Cranktastic: Media gives attention to nonsense earthquake prediction

Color me very irritated that mainstream media are giving this story ANY attention whatsoever. It’s not new, it’s not news, and it has zero basis in reality but may create a panic. Good going media for passing on unethical nonsense as sciencey-looking news, once again. ANY crank can say “earthquakes are predictable”. Words are cheap and get attention. If it was true, we’d already have figured this basic stuff out, don’t you think? Ugh, media… STOP GIVING ATTENTION TO THESE PEOPLE.

Author Says Earthquakes Are Predictable « CBS Pittsburgh.

Mainstream science says that earthquakes cannot be predicted, but David Nabhan author of “Earthquake Prediction: Answers in Plain Slight” says otherwise.

Nabhan is a former teacher in California and now lives in Pittsburgh. He became interested in earthquakes while he was the earthquake preparedness coordinator for the school he worked at. He says he noticed every earthquake happened at dusk or dawn.

How can earthquakes be predicted? Nabhan says that it is the, “conjoined lunar and solar gravitational tides,” are what cause them.

Nabhan says July 12 and Sept. 9, between 4:45 to 7:55 a.m. and/or p.m.

There is a long history of earthquake prediction failure. There has NEVER EVER been a solid system of earthquake prediction. I’m not kidding and I’m not just pooh-poohing this. I am a geologist and have done quite a bit of research on earthquake prediction and disaster preparation. The idea of earth tides and solar/lunar alignments (syzygy) is old and hasn’t panned out. REAL SCIENTISTS HAVE LOOKED. (Kennedy, M., Vidale, J.E., and Parker, M.G. 2004. “Earthquakes and the moon: syzygy predictions fail the test.” Seismological Research Letters 75 (5): 607–612.)

Yet, there are several notable cranks who continue to predict based on this method, such as Jim Berkland. If it worked — we would have known about it by now. According to USGS scientists: Berkland’s predications appear to be “self-selected statistical analysis of historical seismicity rates and are so vague in time and location that they are certain to be correct.” The same can be said for Nabhan. I wonder if he and Berkland ever got together?

How ignorant to think trained seismologists who see far more data would not pick up such an obvious pattern. The hubris is typical of a pseudoscientific crank. It’s not ethical to yell fire in a theatre. It’s not ethical to yell earthquake coming with NO history of scientific knowledge (or any records of success) to back you up.

There remains an extremely slight plausibility for the lunar effect to trigger earthquakes. However, if this had any merit or real effect, it has to be in areas already primed for quake. Earthquakes are not more common during syzygy. An occasional occurrence during specific moon phases is bound to occur by chance.

Nabhan only predicts for Southern California. If any quake, even a small one, takes place during this prediction window, he will take credit. Why didn’t he give some control windows? Predictions aren’t significant for one-off events. He has to show that there is a consistent pattern. (As I mentioned, that’s been studied and hasn’t happened). The odds are not bad that there will be one at any time in this highly active area. This is not only a cheap prediction, it’s a ploy for publicity. Nabham says he’s been doing this for 15 years. Since when is science done through a badly formatted website and media interviews? Nabham appears to have no training in scientific research, geology, geophysics or seismology. Therefore, he’s talking out of his sphere of knowledge.

The Wikipedia page on earthquake prediction has a number of examples where prediction made sense due to various data and was marginally successful in a few cases but utter failure in most, sometimes costing a ton of money due to the false predictions. This is just another case of a self-deluded person thinking he knows what the experts don’t. Knowledge doesn’t work that way except in your own head. He wants you to contact the Governor of California to encourage him to take heed. Sure…

I’m going to head off complaints by Mr. Nabhan who looks like he has a history of whining that critics don’t contact him for information. You are not in any way qualified to give information, Mr. Nabhan, and as is our policy here, we are media critics and a science-based site, not a platform for nonsense. When you have real data publish it in a scientific journal. Then we’ll talk.

Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast – Shownotes Episode 50 Lunatic Earthquakes: Do Tides Cause Quakes?.

Similar stories:

Earthquake Warning in California: Don’t give credence to nonsense prediction schemes | Doubtful News.

Earthquake-predicting failure and serial pseudoscientist Croft gets more attention | Doubtful News.

Serial pseudoscientist predicts huge earthquake event for March 22 (Update: FAIL) | Doubtful News.

Supermoon hype but no horrible catastrophe predicted? | Doubtful News.

The big difference between earthquake prediction and forecasting | Doubtful — by Sharon Hill.

Whispers from the Earth | Doubtful — by Sharon Hill.

Skepticblog » Quacks & Quakes.

  18 comments for “Cranktastic: Media gives attention to nonsense earthquake prediction

  1. Chew
    June 2, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    Nabhan showed up in the comments to the Exposing Pseudoastronomy podcast and spent a lot of time avoiding answering my questions.

  2. June 2, 2014 at 8:25 PM

    Oh, I saw. 🙂

  3. Bonnie
    June 2, 2014 at 9:35 PM

    “He says he noticed every earthquake happened at dusk or dawn.” Well, that’s easy to refute! I don’t live in earthquake country so have experienced only three quakes in my life. The first happened around 9 pm, the second midmorning, and the 3rd around noon.

  4. June 2, 2014 at 10:54 PM

    Well, Chew got to it before me, I was going to link to my podcast and point out that I addressed his claims. Both there AND on a forum I posted to – “BellGab” – Mr. Nabhan tried to claim he was correct. But when pressed for specifics, he simply side-stepped and refused to provide the data. It’s actually an interesting back-and-forth that I think is pretty telling of Mr. Nabhan’s argumentation style … for those who are interested: .

    I could try to summarize, but I don’t think it would do the style justice. I actually highly recommend reading that thread (it’s only 31 posts long, and <half are from me and David). For the record, he has not provided/sent me the data I requested to actually prove his point, OR actually refuted the points that I raised in my statistical analysis.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy
    June 3, 2014 at 12:17 AM

    I heard this mentioned on morning drive-time radio in Los Angeles, but didn’t know any of the details. I live in SoCal, and earthquakes are both “yeah, whatever” and a BIG fear out here. It’s the most likely natural disaster in this part of the country.

    In 1971, I was 15 years old — and got woke up BAD by the Sylmar Quake of Feb 9th; I was freaked out for years afterwards by anything resembling rattling windows. I remember the quake happening right at sunrise on the day after a lunar eclipse, and wondered if the maximum tidal forces from that arrangement (suntide pulling in one direction and moontide in the other) might have been the final trigger for that quake.

    Years before that, I remember the mid-Sixties rumor predicting a major quake “at 3:13 PM on a Thursday”, with the accompanying pop-culture shtick (from books and songs) about California breaking off and sinking into the Pacific with all of us on it.

  6. Chris
    June 3, 2014 at 12:45 AM

    “about California breaking off and sinking into the Pacific with all of us on it.”

    Whoa! I remember that! It was by some psychic or other idiotic person.

    I was just an eight/nine year old Army brat living in Ft. Ord, in a house that actually had a view of the Monterrey Bay and peninsula. I spent that day sitting on the couch looking out the sliding glass doors to the bay waiting for us to slip into the Pacific Ocean. This was a time when my geography and physics acumen made me think when I saw Santa Clara across the bay to the north, I was seeing China!

    Needless to say, nothing happened. That pretty much colored my opinion of “psychics.” How dare they needlessly scare children like that. (by the way, I vaguely remember finding out the name of the “psychic” and posting about that experience on this blog a few years ago, but I am not about to go find the link, sorry)

    Though, really, I need to thank you for confirming a childhood memory.

    By the way, my dad was next transferred to the Command and General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, KS. This is where we traded earthquakes with tornadoes. Woot!

  7. Chris
    June 3, 2014 at 1:08 AM

    I had a similar experience, other than my comment is in moderation.

  8. Blargh
    June 3, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Thank you. That exchange was… educational. 🙂
    4 posts by the guy and not a single straight answer…

  9. Joni
    June 3, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    I was discussing the recent natural disaster events in Northern Colorado with my spouse… I mentioned that we had massive fires in the mountains, flooding last fall, hellish wind storms of hurricane force and all we needed now was an earthquake.

    About 2 weeks later there was a small earthquake near Greeley……….

    I MUST BE A PSYCHIC! Where is my TV contract?

  10. June 3, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    Yup. It leads me to wonder how genuine people who advocate for this kind of stuff actually are. David, if you’re reading this, I encourage you to go back to that thread and actually respond, directly, to my questions. Otherwise, it makes you look pretty disingenuous and like you’re just trying to make a buck off of spreading fear.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy
    June 3, 2014 at 10:45 PM

    During that earthquake scare, there was a short-lived bestseller (Late Great State of California — fiction) based on the concept. And a Calypso-rock band called Shango(?) was a one-hit wonder with an accompanying song:

    “Day after day
    All the people come to L.A.
    Ssssh! Don’t go tellin’ them
    The whole place shakin’ away

    “Where can we go
    When there’s no more San Francisco?
    Ssssh! Better get ready
    To tie up your boat in Idaho

    “Do you know the swim?
    You betta learn fast Jim
    Those who don’ know the swim
    Better sing the hymn!”

    I was about nine or ten at the time, a kid genius and natural-talent speedreader whose reality filters didn’t kick in until I was in my twenties. Plus, at the time I would wake up in the middle of the night — always the same time. 3:15 AM.

  12. Bill T.
    June 4, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    Yah, I caught that too.

    I do live in earthquake country and that statement alone proves he’s either stuffed with baloney or pulling an elaborate prank.

  13. Bill T.
    June 4, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    You’re an actual geologist or geophysicist, or?

    I suspect that you have labored, sweated and agonized over collecting data, constructing consistent explanations for the data, writing your conclusions up in a coherent manner, getting them peer reviewed, going back, re-writing to account for the valid criticisms from the reviews, re-peer reviewing and finally getting someone to publish the results for the world to read..

    Just think how much quicker, easier and more profitable it is to just invent a barely plausible hypothesis that would be acceptable to the science-ignorant media that would hawk it to the equally uneducated public who would then buy your woo-hoo book?

  14. Bill T.
    June 4, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Think of a piece of paper partially overlaping another piece of paper. Carefully cut along the top piece where it meets the underlier. Where is the overlapping piece going to fall to?

    People are really not aware of the true scales, it’s a form of maths illiteracy.

  15. June 4, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    “Astro/geophysicist,” yes — . And yes, I’ve often thought how much easier it would be to just write whatever I want, making stuff up as I go, not going through any sort of review process, and then making money and getting media attention. Problem is, I have certain ethics that prevent me from doing so, and certain processes that prevent me from such delusions. The little elf on my shoulder tells me I’m doing pretty well at that.

  16. Rich
    June 4, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Another point from that rock music/plate tectonics Venn diagram: Rushton Moreve, the original bass player from Steppenwolf, was sacked from the band because of that scare. From Wikipedia, “Moreve was fired from the group in 1968 for missing gigs after he became afraid to return to Los Angeles, convinced by his girlfriend that it was going to be leveled by an earthquake and fall into the sea. “

  17. Peebs
    June 4, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    I had to read this article twice.

    The first time I tried to read it I kept thinking;

    “How the hell do you pronounce ‘syzygy’?”.

    The fact he states all earthquakes occur around the same time screams to me ‘Confirmation Bias’.

  18. June 4, 2014 at 7:15 PM


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