This is an example of science that isn’t very scientific. Though they laud the scientist for her one word abstract they admit that it was more of a political stunt than actual science. Once the science is explored it becomes clear that a more standard abstract was called for.
“The work itself is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, though. Hough isn’t really disproving a relationship between the moon, tides, and large earthquakes. She references some rigorous studies that have, in fact, shown a link between the moon and powerful quakes with specific faults or different datasets. Instead, she’s looking to do something more useful for the general public—assuage concerns that the moon phase is something you should worry about when it comes to earthquakes…”
So her goal wasn’t science per se, but rather to set the public mind at ease. If there’s a full moon, don’t you worry about an earthquake. One could still happen of course, but not because of the full moon. Or is that the case?
“The work isn’t cut and dry itself, and still leaves a possibility that large earthquake rates “fluctuate systematically but weakly with the lunar date.” It’s just that there isn’t enough earthquake data to show a link. “What we really need to do is wait 4,000 years and redo the exercise.”
She comes to a firm conclusion of “no” clear enough that only that word is required in her abstract but then admits she’s 4,000 years short on data collection.
“On final reflection, Hough told Gizmodo that when science intersects with public concern, it can lead to a disconnect. “Scientists nowadays are asking complex questions and often getting complex answers,” she wrote. “The papers I referenced were careful to say that tidal modulation is subtle, and of no practical use for prediction. But I think we need to do a better job of explaining science, focusing squarely on things people care about.”
There is this belief that people can’t hand complex answers. They can. They don’t, not because they can’t but because they don’t have to.
I too have noticed that disconnect. And it seems science plays to the public concern rather than the truth or efficacy of science. After reading this article (and her abstract) I am left feeling that she failed in her personal (and not scientific) goal of doing a better job of explaining science.
Sometimes, it’s okay for an answer in science to be “maybe” or “we still don’t know”. I think it’s a very human trait in scientists to want to be right, to want to have the answers. After all, they run around telling everyone that’s what science is for. If you are a scientist without answers, well, you just aren’t doing your job.
“I’m a scientist”
“Does the gravity from the moon affect earthquakes?”
“I really don’t know the answer.”
“I thought you said you were a scientist!”
No one wants that and that’s what a lot of scientists get. There isn’t much in the way of “pure science” anymore. Meaning science for the sake of science. Science now is most often tied to monetary gain. That’s great, I’m okay with that, but it comes with certain restrictions that can sometimes promote scientists making claims and discoveries that aren’t exactly nailed down yet, or to use language in press releases that aren’t echoed in their papers. Some of the blame is on the media for this. As much as science wants to have the answers the news wants to report them. They want to interpret the results in a way that may or may not correlate with the actual results of experimentation. I realize not everyone is going to read scientific papers, or fully understand them, but some effort needs to be put in on the part of individuals when it comes to science.
People have too much faith in scientists and science. They believe because someone in a lab coat said it. They have a degree so they must know better. How many times have you hear someone make a clear argument against climate change just to have the comments read, “are YOU a climate scientists? Well, then, shut up! I think THEY know better than YOU!” Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But that’s a clear sign of someone using faith rather than reason. They believe the scientist, not because of what they present, but because of what they think they know about that person…he’s educated…he knows…he’s right. Education comes in many forms and the knowledge isn’t some mystic art that only the chosen can know. We can all know it. That, more than anything else, is the beauty of science. Knowledge really is power. In religion the priest knew how to get to god so he had the power. Science tells us that everyone has a right to that knowledge. But people, having that right, ignore it and seek a priest in a lab coat. Go figure.
So science can come with yes-or-no answers—but this requires asking the right question. Perhaps there’s some link between the tides and large quakes, but there is definitely not a correlation between any calendar dates and large earthquakes today based solely on the past 400 years of data, given the right constraints.