Lighting the path to the frontier we’re pushing: some insights from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 14:10
103 (Moscone South)
Richard B Alley, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, United States
After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, an effort was organized to reassure potential settlers that the city was safe from future earthquake damages. The effort was quite small compared to, say, opposition to evolution and the great antiquity of the Earth, and there did not exist a modern body of seismological risk analyses for the San Francisco boosters to reject. Nonetheless, some groups organized a response that did not immediately seek to use and advance the best science of the day; the risk assessments and earthquake engineering that underpin the modern city came later, and with much vigorous discussion. As Geoscientists, our job description is to go to great places with wonderful people, learn what no one knows about the Earth and our interactions with it, and use that knowledge to help society. But, advancing the greater good often has short-term costs for some people, and as in 1906 San Francisco, this has led to a long history of rejection of parts of our science, often by people who ultimately would benefit from using that science, as San Francisco now benefits. Thus, as we Geoscientists push the frontiers of knowledge, it is increasingly important for us to pay attention to lighting the path for people to follow in using that knowledge for good. Weather forecasters have long known that it is not enough to tell people that a hurricane or tornado is coming; once good information is available, it must be supplied in a way that is credible and promotes optimal responses. Recent successes show that this can be done well. On some issues, however, Geoscientists have been much less successful, so there is room for new approaches from new as well as old faces in making our science more broadly useful.