," you were the one to first use the term "hack" when you said "This type of headline is irresponsible, reprehensible 'journalism' that the worst hacks should be ashamed to print." What was this about having a nice dialogue about the state of science in the media?

I guess my argument here is would be it responsible for CNN or someone to post a headline that readers "Is the world ending tonight?" only to lead to an article that says "no". There are many other ways to present this material that doesn't sensationalize it, such as "Chilean earthquake is not out of the ordinary" or "Major earthquakes part of the planetary system". "Is Nature out of control" plays at people's feelings and emotions rather than conveying any useful information. Maybe I'm hoping for too much here.

I would argue no it is not irresponsible, provided that there is a good reason for it. Take for example a hypothetical article dispelling all of this 2012 nonsense. I would argue that because there is enough people that do legitimately believe the world will end in 2012, it's not only responsible, but very necessary.

Likewise to pose a question that many are feeling, i.e. is the Earth more seismically active (albeit posed somewhat imprecisely), then answer the question correctly is likewise responsible.

Reaching out to popular emotions in order to dispel myths is not irresponsible.

My problem with the proposed "Chilean earthquake is not out of the ordinary" headline is that this was one of the largest magnitude earthquakes in history, not an ordinary one. Though it is factually true, no one will read "Major earthquakes part of the planetary system." A good article that goes unread is not much more useful as one that goes unwritten.

Quantos - I suppose this is where we agree to disagree. I appreciate the fact that people do need to read more well-written science out there, but just feel that sensationalizing it like that works at purposes counter to the article. Headlines don't have to be dry, but neither do they need to be purely speculative - and considering that really no other media outlet followed suit in couching the science in this fashion, MSNBC does stick out as seeming the most sensationalized of the bunch.

@ Quantos, what do you think Erik's "agenda" is?

@Ekoh: Agenda may be too strong a word, personal bias perhaps would suit better.

Erik has a tendency to blow his media criticisms way out of proportion. He took here what amounts to a quibble with a single headline and sub headline of an a single article to "Reckless speculation the likes of which MSNBC (and LiveScience) partook in should be a warning of how the media still has a long way to come when it comes to reporting the facts rather than the hysteria of the natural world."

That's what I call sensationalizing.

The subject of 'nature being out of control' does play in the minds of a lot of laypeople and I do agree that the subject should therefore be mentioned with a title that fits it.

However, the fact that Erik is critical about it is important as well. The title could have been longer for example, like 'Is nature out of control? Scientists say no'. And there is a lot of fear mongering bull sh!t on the internet, so this place as the 'usual critical marginal note' to what's out there is one of the things that I like here. It puts things in perspective.

Now I know that more people read MSNBC than there are people that read this blog, but that's a reason why the voice 'screaming' back has to be loud. MSNBC's line may make the article look more sensational, but if that's a way the get the actual message out there, so is Erik's approach.

By Gijs de Reijke (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Quantos I appreciate what you are saying, i.e. MSNBC was using a purely rhetorical device in asking a question that many are asking and then answering it themselves to the contrary. If we are generous we could say they were even doing this to educate the general public and bring everyone a step forward.

Unfortunately, we all know the media doesn't work this way. It is all about ratings, grabbing the audience, attracting readership, etc. etc. i.e. the hard sell. Worse, we all know that many people's attention spans are not all that great and that many people will not even get to read the small print. A clever media strategy will pan to the fears and desires of the wider population, offering them the tidbits they are looking for to satiate their appetite for what is in many cases just a need to substantiate their own prejudices and package the "truth" (read more scientific appraisal) further on down in the article or, in the worst cases, not at all. It's the way they sell the story.

I don't know what your field is but I have followed Erik's these last two years and I know what really gets his goat is when the basics are inaccurately portrayed or just plain wrong. I think this is a valid grievance because it is not like it's difficult in this day and age to get properly informed, particularly with the huge resources that a news network has.

I posted first to this thread about how appalling I found the coverage by CNN. (and it was appalling, they were painting a scenario of a large tsunami washing into Acapulco and suggesting an imminent disaster was about to happen before our eyes). Later in the day CNN actually did have a woman on who knew what she was talking about and used a lot of USGS graphs to illustrate what was happening. Well done CNN. But even here, her time was squeezed into what was little more than an extended soundbite which kind of defeated the whole purpose and that is the gripe I have. There is no need to dumb-down the message in this way. And it is precisely the same for suggestive titles and sub-titles. The public deserves better than to have its base fears reinforced in such a cheap manner.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Yet just make this a debate shall we? If you don't like what someone has to say they do not comment got that or better yet you should be blocked from posting at all! I guess you think you are the expert and Erik is not which is just plain stupid of you.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Chance I am going to tell you like I told Quantos "I don't always agree with Erik (or anyone else), I also know he doesn't always agree with me but we don't let things degenerate into name calling." really shouldn't either....As to blocking someone...Erik is a bigger man for not blocking people who have opinions that differ from shows that Erik really doesn't have an agenda...a bias maybe but not an agenda;) Besides who really wants a forum full of people that only agree with you? It would get kind of dull wouldn't it?

Once again I repeat the wisdom of Willy The Man Shakespeare;)
"To offend and judge are distinct offices,
And of opposed natures."
Shakespeare The Merchant Of Venice Act 2

Erik you are really going to love this;)

"Financial Advisor Magazine

March 2010 issue
The Age Of Living Lean
Loomis Saylesâ Dan Fuss sees a soft recovery in which quality businesses gain at the expense of the rest.
By Evan Simonoff

The area around Yellowstone National Park has been experiencing a series of mini-earthquakes in recent months and, given that it lies on top of a mega-volcano and one of the four major fault lines, there is a reason for concern.

âThe local tourism board probably doesnât want you to write that,â says Dan Fuss, co-manager of the Loomis Sayles Bond Fund. Unfortunately, the geology around Yellowstone shares a lot of similarities with the global economy these days.

No one knows whether the next crisis will be a volcano or an earthquake, like a possible default by Spain or California, or whether it will be a minor economic tremor like the one in Dubai or the travails of Greece. But the economic environment isnât very comforting.

Fuss, who shared Morningstarâs 2009 Fixed-Income Manager of the Year award with his fellow co-managers, isnât necessarily predicting another tsunami. Indeed, the Big One probably already came in the fall of 2008 and the struggles of Dubai, Greece and Harrisburg, Pa., could just be aftershocks....."

Prehaps not but that doesn't make it right for him to basically go out and claim Erik is going after the media to serve his own purpose.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

A sign of the modern age I'm afraid. In a dispute of opinions, one side will invariably resort to name-calling in it's opening statement, deny it when pointed out and say something on the lines of "he started it" or "but he's up to no good". That's right, you've spotted it. It is indeed the arguments from the primary schoolyard, unchecked by adequate parental bringing up. It is a rampant disease of our "Modern" Western Civilizatition that we cannot argue a case or debate a point without resorting to rudeness as soon as our opinions or beliefs are challenged and think we're in the right as our opinions are, if not sacrosanct, worth at least as much as those of any expert. Especially since experts are bought and if not, grumbling because they're not. ;)
PS. I am not saying Quantos personally is a point in case. As far as I know, his opening "you hack" could equally have been an attempt at a joke or even between friends.

Chance No it doesn't...but two wrongs don't make a right. You can go to Erik's defense without resorting to calling someone stupid or saying they should be banned....When you resort to those tactics it weakens your cause;)

Diane was that groan at the news story or my Shakespeare quotes?

@Randall, that groan was right after your news story. What I perceived was a parody of the economic market with the geological events that have been happening, as if there is a connection. Maybe I misunderstood your post.

I don't mind your Shakespeare quotes, though I am not particularly into Shakespeare. I think I had to read Henry II for an English class many years ago and it was ok. Just not my forte. :-)

Diane Awwwww a lady who isn't into the Bard...that is sad:( Everything worth knowing both good and bad about the human condition can be learned from Shakespeare. Human technology changes but spiritually and emotionally we haven't changed one bit since Shakespeare.

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!

The Tempest Act 5, scene 1, 181â184

I also wanted to ask you if you have ever tried to stake out or patent any mining claims on BLM land?

Wow, I write one provocative headline and folks really get fired up! I went with that headline because I felt it probably reflected the question that some people had in mind after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile (and Japan and Sumatra...). Of course the answer is that the seismic activity is not beyond the pale, but if I were to write a headline saying "Chile quake really not that bad" ... would people read it? In this case, I thought a question headline was appropriate. After a discussion with other editors, we did refocus the headline to ask instead "Are big quakes getting worse?" (Again, the short answer is no.) But it is interesting to note that in the related Newsvine question, 41.5 percent agreed that "natural disasters seem to come more frequently than they have in the past," compared with 45.5 percent who said there was nothing unusual about the latest string of disasters.…

If there's anything you're wondering about relating to MSNBC's science coverage, please feel free to drop me a line. I'm glad for the opportunity to chat with y'all.

@Randall, I didn't mean to convey I didn't like Shakespeare at all, I just really haven't read much and I am not so sure I want to. But, I will tell you I did like some of the dialog between Henry (Hal) and Falstaf.

I have a funny story to tell you about Shakespearean drama. It has to do with Richard Burton and Winston Churchill. Burton was in a play, I think it was MacBeth. Churchill came to the show and sat in the front row. All through the play, he was sitting there and reciting right along with the actors and actresses. Burton told the story and it was really funny. He said they tried speeding up, slowing down, and speeding up again to no avail. He said they could here this low rumbling of disaproval when they would try to throw Churchill. I got a good laugh out of that.

And, no, I have not tried to file any claims. I am not in good enough shape to do that, though some of the guys in the club are actually mining on the club president's property. He has the original Succor Flat and Copper Bottom mines on his property. They are going onto an old addit and getting into the tertiary underground river. Now mind you, some of the guys who are working in there are in their late 60's and early 70's!!! There are also some younger guys, too.

Where I go is down to the river where I do crevessing and digging, and panning. DH and I bring a lot of classified stuff home to process and them we take the stuff back. We also have access to an hydrolic pit that is easy to get to and has gold there as well as a lot of clay. It is claimed and we have permission to go there.

Recently, the guys went hiking through a lot of manzanita to find a mine that was mismarked on the map. They did find it and an old collapsed cabin. When the weather clears, I know they will be back there and that would be a good place to detect. I just wish I could go with them.

Guess what?! We are getting snow! Probably about 2" now.

@ Alan Boyle: your personal motivation helps making things clearer. Or at least it does to me. It's interesting to see that there has actually been a discussion at MSNBC about the choice of the title. And I do think a question headline is appropriate.

However, I think there's still a good point in being careful with these kind of topics. Informing the public correctly is what matters most. A title that makes one want to read an article is a way to get people to actually read it. I personally don't really mind the title, but on the other hand I don't think Erik is wrong by mentioning that the subject should not be a prey to sensationalism.

Thanks for participating in the discussion!

By Gijs de Reijke (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

If another big earthquake hits somewhere like the Pacific Northwest in the next couple months then maybe something is up. In that case it may not all be random. Right now to be careful I think it is wise to not jump to any conclusions.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

I think it's fair to say that everything is caused by something and that it will in turn cause something else. The chaos theory (with the butterfly effect as the best known metaphor) explains how that works. A strong earthquake near Chile has been caused by enormous amounts of stress, and the quake itself has caused/will cause stress somewhere else in its turn, that might lead to a big quake at e.g. Juan de Fuca plate. Whatever lies in between the two quakes is way too complex to get a good picture of. What are all the factors? What part do all of those factors play and very important: how big is their individual role in the entire chain of events? Therefore I think that words like 'random' and 'chance' don't fit in the world of geology. We are just not able to tell what's really going on. We can only guess based upon the information we are able to comprehend.

So I agree (again): jumping to conclusions isn't going to do any good, whether it's about earthquakes or big caldera forming eruptions or anything else that can have a huge impact on a large number of people. That's also why sensationalism has to be avoided.

By Gijs de Reijke (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

Like the headline of this article implies.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

@ Alan respect for showing your face here. Much appreciated. I guess the issue many of us have here is the rather gaping disparity between the fears of the wider population about geological events and the facts. When we see the press then stoking these fears (albeit indirectly in a rhetorical headline) it kind of gets our goat.

As a corollary, the classic example often discussed here is a "super" eruption from somewhere like Yellowstone which thanks to various films has burnt its image on the public consciousness without unfortunately any balancing awareness of just how rare these things are or how they actually work. Any article that associates an earthquake swarm at Yellowstone with an imminent "super" eruption, even negatively, draws a groan because the damage is done, purely by association.

Granted, as a media person I am sure you are fully aware of just how juicy a natural catastrophe is as a media drawcard so when something like the Chilean quake happens it is kind of ripe for the picking and it would be a bit naive of us to accuse you of exploiting it.

That said, the real news in this event is not that an M8.8 earthquake occured, or that the frequency of earthquakes is particularly high (it isn't) but that so few people died in such a huge event. There are no doubt some natural parameters that played a role (depth of the quake, location, type of wave form) but the main thing is how well structures held up. Even those that did fall over didn't collapse so that most people were able to climb out of them. This, by any stretch of the imagination, is a huge triumph of modern building and would make a great story.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

World events are mostly measured by how they impact human life. So even if it does tremble everyday, people will only care when it affects their lives and loved ones. That is the main reason why the Haitian and Chilean Quakes cause such a stir.
Take Thunder as an example. Everybody knows its a very normal occurrence, but lets say your neighbor got hit by one and died. Wouldn't you start to worry just a bit more?

By Alejandro Hernandez (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

Both objectively and subjectively, I think it's not unfair to say that earthquakes are "worse", if one is speaking of human consequences. First, urban migration means more people in more structures more susceptible to damage. Second, as noted, there is much more information about earthquake events that historically the case, which raises the salience and recall in people's perceptions. So, an average human being might indeed say they're "worse."

this is toooooooo long for me to read so why cant anyone just give me a SHORT summary of this passage for this stupid social studies project

"Excellent information here. This fascinating publish created me smile. Perhaps if you throw inside a few of photos it'll make the whole factor far more fascinating. In any case, in my language, you will find not a lot very good supply similar to this."