Category Archives: Natural Disasters
A day after the east coast earthquake (now forever to be remembered by me as “the best birthday present ever!”), the Smithsonian issued a press release about the behavior of animals at the National Zoo, more than 80 miles from the epicenter of the quake. Some media outlets reported on the news as “animals go wild”, “animals went berserk”. Many said “how animals predicted the quake”.
All of those are wrong.
What really happened? Read the rest of this entry
Balticon is a conference done by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. I was asked to participate in their new mini-skeptic track that was developed by Marv Zelkowitz of the National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS). I thought it was a success. Throughout the day I was there, on Sunday, I saw a big skeptical respresentation. But, also, there were many people who hold that critical, thoughtful mindset but don’t associate themselves with that community. I was glad to speak to them.
My talk was on Being Scientifical: Amateur Research and Investigation Groups. I looked at 1000 web sites of these groups in the U.S. who investigate ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and general paranormal phenomena. By mimicking science, or doing what they think is science (hence “scientifical”), amateur investigation groups appear serious and credible to the public. This image is effective in selling the public the idea that they find legitimate evidence of the paranormal. It’s concerning.
Those who consider prediction* a part of their research and responsibility range from weather forecasters to seismologists and volcanologists. Warnings of impending danger cause predictable social and economic effects that must be considered along with the primary goal which is safety. If a disaster prediction is wrong, several million people might be unnecessarily affected (Olsen, 1989) and the region may suffer economic losses. If it is correct, but delivered inadequately, disaster is inevitable.
Accuracy of predictions is based on what is possible to observe and data that can be collected. For example, hurricane predictions are very accurate because scientists have extensive weather instruments and well-tested forecasting techniques to use. Volcanic hazard areas and those prone to tsunamis are mapped based on zones identified through historical records – scientists can find geologic evidence that the land was affected by lava, ash or debris flows.
For some forecasted events (such as volcanic eruption and severe weather), there is time to deliver the message and prepare for the event. The worst situation is certainly earthquakes because there are no widely accepted precursors and data-based forecasts are long-term probabilities — relatively unhelpful for short-term preparation. With the potential for large seismic events to kill huge numbers of people, earthquake prediction theories have been particularly problematic and fraught with ethical dilemmas for the scientific community, public authorities and media. Read the rest of this entry
I previously posted about how it’s unethical to endorse dowsing if you are a geologist bound by a professional code that includes using the best scientific procedures and evidence. Condoning a process which is scientifically questionable or invalid is a breach of this code.
A similar argument can be made for earthquake prediction. There have been several instances where scientists (and many more non-scientists) have predicted through various means when and where an earthquake will occur. Currently, there is a storm of criticism leveled at author (not scientist), Simon Winchester after he wrote this article strongly suggesting without evidence that the Pacific coast area is next in line for a big quake due to the strain at “a barely tolerable level” (whatever that means).
These next two blog entries will explore natural disaster prediction. First, it’s important to distinguish between prophesizing, predicting and forecasting. Read the rest of this entry
In a world where we crave the answers to life’s great questions and order from chaos by any means, people love psychic predictions. Too many STILL believe psychics have some credibility. Here is a stark reminder of why that belief is complete and utter nonsense:
Remember that the year began with mass animal deaths? It continued with revolution in the Middle East. And, poor Australia was hit with the wrath of the gods. (What did you guys do? Just kidding.) Now, we have catastrophic earthquakes – one after another – and a wicked tsunami. With all the political turmoil and natural disasters this year, it would appear as if the world is being ripped apart, socially and physically.
People mostly get their news from the media. The media gives attention to unique things, stories that affect certain groups of people or important people. They don’t always cover events that affect A LOT of people if those people aren’t considered important (remote, poor, unknown).
Once a story is in the news, the topic becomes important. I’m calling this the Google Alert effect. Read the rest of this entry
A few weeks ago, I moved my desk next to an upstairs window overlooking a Bradford pear tree. For the past 3 weeks, when I sat at the desk during the day, periodically, a flock of about 50 starlings would swoop in and land on the tree, devouring the shriveled fruits up like grapes. Then, in a whoosh, they would be off. Sometimes I would hear them clamor on the roof. This has happened no less than a dozen times. They seemed hungry.
On my way home from work over the past month, I noticed crows arcing across the sky across the interstate from as far as I can see from left to right. This happened for several consecutive days in the same place.
This is the behavior of birds. It seems remarkable but not too unusual.
On December 26, we were on the beach in South Carolina near Charleston. It was snowing. There were starfish embedded in the sand. The south was experiencing record cold. It happens. I felt bad for the alligators in the swamps.
Suddenly, we experience such a Fortean start to 2011! A massive and suspicious bird die-off in Arkansas on New Years Eve triggers a wave of mystery, speculation and imaginative explanations fed by more accounts of animal mortality events. The current media sensation of reporting mass mortality events is very interesting in many ways. Shall we count the ways? Yes, we shall, because it’s fun – fun like outrageous speculation about the end of the world! (Well, if you have a hot-air filled balloon of speculative belief about these things, you won’t think this is fun.)
Will the world end on December 21, 2012?
No. No. NO. A thousand times NO. Read the rest of this entry
Earthquake in Illinois! Is this the end times?
And, I’ll go on record to say End Times stories are totally silly. The world has been going downhill since we humans got here in (more-or-less) present form a million years ago. Enough of that tangent. It was just to get attention anyway.
It’s pretty darn cool to experience an earthquake but, putting things into earthly perspective, this is no big deal. No one was hurt. If there were no buildings, liquor stores and knick-knacks, no damage would have been done. When natural events like this happen, one would hope that interest would be generated in the science and explanations behind it. No, we get a lot of rampant speculation. People make correlations that have no basis in reality because our brains are designed to find patterns and connections. Thus, it must be the end of the world. Folks, stranger things happen all the time. Let’s not be scared of them, let’s embrace the challenge of discovery!
I did notice my favorite anecdotal earthquake precursor stories crop up once again in the midwest – animals sensing the earthquake. It appears from all the stories that people’s pet cats, dogs and birds were riled up hours, minutes and seconds prior to the event. Seconds before, animals can perceive something amiss with the usual sounds or vibration before us humans perceive these waves. Hours and minutes prior, could they be sensing the emissions of builtup stress in the rock, electromagnetic waves, infra- or ultrasound, gas release, air ionization, etc.? Most certainly they can. Not everyone’s dog or cat showed concern. I read reports from the local news that some pets slept right through. Others were shaken after the event just like their humans.
From our understanding of earthquakes, we know that the strain builds over time. Those conditions modify the immediate environment. See my article on Whispers from the Earth. I have been compelled by the evidence and theories of plausible mechanisms to explain the occurrences, that some animals, even people, are able to perceive precursors of earthquakes. It’s not unreasonable; it’s not kooky; it’s not even paranormal. It’s factual that animals perceive the world differently than we do. I think a lot more folks understand that now.