That’s not a flowslide, it’s a sad red troll!

There’s a problem with landslides.

Okay, there are many problems with landslides, and I’m sure many would count “annual odds of death by landslide are one in a million” as a significant problem, but that’s not the one I’m tackling tonight. Tonight, the issue flirts with landslide literature, consistency, and frustration with technical diction.

Landslide literature has a whole slew of contradictory classification schemes. I’ll be a bit more precise on the numbers and styles as I edit this to add sources, but at the very least you can classify by material or mechanism of movement. Within that, you could classify by material alone, material then mechanism, material and mechanism in combination, mechanism then material, or mechanism all by itself. Even if you pick material alone, is that material at the source of the landslide? That it travels over? The dominant material? And how would you judge dominant — by volume or mass? Every expert and organization of experts has a scheme, and the schemes are mostly determined by what is most useful to the target audience.  I understand the point — it’d be wonderful for me if I could filter landslides by size (half a million cubic meters or lager) and very grossly by mechanism of movement (fluid) just by looking at the name! Yet all the same, it is intensely frustrating to read the same term in ten papers and have it mean entirely different things.

I’m not proposing yet another competing standard, nor arguing for a particular standard to be used by all. Instead, I propose creating a conversion tool to translate between these schemes. And since this is my website, the default output will not follow any current classification scheme but instead use nonsense phrases so we don’t end up with yet another definition for mudflow.

I leave it ambiguous if my motivation is to bring clarity to the world of landslide literature, make it easier to write my thesis, or create the opportunity to include the phrase “sloppy pink smurf” in a technical piece.

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3 Responses to That’s not a flowslide, it’s a sad red troll!

  1. Jovanna says:

    I can empathise with your problem. In the medical world, we have a similar problem, take for example the word ‘fall’. There are various articles written on people having falls, but almost each article has a different interpretation of the word fall. You have mechanical falls, physiological falls, near falls… some studies include near miss falls. other studies say that a fall can only be when somebody accidentally ends up on the floor, others have a different twist.

    While this is not the same as a landslide, your frustration just happened to bring the ‘fall’ing thing to mind.

    While it would be very interesting and amusing to read an article on ‘sloppy pink smurf’, I’m not sure how the rest of the scientific community would like it. It’d be a little confusing to read, but if you did it just right… it would be a great laugh. Howbeit, knowing research literature, it would be extremely difficult to create any sort of conversion tool, as it would need to include near as many different classification schemes as there are people with different brains.

    My opinion is that creating a conversion tool will/could/might make your thesis more complicated and difficult… but on the other hand, if you managed to group the different classification standards based on similarity, you might get somewhere.

    This is starting to make me think of meta-analyses… but you probably know more on research stuff than me… me being well… me, not very highly educated as yet.

  2. Mika says:

    I’m glad to know this whole too-many-classifications issue goes beyond a single discipline; somehow it’d be more sad to know only landslide folks were frustrating.

    …the problems of actually trying to track down all the major classification schemes and translate between them would probably be more trouble than it’s worth, but I’m probably going to keep touch-stoning back to sloppy pink smurfs every time it gets to me too badly!

  3. Stacks says:

    Writing up my dissertation I came across a similar problem in “what constitutes a remaking”. Did it mean a new version of an old concept? Basing your work on other sources? Subtitles? Foreign language films? Unedited/uncut versions?

    …3,000 words later I realised I’d become so caught up in trying to figure it out that I ended up changing my title and handing in an essay on that instead.

    Not that I’m reccommending that to anybody, ever (too much hassle), but it definitely adds a nice little section – that’s interesting and relevant – to what you’re doing.

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