No secret agenda - scientist

JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN
Last updated 18:14 27/08/2011
Mark Quigley from Canterbury University's Geological Sciences at the New Zealand Skeptics Conference 2011.

Mark Quigley from Canterbury University's Geological Sciences at the New Zealand Skeptics Conference 2011.

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Scientists are not conducting "top secret research" into the Christchurch earthquakes, nor are they "nerdy", "confused'' and "defensive" a Canterbury University scientist told a conference today.

University of Canterbury Geological Sciences lecturer Mark Quigley spoke at the New Zealand Skeptics Conference 2011 in Christchurch at the weekend to a crowd of over 100.

Quigley said the public perception of scientists had changed before, during and after the September and February earthquakes  without scientists doing anything differently than they had always done.

"Between earthquakes some were viewed as nerdy, working away on irrelevant things doing crazy technical experiments. During earthquakes because they can provide information quickly they were regarded as omniscient beings who understand everything.

"But afterwards, with continuing aftershocks, some perceptions exist that scientists don't know what they are doing and they are all disagreeing with one another, which is completely untrue."

The reality was, fault systems were complicated networks of fractures of varying strengths and fluid pressures, he said.

"We are trying to study the system to the best of our knowledge so we can understand how these types of earthquakes are generated and how fault systems work so we can understand how frequent this sort of ground-shaking is in the Canterbury region.''

However, it was not possible to predict when an earthquake might hit  despite people such as ''moon-man'' Ken Ring thinking otherwise, Quigley said.

"Anyone can come up with a random idea but until you subject that to rigorous statistical tests to prove it, it's just an untested hypothesis that has no credibility.''

People such as Ring who invented mythical dates of when an earthquake would occur, not only put undue stress on people and created fear, but discredited the lengthly and rigorous tests scientists undertook when studying earthquakes, he said.

"The public starts to get a perception that the scientists are sneaking around doing top-secret research and not being truthful and the only ones they should be trusting is the nut-jobs who provide some sort of 'certainty'...It only takes two seconds for someone to put an idea out there but months to years to subject this idea to the scientific method...but by the time the scientific knowledge is available often no-one cares anymore.''

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- The Press

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