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SCIENCE TIDBITS

CHERRY-PICKING SCIENCE can lead to deception. That is, sharing an interesting tidbit that stresses a single aspect of a complex matter obviously does not tell the full story. But it emphasizes that science is an on-going process, not a static bunch of facts.

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And darned if there aren’t three compelling tidbits in the August 1, 2014, issue of Science magazine published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The first is “Deadly quakes divide experts” by Edwin Cartlidge, a science writer in Rome. It’s timely in that similar controversy exists in the U.S. as well: Can earthquakes be triggered by aggressive work in petroleum and natural gas fields?

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The town of Concordia sulla Secchia had a magnitude-5.9 quake on May 20, 2012. Image from Science, August 1, 2014 (http://goo.gl/YrP4U0).

The northern Italian region in question is Emilia-Romagna, familiar to car enthusiasts because of its supercar industry: Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini are all headquartered there. Two deadly earthquakes struck the region in 2012, one on May 20 a magnitude 5.9, the other nine days later, a 5.8.

Like earlier Italian earthquakes, these generated aftershocks that are political. (Back in 2009, more than 300 people perished in the central Italian town of L’Aquila. After a trial lasting more than a year, seven people, including four scientists, were each given six-year jail time on manslaughter charges for failing to predict the quake’s coming severity.)

Now the suspect is Padana Energia, operator of Emilia-Romagna’s Cavone oil field. Several studies of its possible culpability have been undertaken, including this most recent one by U.S. geoscientists. The researchers devised a mathematical model of fluid flow on the strata in and around the Cavone facilities. Among other inputs, the model used actual measurements of fluid pressure at the bottom of wastewater injections.

Noted the Science report, “The experts conclude that activities at Cavone could not have altered pressure and stress within the crust enough to have triggered the two quakes.”

These conclusions are questioned by others, including Franco Ortolani, a retired geologist at the University of Napes Federico II. Observed Science, “He argues that only the judiciary has the independence to shed light on the controversy.”

Yeah, like the L’Aquila case.

In the same Science issue is “Warming may not swamp islands,” by Christopher Pala, reporting from South Tarawa, one of the Kiribati atolls in the Central Pacific.

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Kiribati consists of 33 atolls spread across an area the size of India. Map from Science, August 1, 2014 (http://goo.gl/E1cuXW).

Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, has warned that global warming’s rising sea levels will mean total annihilation for his nation. And, indeed, portions of it have already gone beneath the waves.

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Kiribati’s Bikeman Islet is barely a perch today. Image from Science.

However, the islands’ geological nature, sand atop coral colonies, may save them. Paul Kench is a geomorphologist and heads the University of Auckland’s School of Environment in New Zealand. He and his colleagues there found that episodes of high seas raise the islands through deposition of sand produce by broken coral, coralline algae, mollusks and other sea creatures.

The Science report quotes Kench as saying, “As long as the reef is healthy and generates an abundant supply of sand, there’s no reason a reef island can’t grow and keep up.” For details of earlier related research by Kench and another colleague, see  http://goo.gl/SLEHBx.

My last tidbit here is from the News section of this Science issue: “Google X to define health.” It cites Google X as “the secretive research arm of Google Inc.”

Only moderately secretive: Googling “Google X” gets a full array of projects (including its self-driving car), job opportunities and even a Wikipedia entry.

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Image from Science.

Google X’s coming “Baseline Study” will eventually monitor 10,000 volunteers who donate blood, saliva samples and other medical information. The goal is to identify patterns of biochemicals, proteins, genetic mutations and physiological measurements that determine who gets sick.

To learn more, check out http://scim.ag/googlehuman. And please don’t send me any saliva samples. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

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