We may be going through a reversal now. The Earth's magnetic field has diminished by perhaps as much as 6 percent in the last century alone. Any diminution in magnetism is likely to be bad news, because magnetism, apart from holding notes to refrigerators and keeping our compasses pointing the right way, plays a vital role in keeping us alive. Space is full of dangerous cosmic rays that in the absence of magnetic protection would tear through our bodies, leaving much of our DNA in useless tatters. When the magnetic field is working, these rays are safely herded away from the Earth's surface and into two zones in near space called the Van Allen belts. They also interact with particles in the upper atmosphere to create the bewitching veils of light known as the auroras.
A big part of the reason for our ignorance, interestingly enough, is that traditionally there has been little effort to coordinate what's happening on top of the Earth with what's going on inside. According to Shawna Vogel: "Geologists and geophysicists rarely go to the same meetings or collaborate on the same problems."
Perhaps nothing better demonstrates our inadequate grasp of the dynamics of the Earth's interior than how badly we are caught out when it acts up, and it would be hard to come up with a more salutary reminder of the limitations of our understanding than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington in 1980.