Media Reporting on the Nepal Earthquake

Dear News Corp Journalists,

I use the term “journalist” loosely here, but I digress…

I just read the following article on the Nepal earthquake posted on the News.com.au website.

I’ve taken a snapshot of the part of the article that I take issue with below “Experts knew the earthquake was coming“:

NepalSo here’s a few words from an actual geologist…One who actually knows a thing or two about tectonics.

Earthquake prediction is notoriously unreliable. Experts admit that we’re bad at it. No expert – and here I mean genuine experts in tectonics and seismology, not armchair Wikipedia experts – would never actually publicly make an earthquake prediction. That’s how bad we are at it.

No, experts did not know the earthquake was coming. 

The best geoscientists can do is say that earthquakes are prone to occur in active fault zones, and predominantly along tectonic plate margins. Nobody can tell you when an earthquake is going to occur. Anyone who claims to know when it will occur is either delusional or a liar.

While these experts may have recently had a meeting to discuss earthquakes in the Himalayan region, that does not mean they knew this was coming, beyond the fact that the Himalayas are located on an active plate margin, and that a large earthquake would probably happen there again one day. That day could have been tomorrow, it could have been a hundred years from now. Nobody could have said this was going to happen yesterday.

Do not put this on the geoscience community.

The death and destruction in Nepal is an absolute tragedy, I’m not suggesting otherwise. However I’ve actually been to Nepal, and can say quite honestly, that even if we were able to predict earthquakes, much of the death and destruction still would have occurred. Nepal has no building codes or enforced safety standards. Those buildings were going to collapse on people regardless of prior warning. Those people up climbing Everest were never going to have sufficient notice to get down the mountain before the avalanche hit.

Nobody foresaw this tragedy. Nobody is to blame. Mother nature is a fierce beast. People make the decision to live in these areas near active tectonic zones and volcanoes knowing the risks. Nobody is ignorant of these risks, they make the choice to ignore them. Just as I too go mountaineering and scuba diving with sharks – I know the risks and accept the potential consequences of my actions.

So, dear “journalists” at News Corp, next time you want some advice on earthquakes or volcanoes, how about speaking to an actual expert on the topic and not maligning an entire subset of the scientific community?

Cheers,
A disgruntled geologist

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