CNN and the Yellowstone Super Volcano

Earlier this week I was looking through CNN’s website when I found a small, 4-minute video on the Yellowstone Super Volcano. As a general rule of thumb I avoid anything science related that’s posted on CNN or any other major news outlet. Most of the time I just get irritated with the flagrant exaggerations and manipulations of the actual facts. Going against my better judgement though, I decided to watch the video and give CNN the benefit of the doubt.

Oh boy. I should have just watched 2012. ’cause that’s exactly what the interview reminded me of.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by CNN’s abismal science reporting. As far as I’m concerned they are about as reliable as the woomeisters at the Huffington Post. I was only mildly peeved to see that they decided to bring a physicist on to explain concepts that lie within the realm of volcanology. When I saw that the physicist was Michio Kaku I hoped that maybe he would inject some real science into the interview. Once again my hopes were dashed and replaced with disappointment.

Instead of citing any real evidence that Yellowstone will soon pop it’s top and destroy the country, Kaku decides to do what he does best: speculate and turn science fact into science fiction. Granted he was just answering the interviewers asinine questions, but Kaku’s prophetic doomsaying did nothing but distort the actual facts. You would think a theoretical physicist of  his expertise would  know how to conduct basic research prior to postulating such sensationalistic nonsense.

So what do the real experts at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory have to say?

Ground Deformation Summary: Careful analysis of the Yellowstone GPS data shows that the period of accelerated Yellowstone caldera uplift, beginning in 2004, has stopped. Some GPS stations exhibit little change and others reflect slight subsidence…

In other words, the expansion has stopped and is actually receding in some parts of the caldera. That little piece of information took me approximately 30 seconds to Google. If I, a lowly geology undergrad still learning to differentiate andesite from rhyolite, can do such basic fact checking, surly Michio Kaku can as well. The bright side to all this, is that a lot of commenters called CNN on their bad science reporting (I think I recognized a couple from the geoblogosphere). While I won’t bet on it, maybe this will motivate CNN to do some basic research before airing such drivel.

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6 thoughts on “CNN and the Yellowstone Super Volcano

  1. I wouldn’t get my hopes up about CNN or any other MSM “science journalism” sources improving. We’ve been through this too many times- some even worse. Basically, much of the ignorant public wants sensationalistic entertainment, and news is no longer about news: it’s about advertising revenues. The go-to smack down of this clip was at Eruptions a couple of weeks ago.
    http://bigthink.com/ideas/26680

  2. Ahhh, as my mother calls it, “CNN- aka Communist News Network”, lol… Seriously though, I truly hate sensational speculation. My father thrives on it an takes it as fact, as I’m sure many do.

  3. That drivel drives site traffic and draws in viewers. After all, it worked on you. CNN, like most news organizations here have always been, is a business that generates the bulk of its revenue through selling advertising time and space. The more people see their content, the more they can charge for ads. Because of the business model’s demands, the accuracy of that content is, unfortunately, less relevant than whether or not it entices people to watch or read. Commercial mass media have always been that way, whether you’re looking at colonial-era broadsheets or modern web sites. It’s either that or go out of business; they don’t have much other choice if they’re for-profit enterprises.

  4. While I would have to agree that CNN has an absolute tendency to misrepresent scientific fact, and while I have no experience in the field of geology, what Dr. Kaku said wan’t so far from the truth. His answers seemed broad and vague, but from what little I have read and understood, real. There is activity under Yellowstone, the supervolcano is according to the speculated cycle 40,000 years overdue for an eruption, and if we do end up having a super eruption the devestation preditction could very well be accurate. The only thing that I considered wrong, as far as addressing a public without any scientific knowledge, is that no where in the interview was it stated that the next eruption from yellowstone could be a small eruption not necessarily a super eruption. The rest of the interview from what I have read seemed accurate: it’s possible, not sure when, or how big, worst case scenario is…, and while activity is being watched closely and could be considered a threat there is no reason to panic could happen anytime over the next 100,000 years. Now if the information I have looked over and understood is far off base and there is someone with knowledge of the field that could point me to more accurate information and data it would be appreciated.

    • The problem with the Dr. Kaku interview can be summed up into two points:

      1) He’s a theoretical physicist and not a volcanologist.
      2) His broad and vague statements simply promoted sensationalism and nothing close to the truth.

      Dr. Kaku needs to realize that most people will see the word “doctor” or “scientist” attached to his name and assume that what he says is true. Now, this may be the case with his area of expertise, theoretical physics, but at no point has he trained in the geological sciences to make the assumptions that he put forth. I’m not saying that he can’t study and learn about the other fields of science, but his interview showed that he did absolutely no research before hand.

      Other point I’d like to make is that, broad and vague statements are not necessarily true nor accurate. That would be like saying all of Christianity believed in the Bible, God and Jesus Christ. Now, that statement may seem true on the surface, but a little more digging reveals that most Christian churches have highly varied beliefs in what the Bible actually teaches and the nature of God and Jesus Christ. I hope that analogy made sense.

      As for resources with more accurate information, I’d check out the link in the first comment from Lockwood in this post and also visit the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory website. Both websites are ran by volcanologists and are great starting resources.

  5. CNN and the rest of the mass media have half a foot in the business P.T. Barnham invented. Any crisis is good for business and if there is no crisis well then you had better make it sound like one. If you want people to pay for stupid opinions stated as facts you have to get them to interested . Have you noticed how youtube videos where someone falls or something crashes expodes are ending up aired on TV news programs lately? Google was way ahead of their time in paying billions for you tube. The media outlets including comcast now even dumb down the youtube videos by titling them as questions such as “what happens when a kitten goes jet skiing” or “see what happens when a man falls off a roof top.”. See we made you look and thanks to you looking our advertisers pay us for the service. Journalists , so called , at outlets like CNN are not much better than so called journalists at outlets like the old soviet uinon paper Pravda which means “The Truth” in English translation . When you have news editors telling reporters that they are “speculatating as if factual” that is just a way to tell them that some speculation is acceptable and other speculation is a big no no.. Everything about the super volcano in yellowstone is a matter of speculation. It is a different kind of speculation to say that a volcano is ready to blow in the near future even if we do know that it is a major volcano with a history of erruptions. Much worse on CNN is speculation about these stupid murder mystery cases they follow when the reporters watch the police suspects and rev up the speculation as if any of their opinions mater or are even news. Maybe everyone needs practice as a future juror? It is fascinating just how much speculation is stated as fact. CNN pretty much believes every child is probably abused and they even put that silly Dr Drew on to edify that opinion. Junk Science is not just made to order for the tort lawyers without the news media playing up the hype on every pseudo science subject. Economic and political speculation on CNN and other media outlets is just about as dumbed down as stupid as anything else. I saw the news media turn this Rubini guy and some of his really dumb ideas about the economy into an unnecessary run on banks. Some of the largerest financial reporting souces should have been sued by the banks that went bankrupt as a result because depositors insurance should have prevented any run on those banks in particular Washington Mutual. People who were fully covered by FDIC insurance were running to get their money at Washington Mutual branches for no good reason at all and not just those with more funds over the insured limit. The media dumbs up and drums up global warming theology and they don’t even seem to know how little carbon is in the atmosphere compared to say Venus which does seem to have a much higher atmospheric pressure than earth and substantially higher atmospheric temperatures as a result. There on Venus its not just carbon molecules in the atmospher but sulphor too and the pressure is about the same as being at the bottom of the sea and not under the sky on earth. No one at the media ever learned anything about anything in college . its news to them that there are universal gas laws that say that if the earth is warming it should have changes in atomospheric pressure none of which have been observed and that there is no evidence that past warming trends that are associated with possibly more carbon in the atmosphere are caused by warming or if tihe warming trend causes more fires putting more carbon in the atomsphere. CNN is not worthless except when it comes to science and they see a major undersea quake at 9 plus on the scale they don’t know to broadcast to satalite dishes on hotels around the world like in Thailand that there is a great chance of a Tsunami coming. Of course the scientists at USGS said they did not know who to call and CNN and Fox would have been two of the frist media outlets i would have called in their possitions but then scientists don’t watch tv and don’t even know it exists worldwide by satalite?

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