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Terrible volcano journalism (and the weekend open thread)

How not to write an article on potential volcanic hazards.

Satellite image of the island of Tenerife with the main vent of the volcano (El Teide) in the central part of the island.

I will be out of town for the next few days, so I thought I’d leave this thread for breaking volcano news that any of you Eruptions readers notice.

However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to point out some abysmal science journalism before I go. I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised considering this is from the The Sun(UK), but, come on, could you at least put some effort in?

The article in question pertains to the recent controversy about the level of danger people might be in on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Canaries are, of course, a popular tourist destination and the Sun wants to sow the seeds of doubt. The best (and, at the same time worst) line in the article is:

“It erupts around once every 100 years — and the last was in 1909.”


Now, where did that number come from? A cursory look at the eruptive history of Tenerife shows that this is pretty much not true at all, but no, lets publish that anyway because wouldn’t it be cool to say! It is complete statistical nonsense that sounds forboding but is absolutely and entirely meaningless. Tenerife has has 5 eruptions over the last 517 years (that we know of), which translates into a (meaningless) recurrance interval of 103 years. However, if you look at the dates, there isn’t anything near a pattern: 1492, 1704, 1706, 1798, 1909. This sort of nonsense clouds the fact that, yes, Tenerife is an active volcano that needs monitoring, not silly statement like that.

And speaking of silly statements, I honestly have no idea what this means: Experts are worried about “semi-volcanic activity” in 12,200ft Mount Teide — Spain’s highest peak.. “Semi-volcanic activity”? Anybody want to help me out here on this one.

These sort of articles just cloud important issues with meaningless drivel and really make it more difficult for volcanologists to explain to people what is really important when it comes to predicting and monitoring volcanic activity.


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