Honors 101 - Science and the Public Good
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Predicting Hazards


Wrong Once, Experts Keep Quiet On Volcanic Activity in California, by Sandra Blakeslee; New York Times Travel section, Sept. 11, 1990

Potential Hazards From Future Volcanic Eruptions in the Long Valley -- Mono Lake Area, California; U.S. Gelogical Survey - Browse as much of this site as you need to understand the hazards at Long Valley


The hazards of predicting hazards

In 1982, the Long Valley caldera, a potentially very dangerous volcano in Central California, reawakened after over 600,000 years as magma began flowing back into the magma chamber. Long Valley was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the past million years, so the reactivation of the volcano caused great concern among geologists. The U.S. Geologic Survey announced a volcanic watch to let the public know about the potential hazard. The result was a local economic depression and the collapse of the local housing market as tourists avoided Mammoth Mountain on the edge of the volcano, and people stopped buying real estate. The volcano subsided with no eruption, though it continues to flare up every few years.

Read these two sources. Then respond to this question:

What responsibility do scientists bear for the consequences of their predictions, especially when the predicted hazard fails to materialize? How do we determine the balance between the potential risks from the natural hazard, and the very real risks associated with warning of the hazard (deaths during evacuations, property damage done to deserted buildings, economic damage of lost business and property values)?