Conspiration theories thrive around the Internet. They are normally invented by people who have no scientific schooling what so ever, and are too lazy to actually learn how it really works. They normally find some omission of facts, or something that “mysteriously” disappears, and then they run with the most farfetched theory possible.
Problem is also that they lack true psychological understanding of how we humans function. There is just no possibility of hiding a nefarious truth. Someone would inevitably spill their guts unto the press. In the end the truth always comes out. Also, very few people aspire to being Bond villains. On the occasions that things are hidden, facts deleted, and so on you will find a person who is tired, out of his comfort zone, or just plain scared of loosing his/her job. And, it normally comes out in a matter of hours. And then it is normally the scientists and experts that pull the horn, not a nutter in Nutter’s Creek.
Lately there have been two pervasive conspiration theories running around. One is that there are earthquakes stolen by the IGN. Or Earthquacks as many conspirationalist spell it. The other is that BBC Volcano Live is hiding things about El Hierro and other volcanoes. Also, I felt a need to actually stand up for the poor saps who is working hard to make a rather excellent program for beginners regarding volcanoes on a short budget and a tight time frame. I would like to personally thank Manofthemoors for the highly insightful piece on how BBC works, and Henrilerevenant for the short and highly accurate piece debunking earthquacks.
BBC and the Volcano Live
Regarding the Volcano Live television show, I noted a bit of a kerfuffle on here recently. There was a suggestion that the BBC might be withholding information about quakes that occurred during the live show.
As a fairly senior producer, who does a lot of work for the BBC, I thought it might be helpful to explain one or two things.
When a show like this is first proposed….and the unlikely thing happens, a commissioning team thinks it’s a good idea, they think very much in terms of the BBC schedule and how it fits in. What channel? What time of night? What audience..? These are early considerations. There’ll be an idea in the proposal….let’s go to Hawaii. We’re Live…we need volcano action to be reliable. Who will the presenters be? Well, the Scottish fella….he’s good on geology, volcanoes and stuff…and we need a lass. Kate Humble….Mrs BBC2 Factual….a bit of eye candy for the boys you know….doesn’t matter if she knows nowt about volcanoes…she can ask the questions that the audience want answering.
The audience….we want a big audience. We call it Popular Science because we want it to be popular. It’s not for geeks, though they are most welcome…and not really for people who follow volcano blogs. It’s for the person who has turned over because they don’t like medical dramas or whatever. Or because volcanoes are sexy…or good for little Johnny to watch etc.etc
At some point the go ahead is given and a production team is put together. The researchers will, more than likely, be young kids (I say kids….in their mid twenties). Their job is to become an expert in a new subject every other week. They are learning how to make telly as well as about the subject. They are low paid and often on short contracts. (The BBC and the production companies that provide the shows have been driving costs down for years.) These researchers start reading… Wikipedia is probably where they will start. They’ll be given specific stories to look into…Emma, you do the Soufriere Hills, Jack, you do Katla….that kind of thing. There’ll be producers who may have some knowledge….they have to learn quickly too. There’ll be advisors and contributors who’ll help to keep the stories on the straight and narrow.
Just remember, most of us who read here at Volcano café/Eruptions etc, and have been doing for a long time, are all still learning on a daily basis. The fact that this Live program gets so many things right is pretty remarkable.
Anyway, somewhere along the way, someone on the production team might see the USGS page of quakes over 2M in the US and 4M worldwide. At some point, there’s the idea to flag up how many quakes have occurred in the hour whilst the show is on air. It’s Live, a mistake is made and the global count is given for all quakes 2+ when in fact it’s the figure for the 4+.
It gets through because it’s live. There aren’t editorial checks and, in any case, the team are probably too stressed about the next link or VT at the time to care. There’ll likely as not be no expert on hand in the control gallery to say “hang on, that’s not right”.
There will be no conspiracy….just cock up. An avoidable cock up….but avoiding those cock ups costs money, requires more expensive experts on the team and, when there’s always the Daily Mail moaning about the license fee and how much the BBC costs, the future is one with more such cock ups as budgets get ever more squeezed.
Existing earthquake or disappearing Earthquacks?
Most observatories have an automatic system in place that records the earthquake waves and then calculates a preliminary location X, Y and Z.
The automatic system is never so sophisticated that it can sort out real earthquakes from reflected ones, so-called ghosts. Nor is it very good when several quakes occur in a short space of time at the same location and tends to show fewer and larger quakes than there really were. Sometimes the opposite is true.
This requires a human operator to evaluate. While the operator looks at a certain episode, it is not unusual that all quakes during a certain span of time and location be removed while this re-calculation is performed. Thus there are the following reasons for disappearing quakes:
* They may be under evaluation
* They may have been ghosts
* The automated system may have arrived at quite the wrong answer as to the number, location and size of individual quakes.
No need to invoke a conspiracy every time a quake “disappears”. Much better to apply a bit of patience and wait for the operator to sort out what really happened instead of inventing your own “reality” on the spot.