I read absurdly quickly and am not an auditory learner, so I usually skip podcasts in favour of text or videos. However, I have a soft spot for Neil Degrasse Tyson, so when his StarTalk Radio covered current disaster events, I had to listen in.
The language is appropriate for non-specialist, and the questions are culled from Twitter and Facebook so reflect questions you probably had. Overall, if you like podcasts, it’s worth listening to for scientific context.
Segment 1: Introduction
I had a bunch of minor objections to this section:
- During the introduction, Tyson lists the reactor woes as part of a natural disaster. It is a disaster, but we built it so it isn’t natural.
- Energy increase by earthquake magnitude is by 32^magnitude difference, not 33. I think this was just a slip of numbers while talking.
- Earthquake magnitudes do not get rounded. The upgrade of magnitude from 8.9 to 9.0 is not rounding; it’s a revision based on further analysis of the data. Our usual methods for quickly determining earthquake magnitude don’t work as well for larger magnitude earthquakes.
- I found the explanation between earthquakes and volcanoes overly simple. For anyone wanting a bit more depth, check out Magma Cum Laude‘s research blog on a recent article.
Segment 2: Earthquakes
This segment had a lot that I particularly liked, with an outstanding explanation about how major earthquakes changes the rotation of the earth. If you’re only going to listen to one segment, pick this one.
Segment 3: The Reactor
I didn’t like this segment. It’s the only segment interviewing an inappropriate expert (Michio Kaku is a string theorist, not a nuclear physicist or reactor engineer), and it showed. The analogies were overly simple, the parallels deceptively imperfect, and the overall science was limited compared to Georneys’ conversations with her father.
Segment 4: Tsunami
More minor objections, again mostly because this is an area of my expertise so I know all deceptive oversimplifications.
- The explanation of detecting tsunami in open ocean is very deceptive: we measure pressure with the buoys, not wave height.
- Tsunami behaviour during shoaling was poorly explained. Far more detail.
- The evidence given for the Cascadia quake is more fascinating than just some sand a few a few drowned forests. The evidence pieces together in one of those beautiful stories of scientific discovery, so it’s disappointing to hear it shortchanged.