Although my interests center on medicine and biology, I have more than a professional hobbyist interest in geology, specifically vulcanism, the study of volcanoes (and not Spock). So I peruse news stories about volcanic eruptions when they appear. This week, a British newspaper, the Daily Mail, published a story entitled, Is a super-volcano just 390 miles from London about to erupt? I suspect that the Daily Mail is one of Britain’s sensationalist newspapers, and this article would confirm it.
But let’s go over some of it’s points. Yes, the Laacher See volcano did erupt about 12,900 years ago, and it was a rather large eruption, on the size of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. Obviously, I was somewhat surprised that such a recent and large volcanic event happened in Europe. If it did happen today, Europe would be devastated for years. That eruption was massive, and one can find deep layers of ash throughout Central Europe up through to the North Sea. It had a profound effect on weather patterns of the era, with effects happening within a few weeks.
The article uses as its evidence that the volcano erupts every 12,000 years, so it’s overdue (I suppose) for an eruption, and that there are some CO2 outgassing in the lake (which formed when the magma chamber collapsed after the most recent eruption). If that’s their “evidence” for a future eruption, then we need to redefine what constitutes evidence. In fact, as they say in the financial industry, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Furthermore, I could find no published, peer-reviewed support for a prediction of a new eruption. In other words, the Daily Mail invented this prediction.
As for the CO2 bubbles in the lake, yes that happens in water over a magma chamber, but it is, by itself, not an indicator of impending doom. However, the CO2 can be dangerous, of course, but that’s a biological issue not a prediction-of-eruption issue.
This is what bothers me about these kind of articles. The internet, being the rather instant communication method that it is, transfers this information from one side of the planet to another. Soon, I’ll be reading about it in what are supposed to be reasonable websites that monitor the world environmental issues.
Science journalism has a responsibility to actually provide accurate information. Too many times I read articles published in news sites (probably higher quality than the Daily Mail) that wildly misinterpret medical or scientific articles. I spend so much time debunking the overstating of what is said that if I could get paid for it, I’d have quite a career set up. Wikipedia is notorious for this kind of sensationalism.
I can only hope that all the skeptics out there have an effect on this type of bad science journalism. And London, you’re safe for now, though with the Olympics coming up, I may change my mind.