Are you thinking about earthquakes? I don't blame you. Been an interesting arbitrarily defined start of the time unit. We've had a huge earthquake (8.8 in Chile) and a not so big, but devastating Haiti quake (7.0). Many lives have been lost or completely altered, which makes this a great time to remind you that all revenue from this blog will continue to be donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) for the foreseeable future.

Over at Florilegium, Rycharde Manne ( I have it on good authority that this is a pseudonym* - Hank strongly recommends you read the notes) has earthquakes on the brain too. So, you are in some subjectively determined quality level of company. He wondered:
Why are we having so many earthquakes recently? . . .However, this isn't a conspiracy website, so are there any scientists in
this field who can explain this huge spike in earthquakes? An artefact
of more measuring stations, surely not?
-Rycharde Manne
Sure, I just ellipsed the entire article, but trust me, its ok. We've got the important points. The onus is on the scientific community to explain why this is not an atmospheric and communications research laser shaking the world to bits and Hugo Chavez is wrong.

The evidence that earthquakes are becoming more common comes in the form of a graph like the one I'm showing here, based on data from The US Geological Survey (USGS). However, the data used to create this graph (and the one in Rycharde's article) are not a comprehensive list, they are:
Selected earthquakes of general historic interest.

This is a biased sample set. The trend is only showing that the number of earthquakes considered "interesting" increases as time approaches the present. Not surprisingly, more recent earthquakes are more likely to be of interest. It is not surprising that the USGS took down such an asinine graphic. Or, was it a cover up?

Rycharde identifies the trend as starting around 1999. Fortunately, if you are willing to dig a little, there is good data about earthquake frequencies for the decades of the 1990s and 2000s. While more earthquakes are detected each year due to increased numbers of survey stations and technological improvements, the frequency of earthquake magnitudes is not any different. 

Indeed, the increase in numbers of earthquakes detected is almost entirely accounted for by the detection of small earthquakes with a magnitude around 4 or less.

Maybe it is as simple as more survey stations:
Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained  fairly constant. A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous  increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic  mail, internet and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely  receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers  to locate earthquakes more rapidly and to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years.
When it comes to the observation of new phenomenon due to technological improvements in equipment, I like to remember my astronomy. Before the telescope, there were five planets. After the telescope, there were nine (and then eight, but that is another story); but, the planets were always there.

These geological events can be horrific, as the people of Haiti and Chile have so recently experienced. How much more horrible is it to exploit these tragedies for political or ideological gain, or to naively provide support for such efforts. Our planet is not particularly friendly toward humans. While that risk is not distributed equally, it is a risk all its inhabitants. To suggest that these tragedies are the result of unintentional or intentional acts by one group endangering another, without a shred of evidence, is unconscionably brazen and makes me quite grumpy.

*What is the freaking point of having an internet pseudonym that is so blatantly associated with your name, which you cleverly hide in the first line of your bio?
Josh Witten is the internet pseudonym of Joshua Witten.

Actually, if I was going to go for an internet pseudonym, it would be from the spectacularly awesome side of the equation, like Banjo Roksurmomanoff or the rugbyologist.