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Houses shook across much of Britain as the country experienced its biggest earthquake for thirty years early this morning.

Impressively, within ten minutes of the tremors, CSEM (EMSC), the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre, revealed the cause: a 5.4 magnitude quake with an epicentre 10 miles north east of Lincoln, in the East Midlands. (Within an hour, this was revised to a 4.9 scale quake).

CSEM even saves you the from converting latitude/longtiude co-ordinates - it's integrated with Tele Atlas data, via Google Maps.

Despite the availability of real-time information, the instant news media fell back on, er... "calls from viewers". The BBC and Sky's radio and rolling news hurried to bring us what we already knew - that a great big earthquake had happened, somewhere in Britain.

A resourceful night operator at BBC News took a break from cutting and pasting these reports ("there was a really loud bang" - Jemma Harrison, 22, in Greater Manchester) to find the US Geological Survey's website - which (naturally) carried rather less accurate information than the real-time sensors in Europe.

CSEM map and information on the quake

CSEM had quake information within 10 minutes - click to enlarge

(At time of writing (90 minutes later), BBC News had raised somebody from the British Geological Survey out of their beds, who had in turn gone to the web, and confirmed the CSEM information. This confirmation replaced the reference to the US Geological website. That's one way of getting the news out...)

It's tempting to conclude that the moral of the story is one of new technology baffling hacks: "why can't the media use the internet better?"

But it's worse than that.

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Publicly funded science, which is supposed to operate on our behalf, did its job - by making available real-time information available within ten minutes of the quake. Not all of it worked - alas, our own British Geological Survey, a member of the EMSC network, doesn't publish real-time monitoring information. But it shows what we get for our money, when scientists aren't concocting disaster fictions of their own. Which with gullible politicians and quangocrats in charge, is how they get research grants today.

The science network did rather better than the publically-funded media, which demonstrated how badly it has lost the plot. The 24 hour news hacks long since forgot how to do even the most basic research, and now fall back on telling us what we already know.

Adam Curtis' brutal summary - "they don't know what they're doing" - seems more apt then ever. Go on, send us your funny quake anecdotes...

No, don't.

Google News should have caught up by about this time next week. ®

Update Charles Eicher writes - "Due to some quirks of geophysics, the most accurate quake measurements come from seismometers the farthest away, ideally at the opposite end of the world. if the BGS had a seismometer right on top of the quake, it would provide the least accurate measurements. The USGS is the gold standard, they combine measurements from the whole world's network of seismometers. So groups like the BGS don't even bother to take their own measurements, it all gets sent to the USGS automatically and the BGS just waits for USGS to combine their data with the rest of the world. That's why you always see the initial estimates and then the corrected ones, the correction is the final USGS combined reading. On top of that, it takes measurements from several far-away sites to triangulate an exact location of the epicenter, initial readings aren't very accurate.

"Of course that doesn't excuse the BGS for being totally asleep at the wheel and not even issuing timely statements. So your instincts are right, to take them to task for failing their public mission. But nobody would go to the BGS anyway, they'd all be looking at the USGS site. Still, it's not you're in an active fault zone where they expect quakes every day, like in Los Angeles or SF."

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