Thursday, April 09, 2009

Earthquake prediction

In case anyone was wondering whether there was anything to that supposed "prediction" of the recent Italian earthquake, Piers Corbyn's advocacy of the cause should settle the matter...

"The tragic Earthquake death toll in L'Aquila Italy is due to criminal arrogance of authorities who ignored the well-founded warnings of an earthquake-scientist; and this isn't the first time that authorities and governments have ignored well-founded serious warnings based on sound science* " said Piers Corbyn astrophysicist

(blah blah blah repeat ad nauseam)

Although I have no particular expertise, I do suspect there may be something to at least some of the various "precursor" theories. However, the obvious point, as many bloggers have mentioned, is that a "warning" that is vague enough to be a week (or more) wrong and in the wrong place to boot is completely useless, even if such predictions occasionally provide enough of a coincidence to be superficially attractive. I'm not at all surprised to see Piers's enthusiasm for it, as it closely mirrors his own modus operandi.


pilodinal said...

You are incorrect. A significant quake is like a nuke. It doesn't have to be on the target in the region to prove damaging for the region. Any kind of prediction with some track record should produce at least a review of emergency supplies for the region. And being a week off with a quake is better than all the bridges in the US with a failing grade. The Italians were misled by those in charge by discounting the quake prediction which kept them in their homes when the 2, 4+ Richter quakes hit before the big one. Only in the US and Italy have I seen people on the radio kill their listeners.

James Annan said...

OK, you have one valid point with this: "Any kind of prediction with some track record should produce at least a review of emergency supplies for the region." If the method develops a track record then by all means this would be a sensible approach. But by all accounts, there were people driving around in sound trucks trying to get the wrong village to evacuate in the wrong week, which is of course completely hopeless.

Japan has a tsunami warning system which gives so many false alarms it seems to be widely ignored. Last time I heard the tsunami ended up being about 10cm...and that is for a system that only fires when there actually has been an earthquake, not just the vague prospect of one in a week or two...

crandles said...

OT but I thought you might want to see:

[quote]Asked what temperature rise was most likely, 84 of the 182 specialists (46%) who answered the question said it would reach 3-4C by the end of the century; 47 (26%) suggested a rise of 2-3C, while a handful said 6C or more. While 24 experts predicted a catastrophic rise of 4-5C, just 18 thought it would stay at 2C or under.[/quote]


I therefore deduce that the handful quantity is minus 5. :roll: :lol:

Oh OK - some people have ticked two boxes. But are there really some experts that think 6C or more is the most likely outcome?

crandles said...

And the subtitle
[quote]Guardian poll reveals almost nine out of 10 climate experts do not believe current political efforts will keep warming below 2C[/quote]

is also good (84-18)/84 is nearly 90%??? Yep, they have used 18 out of 182 surveyed despite only getting answers from 84 people (though some of the 84 did helpfully provide more than one answer :) )

James Annan said...


Thanks for the interesting link which I hadn't seen.

Worth bearing in mind that (by their own admission) the Copenhagen people were trying to bring political pressure to bear, ie they may not have been a representative sample of scientists. I have heard an eminent scientist say quite explicitly in public that he thought we should exaggerate to motivate political action, so I would not put it past people like that to provide extreme answers for opinion polls.

That said, we do all agree that 2C (from pre-industrial) is pie-in-the-sky unless very substantial action is taken fairly quickly (which I don't expect to see) (or alternatively, some miracle of carbon sequestration is invented in 2050). I'd probably be in the 2-3C camp depending how optimistic I was about emissions.

I'm not overly surprised to see the Grauniad failing basic arithmetic, although maybe it was just a tpyo :-)