Human Exceptionalism

Wrong to Criticize Scientists for Warning About Tsunami

I have often criticized politicized science here at SHS, that is, people who promote their ideology or beliefs in the guise of objective science.  But I have high regard for science as a field and scientists as professionals.  That is why it is very disheartening that the entirely reasonable tsunami warning issued after the gargantuan earthquake in Chile is being criticized because the actual event was relatively small.  From the story:

But the devastating tidal surge predicted after Chile’s magnitude 8.8-earthquake for areas far from the epicenter never materialized and by Sunday, authorities had lifted the warning after waves half the predicted size tickled the shores of Hawaii and tourists once again jammed beaches and restaurants. Scientists acknowledged they overstated the threat, but defended their actions, saying they took the proper steps and learned the lessons of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed thousands of people who didn’t get enough warning. “It’s a key point to remember that we cannot end the warnings. Failure to warn is not an option for us,” said Dai Lin Wang, an oceanographer at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. “We cannot have a situation that we thought was no problem and then it’s devastating. That just cannot happen.”

Good grief.  A Chilean earthquake caused a terrible tsunami in Hawaii about 50 years ago.  Moreover, imagine if they hadn’t issued the warning and someone had been swept out to sea.  Oh, how the politicians would have held hearings pounding their chests!

Yet politicians in Japan are apologizing for taking the threat seriously! From the story:

As the country that literally coined the term “tsunami,” Japan’s government responded aggressively Sunday to the threat that seemed to emerge after the massive weekend quake in Chile, ordering more than 600,000 people evacuated and cancelling services throughout the nation. After the country in fact was hit by waves considerably more modest than anticipated — a maximum of  1.2 meters vs. the three meters feared — red-faced officials Monday apologized for their response. While the levels of tsunami alerts had been downgraded over time, they had been kept on until Monday morning in some areas.

We see this a lot today in Western society (and yes, Japan is a westernized country).  Are we really so spoiled that we expect perfect protection from harm, but cry foul when inconvenienced by a false alarm?

But good for the tsunami alert system.  In contrast to global warming hysteria–which as I have said, isn’t the same thing at all as climate science–the tsunami alert, based on a best estimate projection of an immediate event, was not intended to skew policy, promote ideology, or further an anti human agenda.  In fact, it was the exact opposite, an example of scientists doing their best to save lives at a particular moment.  Evacuations are minor inconveniences compared to the potential devastation that these forces of nature can cause.