Saturday, 1 November 2008

Science and the Mud Eruption

In East Java, Indonesia, earthquakes and mud volcanoes are common. But a bitter dispute has raged over the cause of an eruption of the Lusi mud volcano. When Lusi erupted in May 2006, it coincided with both an earthquake and drilling for oil and gas.

A meeting of 74 geologists in Cape Town came down 57% blaming the drilling; 4% the earthquake; 17% both; and 23% said the evidence was inconclusive.

Science is often a matter of probabilities.

Establishing the cause of the eruption is important. Thirteen people died, 30,000 were displaced, and there is a huge compensation claim against the drilling company Lapindo Brantas.

The point I am making is this case illustrates that in geophysical science, as in other fields of science, the evidence is often not clear cut. Careful informed systematic evaluation of all the available evidence is essential; and a willingness to change one's mind when evidence swings against the prevailing view. This point equally applies to the vastly more complex global warming debate.

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