Category Archives: Science And Society

The Big One

What will happen to Seattle and Portland when it hits?

Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

…we now know that the Pacific Northwest has experienced forty-one subduction-zone earthquakes in the past ten thousand years. If you divide ten thousand by forty-one, you get two hundred and forty-three, which is Cascadia’s recurrence interval: the average amount of time that elapses between earthquakes. That timespan is dangerous both because it is too long—long enough for us to unwittingly build an entire civilization on top of our continent’s worst fault line—and because it is not long enough. Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle.

As she notes, the only question is when, not if. I hope it’s not any time soon; I’ll lose a lot of friends.

[Update a few minutes later]

This is a key point:

On the face of it, earthquakes seem to present us with problems of space: the way we live along fault lines, in brick buildings, in homes made valuable by their proximity to the sea. But, covertly, they also present us with problems of time. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, but we are a young species, relatively speaking, with an average individual allotment of three score years and ten. The brevity of our lives breeds a kind of temporal parochialism—an ignorance of or an indifference to those planetary gears which turn more slowly than our own.

This is also why it’s easy to persuade people that extreme weather events aren’t normal, and can be attributed to “climate change.” People have either not experienced, or don’t recall similar ones from the past, when the CO2 levels were lower.


Is it ever “settled”?

As things stand today, Darwin’s notion of evolution, especially when we extend it with the things we’ve learned in the intervening 160 or so years, has stood up very well to attempts to falsify it.

That’s what science as a process really is: that process of observing, proposing explanations, and then trying to knock those explanations down. Eventually, you have only a few explanations left standing: our best explanations for what we observe in the real world. It’s that collection of best explanations that we call “science.”

What isn’t science is (e.g.) climate models, particularly when they can’t even hindcast.

“Settled science” is a newspeak phrase that the Left has come up with to impose their policy preferences on us.

[Update a few minutes later]

Why biology students have misconceptions about science.

I think there’s more of a crisis in science education (as with all education) than most people realize.

Nobel-Prize Land

Not all is well there. They have “deniers” in their midst:

Giaever was one of President Obama’s key scientific supporters in 2008 when he joined over 70 Nobel Science Laureates in endorsing Obama in an October 29, 2008 open letter. Giaever signed his name to the letter which read in part: “The country urgently needs a visionary leader…We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him.”

But seven years after signing the letter, Giaever now mocks President Obama for warning that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change”. Giaever called it a “ridiculous statement.”

“That is what he said. That is a ridiculous statement,” Giaever explained.

“I say this to Obama: Excuse me, Mr. President, but you’re wrong. Dead wrong,” Giaever said. (Watch Giaever’s full 30-minute July 1 speech here.)

“How can he say that? I think Obama is a clever person, but he gets bad advice. Global warming is all wet,” he added.

“Obama said last year that 2014 is hottest year ever. But it’s not true. It’s not the hottest,” Giaever noted. [Note: Other scientists have reversed themselves on climate change. See: Politically Left Scientist Dissents – Calls President Obama ‘delusional’ on global warming]
The Nobel physicist questioned the basis for rising carbon dioxide fears.

“When you have a theory and the theory does not agree with the experiment then you have to cut out the theory. You were wrong with the theory,” Giaever explained.

Giaever said his climate research was eye opening. “I was horrified by what I found” after researching the issue in 2012, he noted.

“Global warming really has become a new religion. Because you cannot discuss it. It’s not proper. It is like the Catholic Church.”

You don’t say.

He’s wrong, though. There’s little evidence that Barack Obama is a “clever man.”