Why is Simon Winchester giving the keynote address at AGU?

I wanted to get some more blog post done before AGU, but that just ain’t gonna happen. This’ll be my last post until the conference. Enjoy!


First some recap, if you’re familiar with the Simon Winchester-Earthquake fearmongering debacle, skip this section.

Back in March Simon Winchester, a popular science novelist, wrote an article published in Newsweek Magazine threatening that the next “Big One” earthquake was due to strike San Francisco. His article caused quite an uproar in the geologic and scientific communities. Simon cited several “facts” that he contrived to support his ideas, mainly that there had been three damaging earthquakes: Christchurch (2/22/2011), Chilean (2/27/2010), and the Japan quake (3/11/2011) in three corners of the Pacific Plate, “…leaving just one corner unaffected–the Northeast.” He goes on to state that strains in the San Andreas Fault beneath San Francisco have built up to “barely tolerable levels.” He also loosely calls upon the idea of earthquake cascading, or triggering of earthquakes by previous earthquakes, using a vibrating brass bell analogy.

Anyway, so the “evidence” in his article, and the fear-mongering tone of his article caused quite a stir in the scientific community. My adviser, Christie Rowe, was at the forefront of this discussion, corresponding with Simon, and writing a rebuttal article for Scientific American.
The main problem isn’t that Simon was stating that an earthquake will hit San Francisco. Many of us have seen the USGS Bay Area hazard map, putting a 63% probability of a 6.7 or greater magnitude quake in the next 30 years, likely along the Hayward fault (which has had two small events in the last month). 
The problem lies in his methods. Not only does Simon make large geographical errors, but he also has no evidence. It’s not science. Many people have already covered this, so I don’t want to belaber the topic. The blog Life’s Little Mysteries has a great article on the topic in which they interview David Schwartz, Head of the San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Hazards Project. Schwartz provides a great rebuttal to Simon’s cascading theory, “When an earthquake happens, it changes the stress in the [local] vicinity around it, and if there are other faults nearby, this increase in the stress can trigger them and produce more earthquakes. In other places, it relaxes the crust and puts earthquakes off.”
The AGU Fall Meeting

Strangely enough, Mr. Winchester is the keynote address at the AGU Fall Meeting this year (Monday, Dec. 5th). I’m not sure why he was invited, considering the flack he got from the scientific community in response to his article. Perhaps this is a ploy by AGU to get Simon face to face with his discreditors and make him answerable to his statements. Maybe Simon will publicly repeal his article and put forth something that has scientific backing?
Either way, I’m eager to see his speech. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to see the mud fly. 

SciWrite Writing challenge update: Week 1

Figure 1: twitter hashtag…

So a week has gone by since Anne at Highly Allochthonous issued a writing challenge to meet a deadline before the annual AGU conference in San Francisco. Many people have joined the challenge and have been tweeting updates of their accomplishments on twitter with the hashtag #Sciwrite. Anne  posted an update today, which reminded me that I needed to post mine!

In Anne’s update she also includes a “backwards calendar” listing the deadlines she needs to accomplish before AGU.  I’m going to set this up and share it to make myself more accountable.

How’s it going?
This week I’ve been working to collect more microstructure data. This consists of circling grains in images of thin sections. It’s dreary work, and very easy to brush aside with a “I’ll do that later.” To make myself get it done, I made a bet with my officemates. If I did not have all my data collected by November 7th I would spearhead getting us a coat rack or improve our office in some way (or beer). So far I’m the only one who has adopted this motivation method of negative consequences.

Anyway, I’ve been circling away in illustrator with an awesome tablet my adviser bought for our research group. It makes the circling go way faster than with a mouse.

Why circle grains? I’m processing them with an image analysis Matlab script that gives me tons of information including the area of the image that is grains, area that is matrix, grain orientation, aspect ratios, ect. I’m working with a lithic arenite, so the script needs a bit of help with picking out the grains. That’s where the dreary task of hand circling grains comes in.

Am I making process?
Short answer: Hell Yea!

Long answer: Now that my data has been refined, some statistical differences between images that previously went unnoticed are now apparent (sorry no details until AGU!). This is great news to us as it gives us something better to work with. Data to back up hypothesis? YES!

At AGU I’ll be presenting a poster. I plan on printing my poster using their in house poster service. The deadline for that is November 25th. So essentially I have two deadlines running. One for poster printing (very high priority) and one for manuscript (slightly less, but still very high priority).

So as for my backwards calendar, here goes:
December 4th, 8am: Fly out to San Francisco for AGU.
December 3rd, 5pm: Department Christmas party. Definitely no work is getting done after this. Must be packed for AGU, and cook a dish for the party. Manuscript should be done and off my desk.
December 1st: Abstract done. Off my desk for revision.
November 25th: Poster deadline for AGU print services. Poster must be completed, reviewed, completed again. Includes all new data, figures, ect. This is the BIG ONE.
November 14th: Discussion will be written. After this I’m going into 100% poster mode to get my figures done.
November 12th: Results and Interpretation will be re-written to incorporate new data.

This feels pretty tight as it is. Then I remember all the stuff I have to do for classes… busy end of the semester! Let’s GO!