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The Richter Scale is Dangerously Misleading and Should be Changed

The Richter Scale is Dangerously Misleading and Should be Changed

The Richter Scale makes no sense in communicating the magnitude of an earthquake, unless of course you're an engineer or mathematician. It's a dangerously impractical way to communicate something so important.

The difference between a magnitude 5.0 and a magnitude 7.0 seems pretty benign. However, on the Richter Scale, a magnitude 5.0 will raise anxiety, whereas a magnitude 7.0 will raze buildings.

How are we supposed to really understand the difference unless we're inclined to do the research? We did the research in a previous blog post and converted the logarithmic scale to dollars - something most of us understand. It became clear to us how crazy fast we entered the insanely powerful and dangerous zone as the numbers progress by a few integers. We urge everyone to have a look at that post.

To us, there is at least one easy solution, and this is to just call it like it is which would be to use a linear scale. It's the scale we live with every day and it's one that has become second nature to us. Most people know that 10 would be twice as powerful as 5. It's elegant and understandable in its simplicity of making comparisons.

Consider this, with the Richter Scale the energy released in a magnitude 7.0 is 1,000 times stronger than a magnitude 5.0.  O n e - T h o u s a n d - T i m e s - G r e a t e r.  That gets my attention. But how many people know that? Unfortunately the numbers 5 and 7 are so close you can easily dismiss the difference.

Think about running 7 miles vs 5 miles, or buying 7 tomatoes vs 5 tomatoes, or working 7 hours vs 5 hours. They feel like a very manageable difference. Now think of it in Richter Scale terms where you'd be running 1,000 miles vs 5 miles, or buying 1,000 tomatoes vs 5...we find it so counterintuitive that it's dangerous.

How easy it would be to just simplify it, make it understandable and communicable - if no one comes up with a better idea, use a linear scale ... at least for us non-engineer types.