De Ole Dawg – Part 6: 2018 -Hunting down some hitmen

De Ole Dawg – Part 6: 2018 -Hunting down some hitmen

Were recent ill-informed volcano hazard articles in the UK the result of deliberate hit jobs on Montserrat’s credibility?

BRADES, Montserrat, March 16, 2018 – Montserrat’s viability was recently seriously questioned in two UK newspapers, leading to much concern. Let’s pause to see what was said:

UK Guardian, March 6[1]:  “for the past eight years the volcano has been completely silent, and locals are impatient to return to their homes. So is it safe?  Prof Jurgen Neuberg, a volcanologist at the University of Leeds, is chairman of the scientific advisory committee to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, tasked with assessing the risk of the volcano . . .  Neuberg and his colleagues can see that around one cubic metre (35 cubic ft) of fresh magma is accumulating under the island every seven seconds. “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating,” says Neuberg. Sadly, [Guardian adds,] Montserratians must continue to wait.”

UK Express, March 7[2]:  “Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano, the ‘Pompei of the Caribbean’, was rumbled by a “swarm” of five volcanic-tectonic earthquakes last week, sparking fears of eruption  . . .  volcanologists monitoring the volcano have noted increased volcanic stirring underneath Montserrat . . . . Professor Neuberg said: “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating.” Poisonous Sulphur Dioxide flux measurements last Monday February 26 have also revealed leaks amounting to hundreds of tonnes per day.”

These remarks that appear in two UK newspapers just a day apart are obviously potentially damaging, and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory therefore replied[3]:

“Monitoring data recorded and interpreted by Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) shows no changes that suggest that new activity is imminent. The newspaper articles are misleading and, in the case of The Express, alarmist. Since the end of the last phase of lava extrusion on 11 February 2010, MVO has observed a slow, steady movement of the ground surface across the whole of Montserrat . . . . research suggests that, since February 2010, the underground magma system that feeds the SHV has been slowly recharged by the influx of magma at depth. This causes the pressure inside the system to increase, which is then seen as upwards and outwards movement of the ground surface around the volcano. The news articles suggest that the research has produced new information. In the Express article this, when combined with a very small swarm of small-magnitude earthquakes on 25 February 2018, indicates that a new eruption may be imminent. This is not the case. Brief swarms of such earthquakes have occurred on more than one hundred occasions since 2007.”

Is such reporting just a case of poorly researched journalism on a scientific topic? Or, is it something a bit more sinister – a continuation of a string of media hit jobs on Montserrat’s credibility or even viability? For, deeply planted perceptions that are inaccurate can have damaging effects. That’s why The Reporter’s Editor noted in his introduction to the MVO response how in 1997 – 98: “UK Government authorities broadcasted and said that there might be a cataclysmic eruption that would cause Montserrat to completely evacuated . . . in spite of vehement denial of that situation from the Government and scientists on Montserrat, it was not until 2008 the UK relented on the misinformation.” Such needless doubts have likely contributed to delays in our rebuilding and redevelopment efforts.

Now, over the years we have had occasional articles in the well-respected UK Guardian on Montserrat’s challenges.  So, it would not be unusual for them to pick up something in the research news and comment on it; especially given the focus of their Terrawatch feature.

However, Terrawatch should have noted from the source they used[4]: “[d]espite the ongoing inflation, the magma volume in the reservoir that existed before the eruption started has not yet been reached.”  COMET illustrates this with a graph (shown) and goes on to say: “[h]owever, in the past, the volcano did not wait until the reservoir was refilled, but started the next eruptive phase sooner . . . the ash venting in the beginning of 2012 might have been a ‘failed eruption’ and the next eruptive phase is overdue.”  They are also quite explicit that: “the eruption is far from over and that fresh magma is accumulating in a reservoir below the island .”

“Overdue” and “far from over” or the like might indeed be of concern. However, a check with MVO by telephone or email would also have instantly shown that for many years the North has been regarded as quite safe, and that access restrictions for zones nearer to the volcano have been longstanding. 

On balance, the Express article clearly merits MVO’s comment: “alarmist.” That poor tone suggests that it is possible that more than mere failure to do proper journalistic cross-checks was at work. For, a reasonable person would note that – though it has fairly frequent articles on volcanoes – Montserrat is not usually on the UK Express’ beat. So, for cause s/he would pause while waiting at the Clapham bus stop, and would wonder if someone deliberately prompted the misleading report.

In both cases, a correction is due (but don’t hold your breath).

Moreover, these articles follow on a string of rather negative reports in various UK media since 2015 that have questioned aid to Montserrat, have challenged spending £5 millions to bring back fibre optic cable access[5] (vital for our development), have suggested widespread corruption and have generally left the ill-founded impression[6] that aid to Montserrat is in the main, a dodgy business and a huge waste of the British taxpayer’s money.  In short, too many of these pieces have come across as hit jobs, likely based on “leaks” from seemingly credible sources, but all aiming to foster an unjustifiably hostile climate of opinion in the UK public and among UK decision-makers. Hit jobs, of course, would be carried out by hitmen, who in turn would be sent by hostile Godfathers.  (Where, too, if you believe that hit jobs, hit men, Godfathers, irresponsible journalists and outright propagandists are only found in and around the UK tabloid press, please think again.[7])

All of this is always hard to prove, but something just does not smell right.

It is therefore time for our Government and our friends in the UK to take a closer look and to make a sustained effort to clear the air through a balanced, sound communication, public education and outreach strategy.  For, where credible, regular, balanced, substantial, clearly accurate information is lacking [especially on doing a Google search], that invites misinformation, spin games, irresponsible “tabloid” sensationalism, hit jobs and outright propagandistic manipulation. In an Internet age, failure to adequately communicate on a regular, sound basis has damaging consequences.

[1]               See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/06/terrawatch-montserrats-volcano-remains-a-risk?CMP=share_btn_fb

[2]           See: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/928274/montserrat-volcano-update-eruption-risk-will-it-erupt-soufriere-hills

[3]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/mvo-director-stewart-fixes-uk-guardian-express-newspapers-misrepresentation/

[4]               COMET: http://comet.nerc.ac.uk/montserrat-continues-inflate/

[5]           TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-12017-dissecting-a-smear-fibre-optics-facts-vs-uk-tabloids/

[6]           See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3084557/400m-foreign-aid-fiasco-paradise-Bribery-kickbacks-tax-money-siphoned-pet-projects-tiny-Carribean-island-British-worker-blew-whistle-paid-devastating-price.html

[7]               TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-12-2016-how-can-we-break-through-the-divide-and-rule-spiral-of-silencing/

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Were recent ill-informed volcano hazard articles in the UK the result of deliberate hit jobs on Montserrat’s credibility?

BRADES, Montserrat, March 16, 2018 – Montserrat’s viability was recently seriously questioned in two UK newspapers, leading to much concern. Let’s pause to see what was said:

UK Guardian, March 6[1]:  “for the past eight years the volcano has been completely silent, and locals are impatient to return to their homes. So is it safe?  Prof Jurgen Neuberg, a volcanologist at the University of Leeds, is chairman of the scientific advisory committee to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, tasked with assessing the risk of the volcano . . .  Neuberg and his colleagues can see that around one cubic metre (35 cubic ft) of fresh magma is accumulating under the island every seven seconds. “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating,” says Neuberg. Sadly, [Guardian adds,] Montserratians must continue to wait.”

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UK Express, March 7[2]:  “Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano, the ‘Pompei of the Caribbean’, was rumbled by a “swarm” of five volcanic-tectonic earthquakes last week, sparking fears of eruption  . . .  volcanologists monitoring the volcano have noted increased volcanic stirring underneath Montserrat . . . . Professor Neuberg said: “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating.” Poisonous Sulphur Dioxide flux measurements last Monday February 26 have also revealed leaks amounting to hundreds of tonnes per day.”

These remarks that appear in two UK newspapers just a day apart are obviously potentially damaging, and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory therefore replied[3]:

“Monitoring data recorded and interpreted by Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) shows no changes that suggest that new activity is imminent. The newspaper articles are misleading and, in the case of The Express, alarmist. Since the end of the last phase of lava extrusion on 11 February 2010, MVO has observed a slow, steady movement of the ground surface across the whole of Montserrat . . . . research suggests that, since February 2010, the underground magma system that feeds the SHV has been slowly recharged by the influx of magma at depth. This causes the pressure inside the system to increase, which is then seen as upwards and outwards movement of the ground surface around the volcano. The news articles suggest that the research has produced new information. In the Express article this, when combined with a very small swarm of small-magnitude earthquakes on 25 February 2018, indicates that a new eruption may be imminent. This is not the case. Brief swarms of such earthquakes have occurred on more than one hundred occasions since 2007.”

Is such reporting just a case of poorly researched journalism on a scientific topic? Or, is it something a bit more sinister – a continuation of a string of media hit jobs on Montserrat’s credibility or even viability? For, deeply planted perceptions that are inaccurate can have damaging effects. That’s why The Reporter’s Editor noted in his introduction to the MVO response how in 1997 – 98: “UK Government authorities broadcasted and said that there might be a cataclysmic eruption that would cause Montserrat to completely evacuated . . . in spite of vehement denial of that situation from the Government and scientists on Montserrat, it was not until 2008 the UK relented on the misinformation.” Such needless doubts have likely contributed to delays in our rebuilding and redevelopment efforts.

Now, over the years we have had occasional articles in the well-respected UK Guardian on Montserrat’s challenges.  So, it would not be unusual for them to pick up something in the research news and comment on it; especially given the focus of their Terrawatch feature.

However, Terrawatch should have noted from the source they used[4]: “[d]espite the ongoing inflation, the magma volume in the reservoir that existed before the eruption started has not yet been reached.”  COMET illustrates this with a graph (shown) and goes on to say: “[h]owever, in the past, the volcano did not wait until the reservoir was refilled, but started the next eruptive phase sooner . . . the ash venting in the beginning of 2012 might have been a ‘failed eruption’ and the next eruptive phase is overdue.”  They are also quite explicit that: “the eruption is far from over and that fresh magma is accumulating in a reservoir below the island .”

“Overdue” and “far from over” or the like might indeed be of concern. However, a check with MVO by telephone or email would also have instantly shown that for many years the North has been regarded as quite safe, and that access restrictions for zones nearer to the volcano have been longstanding. 

On balance, the Express article clearly merits MVO’s comment: “alarmist.” That poor tone suggests that it is possible that more than mere failure to do proper journalistic cross-checks was at work. For, a reasonable person would note that – though it has fairly frequent articles on volcanoes – Montserrat is not usually on the UK Express’ beat. So, for cause s/he would pause while waiting at the Clapham bus stop, and would wonder if someone deliberately prompted the misleading report.

In both cases, a correction is due (but don’t hold your breath).

Moreover, these articles follow on a string of rather negative reports in various UK media since 2015 that have questioned aid to Montserrat, have challenged spending £5 millions to bring back fibre optic cable access[5] (vital for our development), have suggested widespread corruption and have generally left the ill-founded impression[6] that aid to Montserrat is in the main, a dodgy business and a huge waste of the British taxpayer’s money.  In short, too many of these pieces have come across as hit jobs, likely based on “leaks” from seemingly credible sources, but all aiming to foster an unjustifiably hostile climate of opinion in the UK public and among UK decision-makers. Hit jobs, of course, would be carried out by hitmen, who in turn would be sent by hostile Godfathers.  (Where, too, if you believe that hit jobs, hit men, Godfathers, irresponsible journalists and outright propagandists are only found in and around the UK tabloid press, please think again.[7])

All of this is always hard to prove, but something just does not smell right.

It is therefore time for our Government and our friends in the UK to take a closer look and to make a sustained effort to clear the air through a balanced, sound communication, public education and outreach strategy.  For, where credible, regular, balanced, substantial, clearly accurate information is lacking [especially on doing a Google search], that invites misinformation, spin games, irresponsible “tabloid” sensationalism, hit jobs and outright propagandistic manipulation. In an Internet age, failure to adequately communicate on a regular, sound basis has damaging consequences.

[1]               See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/06/terrawatch-montserrats-volcano-remains-a-risk?CMP=share_btn_fb

[2]           See: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/928274/montserrat-volcano-update-eruption-risk-will-it-erupt-soufriere-hills

[3]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/mvo-director-stewart-fixes-uk-guardian-express-newspapers-misrepresentation/

[4]               COMET: http://comet.nerc.ac.uk/montserrat-continues-inflate/

[5]           TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-12017-dissecting-a-smear-fibre-optics-facts-vs-uk-tabloids/

[6]           See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3084557/400m-foreign-aid-fiasco-paradise-Bribery-kickbacks-tax-money-siphoned-pet-projects-tiny-Carribean-island-British-worker-blew-whistle-paid-devastating-price.html

[7]               TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-12-2016-how-can-we-break-through-the-divide-and-rule-spiral-of-silencing/