The ethics of warning
TUESDAY MARCH 08, 2011
The events in Christchurch over the past year have been horrifying and uncomprehendable particularly if one is a resident there and has been badly affected. The rest of NZ are all focussed on our second largest town and are poised to help if and when called upon by appropriate authorities. There is not one person in the country who is not sympathetic as nearly everyone else has some connection with Christchurch residents, either through family connections or business. We are a small but caring country.
Should people in the sciences warn if they see cyclones coming? How about earthquakes? What should the geosciences do if they see on their earthquake sensors that one area is starting to become more active? If they remain silent, why have that technology in the first place? How about others who also think, from alternative viewpoints, that an earthquake is on the cards? Are consultants obliged to remain silent and then gone from our society, which includes all accountants, economists, and all doctors, if they have opinions that may upset some people? But do they not also have obligations to those who wish to hear them?
Earthquakes correlate with kingtides - they are a function of the kingtide in the land deep under the ground. The whole 2/3 of the planet that is beneath the Earth's surface has a moving egg-shaped bulge that, as the earth daily rotates, is always pointing to the moon, just as when a magnet is moved above a plate of iron filings and the area under the magnet is always more responsive. The perigee (day that the moon is closest to earth each month) is in control of the timing of the kingtide. Sometimes new moon accompanies perigee (as on 4 Sept 2010), sometmes full moon (22 Feb 2011), so kingtide occurs around these dates as well. before new year kingtide days were new moon-related. From February onwards full moon has accompanied perigee, so kingtides were full moon-related. It does not mean all full moons (or new moons) bring the biggest earthquakes. Perigee is also a factor.
On the below list of all of the major earthquakes in New Zealand since 1843, we list the phase of the moon when the earthquakes occurred. Of the 28 EQs listed, full moon or new moon within four days featured 19 times, or nearly 70%. One or more of these: Full moon, new moon, perigee or apogee, within four days, occurred 23 times, or in over 80% of cases. Does this not show some moon-correlation?
March 19-21 will be the closest moon for a few years either side of 2011. It is perhaps noteworthy that the closest moon in 2010 (end of January) brought the Haiti earthquake, and the closest moon in 2009 (July) brought an earthquake in China that destroyed 10,000 homes.
It is alarmism of the media and to continually beat up every weather phenomenon as bizarre, unusual and a signal that the planet is approaching some hypothetical tipping point. It is not alarmism to point out an astronomical fact: that larger kingtides than usual will occur on a particular date, which, e.g. if coupled with rain, may cause local flooding. In other areas of the world the larger land kingtides may bring extra earthquake activity, particularly if the regions have already been displaying an increase in the size and magnitude of local tectonic events.
Both skeptics and observers have their point. It is up to the reader to decide how much to either make preparations – or not. The bottom line is information. In the past the purpose of astrology - and its birthchild meteorology, was to warn. Rulers consulted their court astrologers for good or bad battle days, and in modern times general populations prepare for cyclones, floods and gales on the say-so of weather experts watching radar screens around the clock.
Information is power. How it gets to be used is the responsibility of the user. A doctor may impart a good or bad prognosis, but if shooting the messenger was permitted then it would lead to the shutting down of not only the medical profession but all types of consultancies, political commentators, economic forecasters and stock brokerages, all of whom supply educated guesses which are eagerly sought by investors who desire, in business, a competitive edge, or just the ordinary person desirous of information from a better educated person so the former can make a wiser decision. Why else do we have these professions - architects, lawyers, personal fitness trainers, and nutritionists?
At times there will be advice that is not welcomed – that is always the potential. But we have to take that along with the news we prefer. Most places will not be affected around 19-21 March and again 17-18 April. But some undoubtedly may be. The perspective is that there is more potential for extreme events than on other dates. These will make the headlines and the unfortunate areas struck could take years to recover, whilst the rest heave sighs of relief. We are always trying to gauge which areas will be most affected, and to this end we have science and technology.
At the end of the day it is important to remain level-headed and in a free society allow the sensationalist media to try to sell their Armageddons, whist reassuring ourselves and our loved ones that if ever something happens, to our loved ones and our neighborhoods, we will be better prepared if we have plan-Bs. Disasters elsewhere remind us of our vulnerability, and the constant need to be vigilant. Tomorrow it may be our turn, but we hope and pray not. If calamity does befall our neighbour then we shall be ready and willing to rush and assist. But on the whole, most of us will carry on as normal because there is a strong likelihood that nothing will happen.