Magnitude, moment, and measurement: The seismic mechanism controversy and its resolution
Date of Issue2017
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
This paper examines the history of two related problems concerning earthquakes, and the way in which a theoretical advance was involved in their resolution. The first problem is the development of a physical, as opposed to empirical, scale for measuring the size of earthquakes. The second problem is that of understanding what happens at the source of an earthquake. There was a controversy about what the proper model for the seismic source mechanism is, which was finally resolved through advances in the theory of elastic dislocations. These two problems are linked, because the development of a physically-based magnitude scale requires an understanding of what goes on at the seismic source. I will show how the theoretical advances allowed seismologists to re-frame the questions they were trying to answer, so that the data they gathered could be brought to bear on the problem of seismic sources in new ways.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Elsevier Ltd. It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2017.02.002].