Earthquake Predictions

In recent years, workers at the Chinese State Seismological Bureau have professed their ability to use magnetic field variation records to predict earthquakes. They explain that because fields are induced into the Earth at depths corresponding to the earthquake region, magnetic field sensors should show the precursor conditions that cause destructive earthquakes. The people making the predictions use regional differences in the level changes of the field component into the Earth to determine numbers that they relate to induction mathematics and magnetic disturbance indices. Unfortunately, their written reports indicate to other scientists that fields from various upper-atmospheric current sources and site noise are being identified as the earthquake precursors. Chinese prediction proponents have admitted that the method cannot be exactly described because only "experienced" personnel can make the fore-

FIGURE 2.35 ► Neither barking dogs nor magnetic fields predict earthquakes. Nicaragua earthquake photo by J. Dewey of the USGS.

FIGURE 2.35 ► Neither barking dogs nor magnetic fields predict earthquakes. Nicaragua earthquake photo by J. Dewey of the USGS.

cast. Of course, almost all quake predictions are unfulfilled. For these, the Chinese blame numerous causes, including the even greater nonsense that there is a magnetic signal for the prediction of droughts and floods.

Occasionally, citizens of other nations have "discovered" magnetic or e.m. signals that forecast earthquakes. Distinguished seismologists at international meetings have shown that all such earthquake warnings have about the same success rates as that expected from matched random occurrences. Earthquakes are such a chaotic process that long-term prediction is "an inherently unrealizable goal"* (Figure 2.35). The threat of natural disasters in populated areas has generated a willingness for funding agencies to support such pseudoscientific forecasting efforts. The mass media favor the predictor because there is a promise of disaster relief. Therefore, the occasional fortuitous prediction success, although a clearly random coincidence, is published and touted in the news media; but the many failures are rarely mentioned. The public suffers from the misuse of public funds on pseudoscience; monies that could more realistically satisfy valid community needs.

*Geller, R. J. Earthquakes: Thinking about the unpredictable. Eos Trans. Am. Geophys. Union 78, 63-67, 1997.

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