Friday, October 7, 2011

Psychics (and Animals) Predict Earthquakes: True or False? What Everyone "Knows" About Earthquakes

Comic art by Zeo (with slight modifications by Geotripper)
Well, let's see if I can't make a few (seismic) waves here. It's question number five in our brief quiz on what everybody "knows" about earthquakes in California (those things that are thought to be known, but which might not actually be true). These questions were the basis of a community lecture I gave last week. The question in this post is really about two different issues, so I am going to discuss the animals in the next post. So here is today's test question:

Psychics predict earthquakes: true or false?

The audience at the lecture last week was filled with skeptics and non-believers, to be frank, and came down firmly in favor of "false" for an answer. So they were a little surprised when I told them the actual answer:


They thought about it a moment, and realized that the statement is in fact true. Psychics predict earthquakes all the time. All the time, and then some more. Earthquakes are one of their most common predictions, more popular I think than predictions about aliens.

That leads to a revised question: Do psychic predictions about earthquakes come true?

My audience was on to me now, and there was a general murmer that psychic predictions are invariably wrong. I set them straight. I said "Psychics predict earthquakes all the time, and are almost invariably correct". I'm pretty sure there was a moment of silence before the audience started arguing the point with me.

I support my contention with a collection of predictions that I googled in about five minutes. I refuse to link to each of them because I have no interested in promoting their websites. If you want to find them, google the statement and it shouldn't take long to dig them up.

  • Both earthquake and out of control fires will effect California causing devastation and loss [of] life. 
  • There will be a violent earthquake, one of the strongest on record.[no location noted]
  • My California earthquake prediction: yes, there WILL be an earthquake in California. I am not saying it will be along the San Andreas Fault or that it will be major. …I am also not saying when.
  • I keep seeing the year 2011 like a pulsating animation within visions of major earth shifts in my home state of California. Dates perceived in months or years could be argued to have limited value in forecasting a time because we psychics move our consciousness in large spans of time and cover broad areas of locations and events.
Note how every one of these predictions came true. Oh, and my favorite, the shotgun prediction....

Wild Weather Predictions
  1. Category five hurricane wipes out Miami.
  2. The worst mudslides in California’s history will occur.
  3. Mount St. Helens erupting.
  4. Earthquake Seattle, Washington.
  5. Earthquake Chicago, Illinois.
  6. Part of the polar ice cap melts.
  7. Wildfires spread to Beverley Hills and Los Angeles, Brentwood.
  8. More tsunamis Sumatra Indonesia, Alaska, Hawaii and Japan.
  9. A great earthquake in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
  10. Earthquake Lake Tahoe.
  11. Earthquake Toronto and Quebec.
  12. Earthquake Oregon.
  13. Earthquake Grand Canyon.
  14. Earthquake New York, Alaska, Japan, Greece.
  15. Earthquake British Columbia, China and Iran.
  16. Tornado in California.
  17. Floods Amsterdam, Holland, Rhine River, Germany, Bangladesh, Great Britain. Venice, Italy, Gulf Coast of Florida and France.
  18. Tsunami Malibu, California.
  19. Wildfires Greece, Australia, Texas, Hawaii.
  20. Mudslides in India, California.
  21. Typhoon in Taiwan.
  22. Tornadoes Oklahoma, Indiana, Texas, Illinois, Tennessee.
  23. Great earthquake Rome and Naples, Italy.
  24. Huge snowstorm and blizzards up the eastern seaboard affecting the great lakes – Toronto, Chicago, New York, Boston, etc.
  25. Earthquake Yosemite and Yellowstone Park.
Note how many of these predictions haven't happened yet. Still, many will absolutely take place, allowing the psychic responsible for this list to claim broad success in his or her psychic powers.

Soooo...psychics accurately predict earthquakes. Well, guess what? I can predict earthquakes too! And I can be more specific than the average psychic. Here goes..

I predict that within the next week:
  • 200 earthquakes will occur in California,
  • Of these, there will be a magnitude 4 quake in southern California, most likely in the Colorado Desert near Salton Sea.
  • There will be a magnitude 3 earthquake in northern California, most likely north of the Bay Area, somewhere around Clear Lake.
  • There will be a larger quake at the Vanuatu Islands in the Pacific Ocean, quite possibly in the magnitude 6 range.
  • There will be a magnitude 6 earthquake offshore of Japan.
I think I am going to be right. You are welcome to keep count and when the quakes happen you can hail me as a psychic earthquake predictor.

You can do that, but please note that my predictions have something in common with psychic predictions: the predictions are totally and absolutely useless to anybody.  They are about as useful as predicting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. Why? Because like the sun rising, earthquakes happen all the time, and they tend to happen in the same general places, mainly along tectonic plate boundaries (along with a few near hot spots like Hawaii or Yellowstone). It sounds impressive that 200 earthquakes will happen over the next week in California, but that happens nearly every week. Last week there were actually more, about 370.

Earthquake prediction is a serious business. On the one hand, a timely prediction can save lives. But a prediction made by a credible source that doesn't come to pass is a real problem. Like the boy who called "wolf" once too often, later predictions would be ignored. Charlatans who make spurious predictions can cause panic and unnecessary stress in an uninformed population (such a prediction in 1990 caused the population of St. Louis and surrounding region to close down businesses and leave town, and also caused a media circus).

An earthquake prediction, in order to save lives, must have three elements:
  • the time (within a few days at most)
  • the location (specific)
  • the magnitude and depth
No psychic ever provides such information, which proves the useless nature of their "predictions". No one is in a position to predict earthquakes with such precision, including seismologists. Anyone who claims some special power of prediction is lying or deluded. No one has ever once saved lives with such predictions (the one successful prediction,ever, of a quake that saved lives, in China in 1975, was based on tangible evidence, and no psychic powers were claimed or invoked).

There is a form of a useful prediction regarding earthquakes. That will be discussed in a post in the very near future (that's a prediction that I am making!)

Psychics: give up the earthquakes. Stick to the lives of the Hollywood stars. They're more predictable anyway.

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