Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Look Down The Ebola Rabbit Hole

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Credit CDC

 

# 8936

 

A curious report came through my RSS feed yesterday -a blanket denial from the USGS Volcano observatory in Yellowstone National Park that recent `unusual seismic activity’ had forced the evacuation of the park - and that the supervolcano was about to erupt.

 

A massive Yellowstone eruption – as you probably know – is a favorite scenario for many doomsday preppers, and many others hoping to have a reason not to have to go back to work on Monday morning. 

 

Fueled by countless cable TV `documentaries’ envisioning the bleak aftermath of a supervolcano eruption, warnings and predictions are posted on Youtube and other social media venues predicting an imminent ash covered-demise for North America every few months.

 

First the statement from the USGS, then I’ll be back with a bit more.

 

A Short Statement Regarding Recent Rumors

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August 08, 2014

Though we love doing research at YVO, we prefer it when the research is on topics geological rather than the origin of false rumors. Nevertheless, we have received enough concerned emails and phone calls that we've spent some time tracking down a few of the statements made on various "alternative Internet news sources."


1) First, everyone should know that geological activity, including earthquakes and ground uplift/subsidence is well within historical norms and seismicity is actually a bit low at present.


2) Concern over road closures is much overblown. There's been one road closure of a small side road – just over three miles long – that was closed for two days. As one can imagine, it is not easy to maintain roads that pass over thermal areas where ground temperatures can approach those of boiling water. Roads at Yellowstone often need repair because of damage by thermal features as well as extreme cold winter conditions.

3) The park has not been evacuated. This one is pretty easy to verify by everyone. If the Old Faithful webcam shows people, or if news articles are coming out about a hobbyist's remote control helicopter crashing into a hot spring, Yellowstone is certainly open for business.

4) No volcanologists have stated that Yellowstone is likely to erupt this week, this month or this year. In one recent article, a name was attributed to a "senior volcanologist", but that person does not appear to exist, and a geologist with that name assures us that he did not supply any quotes regarding Yellowstone.

5) Finally, we note that those who've kept track of Yellowstone over the past decade or so, have seen a constant stream of "predictions" regarding imminent eruptions at Yellowstone. Many have had specific dates in mind, none had a scientific basis, and none have come true.

We will continue to provide updates on geological activity at Yellowstone, and educational materials to help understand the science around Yellowstone monitoring.

Virtually everything known about Yellowstone's spectacular volcanic past comes from the scientists who work at this observatory, at all our eight member agencies. We're the ones who mapped the deposits, figured out the ages of the eruptions, measured the gases, located the earthquakes, and tracked the ground movement. A few of us have been doing it for over forty years. We will continue to help you understand what's happening at Yellowstone now, and what's likely to happen in the future.


It didn’t take long to track down the original `alternative media story’, which last week blared the headline YELLOWSTONE EVACUATED: EXPERTS CLAIM `SUPER VOLCANO’ COULD ERUPT WITHIN WEEKS, along with the somber prediction that North America could endure a `volcanic winter’ that would last 200 years. 

 

While I won’t link to it - if you are truly curious - and aren’t afraid to risk a few brain cells in the process, you can certainly Google it.


Since Yellowstone has erupted in the past with devastating results, it isn’t unreasonable to think it could do so again.  But the last time was more than 600,000 years ago, and the next eruption (if it comes) could be thousands of years from now. 

 

After spending nearly an hour that I’ll never get back again looking at a dozen Youtube videos warning of the `Yellowstone threat’, I made the tactical mistake of switching my search to recent `EBOLA’ videos.

 

If you should choose to do the same, be warned you’ll find hours of self-appointed experts describing the nightmare Ebola pandemic that they assure is nigh. I guess the Zombie apocalypse meme has gone stale, as the (lab created!)  `walking nearly dead’ are the new doomsday threat in town. 

 

Like watching an old Ed Wood SciFi movie, these offerings were so universally awful and over-the-top, I had a hard time turning away.

 

To save you some time (and even more brain cells), some of these videos strongly suggest that this strain of Ebola was created in a US funded lab, was unleashed in Africa as the first stage of a global depopulation plan, and our collective futures consist of grisly deaths in quarantined cities, internment in FEMA Camps, or forced vaccination with a mind-control drug.


Some, of course, took a less cheery view.

 

Admittedly, not all of the videos were alarmist or paranoid – some were accurate or at least reasonable so. But many of those on the paranoid end of the scale were receiving extensive views – some as many as 10,000 a day.

 

Would that this humble blog ever saw that level of traffic. 

 

While one is tempted to dismiss these efforts as little more than `bad amateur theatre’, limited in both appeal and impact, these are the same internet scare tactics that have been successfully used by some activists to demonize childhood and flu vaccines.

 

For their core audiences, their messages strongly resonate, and their impact shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

It is against this background of distrust that any public health campaign against future disease outbreaks must be waged. For every CDC statement rationally explaining why Ebola is unlikely to spread efficiently in the Western world, there are a hundred videos screaming `cover up’.

 

The good news is, of all American government agencies, the Centers for Disease Control routinely ranks highest in public trust and confidence (see poll). The bad news is, 35% of those polled still ranked them as `only fair’ or `poor’, leaving more than a little confidence gap.

 

Just as fear, distrust, and superstition have greatly interfered in the identification, isolation, and treatment of Ebola cases in West Africa - one has to seriously wonder just how much differently things would play out in this country should Ebola, MERS, or avian flu ever seriously threaten.

Here’s hoping we never find out.

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