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Town Council Destroys Geological Mecca

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Sorta transcript:

Horrible news for science, everyone! An evil, ignorant city commission has thoughtlessly destroyed a sacred site of scientific advancement that has thrown geologists into a whirlpool of grief and confusion!

Or at least, that’s what a few headlines made me think until I looked into it a bit more. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Hayward, California is a town that happens to straddle the San Andreas fault, which is the separation between two tectonic plates made famous in the 2015 film San Andreas starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which I debunked just prior to its debut. The film was BS, but the fault really is dangerous, since millions of people live on top of it and there’s a very, very good chance that some time soon it’s going to produce a very strong earthquake, and a lot of people are going to die, be injured, and/or lose their homes and possessions.

Brief aside: if you live on an active fault line like I do, make sure you have an earthquake kit! For real! I’m not kidding! Future you will thank present you, and me for reminding present you.

In Hayward, the San Andreas fault has slowly but surely changed the geography of the town, and it was most publicly noticeable in a curb that had migrated over the past 40 years. According to a lot of the news articles I read, this became a bit of a geology tourist destination and was even the site of scientific measurements. But then the big, bad city of Hayward came along and leveled out the street and fixed the curb.

Does this ring true to you at all? Because it didn’t to me. I followed all the links in all the articles and the only “scientific measurements” I found were a few grainy photos from different years and from wildly different angles, sometimes with a pencil next to the curb for scale.

Was the curb interesting? Absolutely! It was a great reminder that we’re all sitting on an enormous, ever-shifting planet that could destroy us at any moment. And that’s definitely something the public should be aware of, because seriously people assemble an earthquake kit!

But was it crucial to science? Hell no. If it were, then someone at some point over the past 40 years would have or should have let the city of Hayward know about it. And someone should probably have set up a more accurate method of cataloguing the shifting location, rather than randomly snapping a pic every ten years or so.

And the city didn’t destroy the curb just because. They fixed it because number one it was a safety hazard — sidewalks are for walking on and for keeping people from being hit by cars — and number two because they needed to put in a wheelchair ramp. You know, so people in wheelchairs could access the sidewalk instead of rolling through the streets waiting to be hit by cars.

So please, let’s not use this as an example of a local government being anti-science. Actual geological research will continue, and hell, now if you want you can go there and take proper measurements, since in another 40 years that curb is going to be pushed out of place again.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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6 Comments

  1. July 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm —

    Rebecca Watson,

    Thankfully they fixed the thing and fewer people will have to deal with horrible accidents now.

    By the way, thanks for the advice about Earthquake preparedness.

  2. July 24, 2016 at 6:33 pm —

    Umm. Just nitpicking a limb here; but I believe the Hayward Fault runs through Hayward. I used to live a few hundred yards from it, further north in El Cerrito. San Andreas runs through San Francisco and south along the peninsula.

    But its a big fault, perfectly capable of generating The Big One.

  3. July 25, 2016 at 12:16 am —

    I used to live in Newark, just down the road from Hayward and it’s fault. The story I heard at the time (and this was 15 years or so ago) was that it was well overdue for a quake, and that the shock waves passing through the alluvial silt that most of Newark’s housing stock is built on would basically liquify it and send those concrete slab foundations sliding all over the place, with lots of resultant chaos. Hasn’t happened yet, though.

  4. July 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm —

    Gah. ‘its’. Not ‘it’s’.

  5. July 25, 2016 at 1:07 pm —

    Since I’m a terrible person, all I could think of was “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our city councils, but in our planet.”

    A friend’s college roommate was killed when her apartment building collapsed due liquefaction in the Marina in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It is very disappointing to read that just across the bay, there are still many buildings that are vulnerable.

    • July 25, 2016 at 1:16 pm —

      You say terrible, I say designed to make me chuckle.

      (About the Shakespeare paraphrase not the dead people, ’cause I’m not a terrible person)

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