The article then goes on to describe a project called the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth, a sister program called the Plate Boundary Observatory, and finally, the Large High Performance Outdoor Shake Table at the University of California at San Diego, each of which is providing new information about earthquake dynamics. In a similar fashion, Nature News distanced itself from the pack with an article explaining why “few experts thought the seismic zone off Sendai, Japan, was capable of such violence.” The piece focuses on what the event is teaching scientists about the relative earthquake potential related to subduction of old, versus new, oceanic crust.

These detailed accounts of ongoing earthquake research should guide more reporters. Articles about the statistical likelihood of earthquakes in California and how those quakes might compare to the one in Japan are fine, but readers would surely benefit from more specifics about how scientists know what they know and about how the Golden State is using that knowledge (or not) to safeguard the public.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.