Cascades and Volcanoes — Are the Problems of Science in Public Discourse Getting Worse?

26 Sep

The Scholarly Kitchen

Thermophiles produce some of the bright colors... Thermophiles produce some of the bright colors of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was recently visiting one of my favorite spots just outside of Yellowstone Park in northwestern  Wyoming when a long-brewing story drew my attention again. It involves a number of issues relevant to our industry — open data, science sensationalism, media reporting, and science literacy. With a new and authoritative paper from US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists out recently, it seems a good time to recap.

This all apparently began in February 2014, when a seismometer inside Yellowstone dubbed B944 malfunctioned and sent inaccurate data to a public web site that’s part of the University of Utah’s seismographic station. Soon, not only were volcano aficionados abuzz, but “end of days” types were taking notice.

Social media, which seems to facilitate cluster communication around fringe world views, accelerated matters, with Yellowstone’s park historian, who…

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