This year we speak with Peter Sforza of the Center for Geospatial Information Technology about some of the projects at Virginia Tech.
Occasionally there is a national news item that bubbles up to take headlines and starts a dialogue about a formerly fringe-ish topic. This week, there were two. In order of occurrence, the first is that an Italian judge has declared six scientists criminally negligent in predicting an earthquake and has sentenced them to six years in jail for manslaughter. The second is a US Presidential candidate thinks Iran is connected to Syria and that connection is what gives Iran a link to water (and thus shipping). Those two might not look connected, but they are. Let me take them in reverse order.
Let’s not get all political here about the relative merits of one party over another in US politics. We at VerySpatial don’t profess to know the intricacies of political policy, economics, foreign policy, and all the other issues surrounding US Presidential Politics. But we do profess to know at least thing or two about Geography, which apparently one candidate forgot. Mitt Romney said, “Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” This is false as Iran has miles and miles of coastline, not to mention it isn’t even connected to Syria. You have to go through Iraq to get there, and its not like Iran and Iraq have a history of being buddy buddy. Obviously this is a major gaffe from a Presidential candidate, but the real issue here is that a surprising large number of journalist and general public do not even recognize it as such a gaffe. An error, sure, but do they think it is a big error? Not nearly as much. I think this speaks more to the lack of geographic literacy in the US as much as anything. More deeply, I think it speaks to the apathy of facts prevalent in US public discourse today. We need to remember that facts are the bedrock under which decisions are made. If we can’t get our facts accurate, how can we expect to make decent decisions or analysis?
This leads to the second news item, which is that Italy has convicted six scientists of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake. The punch line to the story is that these six scientists were unable to predict an earthquake and, in the eyes of the court, they failed to adequately predict the degree of danger and are therefore legally culpable. The obvious problem here is that earthquake prediction is a tricky endeavor at best. There are so many variables to contend with in earthquake prediction – time, location, magnitude – and each of those has so many sub-variables true earthquake prediction basically is a bit dodgy (editor – as the Itialians should say, impossibile). Further complicating this process is the fact that it is almost as bad to falsely predict an earthquake is going to happen as it is to fail to predict an earthquake is going to happen. Call it the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ effect, if you will. The reality of earthquake prediction today is that we are simply ill equipped to adequately predict the future, only measure that which has already happened. Facts are important in this case, but we also have to know the limitation of facts. We have to have a good idea of what a fact is capable of telling us and what it isn’t. In my opinion, the Italian judge in charge of this case has made a grievous error in assuming facts that simply aren’t there, or at least aren’t predictable from known facts. How can we make decent decisions or analysis if we can’t understand the limits of what we know?
The US Postal Service has released a great stamp set that highlights aerial and satellite imagery from around the country. The Earthscapes stamp set highlights scenes including cranberry bogs, geothermal springs, log rafts, barge fleets, railroad roundhouse, and others . I am off to acquire a set (or 5) for my future mailings. Click on the image to go to a printable poster-sized image.
Back in the summer we highlighted the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards in the podcast as a Tip of the Week, but now as the October 1st deadline approaches, I wanted to provide a reminder. The awards are open to a wide range of groups and individuals who are interested in sharing the word about Geo. There are two awards, a $300 Alexander Von Humboldt Prize and a $200 Isaiah Bowman Prize that will be awarded at the beginning of November to support the implementation of the proposed projects.
If you have an idea to spread the word of Geography, head over and check out the details to submit.
This is a great education and outreach opportunity to help inform people about water quality issues. It is an extension of the UN’s World Water Day (March 22) which focuses on educating the public by getting them to conduct water quality tests of local water bodies and share the data. The challenge is coordinated by the Water Environment Federation and the International Water Association, and sponsored by organizations such as the USGS and EPA.
As a focus for the challenge, Tuesday, Sept 18 has been deemed World Water Monitoring Day. Thousands of participants, individuals and classes, will be heading out to test water quality near them. You can check the event web site to find out if there is a local event going on in your neck of the woods. If you can’t make it to one of the organized events this week you can also order test kits from the website.
While this gives folks a chance to get a little bit of field experience, there is also a wealth of data, including webmaps, from previous years available to play around with.
In episode 373 I talked about the US Census Bureau defining ‘city’ as 2500 or more, but that isn’t exactly correct. It is actually the ‘urban’ transition point. While we often equate urban to city, as we discuss in the podcast there are many other variables that play into the description.
OK, that is all. I just wanted to say something after editing the podcast. Easier than rerecording