Announcements‎ > ‎

Epic Fail

posted Apr 17, 2012, 12:03 PM by Nathan Becker   [ updated Apr 17, 2012, 12:08 PM ]
When I left the academic world for federal service one thing I had to learn was that I had to balance the absolutism of scientific ethics against the necessity for our agency to speak with one voice when it comes to matters of public safety. So when we believe a tsunami likely threatens a coastline we may not be completely forthcoming with our doubts, and may even compromise on the less important facts, such as the exact earthquake magnitude, so as not to distract from communicating the danger at hand. However, I do not see why that practice should be continued once any danger has passed. On the contrary, if we are to maintain the trust of the public and of our scientific colleagues, we cannot cover up our agency's mistakes, as the cover-up will erode any trust in us in the long run.

This website claims to be authoritative and correct about the tsunami of April 11, 2012. It is neither. One of my colleagues emailed the owners of the site and asked them to take it down, but they have not responded to him and the site is still up and unmodified. So I feel that I must point out that unlike NOAA's Center for Tsunami Research, soon after the earthquake occurred the Tsunami Warning Centers: 1) knew it was a strike slip and not a thrust fault, 2) used their own forecast model instead of “the NOAA forecast method” (sic) because that model is hard-wired for vertical fault motion, and 3) worked up not one, but two great earthquakes off Sumatra that night. If we had instead treated the earthquakes as a single thrust event as shown on this site, we could not have narrowed and then canceled the Tsunami Watch as soon as we did.