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Megadisasters: Predicting the next catastrophe Hardcover – 24 Sep 2009
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A compelling analysis. (Nature, Andrew Robinson)
From the Back Cover
"In Megadisasters, Florin Diacu takes the reader on a gripping tour of all the forces of nature that wreak havoc on our species, forcing us all, in the end, to cherish every day that Earth does not manage to kill us."--Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of The Pluto Files
"Like a scientific detective, Diacu presents a riveting account of spine-chilling megadisasters facing our civilization, ranging from abrupt climate change to killer comets and the collapse of the world's financial system. This book held me totally spellbound."--Edward Belbruno, author of Fly Me to the Moon
"Megadisasters tracks the history of our development of knowledge about sudden catastrophes. The book is well conceived and written with considerable clarity. Diacu does a nice job of showing what is predictable and what isn't."--William F. Ruddiman, author of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate
"This book is timely. The public and even many scientists misunderstand the limits of our ability to predict natural (and some not-so-natural) events. Diacu writes well and effectively integrates the human experience with disasters and provides a historic background for our understanding of a variety of natural phenomena. Megadisasters is a winner."--Grant Heiken, coauthor of The Seven Hills of Rome: A Geological Tour of the Eternal City--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product description
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The author is open-minded about the frontiers of science (having a veritable philosophy of science instinct!) and he was brave enough to write on Fomenko (with whom he shares some of the same physics and mathematics expertise - namely differential equations and their use in celestial mechanics and optimization problems). Brave because doing so risked career suicide. No one is allowed to touch Fomenko. Period. This being said, Diacu seems very aware about methodological issues across disciplines and is aware of a host of evaluative pitfalls. As is clear in the chapter on climate change - he remains keenly aware regarding the quite flexible borders between science and pseudo-science on both sides of Caesar's coin: those holy idols overdue for dashing versus those working hypotheses rashly disdained. This is a brave quality in Diacu. He's a brave writer. Brings to mind Poincare or Reichenbach. But how thoroughgoing does Diacu prove to be here in this book on disaster as it relates to science and scientific prediction, modeling, theorizing, etc? It is with this sort of hope for sobriety and parsimony that he attempts to take a position of authority to parse what has been only prematurely labeled as science when it comes to prediction from what is really and truly more cutting edge in the science of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, climate change, meteor impact, economic breakdown, and pandemics. Though "cutting edge" by no means indicates anything completely exhaustive in this account, he does cover a few of the brighter and more well-known modern attempts - various innovators which are bent on taking uncertainty to task with impressive tools and methods.
Why should one find his work here just a little disappointing? Here it is: I silently hoped that Diacu would address the fringe hypothesis of 'earth-expansion' and its hundered year history which is still yet alive and kicking. Albeit, kicking a bit feverishly. Taking earth-expansion seriously would certainly play a pivotal role in explanation, research, and prediction of earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and climate change and illustrate that there have been attempts to give a more unifying account of unexpected geophysical change. But, alas, it was omitted. This omission is a little flunky for Diacu's caliber. For the same reason that a historian refusing a serious dialogue with Fomenko's work is certainly evidence of academic isolationism. (So too for the geosciences and its spurned earth-expansion counterpart.) Perhaps my somewhat unrealistic expectation that he go here was due to a belief that he would leave no stone unturned in his investigations. Earth-expansion theory is a huge stone. Worth lifting. This stone's importance is reinforced by the broadest criteria opened up by the keener logic and methodology a historian of the philosophy of science obtains - which leaves no new or old guess out of the scuffle and is especially unforgiving when forays broach the large-scale (or extremely fuzzy quantum scale) speculative domains (astrophysics, quantum physics, geoscience (especially geodesy)) - where measurement and repeatability are not the strongest bets. Ie, where measurement is very often a disservice to naked and honest steadfast methodologies and yet flouted as incontestable after some broad observations, speculative unification, or maybe even two trials. And of all the counterpoints to dominating theories, earth-expansion is among the larger, more comprehensive paradigms known with quite a healthy history of supporters and still a few modern hold-outs.
The particular beef Diacu ought to take issue with in all these 'separate domains of catastrophes' is their lack of real experimentally proven predictive power *AS A SYMPTOM* of the sort of methodology employed to establish "facts" in the field. This is quite the case in archaeology, philology, migration theory, etc. And how much more is this the case in geophysics? Even as we watch the very satellites we trust to make measurements (eg, recently GRACE) exhibit great demands of software correction, a great deal less repeatability and cross-analysis, or only a handful of years of data to be sourced to make ludicrously firm claims - as is frequently seen in academic papers? Is it really so hard to believe that some of the underlying assumptions in the contemporary account of geophysicists are patently premature or philosophically inconsistent? As such, it is hard to imagine why so much is taken for granted when from the final fruit of these disciplines we see Diacu struggling with how much these disciplines fail to bring results on their own basis - neither predictive power nor geoscience unification.
If in the second edition he at least outlines the ramifications of seriously entertaining earth-expansion, then I'll gladly revise the rating to 5 stars! Without it. It's a solid 3 stars. The "quest for a safer planet" intention will not serve science when, at the expense of professionals who've devoted their lives to geoscience, we ignore the few voices who've upheld an incredible account of evidence pointing elsewhere. (He can start here: http://www.brera.unimi.it/SISFA/atti/1996/scalera.html). If he hasn't committed career suicide already, perhaps he's willing to go the full distance and consider the scientific accounts which completely upset our idea of the world. At least as much as the New Chronology. To return to Roberto Mantovani and do the historical depth he is known for Diacu would certainly push us to discover more about the underlying realities we may be forced to address only too late. He and everyone else from Cascadia to the New Madrid fault ought indeed be a bit worried of megadistasters. But would he even know that the intracontinental rift for the New Madrid fault has sparse support by a plate tectonics paradigm making it easy for writers on the topic to overlook the trove of data, say, housed in Memphis today ...and reaching back to settler accounts of the winter of 1811-2? Perhaps only the Ring of Fire matters to him which makes him parochial in the same way historians who are unconcerned with a critical examination of the roots of chronology will always remain parochial however reputable. Is this not symptomatic of someone hijacked by plate tectonics at the expense of all else? Since when was Diacu down with inheriting a cliché?!?!
The chaos that occurs with disasters prevents prediction now or in the future is discussed
The types of disasters listed include tsunamis,earthquakes,volcanoes,typhoons,climate change,cosmic impact and pandemics ( this is the poorist section and is not well described)
A useful insight into the uncontrolable workings of our planet.
The book is written for the general public, and the reader does not need to have any particular training or experience in mathematics or science to follow the author's discussion. The book provides a basic introduction to the subject matter for readers who are not trained or experienced in mathematics or science. Anyone interested in a more detailed, technical discussion of mathematical models and scientific predictions of various phenomena should look elsewhere.
One example of a more technical discussion of mathematical models and scientific predictions is Prediction: Science, Decision Making, and the Future of Nature (Island Press, 1990), an anthology edited by Daniel Sarewitz; Roger A. Pielke, Jr.; and Radford Byerly, Jr.
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