Learning from America's Ken Ring moment

By Peter Griffin 04/03/2011 64


The furore over John Campbell’s interview with earthquake predictor Ken Ring this week really exposed a strong anti-science vein running through New Zealand that even we here at Sciblogs, seasoned from hand to hand combat with the anti-vax lobby, homeopaths and evolution deniers were surprised at.

Some of the headlines preceding the predicted December 1990 earthquake
Headlines that preceded the predicted December 1990 earthquake

As one commenter on Sciblogs put it, Ken Ring’s predictions and his methods have a “pleasant intuitiveness” to them that makes them sound plausible and offer comfort in the face of hard science, often explained in complex, unemotional or even arrogant terms by scientists.

Well, this week’s turn of events reminded me of a 20 year-old Science article I was sent in the wake of September’s earthquake (h/t Lynley Hood) that paints some striking similarities between Ken Ring and another earthquake predictor who has long since passed, Dr Iben Browning.

Dr Browning was a self-taught climatologist with a Ph.D in zoology who in late 1989 predicted the serious likelihood of a major earthquake striking the Mississippi Valley during the first week of December 1990.

The media jumped on the prediction and widely publicised them. Why? According to Science:

Browning’s successful scare was based on classic ingredients: a predictor with apparently solid credentials, a prediction method that sounds scientific, and unsupported claims of previous prediction successes.

Does all of that have a familiar ring to it?

According to Browning, who at the time was a business consultant in Albuquerque, the subtle bulging of Earth caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon – was  to peak on 3 December 1990 which meant there was a 50 percent probability of a magnitude 6.5 to 7.5 earthquake sometime between December 1 and December 5. Browning identified the New Madrid fault as the likely break point.

As the day approached, Midwesterners were in consternation and on the day itself, schools and factories closed and “…groups such as the Red Cross wasted precious funds in their efforts to calm the public”. The period passed with no earthquake on the New Madrid fault, people sheepishly drove back into town.

Why were numerous media outlets so eager to promote this bogus earthquake prediction? The answer has many parallels with the seismic situation we find ourselves faced with in New Zealand.

Throughout the 1980s, the authorities in the Midwest of the US had been warning the population about the risk of earthquakes, pointing out that the New Madrid fault beneath them had produced three of the country’s most devastating earthquakes in 1811 – 1812. While there have been few serious earthquakes on the fault ever since, the risk remains – a lot of research is underway in the New Madrid Fault Region to learn more about the state of the fault as a high magnitude earthquake in the region is expected to result in massive damage and significant loss of life.

Like those Midwesterners, many of us live in close proximity to a major fault line – in my case, its the Wellington Fault cutting a path through the city half a kilometre from my office. For those in the South Island, it is the Alpine Fault that traditionally has had them worried. There has also been a recent, fairly destructive quake in the form of the September 4 7.1M event – on a previously unknown fault. In October 1989, weeks just prior to Dr Brown making his prediction, there was a large quake in northern California (Loma Prieta) killing 63 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So you have a: an area of the country riddled with faults that scientists says could rupture and cause massive earthquakes b: a recent high magnitude quake that has put earthquakes squarely in the public consciousness and c: a guy who comes along and says he can predict when and where the next one will happen.

Throw on top of that the fact that scientists actually  have been, over the years, checking out the possibility that tidal forces can trigger earthquakes, and the lack of credible scientists loudly proclaiming Iben Browning a quack, and you have the perfect conditions for Dr Brown’s theory to take hold.

There was also something else seemingly compelling – Dr. Browning was reported as having predicted that earthquake that struck the Bay Area. The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

He missed by just 6 hours hitting the Oct. 17 San Francisco quake on the nose and by only 5 minutes in an update a week before the disaster.

However, when December 1990 had passed with no quake on the New Madrid fault, scientists went back and looked more closely at his predictions.

Reported Science:

His claim to have predicted Loma Prieta was baseless, a video and a transcript of two of his talks showed that he had not even mentioned California – he had predicted nothing more than vague geologic unrest around the world. And his claimed 5-year-long record of prediction success was no better than chance.

You may have read fellow Sciblogger David Winter’s piece Ken Ring can’t predict earthquakes either which looks in detail at Ken Ring’s “prediction” of the Feb. 22 quake in Canterbury and whether it stacks up.

It all came crashing down for Dr Browning in 1991, according to Science when it was revealed that one of his biggest supporters, geophysicist Dr David Stewart revealed that be believed “psychic phenomenon is [sic] a fact”.

Again, some parallels with Ken Ring author of Pawmistry: How to Read Your Cat’s Paws. More on that and Ken Ring’s lack of formal scientific qualifications at Silly Beliefs.

Scientists did a lot of soul-searching in the wake of the Ibsen Browning debacle in 1990. They were criticised for not getting on the front foot and debunking Dr Browning sooner in the piece, before the media frenzy had whipped up hysteria. One scientist quoted in the Science piece explains the approach that is often taken by the scientific community in such cases:

The hope is that if we don’t respond, people will forget it and it will go away. If we do respond it gives the prediction a certain amount of credibility.

Scientists responded strongly this week to debunk Ken Ring’s claims as an earthquake predictor. Maybe they should have done that sooner, but I have seen the reluctance outlined above in operation here too and for good reason – look what happened on Campbell Live.

In the end the parallels between the shonky earthquake predictor who terrified the US Midwest in 1990 and Ken Ring currently putting a ring around March 20 on his calendar are incredibly strong. The question asked by US scientists back then was why hadn’t they learned their lesson about pseudoscientific earthquake predictions. After all, there had been at least three of them in the 1970s that had attracted widespread publicity – surely the scientific community wouldn’t let a fourth gather steam? Well it did and the rest is history… and there’s a lot we could learn from that history when faced with earthquake predictions of this nature in our own country.

Pawmistry: How to Read Your Cat’s PawsPawmistry: How to Read Your Cat’s Paws

64 Responses to “Learning from America's Ken Ring moment”

  • Peter, you’ve totally misjudged the response… even on these blogs. It wasn’t ‘anti-science.’ It was an outburst of objection to a totally rude interview on the one hand, and scientific arrogance on the other.

    The comment, ” Ken Ring’s predictions and his methods have a “pleasant intuitiveness” to them that makes them sound plausible and offer comfort in the face of hard science, often explained in complex, unemotional or even arrogant terms by scientists.” is not anti-science… it’s actually about communication… something that sounds simple is often difficult to dispute… that’s not anti-science, it’s a process of normal human communication.

  • I’m always amazed (and I shouldn’t be) at people who prefer to be comforted by lies and distortions rather than scientific data and facts. I think that it is unconscionable of Ken Ring to use people’s fear in NZ in the face of the earthquake in Christchurch to spread his crackpot theories. Unfortunately, he does have an audience of people who would prefer to turn to charlatans than to the scientific community for answers. Sad on so many levels.

  • @petersmith

    While many of the comments on the TV3 website were largely critical of John Campbell’s rudeness (criticisms I agree with), there were also quite a few which took the opportunity to attack science and scientists. There were some quite nasty comments however if one considers two components of the NZ psyche – support for the Kiwi ‘battler” and “tall poppy syndrome” perhaps this isn’t surprising.
    There are certainly some lessons to be learnt from this encounter.

  • I am flabbergasted that you infer that the response to the Campbell interview “exposed a strong anti-science vein running through New Zealand”. As a participant in that debate and one that sided with Ring (or more specifically sided against Campbell) I am pretty familiar with the balance of opinion. Yes there were a few whose faith led them to profess belief in the Ring-cycle. But overwhelmingly the furore was directed against the interviewer’s rudeness and for fair-play.

    Peter, I find it quite disturbing that someone charged, on behalf of the community of scientists, with carrying science to the common (wo)man can be so blatantly revisionist in mis-representing history not a week old.

    Wondering how anyone could possibly have determined that the public response was “anti-science” I revisited the TV3 Campbell Live feedback page for the interview (http://www.3news.co.nz/Ken-Ring-I-predicted-the-Christchurch-quake-/tabid/817/articleID/200226/Default.aspx) , which with nearly 2500 comments logged I take to be a reasonable thermometer of the public reaction in the immediate aftermath of the JC interview. Yes, there were a few “I’m a believer” (ie pro-Ring, or “anti-science” in PG’s vocabulary) with a similar number of “good on ya John” (ie anti-Ring) responses. But overwhelmingly (rough guess 60 – 70%) the mood was “you arrogant twat; call yourself a journalist?”. How can that possibly be anti-science?

    (Aside; the cleverest comment I saw, and one that summarised the majority opinion was “JC, you’re not the Messiah, you’re a very naughty boy!”)

    The thing that most concerns me about a science advocate making such misrepresentations is that it is of itself “anti-science”. It is anti-science on three levels. First science is a process of seeking truth, and to sacrifice truth to defend science is to sacrifice science. Secondly, the act of distorting truth is to behave EXACTLY as you accuse the science-deniers, and permits the open-minded undecided the opportunity to say “they’re as bad as each other” and feel permitted to side against science. Since this is the very group that science must woo, acts of alienation are anti-science acts. Thirdly, rearranging truth is an act of arrogance, and arrogance is a word that is already too easily used against scientists. Reinforcing that impression does not enhance the brand franchise of science which is sufficiently diminished without dragging it down further.

    As someone that lives at the interface between science and society, I for one am tired of those (many) scientists who feel that the public lacks the intelligence to weigh up contrary arguments and so resort to “managing the story” or closing down the other side. That is the tactics of politics and not of science. We will not elevate the standing of science in our society by playing politics.

    Peter, you would do yourself and the science world a greater service if you edited out the revisionist first sentence and allowed the guts of the article to stand on its scientific merit (assuming that it too is not revisionist). To not do so invites a similar public reaction to what Campbell received from his audience; “you arrogant twat; call yourself a journalist?”!

  • I’m sorry but I have dealt with the scientific community in New Zealand.

    Doctors who follow health department guidelines, that are outdate and outmoded.

    I met a british doctor who examined me, we spoke about how backwards the system was,
    In New Zealand the public health system is slow to recognise and utilise new methods.
    Many medical conditions arent recognised or diagnosed here, conditions such as Dysautonomia arent diagnosed or treated.

    The doctors opinion of New Zealands public health system was that and I quote “its a third world system masquerading as a first world one” January 2010

    He is also considered ACC’s top assessor in the country.

    Forgive us if we are a little skeptical of science when the only thing on display is a second rate medical system and Seismologists who only know how to say we dont know, or we dont think they are related but you never can tell.

    Since when do scientists have all the answers? I think that relying on science that is still unknown or science that doesnt have all the answers is a little one eyed personally.

    There are still a great many things that scientists lack knowledge of in our universe.

    Why do people like you think you have all the answers,,, never met a scientist personally that had all the answers.

    I also fail to see where science is used in your article to disprove Ken Ring,

    Sorry but of the many articles that I have read from people like you trying to prove he is a fake.. all I see is comparisons to other people and a hell of alot of supposition.

  • MainlyMe,

    I’m not trying to defend Peter in writing this—he can speak for himself—but my reading was that what Peter meant by “a strong anti-science vein” was the number of people who supported or were sitting on the fence about Ring’s “predictions”, not what people were writing in comments or not.

    There was poll run by weatherwatch for example that I pointed out to my fellow bloggers (behind the scenes):
    http://www.weatherwatch.co.nz/content/poll-ken-ring-credible

    As hopeless as internet polls are,* it’s currently standing at roughly 50-50 as to if Rings stuff is credible in the voter’s opinion. (To make matters worse this poll will get confused with his other “predictions”, esp. for weather.)

    If you like this is underlying the commentary, but not necessarily in the commentary taken at face value.

    I’ll reply to this in the morning: As someone that lives at the interface between science and society, I for one am tired of those (many) scientists who feel that the public lacks the intelligence to weigh up contrary arguments and so resort to “managing the story” or closing down the other side. That is the tactics of politics and not of science. We will not elevate the standing of science in our society by playing politics.

    It’s too black and white and I think misses a few things.

    * Internet polls are hopelessly vulnerable to being “bombed” by people recruiting voters for one side or other, as one example. If I rustled up the Pharyngula crowd, for example, they’d swing the poll pretty fast.

  • Grant, if you don’t stifle/manage discussion why do you moderate your blog and delete comments you disagree with?

    I looked at the weatherwatch link above… got to this bit of drivel…

    How could you confuse scientific analysis with celebrity endorsements? Surely Ring doesn’t believe that ‘product endorsements by celebrities’ is ‘evidence of success’? If he does, then his product isn’t successful since he has no celebrity endorsement. But of course this is nonsense. Celebrity endorsements are evidence of money changing hands and nothing more, of celebrities willing to talk about something that they know nothing about in return for thirty pieces of silver.

    How does that apply to the celebrity endorsements of many scientific things in society… the meningitis vaccine campaign comes to mind… does the fact that celebrities were used to promote its uptake mean it was lacking in science and they had to pay thirty pieces of silver to get people to accept it?

  • @petersmith

    Just because a blog is moderated, doesn’t mean Grant will delete comments he doesn’t agree with. One can see by the comments on many of his blog posts that Grant doesn’t delete comments that he doesn’t agree with.

    The point about celebrity endorsements works both ways – whether a celebrity is endorsing or speaking out against any product whether it be vaccines or heatpumps, I see know validity in using a celebrity. The problem is that society does seem to pay attention to celebrity endorsements whether they come from actors or sportspeople (I seem to have noticed a lot of endorsements from past and current cricket players at the moment – heat pumps, fast food, etc)

  • “petersmith”,

    Grant, if you don’t stifle/manage discussion why do you moderate your blog and delete comments you disagree with?

    I don’t wish to block comments, and don’t like doing it, but in your case I have little option given what I want from my blog. I try encourage good civil conversation, something you repeatedly and intentionally disrupted. Hence I am obliged to moderate you.

    I draw a line at people who repeatedly disrupt discussions through personal attacks (and not just directed at me). You should consider yourself lucky that you haven’t been banned entirely. I am blocking you at this time to encourage you to take stock.

    My moderation of you have has nothing to do with (paraphrasing) “deleting comments I disagree with”, as you well know as you have had this explained to you before. Your intentionally making this false accusation of me here to attack me here is a (minor) example of why I am not accepting comments from you at this time.

    You were (intentionally) exceptionally rude on another thread recently disrupting it for everyone, not just me. As a consequence I have no wish to have you on my blog at this time. Writing on any internet forum is not a right, it’s a privilege, one you repeatedly abuse.

  • Grant;
    You observe that Peter can “speak for himself”. I am sure that he can, and I hope that he does. I would really like to have my confidence on his role as science advocate restored and that restoration will depend on his asserting respect for the truth and regard for the common (wo)man’s intelligence.

    Thanks for directing my attention to the Weatherwatch poll (accepting the caveats you described). I didn’t read all the comments but reviewed a smattering to get a sense of the timbre. I must say that, as with the TV3 feedback page previously referenced, the groundswell was anti-boorishness rather than anti-science. Picking one example that embodies my general impression it would be that of someone tagging him(her?)self Chris, who wrote thus:
    “I think the guy (Ken) may have a screw loose, not sure. John Cambells (sic) interview however was an absolute disgrace. I can’t believe his arrogance and his lack of regard for the general public to be able to form their own opinions. “

    So far as the poll result is concerned, when I looked it was indeterminate running 51%/49%. The poll would have been much more informative had there been a “don’t know” option; this is not a question that warrants a forced choice selection. Had the “don’t know” option been available my sense of the broad commentary on the topic advises me that this choice may well have prevailed. That would be consistent with the strand in the public’s response “I want to have the opportunity to make up my own mind”. People loathe being told what to think, and if any sector of the population “gets” that, it should be scientists. Accepting that tenet, I wonder whether some of the pro-Ring vote on that poll was reactionary – “I WILL NOT be told how to think, and now I’m showing you that!”.

    * I know … “a sample of one – totally unscientific”

  • @Michael;
    I think that Peter doesn’t, in fact, operate the moderation that is provided for. If he does he must be permanently sitting on the blog as the lag time between writing and publication is measured in (micro?)seconds. Good for him on that at least.

  • I didn’t read all the comments but reviewed a smattering to get a sense of the timbre.

    The reason I pointed out the poll wasn’t the comments, but the results of the poll indicating a high level of acceptance/tolerance of pseudoscience. Even if the balance in numbers is wrong (as is the case for most internet polls in my opinion!) that there is a decent absolute number accepting/tolerating his stuff is telling, I think.

    it should be scientists

    I will reply to this later (if I find time) but one problem in this fiasco is people crossing over what a journalist did to scientists who didn’t, using a stereotype (myth, whatever) coupled with not considering the more nuanced different elements involved. Point being there are issues with the public’s side here, too. This won’t read right without me explaining it full, unfortunately, but that’ll have to wait. *Sigh*

    Some of my last comments to markj were along these lines, but there is more to it from where you are coming from. In my opinion, of course :-) I don’t it’s quite as black and white as “one “side” has a problem”.

  • @Grant;
    …wasn’t the comments, but the results of the poll indicating a high level of acceptance/tolerance of pseudoscience.n
    I presume that you read the whole of my posting. If so you should have seen that I addressed that too (So far as the poll result is concerned…). Care to comment on my analysis of that?

    It shoud be scientists. Afraid you got the wrong end of the stick here. The point being made is that if any part of the community understands that people don’t like being told what to think it is scientists who are trained to question and draw conclusions on information revealed. I am asking that the general public be afforded the courtesy of a similar opportunity.

  • @GJ;
    Apols. I incorrectly inferred that ME’s comment related to the current forum. I now see he was referring to your own blog.

  • MainlyMe,

    I agree poll design is poor, as far too many internet polls are :-)

    You can’t really second-guess what the outcome might have been had it been designed differently though 😉

  • MainlyMe said, “* I know … “a sample of one – totally unscientific””

    Just like Prime Minister John Key’s claim that modern buildings are safe/old buildings aren’t based on the fact that the IRD building survived, the Cathedral didn’t. As they say, “The devel looks after his own.” The IRD’s building is scientific proof of that!

  • GJ said, “I don’t wish to block comments, and don’t like doing it, but in your case I have little option given what I want from my blog. ”

    So as an emotionless scientist you censor anything that counter your argument…. excellent roll modelling there… that’s the stuff that makes science credible in the public’s eye… Not!

    GJ said, “I try encourage good civil conversation, something you repeatedly and intentionally disrupted. Hence I am obliged to moderate you.

    I draw a line at people who repeatedly disrupt discussions through personal attacks (and not just directed at me). You should consider yourself lucky that you haven’t been banned entirely. I am blocking you at this time to encourage you to take stock.”

    What pompous twat!!!!

    Grant, it is comment like that that allows the public to scoff of grand omniscient statements dressed up as science.

  • “petersmith”

    You know how rugby or football players look when they yell and make silly gestures at the referee after they’ve been given a red card?

    Best for you not to throw brickbats and to just raise your game.

  • Grant;
    You tell me “You can’t really second-guess what the outcome might have been had it been designed differently”
    Actually, I can and to prove it I have! (:->)

    Note that I have framed my proposition as a hypothesis and provided the supporting information that leads my thinking in that direction. So far that sounds reasonably scientific within my understanding of the scientific method (I stress I am a technologist not a scientist). Sadly I am in no place to test the hypothesis to enable conclusions be drawn, so the hypothesis will remain indeterminate.

    However the statement “People loathe being told what to think” did not derive from the poll results or the original hypothesis I posed, but from data pulled from a raft of recent responses from the street (lest such an obvious conclusion needs to be validated.) However I accept that the subsequent inference that this MAY have caused some respondents to the poll to fall on the “faith” side rather than the “fact” side of the poll is pure conjecture, a second hypothesis that again cannot be validated.

    Isn’t (social) science fun!

  • Petersmith, Grant doesn’t block people from commenting on his site just because they disagree with him! Witness the lengthy series of posts by one Erwin Abler. As far as I could see, & going by his comments here, he blocked you because of your use of personal abuse – something you seem to be doing again here too. Name-calling does nothing to advance your arguments.

  • @mainlyme I’m bemused at your indignation over my comment about there being a strong anti-science vein running through the country. How naive you are. You should come and spend a day at the Science Media Centre and see some of the mail we get and the phone calls that come through – from the public though we are not there to take public queries.

    Anti-science sentiment is not a new or particularly New Zealand thing but some argue that it is growing. You should read books like Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science for more on that.

    It never ceases to amaze me how lobby and activist groups, political parties, business councils, farmers federations etc turn on science because the evidence doesn’t suit their worldview.

    Many of the comments I saw in reaction to the Ken Ring incident on Twitter, facebook and various forums embody this view. You can see it borne out also in major surveys last year that showed for instance, that trust in publicly-funded scientists has slipped and that issues like climate change are slipping to the bottom of the list of perceived priorities of the public.

    I can understand why widespread skepticism of established science exists. Climategate really rocked public confidence in climate science and I think had an impact beyond that field.

    Many believe the swine flu pandemic was over hyped by the WHO and the scientists advising it. The examples go on and on. The reality is when it comes to everything from genetic modification to the use of 1080 poison in this country there are large groups of people who are willing to reject the science out of hand. I’m not saying it is the majority of the population or that it is more pronounced than in other countries, but to deny it is not there is to delude yourself and the scientific community and policy makers ignore it at their peril.

  • So Peter Griffin thinks calling people who challenge his misconstruing of the public outrage of rude journalism as ‘antiscience’ are delusional… As the co-founder of a ‘sciblog’ network designed to engage with ‘ordinary’ people he should know that such comments just confirm disgust at such a zealous and single-minded mindset.

    I can’t think of a single useful contribution geologists have made to comfort/reassure/help people get through this traumatic time… not one…! Even Tonkin & Taylor’s geotech report was woefully wrong having claimed that any future shake would result in no worse liquifiation than Sept 2010 and that the building code as it stood was sweet-as… please correct me if I’m wrong.. MainlyMe, rest assured, you are not delusional… your comments have been spot-on!

  • You know what I meant… :-/

    I can’t make sense of your penultimate paragraph. (No offence, but I just can’t make sense of it! Don’t worry about rephrasing it – I’ll be too busy for most the rest of the weekend to read or write much.)

    I’m too short on time to fully respond to your repeating that scientists have to “get” this thing of not telling people “what to think” as I had hoped to. There’s a grain of truth—applied to a few people and some situations—but it’s also far too simplistic in my opinion and leaves aide that the public has a stake in the problem too. Among other things scientists don’t all neatly fit into one stereotype :-) Another is that in the current situation you need to separate “this isn’t the time for this” from “not ever”.

    In the meantime a short thought experiment as a sort-of devil’s advocate to your statement by looking at other careers:

    Do non-specialists (everyone, including scientists) object to be told how their house should be repaired, what the best options are for the plumbing, what option should they take for treating their parents’ cancer (that’s a doctor, not a scientist), etc.?

    Would you agree that while a few do buck on advice, they are generally regarded by the majority as being unwise for not listening. (Exceptional cases aside.)

    What is easier to focus non-experts on is the outcome they desire, and leave the details to the experts. It’s done for all kinds of expertise.

    There are more experts out there than just scientists. In a division-of-labour society you could argue essentially every person is an expert at what they do compared to those not in their area.

    You might then consider why it is the public think that they can do the science as it were, speak for it, when they—for the most part—wouldn’t ask the same for other areas that they no expertise in. Isn’t that akin to the arrogance you pin on scientists? (Remember this is just a thought experiment, right? I’m not putting this as my opinion or advocating anything here.)

    This article on DIY medics might be relevant? – http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2010/03/18/medical-diy/ Disclosure: pimping my blog! :-)

    (One reason might be that people think that “thinking” is all that is needed to resolve public science issues without appreciating the sheer amount of background behind topics.)

    In a similar way, try thinking about shonky v. sound tradesmen. How to you deal with the shonky lot? Perhaps “Aww, wouldn’t go near him mate, ruin your place.” Isn’t this similar to “he’s a crank”?

    In case it’s not clear! – I’m not saying these are my opinions: I’m just putting these forward as ways to think about some of the issues from the public’s side as well.

  • Grant… your pimp link was most unfortunate… not a good example in the current context…

    Grant said, Civilisations are built on an acceptance of division of labour. Builders know how to build sound structures so that your house doesn’t crash around your ears in a storm.

    mmm, leaky building syndrome costs Billions… Earthquake damaged buildings cost lives and billions… Just goes to show… experts don’t provide guarantees for anything.

    Division of labour is mostly for efficiency reasons… DIY is alive and well and mostly in a very healthy state…

  • @PG;
    You tell me “How naive you are.” Thank you for your considered analysis of my personality, knowing me as well as you do. Learning of that weakness will now surely empower me to be that much more wary in my daily dealings with research scientists. I appreciate your offer to spend a day with you in the Science Media Centre. When would suit you?

    Irrespective of my newly discovered naivety, I remain unconvinced that there is a STRONG anti-science vein running through the country, and in any case your assertion here was founded on “The furore over John Campbell’s interview …” per your own opening sentence, and I remain confident that anti-science was a negligible part of that response. You seem unable to distinguish the response to the interview, which is what you cited in evidence (and what I am challenging), from a parallel discussion operating outside that context in a narrower section of the public.

    But you tell me that your view that there is a “strong anti-science vein” in New Zealand’s public is informed by your experience in the Science Media Centre based on “mail we get and the phone calls that come through from the public”. So does that negative mail hail from 1%, maybe 5% of the national population (40,000 – 200,000 items a year)? It’s hard to construe how anything less would indicate a STRONG vein of anti-science. Perhaps there is a “throbbing capillary” but a strong vein?

    May I further suggest (as Grant will presumably endorse based on his earlier comments on the unreliability of web poll responses) that those who self-select to write to you will not comprise a cross-section of the mass public. By analogy, those who work in the complaints department of a company are not well placed to gauge average levels of customer satisfaction.

    In the end it is the heart and mind of the silent majority that science must win to its corner, and I am concerned that by focussing and engaging with the group of “anti-science” activists that I remain convinced is an insignificant portion of the general public, science communication resources will be strategically distracted and the exchange will only enhance the standing of that minority. I would prefer to see Science Media Centre resources focussed on enhancing science’s brand franchise through targeting the average person in the street and treating them as intelligent beings.

    If you remain convinced that I am wrong and there is a genuinely significant anti-science (as opposed to merely unaware) section in New Zealand then best commission a formally structured research poll to determine the true mood of the country. I am sure there is any number of universities that would be keen and able to carry that research out properly in a manner that would allow effective communication planning.

    Without that we are just dealing with surmise.

    Naively yours,
    MainlyMe

  • @petersmith
    please correct me if I’m wrong

    OK, Here goes…
    The Tonkin and Taylor paper is here:
    http://canterbury.eqc.govt.nz/publications/geotech-tai-tapu-interpretative?page=0,6

    A quote from section 3.1
    “The limits of the Tai Tapu subject area which is covered by this report are defined and shown on drawing LOC-TTP-01, Appendix A. ”

    A quote from section 7.1
    “It is likely that the Canterbury region will be subjected to other seismic events in the future which may result in liquefaction and/or damage to land, infrastructure and structures.”

    A quote from 7.2
    “However, it is important to remember that the pattern of land damage due to a future significant seismic event may be different to that observed after the 2010 Darfield Earthquake. Areas where ground damage was not apparent in the Darfield Earthquake may still be susceptible to liquefaction”

    Also from 7.2
    “Therefore there is confirmed evidence to indicate ground damage has occurred in the past, and is likely to occur again in future, during significant earthquake events.

    And
    “The subsurface materials underlying the subject area of Tai Tapu are assessed to have generally returned to their pre earthquake strength, with the same liquefaction potential as before the earthquake. As such the continued current residential use and remediation of properties for this subject area is considered technically feasible.”

    What do these quotes mean? Firstly, the conclusions drawn from the T&T report are for Tai Papu and nowhere else. They conclude it is OK to rebuild in Tai Tapu. In Tai Tapu.

    What you said was: “Even Tonkin & Taylor’s geotech report was woefully wrong having claimed that any future shake would result in no worse liquifiation than Sept 2010 and that the building code as it stood was sweet-as… ”

    I strongly suspect that you did not read the full report but just skimmed the summary and leapt to an incorrect conclusion.

    Please, take the time to read all of a paper and digest it thoroughly.

  • The full Tai Tapu report is here…
    http://canterbury.eqc.govt.nz/publications/geotech-tai-tapu-interpretative?page=0

    There are a whole raft of them here…

    http://canterbury.eqc.govt.nz/search/node/tonkin%20taylor

    T&T (based on ‘expert input’) say the Sep 2010 EQ was a 1/500 or so event… What was the Feb 2011 event? 1/750? 1/1,000?

    What’s the probability of two such events occurring within 6 months of each other? Statistically next to zero… T&T have produced some excellent detailed reports… but for Jo Blogs, builders, developers, planners it’s mostly irrelevent. If they’d concluded that future houses should have specific design with 7m tanalised poles driven into the ground at 1.2m centres under a waffle/pod reinforced concrete pad as the default then they would have made a meaningful contribution… (no doubt there are buildings on such foundations in Christchurch… it would be interesting to see how they fared.)

    Think Big solutions simply line the pockets of large consultants… (for the record, I have been involved in dozens of projects involving geotech assessment of at risk land including deep underlying silts and high water tables. Often the geotech reports cost more than the worst case foundation solutions… Now I instruct geotech to assume worst case and recommend appropriate designs… it saves clients thousands.

  • MM: I suspect I’m somewhere between you & Peter on this one. While only a small(ish) cohort of the population may be stridently anti-science, I do think there’s a much larger segment that is very accepting of non-science views (the whole ‘other ways of knowing’ thing). So we get people buying those wretched ‘power bracelets’, embracing homeopathy etc, knocking back colloidal silver, maybe rejecting much of what scientists say “because they can’t make up their minds” (& as I’ve said before, this last represents a deep misunderstanding of how science is actually done). There’ve been at least a couple of studies now (one from NZCER & one from the Business School at Waikato) showing that a reasonably large number of people do fall within that category. That’s one of the reasons I got into science blogging, because I want to try & convey something of the nature of science – & also the excitement of it – to that particular group. (Don’t know how successful I am at that, but I’ll keep on trucking!)

  • My anecdotal experience is largely in line with what Alison says.

    MainlyMe: Both the poll and I used the word ‘credible’, e.g. “if Rings stuff is credible”. I’m thinking this is in line with what Alison is referring to. Most of these people aren’t anti-science as such—they’d not like, say, Erwin Alber to cite an extreme example (!)—but they are playing with something that’s outside of science and accept it.

    There is an amazing amount of that around. Once you’re alert to it, you realise just how much of it there is. It’s embarrassing, really. You’d think that in this age we’d be pass this, but that’s human nature for you. (Shades of what Ken was referring to earlier.)

    “petersmith”: it gets silly and sillier with you doesn’t it? You do realise you’re digging your own grave on this?

  • Grant;
    Thanks for your thought experiment because it provides context to exactly demonstrate how I hope the science community would interact with society, and probably many do. The experts you cite do not tell the population they interface with what to think, well not in this century anyway. What they do is empower people to draw their own conclusions and to make their own decisions.

    I’ll exemplify that with a personal experience that founds on one of the examples you cite.

    A few years ago my father was hospitalised with advanced pancreatic cancer. The doctors in the hospital diagnosed it as such after 2 prior hospitalisations when they misdiagnosed a succession of benign afflictions and sent him home to recover “in good time”. He didn’t, and this third time hospitalised, sufficient attention was afforded to make the true diagnosis, sadly rather later than it should have been. During the period of the diagnosis, my father fell into a coma. The doctors were eager to operate immediately and recommended that course of action. Indeed they were set to whisk him into surgery before all the family had even assembled. On behalf of the family I called a conference of the medical staff (specialists, doctors and nurses) and required them to outline the medical options and the prognosis under each scenario. To their great credit they did that exactly as asked. It soon became apparent that the operation had almost no chance of success, and indeed provided a very high probability of a premature demise during the operation. But the doctors were driven to do something, or to be seen to be doing something and were eager to get going. The family conferred and determined that an operation was not the best course for my Dad and we elected palliative care on his behalf. My father died 48hrs later.

    The point here is that the subject experts, the doctors, had only a narrow view of the problem which allowed them to define technical solutions but not to determine the best course of action. The family, having no skill whatsoever in the technical aspects, nevertheless could be apprised of those facts enabling us to make the decision in the context of the specific patient whom we knew intimately. Incidentally, tomorrow marks the anniversary of his passing and I shall shortly leave home to join the family in commemoration so will not be able to participate further in this debate.

    You are likely also aware of the case (ironically at the same hospital) of Alan Smith late last year which had a more positive outcome. In that case a patient (Smith) in a coma with severe swine flu was delivered repeated intravenous injections of high-dose vitamin C. Again this treatment was at the insistence of the family (regretably necessarily assisted by their lawyer) when medical staff was set to remove life support. Patient recovery occurred in short order.

    Sorry to use such dramatic examples but I feel that it shows that the changes in medical care through the twentieth century that led to implementation of “informed consent” recognises that it is not sufficient to be a subject expert to determine the optimal course of action. That requires broader inputs. Indeed it is rare that the subject expert is the best placed person to own the decision responsibility. The other trade examples you cited in your thought experiment I interact with in exactly the same manner; “you aprise me of the facts and I’ll decide”. Our companies are structured according to the same principle with decisions usually made by generalists (CEO’s or governance boards) who take their inputs from a range of specialists, but own the decision.

    So it seems logical that the same parameters apply to scientists in their interactions with wider society too.

    Your conjecture that “the public think that they can do the science” is not how I see it. The public, that is the mainstream Johnny-in-the-street public that comprises the majority and not the fringe extremists, think that they are intelligent enough to make decisions about things that affect them, provided the subject experts (scientists AND Ring in this case) properly brief them. In the same way that my family, none of us doctors, let alone oncologists, after a detailed briefing were better able to make the decision about my father’s treatment, than could the medical staff, people should be empowered (ie adequately informed) to make the choices that affect them. Sadly not all in the science community accept that the public is competent to make choices in an informed environment. And that in my view is what drove the furore that derived from the Campbell “interview”. It was not anti-science, it was “Don’t tell us what to think; provide the information from both sides and we will make our own minds up about something that directly affects us.”

    Sadly sections of the science community do not feel that people are intelligent enough to be trusted with the information sets to make their choices and instead operate to close down the “other side”. Or perhaps they are just unwilling to surrender the power that knowledge provides. I am relieved that in the medical field at least that option is no longer available.

    As I indicated above, that will be it from me as I have family priorities to attend to now.

  • MainlyMe… brilliant response and examples… Here’s another…

    Society, over the years, does not trust experts to be able to make fair and reasonable decisions… this has become the corner stone of our legal systems… experts are not the ones who determine guilt or innocence… that is left to those most qualified to deliver fair and reasonable outcomes based on the evidence placed before the jury… Experts are seen, by and large, as bought soles unable to be trusted to make wise and just decisions… but their input is valued.

    I’m done on this… Peter, your statement at the beginning of the blog is wrong… Alison… it is not a war… if you approach in like a war then you’ll end up being battle weary but having made no progress.

    Grant… less winks, less “I’m too busy to give a deep and meaningful answer’ and you’ll become a more effective apostle of science.

  • MainlyMe,

    Hmm. Right and wrong in the details, I think 😉 (I’m not disagreeing with your overall point.)

    The “the public think that they can do the science” is painted too broadly than I meant; that’s not quite what I meant to suggest!

    Very briefly (this may be too scrappy to make sense of! – not trying to write “properly” here – work calls so I’m just bashing it out in a stream of consciousness as it were – hope I don’t come across badly!): Your cancer and vitamin C examples differ (choosing via outcome/advice v. trying to speak for medical science itself); deciding over Ken Ring’s stuff has some people (not everyone) wanting to judge the “science” itself, rather than choosing based on outcomes (the latter is OK and to be encouraged, as you say; the former is the “pseudo expert” thing, where a DIYer thinks he can speak for the specialist – it’s an easy line to cross, the same line Ken Ring crosses in a sense – as we all know – well most of us! – the discipline lies in telling yourself that “you don’t really know that” where appropriate). There’s the “I can judge for myself” using outcomes/advice; and the “I can judge for myself” that tries to speak for the stuff behind the advice. Impt. to distinguish these. There’s also that we never really fully understand the options offered to us by specialist (catch-22: if we did, we’d have become the specialist in question!), taking a lot on faith. Basic I know, but whatever :-) This comes back to my points about the reality of science communication from a few days back.

    Add to this conflicts of interests, too. (Ring is doing this as a business, etc.)

    You keep re-asserting this as a fait accompoli:

    “Sadly sections of the science community do not feel that people are intelligent enough to be trusted with the information sets to make their choices and instead operate to close down the “other side”.”

    It’d be very few scientists I’d think; almost all I know simply haven’t time and all they really want to do is have nothing to do with pseudoscience at all. Passive, perhaps, but many feel they have their hands full already. (There is a public perception issue here that’s worth considering, though.)

    Anyway, interesting. Ciao.

    “petersmith”:

    Sillier still. The entire content of your remarks to me are pot-shots that intentionally misrepresent me. (I didn’t write what you said I did and you know that.)

    it is not a war

    That’s funny, you seem to treat it like one…

  • Grant, are you denying you said, Civilisations are built on an acceptance of division of labour. Builders know how to build sound structures so that your house doesn’t crash around your ears in a storm.???

    That’s a cut and paste from your blog…

    Your continual stream of ‘winks’ deminishes any argument and credibility you may have once had… one doesn’t know when you are serious so how can one take your comments seriously????

  • David said…
    “There are still a great many things that scientists lack knowledge of in our universe.”

    Redundant argument. You are restating the obvious David. What you’re saying is that we should endorse paranormal studies because they do publish in peer review psychology journals, since we don’t know or explain how psychics claim to be able to communicate with the dead, simply for the reason that scientists lack knowledge in that area. Well scientists still don’t know heaps in this universe, but one thing is quite clear, no matter what new hidden laws to be discovered in the future those must not contradict established one. Eg, Conservation laws is well established in physics. Any new theory to be developed or discovered in the future, must (whatever those laws are) conform to conservation laws. Conservation laws underpin existence of physical reality. Paranormal phenomenon contradict conservation laws.

    MainlyMe said…
    “As someone that lives at the interface between science and society, I for one am tired of those (many) scientists who feel that the public lacks the intelligence to weigh up contrary arguments and so resort to “managing the story” or closing down the other side.”

    MainlyMe, face the facts. The public lacks intelligence and that’s undeniable? It doesn’t matter whether they are lawyers, doctors who appear to be intelligent on one level but completely idiot if they buy into Ken Ring type hokum. I’ve met one lawyer who is into psychic reading. She thinks she’s intelligent because she is a lawyer, but I told her that she’s daft because she believes nonsense, however I complimented her by saying that she’s very intelligent in legal matters.

    Remember has no basis in scientific theories. He just dreamt it up and thought it out to himself to look if there is correlation in tidal force and earthquakes.

  • Grant, front up! Are you denying you said, Civilisations are built on an acceptance of division of labour. Builders know how to build sound structures so that your house doesn’t crash around your ears in a storm.???

    That’s a cut and paste from your self described ‘pimp’ blog…

    As a so-called scientist you can’t even accept simple facts… even when you have written them…

    It’s not me digging a hole… It’s not me trying to win over ‘the ignorant masses.’

    Have you seen the movie ‘the king’s speech’?? Substitute winks for stutters… that’s how your arguments come across…

  • In talking past each other? | BioBlog At http://sciblogs.co.nz/bioblog/2011/03/06/talking-past-each-other/, Alison says, “I worry that we run a real risk of alienating people who are generally supportive of science by giving the impression of dismissing/not listening to their views, at a time when good communication of and about science is probably more important than ever before. Maybe we (i.e. members of both these groups) need to establish the views and understandings we have in common, and then begin to take things further from there?”

    Alison, three points I’d like to make…

    1. The recent outrage regarding Ring is not about him/his views… had John Campbell not bee so rude it would not have registered much on any public discussion Richter scale. The outrage wasn’t in support of Ring’s views… it was in protest at Campbell’s rudeness.

    2. Your comments above are spot on… but again, bear in mind that the vast majority of opinions expressed have not related to science, but to rude interviews.

    3. I look forward to reading ‘sci’blogs not written in black/white, “you’re on our side or you’re with the terrorists” terms.

    A good starting point would be to critique the opening gambit to Peter’s blog here.

    “The furore over John Campbell’s interview with earthquake predictor Ken Ring this week really exposed a strong anti-science vein running through New Zealand that even we here at Sciblogs, seasoned from hand to hand combat with the anti-vax lobby, homeopaths and evolution deniers were surprised at.”

    Apart from the fact that Peter’s claims relating the furore to antiscience (when it was anti-indecentcy) look at his wording couched in warfare (hand to hand combat) and insults (labelling people with different world views, deniers.)

    Science progresses through trial and error, mostly error… Structural failures resulting from the Christchurch earthquake will lead to stronger structures… scientists thought they designed strong enough structures… obviously in many cases they failed… maybe the failure wasn’t design, but construction…

    Science progresses through trial and error, mostly error… scibloggers should remember that. Trial and error relates to theory as well as practice… If Ring is wrong (and I’m not saying he’s right, I haven’t been bothered to read up on his work) then his error will be exposed and science will move forward.

    Science progresses through trial and error, mostly error. This means that science is more often than not wrong… that’s how it learns.

    Scibloggers should communicate science… not come across as skeptics.

    Effective two way communication can never be had via one directional processes. Looking for common ground is a good start. What is the common ground in this debate? We don’t even seem to be able to decide that… protest at rude interviews or antiscience?

  • @petersmith You are all over the place with your arguments. First of all you say the fallout from the Campbell Live interview had nothing to do with anti-science sentiment and everything to do with a badly conducted interview. Then you undermine what you are saying with the following:

    “I can’t think of a single useful contribution geologists have made to comfort/reassure/help people get through this traumatic time… not one.”

    Did it occur to you that comforting and reassuring people isn’t their job? That giving us a better understanding of the geology of our country actually is their job and that pretty much everything we know about the geological make-up and seismological features of our country we owe to them?

    Seeing as you are “done” on the subject I don’t anticipate a response, but I think some of your comments above prove the exact point I was trying to make…

  • Scibloggers should communicate science… not come across as skeptics.
    Most of us are also scientists – & therefore skeptical by nature. Consequently I will continue to approach science-related issues with a healthy dose of skepticism. As a science blogger I take an analytical stance; I’m not going to report on a press release or a piece of marketing hype as-is where-is – there’s no added value in doing that.

  • @Alison

    Perhaps one of the problems here is that the term “skeptic” has different meanings to different people.
    While I agree with you that scientists require a healthy dose of skepticism, the term skeptic has become equated with being cynical in many people’s minds. An alternative might be critical thinkers although I suspect some people may focus too much on the term “critical”.
    Ain’t the English language fun.
    I wonder of anyone can think of a better word, or should we try and wrestle back the use of the word skepticism?

  • Mmmm, ‘critical’ as in ‘you’re always criticising things’… I vote for wrestling back ownership of skepticisim!

  • Playwright and science writing instructor Dave Armstrong writes humorously and thoughtfully in today’s Dominion Post on the Ken Ring affair (sadly the column isn’t online yet) and says, somewhat tongue in cheek, but with more than a bit of truth to it:

    “Most of us ignore science and spend far more time on our real passions sport, television and getting totalled/ and or laid Saturday night. And then the minute there’s an event that requires scientific knowledge to understand – such as an epidemic or earthquake – we rush to find out about it, often from dodgy sources. Imagine if we treated our partners the way we treat science – our divorce rate would rise exponentially (y=ex)”.

    Well worth a read if you can get hold of of it…

  • Peter G, I’m not all over the place… “I can’t think of a single useful contribution geologists have made to comfort/reassure/help people get through this traumatic time… not one.” does not undermine the totally different topic regarding the public outrage to Campbell’s unprofessional interview.

    The simple fact is that geologists have no expertise that has comforted Cantabrians… That’s not being anti-science or pro-Ring… it’s just an observation of the contributions geologists have made to date.

  • Grant, front up! Your silence is deafening… Are you denying you said on your blog, Civilisations are built on an acceptance of division of labour. Builders know how to build sound structures so that your house doesn’t crash around your ears in a storm.???

    That’s a cut and paste from your self described ‘pimp’ blog…

    As a so-called scientist you can’t even accept simple facts… even when you have written them…

  • petersmith,

    “I can’t think of a single useful contribution geologists have made to comfort/reassure/help people get through this traumatic time… not one.”

    As another commenter has already pointed out it is not the job of geologists to provide comfort. There job is to provide a scientific perspective. However, it would be appropriate to expect that their delivery of such a perspective is delivered carefully, so as not to promote unnecessary panic.
    The ability for geologists (or any other scientists, for that matter) to communicate with the public is limited by how “interesting” the media views their information to be.

    Can you explain what you think geologists could have done to be more comforting and reassuring?

    And how does this affect an argument that is based around whether a journalist was rude and unprofessional in an interview (and I think the general consensus here is that it was an extremely rude interview).

  • “I can’t think of a single useful contribution geologists have made to comfort/reassure/help people get through this traumatic time… not one.”
    Well, what on earth would you have them do? They can’t say that there won’t be any more earthquakes – it might be a comforting statement but it’s demonstrably untrue & would be highly unethical. (And Mr Ring’s claims of another biggie are hardly ‘comforting’ either!)
    But on the individual level I think that you are impugning those same geologists who have got stuck in as members of their communities to help their friends, neighbours, colleagues, & total strangers through this incredibly difficult time. That’s the human side of the aftermath that broad-brush comments about professions tend to ignore.

  • Alison: +1.

    Petersmith: you could check out this presentation.
    http://www.lincoln.ac.nz/News–Events/News/Current/Earthquake-education-seminar/
    It includes excellent presentations on the research response to the Sept 4 earthquake by phsyical scientists Drs Tom Wilson and Peter Almond, and a presentation by clinical psychologist Dr Helen Colhoun, who discusses the psychosocial impacts of the earthquake on the people of Canterbury and some excellent advice on help available.

    While this talk has clearly been overtaken by the Feb 22 earthquake, it still illustrates quite clearly the contributions made by different areas of expertise, which is why I find your comments about geologists being required to comfort and reassure people quite misguided.

    A further comment is that the research response to Sept 4 was astoundingly rapid and comprehensive. I can only assume you were unaware of this level of effort by geologists, geophysicists, soil scientists and many more.

  • Geologists said the Sept 4 EQ was a 1:500 (have seen 1:700) year event… very reassuring… so what are the odds of an even worse event some 6 months later?

    NZ scientific ‘experts’ are out of step with Australian and US scientific ‘experts’ as to whether it was a ‘new’ earthquake or an aftershock… that is a totally academic argument that means zilch to jo public… except that to Jo Public it highlights that if experts can’t agree on basics, what right do they have to claim omniscience on issues such as triggers of earthquakes.

    These are the experts who 4 years ago PREDICTED that the sort of earthquakes that happened in Christcurch were 1:2,050 year events… and there have been TWO of them in the space of six months! And then they persecute as ‘unscientific’ a chap who says something might happen next week… and it does! By chance… probably… but to Jo Public a helluva lot more accurate than the so-called experts.

    http://propertyinsight.gns.cri.nz/Background_Report_v3_1.pdf

    The mind boggles… GNS experts clearly have no idea of when big ones will happen… to claim otherwise puts them into quakery [sic] country.

    It’s been an interesting sojourn into the world of so-called sciblogs. The expert science proponents all seem to be qualified in areas outside of those they are commenting on…

    It beggars belief… especially when they are the ones claiming Ring in unqualified.

    And to think this started because of a very rude interview.

  • Alison said, “But on the individual level I think that you are impugning those same geologists who have got stuck in as members of their communities to help their friends, neighbours, colleagues, & total strangers through this incredibly difficult time. That’s the human side of the aftermath that broad-brush comments about professions tend to ignore.”

    Alison, that has nothing whatever to do with being a scientist or not… it has everything to do with being a decent human being… even just an ordinary human being. Members of my family travelled over 1,000km with shovel in boot to help out. 10 days of hard physical labour… sleeping on a floor… out of love and compassion… walking up to vacant houses and digging silt… people who had left ChCh… and came back to find complete strangers had stacked bricks and cleared silt… not because of their profession, but because they are decent/compassionate human beings who were able to do it.

  • petersmith,

    so you are not going to answer my question about what you think geologists could have done to be more comforting or reassuring?

    Regarding the 1 in 700 year comment. This does not mean that an event will occur every 700 years (wouldn’t be nice in nature was that predictable), it just means that if you look over a very long period of time, that typically an event will occur every 700 years. This does not rule out the possibility of two events occurring within a year of each other (and then perhaps there being no more events for thousands of years). Such comments are typically based on historical data, so as time progresses and more data is gathered, the figures will change. This is how science works.

    Science, particularly in areas such as climate science, medicine and seismology, does not offer absolutes, rather it seeks to reduce uncertainty.
    Unfortunately, it is natural for human beings to want certainty, which is probably why, when science cannot offer certainty, the promises of pseudoscience look more tempting.
    (pseudoscience being that which uses the terminology of science and which claim to be sciences but which does not follow the scientific method).

    And just because geology/seismology does not provide certainty now about when earthquakes will occur, that does not mean it will not be possible in the future. Every area of science has to start somewhere. Chemistry started out as alchemy, while medicine started out with some very unscientific treatments which were gradually discarded for those with a scientific basis (e.g. the use of carbonic acid as a disinfectant, the development of germ theory).

    “The expert science proponents all seem to be qualified in areas outside of those they are commenting on”

    As one of your arguments has been that everyone, including non scientists/the general public is entitled to a view about science then does this not conflict with your statement above?

    I would be very wary of anyone on here who starting talking in detail about subjects outside their scientific areas. However, much of the conversation here has been around science and the scientific method/approach in general. I think most people who have worked in science are well qualified to take about how science works.

  • petersmith, did you even look at that presentation from Lincoln University?
    Ken Ring’s predictions are horoscopes. If you wish to live your life on the basis of horoscopes, well, good luck with that. Welcome back to the middle ages.
    Scientists give an opinion based on the best evidence available AT THE TIME. This is an important thing to understand about science – it evolves in response to evidence. That is a key reason why Mr Ring’s approach is not scientific – it does not evolve in response to evidence. According to Mr Ring, the moon causes earthquakes (and weather patterns) and that is that. it’s amazing to see the contortions he goes through to bend the evidence to fit his theories.

    It took a while for plate tectonic theory to be widely accepted but no geologists seriously doubt it now. Of course our understanding of earthquake risks in NZ will grow and evolve in response to the Canterbury earthquakes. Apart from the table of expected earthquake frequencies in the main centres, what part of the GNS report do you have a problem with? It looks pretty useful to me (and no, I am not a GNS employee). Consider liquefaction potential: geologists provided this information to local authorities who acted on it in various ways. In the case of Pegasus subdivision just to the north of Christchurch, the investors invested a significant sum in soil engineering measures to mitigate against the liquefaction hazard – and the subdivision came through both earthquakes with hardly a scratch. Clearly in this case science was not as useless as you seem to think it is.

  • “The expert science proponents all seem to be qualified in areas outside of those they are commenting on”

    Well, Peter, consider the possibility that our seismologists are too busy right now to be spending time justifying their existences to you.

  • Alison, the Lincoln lectures are interesting… Helen Colhoun’s should be widely distributed… esp from 16:50 on… very pragmatic, but by and large not a scientific output from the ChCh Sept EQ but from general expert knowledge. It’s excellent… but would be interested to see her redo it bearing in mind she highlighted the lack of deaths as an important aspect of the Sept 2010 EQ… ie, some of this may be inappropriate for post Feb 2011.

    In Tom Wilson’s presentation is interesting if only to provide some insights, but essentially it is an introduction… it’s key message seems to be “Earthquakes don’t have an address.”

    And Carol… do you expect me to comment on 1-2 hrs of audio before taking the time to listen???

  • Good on you for taking the time to check out the presentation, Peter. I hope we can find some common ground.

  • Carol, the first presentation is mostly academic but is an interesting one in that it provides a basic understanding of what happened in Sept… it needs to be reworked in terms of Feb 2011… the second one should be widely distributed as it highlights pragmatic ways of managing liquefaction… the third one would have been useful and in parts still is, but I suspect needs to be reworked in light of the significant number of deaths associated with the Feb 2011 earthquake.

    One I’d like to see widely distributed is how to make a pragmatic sustainable compost toilet. Chemical toilets are not sustainable. They are messy, overfill if not emptied regularly, and are not designed for high volume use.

Site Meter