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Mystery volcano's name revealed despite gag order.

Breaking news in this issue: A volcano thought to have erupted in 1258 actually blew its stack in 1257.

That really is big news for volcano fans everywhere--not so much because of the new date, but because the site of the volcano has long been one of volcanology's biggest mysteries. Ice-core samples dated to 1258 contain unusual amounts of sulfur, a surefire signature that a huge volcanic eruption occurred somewhere shortly before. Scientists believe it was the most powerful volcanic blast since humans learned to write. But no one knew where on Earth the eruption occurred--the sulfur circulated throughout the atmosphere before coming to rest in polar ice.

But now, somebody knows--or at least, claims to have strong evidence for--the culprit volcano's identity. Franck Lavigne, at a geophysics meeting in Iceland, declared that he and his collaborators had "new and solid evidence" for the site of the 1258 eruption, with additional data indicating that the actual date was late spring or summer of 1257. Lavigne refused, though, to say just what volcano he was talking about.

Like many scientists, Lavigne was afraid to reveal a scientific discovery because he and his colleagues plan to publish the finding in a scientific journal. Some journals threaten scientists with refusal to publish their work if the results have already been reported in the news media. So the scientists consider themselves gagged, unable to share their knowledge with other experts at conferences held for just that purpose.

Journals that enforce such gag orders should be ashamed of themselves. Such policies impede the free flow of information among scientists and delay the delivery of interesting and important news from science to the public. It's bad for science and bad for science's efforts to gain the public's appreciation.

In this case, though, the public didn't lose out entirely. Science News contributing editor Alexandra Witze, on the scene, consulted experts at the meeting who agreed that the photos shown in Lavigne's presentation depicted Indonesia. Further information posted obscurely on the Internet (and since taken down) provided more clues. It's a very good bet that the mystery volcano is Rinjani, on the island of Lombok, as one outside expert has publicly speculated (see Page 12).

Sometime in the months ahead, a journal will publish, and other media will report, this conclusion. But, despite the current system's cumbersome efforts at scientific censorship, you read it here first.--Tom Siegfried, Editor in Chief
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Title Annotation:FROM THE EDITOR; Mount Rinjani
Author:Siegfried, Tom
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Jul 14, 2012
Words:403
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