The September earthquake story has developed nicely with just the right amount of coincidences to cause excitement in the astrology community. Triumphant comments have been left on my earlier posts on earthquakes claiming "prediction" success. I noticed throughout the month of September quite a bit of traffic coming to my blog from search queries of the like " September astrology earthquake prediction" and so I gather there is a lot of curiosity about whether astrologers can really predict earthquakes.
Just a quick recap for those who have not been following this thread. Some astrologers claim that they can predict big earthquakes based on the alignment of the moon with the sun and other planets in the solar system. Mr. Amit Dave who lives in Mumbai is one such astrologer. He claims that certain alignments of the moon and sun (and other planets) exert tidal stresses on earth. No one doubts this. Nothing new here. The relevant question is whether these tidal stresses acting alone i.e. without input from internally generated tectonic stresses are enough to cause big earthquakes. The answer is clearly no.
In two earlier posts I exposed Mr. Dave's lack of understanding about geology and earthquakes and explained just why tidal stresses acting on their own are incapable of causing big earthquakes on earth. He never gave me a single substantive reply to my questions but kept making foolish claims about his "predictions" in the comments sections of my posts. So in this post I will try to explain what is a scientific earthquake prediction and whether Mr. Dave's "predictions" measure up to this standard.
The main confusion among people is between making the rather mundane claim that earthquakes will occur on any particular day against the more meaningful exercise of predicting a earthquake. Astrologers are unable to grasp this distinction or more cynically ignore it since the laypersons they are trying to reach certainly don't make this distinction.
When geologists make a prediction about a earthquake it is in this format:
An earthquake of magnitude ...6.5-7 Richter (range).. will strike ...time range..(usually in the range of the next few years) at location... Longitude X and Latitude Y due to ... hypothesis of how and why an earthquake is due /imminent in the declared region.
Astrologers ignore the third requirement of the location and are puzzled by the fourth. Why give a hypothesis of how and why an earthquake is imminent.
Here's why. Geologists studying earthquakes and working in a particular area have a hypothesis on how geological stresses may cause an earthquake. This hypothesis describes for example the rates at which strain is accumulating along a particular fault based on say the motion of the earth's plates. Or take tidal forces. Ultimately they can only act or trigger earthquakes by imposing stresses on the crust. So even a theory of earthquakes like Mr. Dave's which relies solely on tidal forces needs to explain in terms of the imposed stress and accumulating strain how , why and where these tidal forces are likely to cause a rupture. If an earthquake does occur in that region, this hypothesis can then be validated against what actually happened. It gives geologists a chance to test how good their understanding of earthquake mechanisms is.
Here is a great example of this process from the September issue of Geology in a paper that studies the big Kashmir earthquake of 2005:
.... We thus conclude that the 2005 event did not occur on the plate boundary megathrusts, but on intraplate active faults within the Sub-Himalaya. Consequently, the accumulated elastic strain around the complex northwestern margin of the Indo-Asian collision zone has not been significantly released by the 2005 earthquake.
What this means is that the earlier hypothesis that a big earthquake in Kashmir will likely take place along a major boundary fault zone was wrong. The earthquake instead took place on a subsidiary fault system. This however warned geologists that strain is still accumulating along the major fault and another big earthquake in that region is likely.
Science is a self correcting process. If we are to improve our understanding of earthquakes, a prediction must include a declaration of a hypothesis which can then be validated against what actually took place.
Alright, on to Mr. Dave's "predictions". Here it is
1) 7th September 2008 -- 2020GMT ---- 7.2 On Richter scale at 12 Degrees East or/168 Degrees west ( Precise location both longitude and latitude is not possible as of to day)
2) 10th September 2008 --1950 GMT ---7.3 on Richter scale-at 66 Degrees east or 114 degrees West
3) 15 th September 2008 --0910 GMT----More than 7.5 on Richter scale -at 147 Degrees East or 33 Degrees west
4) 16 th September 2008 ---2015 GMT---- 7.5 on Richter scale -at 87 Degrees East or 93 Degrees West
The original prediction he gave me did not have even the incomplete location information. It is only when the USGS insisted that a location is necessary (he forwarded me a mail from the USGS) that he put in just the longitude.
But that's not it. These dates are way too specific and Mr. Dave then provides a hedge.
As per my theory the dates of September 2008 are already published in my blog. However one more thing required to be noted is that , the dates shown are the peak force dates ,and have maximum potential of triggering the quakes. However , the quakes follow a sinusoidal pattern. As the dates mentioned approaches nearer the quake intensity and frequency keep on increasing. After the dates have passed the tidal force slowly fades away.
And then not satisfied that his sinusoidal wave will cover enough ground, a few more dates:
Thus , there are fair chances of quakes of 6.5 to 6.8 Richter scale on following dates also. places not known.
27 th August 2008----0415 Hrs IST
31 th August 2008-----0115 Hrs IST
Also 22 nd and 23 rd September 2008----up to 7.0 on Richter scale
So, he has covered so much time with his spread of dates that he has ensured himself a high degree of "prediction" success.
Why is that? Because of the high frequency of moderate to big earthquakes, something most people are unaware of. 7-8 magnitude earthquakes occur at a frequency of 1-2 per month, 6-7 magnitude earthquakes occur 10-12 per month, 5-6 magnitude earthquakes occur 2-4 per day, and 4-5 magnitude earthquakes occur 20-25 per day.
As expected Mr. Dave claimed earthquakes of varying magnitudes on dates before, between, on and after his peak potent period. Not a single 7+ earthquake occurred on any of these days, but Mr. Dave blatantly misstated the magnitudes of these earthquakes. It is a comical list of claims, but one that speaks to his disingenuity. He seems incapable of reporting accurately even the most basic of facts.
You can check for yourself all this earthquake information by going on the USGS earthquake search.
But my main quibble is not with these reporting inaccuracies. I put that down to over-excitement. My objections are over procedures.
What is the justification for claiming that tidal forces caused the earthquake that was claimed and not one of the dozen others that took place on that day? All Mr. Dave is doing is choosing post facto from a list of earthquakes that occurred on the day, the earthquakes that is closest to the magnitude he gave or one he deems significant in some way.
I like to call this retrospective coronation.
Again, how does he know that tidal forces caused the bigger earthquake he has claimed and not a smaller earthquake that took place some where else? He doesn't know, but you see without a prior declaration of a location and a hypothesis it is impossible for anyone to verify his claim. And that suits the astrology community just fine.
That is why astrologers never give a location.
Mr. Dave will deny that he chooses earthquakes after they occur, but here is an example which gives his game away. He had "predicted" that an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or so will occur on September 16th. Unfortunately for him there was no earthquake larger than 6 on that day. So what did he do? He claimed a 5.0 magnitude earthquake (he gives the mag. as 4.9) that occurred in the Satara district of Maharashtra as proof of his "predictions"!
It is stupid claims like this one that lays bare the intellectual bankruptcy of these bogus earthquake prediction schemes astrologers concoct from time to time.
Remember earthquake frequencies? There were 26 earthquakes on September 16 of magnitudes 4-6. There were 4 earthquakes of magnitude greater than the one he choose. How does he know that tidal stresses caused the Satara earthquake and not any one of the other 25? He doesn't. The only reason he choose to claim this particular earthquake is because thousands of people in the Mumbai-Pune area felt it. Humans react to and remember events that occur close to the place they live and Mr. Dave knew he could fool people into believing that he actually predicted that earthquake.
So astrologers are not really predicting a earthquake. They are simply just highlighting after the fact one out of the many that occur on any given day.
Location and a hypothesis, Location and a hypothesis, Location and a hypothesis. Without these any claim to a prediction is meaningless.
Did I mention even the incomplete location information given by him was wrong for all the earthquakes he has claimed?
I find this non-disclosure of location information most revealing! Mr Dave and other astrologers argue that they too are trying to save lives by coming up with a prediction system. That is as strange an argument as I have even come across. How on earth can you save lives if you don't specify where an earthquake is going to strike?
One last requirement of a scientific prediction is the complete disclosure of negative results. Mr. Dave has never admitted that his location information is missing or wrong in all the cases. Another type of negative result is earthquakes that occur on days other than those given. Ambuj pointed this out sometime back. Mr Dave claims that big earthquakes occur solely due to tidal stresses and there are potent days when they will occur. Since his September prediction which appeared on my blog on July 13 to the date of this post, leaving aside the entire month of September, there were 25 earthquakes of magnitudes 6 and above. How does he explain these earthquakes which all fell on days when the heavenly bodies were not engaged in a destructive tango?
In fact how does he explain not just these biggish earthquakes but the hundreds of smaller earthquakes that occur every day?
Here is my suggestion for what Mr. Dave's next prediction should look like:
Magnitude X (range) , Time range , location in Longitude and Latitude and a hypothesis of how and why tidal stresses will cause strain to build up and rupture rocks in the region he has indicated. This is to be followed by a full disclosure of negative results.
If he does this I am sure the seismology community will follow his claims with interest. But just rolling the dice and jumping up in excitement whenever an earthquake happens to coincide with a full moon, new moon or quarter moon day is not acceptable.
I predict Mr. Dave will not accept this qualifying criteria.
I am sure because:
Gustav ,Hanna and Ike three major storms in first week of September08
Vanuattu quake of 6.5 on 8th September 2008 ,at 0305 Gmt
keep counting please
Astrologer / Engineer
Yes hurricanes too. With this mindset Mr. Dave will continue to fool himself and other ignoramuses who are already convinced that their destiny has been decided by the alignment of distant planets.