What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

When headlines go wrong (for the Grimsvotn update for 11/4/2010)

November 4, 2010, 12:06 PM

One of the biggest problems I find in the coverage of geologic events in the media is the relationship between cause and effect. Many times the confusion of what factors can bring about a geologic event and the signals that tell us that the event may occur is based on poor wording, but it can propagate into the general public who get their information from these articles.

A great example of this is the current situation at Grímsvötn in Iceland. The latest headline from the Press Association is "Melting ice could trigger eruption." Now, I read this and think that the melted ice (water) will cause the volcano to start erupting, in other words, it is merely the presence/lack of water that controls whether the volcano erupts. However, the presence of this melt water likely suggests that magma is close to the surface and, of course, that is what will cause any eruption to occur. The only role water might play is any explosions that could be caused by flash-boiling of the meltwater - a phreatic or phreatomagmatic event. The meltwater that is being released from Grímsvötn is a result of magma intrusion, but an independent event that will cause the volcano to erupt.

Of course, with the events at Eyjafjallajökull earlier this year, many media outlets are trying to imply that Grímsvötn will wreak the same chaos to air travel, which is likely not the case. Although the volcanoes are similar, by merely looking at back the history of eruptions at Grímsvötn, we know that there weren't major air travel disruptions during the volcano's 1984, 1998 or 2004 eruptions, so to assume that the 2010 would cause such disruption has no real basis in fact. Of course, the media does love fear-mongering without the science to support their doom prognostications, so I suppose this is no surprise.

The floodwaters are waning at the volcano, which might suggest that the melting event is also slowing down - and there are no other indications that an eruption is starting, however there are still signs that an eruption could occur in the near future (although that might mean in the next few weeks, months or year). If you want to see all the details of the Grímsvötn Jokulklaup in all its hydrologic glory, check out the post from the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

Top left: The 2004 crater area on Grímsvötn in an image by Craig Miller.


When headlines go wrong (fo...

Newsletter: Share: