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Yellowstone addendum: When credibility counts

I wrote earlier this week about the media and its treatment of Yellowstone caldera. Well, I tried to be calm about a post/video I saw earlier today on CNN’s American Morning blog by Rebecca Hillman, but I don’t think I can. Kiran Chetry decided to interview Michio Kaku, a noted physicist, about the caldera – specifically about the recent findings about the inflation. What happens next is one of the worst interviews about Yellowstone I’ve ever seen – and shows us what happens when you are lazy and don’t get a real expert in the field. Heck, it didn’t even need to be a volcanologist, but I’m sure that they could have found even a geologist for the interview.

Some things that Kaku says in the interview include:

  • Yellowstone is “due” to erupt – pointing towards the repose time as the only evidence.
  • Any eruption of Yellowstone will “destroy the U.S.”
  • An eruption of Yellowstone can be dealt with by “running”
  • The last eruption was 600 million years ago (not 640,000) … and had to be corrected by Chetry.
  • That an eruption like Yellowstone is somehow associated with the K-T extinction of the dinosaurs. A “double whammy?”
  • “We’re nervous” about Yellowstone?
  • Sea level changes because of Yellowstone?
  • At least Kaku gets the idea of the 100 km devastation zone, but then he calls for “poisonous gases” to kill animals out to 1000 km.
  • “We don’t want to panic everybody”, but then goes on to say that predicting when it could erupt is “black magic”. Yes, Kaku more or less called volcano monitoring “black magic”.
  • You don’t get much warning before an eruption of Yellowstone?
  • “We’re still clueless” about volcano monitoring and “no understanding of the scope” and it could happen “tomorrow”. 
  • Now, maybe I’m being very picky here, but this just smacks at geology and volcanology, not only hurting the disciplines’ credibility by having an “expert” on Yellowstone (as they claim Kaku is) tell people that volcano monitoring is “black magic” but also it hurts Kaku’s credibility because he is so wrong about so many things. This is where the media really needs to be called out for not taking the time to properly vet and research a topic that many people worry about – that is a potential eruption of Yellowstone. It might not be likely, but we definitely don’t need people coming about and spreading inaccurate information about the very sophisticated monitoring going on at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. I know many people like Michio and his work towards popularizing science, something that I fully support, but CNN and Kaku should be ashamed of this performance.

    Top left: A geyser at Norris Basin in Yellowstone behaving like me after seeing this interview.


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