Stan’s Obligatory Blog

Happy Halloween

1/27/2005

Crank Science

Filed under: — stan @ 3:34 pm

Working in the earthquake business, my office is like a lightning rod for cranks. There are many, many well-meaning people out there who all think they have solved the problem of earthquake prediction.

Yet another of these well-meaning people has been contacting our office recently. So we invited him in in the hope that just having a chance to explain himself to an audience might help him to feel that he was being listened to.

Of course, his presentation was very much classic pseudoscience. He had data in the form of millivolt-range measurements of voltages in the earth. From this, he made the conceptual leap to assuming that the slight differences he was measuring were somehow related to earthquakes. As one of his handouts said:

It has been shown that large earthquakes can be detected months in advance. This was demonstrated by Chinese scientists in the Beijing Seismological Bureau in 1976

Actually, so such thing has ever been demonstrated, yet he acted like this was a well-established fact.

To be sure, there is actually some serious research in the area of measuring electrical properties of the Earth related to earthquakes, but it’s thus far not produced any dramatic results. In particular, Dr. Anthony Frasier-Smith is considered to be the foremost expert on electromagnetic phenomena associated with earthquakes. But when we mentioned his name, our guest said that Frasier-Smith had already dismissed his ideas. Then he did the classic crank thing of invoking Galileo.

Never a dull day at my office.

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