Brian's Seismic FAQ

Copyright © 2004-2009, B. Vanderkolk, All Rights Reserved

v0.4a - Feb. 28, 2005

Seismic FAQ
Main Table of Contents
Section I - The Basics
Section II - The Details
Section III - Predicting Earthquakes
Section IV - Tsunami
Section V - Volcanoes
Section VI - Science and the Scientific Method
Section VII - Stuff on the Web

Section I - The Basics
In this section are some basic answers to the most common questions.

What is an earthquake?
The common definition of an earthquake is the shaking of the ground caused by slippage or rupture of a fault within the Earth's crust. The word is also used to refer to the breaking of the fault itself. In this sense, an earthquake ruptures a fault and this results in seismic waves radiating from the earthquake. It is these seismic waves that one feels in the form of ground motion.

See also, What are seismic waves?, What is a fault?, and What causes an earthquake? for more information.

What do I do during an earthquake?
Diclaimer: the following information is advice only. It is not guaranteed to always work. It is also meant to apply to modern industrialized nations that have and enforce stringent earthquake codes, such as Japan and the United States. In some situations and countries, adhering to the following advice verbatem may actually be the wrong thing to do. You should always examine your specific situation and decide what actions to take in the event of a quake BEFORE it happens.

This is just a simple summary. For more information and variations from this summary, see During the Earthquake under The Details.

What do I do after an earthquake?
First of all, try not to panic. You must be able to think clearly in the immediate aftermath in order to protect yourself and others. It's OK to be scared, but going into hysterics will only do more harm. If someone else panics, do your best to comfort them and lead them to safety. A panicked person will often times make irrational decisions that can harm themselves or others. Do not leave them alone until they have completely calmed down.

If you smell gas, turn off the gas valve.
Inspect for and evacuate heavily damaged buildings.
Do not use the elevator.
Do not make a mad dash for the exits causing a stampede.
Beware of aftershocks. The larger the quake, the larger the aftershocks.

More information can be found in After The Earthquake is Section II - The Details.

How do I prepare for an earthquake?
If you do nothing else, at least know what to do when one strikes. See What do I do during an earthquake? for information.

You should have on hand all the supplies you would need to survive for a minimum or three days camping, ideally for two weeks or more. You must realize that after a major earthquake damage to the basic infrastructure that we all take for granted will be destroyed or damaged. That means the possibility of no running water, no electricity, no natural gas, and no sewage. Due to the damage to roads and other transportation infrastructure, it may take several days for assistance to arrive in your area.

At a very minimum you should have three days supply of the following items:
You should also know how to turn off the natural gas at the meter (keep a wrench at the meter), how to turn off the electricity mains, and how to turn off the water.

For a more detailed discussion of earthquake preparedness, please see Before the Earthquake in Section II - The Details.

What are 'seismic waves'?
Seismic waves are what you feel the ground doing in an earthquake. When the fault ruptures, it sends vibrations out from the fault. These vibrations are somewhat like the waves radiating from a rock thrown into a pond. There are many types of seismic waves, most notably p-waves and s-waves. P-waves are pressure waves moving through the earth, compressing and expanding the ground as they pass by. S-waves move the ground form side to side. Also, there are surface waves know as Love waves and Rayleigh waves.

See Types of Seismic Waves in Section II for more information.

What is liquifaction?
Liquifaction is when the seemingly solid ground acts more like a liquid. This is most prevalant when the soil is wet or loosely packed. When the ground starts shaking, the vibrations cause the wet soil to lose cohesion and act more like a fluid. Structures on wet soil may sink or the liquid in the soil may be forced out of the ground as sand blows.

See Liquifaction in Section II for details.

What causes an earthquake?
Although we know what an earthquake is and some of the forces that spawn them, exactly how they start is still an intensive area of study. We do know that through plate tectonics, large sections of crust are moving around the surface of the Earth. Where these sections meet they grind past and even over or under each other. These meeting points bend and fracture the normally solid earth due to the enormous stresses resulting in the creation of faults. When the pressure builds enough to overcome the friction on the fault, the two sides of the fault move past each other suddenly in the form of an earthquake.

What is a fault?
A fault is a fructure in the earths crust between two blocks of crust that are moving relative to each other. There are many types of faults, each for different types of fault movement.

See Types of Faults in Section II - The Details for specific information.

What is plate tectonics?
Plate tectonics is a theory that describes thin plates forming a solid crust over the more fluid mantle of the Earth. These plates are in constant motion. Where plates are moving apart, spreading ridges are formed. Where they slide past each other, fault lines develop. Where they collide more directly, one slides under the other in a subduction zone. Plate tectonics also helps to explain the presence of chains of volcanoes in certain parts of the Earth.

See Plate Tectonics in Section II - The Details for more information.

What is the Richter Scale?
The Richter Scale was developed by Charles Richter in 1935 at the California Institute of Technolgy. It was the first reliable way of comparing the size of earthquakes. The method used a specific type of seismometer common for the time and was done by measuring the physical size of the seismogram traces. Then using other information, such as the distance from the quake, the information was put into a simple formula and a magnitude number was derived. This scale is logarithmic, meaning that a one point increase in magnitude corresponded to approximately a 32 times increase in energy.

The Richter Scale is no longer in use, mainly due to the fact that it was calibrated to a specific type of seismograph (which is no longer used) and was also calibrated to the crustal conditions of southern California, making it less accurate for other parts of the globe. Many seismologists today cringe when the media continues to say that a particular earthquake was a given size "on the Richter Scale."

See Magnitude Scales in Section II - The Details for more information on the many types of magnitude scales in use and their differences.

What is the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale?
The Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (symbolized as 'MM') is a method of rating the intensity of an earthquake. The scale has 12 levels represented by Roman numerals ranging from I to XII and was developed by Harry Wood and Frank Neumann in 1931. The scale is not mathematically defined or measurable by instruments. Rather, it is a subjective measure based on the observed effects of the quake, such as the extent and severity of damage. It is entirely possible for an earthquake of a given magnitude to be rated a different Mercalli rating due to it's location. In a country such as Japan or the United States, earthquakes do not cause as much damage as the same magnitude earthquake occuring in a place such as Guatemala or Indonesia. This is due primarily to better constuction methods and government mandated building codes. Below is a description of each intensity rating taken from a USGS page describing the Mercalli scale.


What is 'moment magnitude'?
Moment magnitude is a specific way of measuring an earthquake based on how much of the fault slipped and how much it slipped. This is the magnitude of choice for seismologists and is the most accurate for the largest earthquakes. However, it is also one of the most difficult to compute.

See Magnitude Scales in Section II - The Details for more information.

What is an 'epicenter'?
The epicenter of an earthquake is the point on the surface of the Earth above the hypocenter. See What is a 'hypocenter'? for more information.

What is a 'hypocenter'?
The hypocenter is the point within the earth where the earthquake started, or nucleated. Faults are two dimensional structures within the crust of the Earth. The point at which the fault first begins to rupture is the hypocenter. Rupturing will continue to radiate along the fault plane outward from the hypocenter. The epicenter is the point on the surface of the earth directly above the underground hypocenter. The hypocenter does not need to be in the center of the fault rupture. In the case of the the 2004 Parkfield quake, the hypocenter was at the south end of the section of fault the ruptured. Rupture started at the hypocenter and propogated almost entirely to the north, with very little propogation to the south. For large earthquakes where the fault ruptures for hundreds or even a thousand or more kilomenters and the hypocenter/epicenter is at one end of the rupture, the hypocenter/epicenter ploted on a map may be far from the location of greatest shaking and damage.

How are earthquakes measured?
Earthquakes are measured in a variety of ways, most basically by instruments or by their effects. Seismometers measure the ground motion caused by an earthquake and help to determine its magnitude. Also, earthquakes can be measured using the Mercalli Scale, which ranks earthquakes on their effects, such as how they were felt and the damage they caused.

What is a seismometer?
A seismometer, also known as a seismograph,  is a device for recording ground motion during an earthquake. Specifically, they record ground acceleration, or how quickly the ground is changing its rate of motion. Seismometer come in many varieties depending on their purose. Some are designed to only detect small earthquakes locally. Others to detect larger quakes from a distance. More recently, a type of seimometer called a strong motion sensor has been developed to measure the extreme ground motions near the center of a large earthquake. This is useful for making a quick automated assessment of where the most damage may have occured and where rescue efforts should begin to be concentrated.

For information on specific types of seismometers see Seismometers in Section II - The Details.

What is a 'moment tensor solution' aka 'beach ball'?
Also known as fault plane solution and focal mechanism solution. This is a way of showing the orientation and motion of movement on a fault that has experienced an earthquake.

See Focal Mechanisms in Section II - The Details for more information.

How much energy is there in an earthquake?
To get a good idea of how much energy is released in an earthquake, take a look at the following chart:
Richter TNT for Seismic Example
Magnitude Energy Yield (approximate)

-1.5 6 ounces Breaking a rock on a lab table
1.0 30 pounds Large Blast at a Construction Site
1.5 320 pounds
2.0 1 ton Large Quarry or Mine Blast
2.5 4.6 tons
3.0 29 tons
3.5 73 tons
4.0 1,000 tons Small Nuclear Weapon
4.5 5,100 tons Average Tornado (total energy)
5.0 32,000 tons
5.5 80,000 tons Little Skull Mtn., NV Quake, 1992
6.0 1 million tons Double Spring Flat, NV Quake, 1994
6.5 5 million tons Northridge, CA Quake, 1994
7.0 32 million tons Hyogo-Ken Nanbu, Japan Quake, 1995; Largest Thermonuclear Weapon
7.5 160 million tons Landers, CA Quake, 1992
8.0 1 billion tons San Francisco, CA Quake, 1906
8.5 5 billion tons Anchorage, AK Quake, 1964
9.0 32 billion tons Chilean Quake, 1960
10.0 1 trillion tons (San-Andreas type fault circling Earth)
12.0 160 trillion tons (Fault Earth in half through center,
OR Earth's daily receipt of solar energy)
For a detailed discussion on how much energy is in an earthquake, with formulae and tables, see Amount of Energy in Section II - The Details.

What is the biggest possible earthquake?
The size of an earthquake is directly related to the area of the fault plane and how much it moves. The bigger the area and the more it moves, the bigger the earthquake. The largest quakes occur on subduction zones. To imagine the fault plane of a subduction zone, imagine a piece of paper laying on its side. The paper has a large surface area. Faults such as the San Andreas are more like narrow ribbons laying on edge and therefore have a more limited surface area.

Although a 'mega-quake' of magnitude 10 is theoretically possible, the probability of such a large quake is extremely small. Since we can calculate how big a fault plane would be required for such a large quake, we can compare this to the known faults of the world. The fact is, there just isn't a fault big enough to make such a quake. It would take 32 of the recent Sumatra 9.0 earthquakes to equal a magnitude 10.

The largest earthquake on record was a whopping magnitude 9.5 which occured in Chile on May 22, 1960.

Can a bunch of smaller earthquakes release the stress of a big one?
In a word, no. Due to the enormous range of energies involved, it could take upwards of millions of smaller non-destructive quakes to relieve the stress of one large one. At the very least, it would take thousands. Please see How much energy is there in an earthquake? for more detail.

Can earthquakes be predicted?
Although there are many individuals and organizations who will claim otherwise, as yet there is no reliable, repeatable, testable method for predicting earthquakes. Note that prediction and forecasting are two different things. Forecasting is what the reputable scientists do. They state the probability of an earthquake happening within a region in a given time frame. A prediction, on the other hand, says that a quake WILL happen within a given region in a given time frame. The difference is more than probability versus certainty. The time frame stated in a forecast is on the order of years or tens of years. A prediction is on the order of days or months at most.

For more information on why 99% of all prediction methods are scoffed at by scientists in the seismic community, please read the section on Science and the Scientific Method.

For more detailed information on quake prediction and various ideas that have been proposed, see the section on Predicting Earthquakes.

Section II - The Details

Before the Earthquake

During the Earthquake
Diclaimer: the following information is advice only. It is not guaranteed to always work. It is also meant to apply to modern industrialized nations that have and enforce stringent earthquake codes, such as Japan and the United States. In some situations and countries, adhering to the following advice verbatem may actually be the wrong thing to do. You should always examine your specific situation and decide what actions to take in the event of a quake BEFORE it happens.

Knowing what to do during an earthquake depends on where you are when it strikes. It is also a question best answered BEFORE an earthquake rather than during. You should take the time to consider your surroundings and the places you frequent most, the bedroom, family area (or wherever you spend most of your time at home when not asleep), the roads you take to work, your work area, and even those stores you visit regularly. Preparedness can be as much or even more knowing what to do than it is having emergency supplies. What good is it to have two weeks of rations if you get killed or injured because you stopped to watch the view out that beautiful bay window? There is a lot of information below, but sometimes it's just enough to ask yourself 'what would I do where I am if there is an earthquake right now?' Ask yourself that enough and you won't have to think about it when the next big earthquake strikes. You will already know what to do.

In developed nations that have excellent building codes and enforcement, the greatest danger during a large earthquake is not from buildings falling down on you, but rather from all the items within the building being flung off the walls and shelves and out of the cupboards and striking you. The house will survive but that beautiful cherry wood china cabinet is going to fall over if it's not secured to the wall, then even if it is, the antique dinner ware may still fly off the shelves if the doors fling open easily.

Running outside during a quake you run the risk of being hit from debris falling off the building, such as facades, signs, and broken glass. By the time you realize it's a big earthquake, it's too late to
try to escape the building as the debris is probably already falling.

Move away from glass windows and mirrors. The strong shaking during more powerful earthquakes causes the glass to bend until it finally breaks. Unfortunately, the glass doesn't always fall straight down, but can often blow outward with considerable force. If you've ever bent a plastic CDROM until it snaps, you've likely found pieces that flew several feet away from the disc. Glass can do the
same thing.

It used to be said that you should stand in a doorway since this part of a house or building is stronger. Although it may be stronger, the problem with this is the door. During a large quake it can swing wildly and uncontrollably possibly causing injury from it striking you. If you are holding onto the door frame you may even get your fingers pinched off when the door suddenly slams shut. If you do decide to stand in a doorway, be sure to face the door and make sure it doesn't swing and hit you, perhaps by holding onto it.

Move away from the outer walls of a building. These are the most likely to collapse. If you are inside a tall structure, like a skyscraper, the violent swaying motions of the building during the quake may throw you out a window. Move towards the core of the building and take cover as appropriate.

If you are in a crowded area, such as a concert or busy mall, do not contribute to the innevitable stampede of people rushing for the exits. Take the nearest cover and stay there.

Avoid elevators and stairwells. If you are in a stairwell, leave it at the nearest exit and take appropriate cover. If you are in an elevator, press the emergency stop button. This will stop the elevator where it is. The chances of the elevator falling are very close to zero due to the safeguards built in. Once the shaking stops, try to pry open the doors and exit the elevator. If the doors are jammed, try the emergency phone. If power has failed it may not be working. Also, all elevators have roof hatches. It may be possible to climb on top of the elevator and open the doors to the floor above. Failing this, try banging on the door and occasionally hollering for outside help. Above all, remain calm. Help will arrive if you are stuck. One of the priorities of emergency crews checking a building is to check the elevators.

There is some debate over getting under a desk. On the one hand, getting under the desk will help protect you from debris flying around the room. Computer monitors can slide off a desk and the monitor glass shatter upon hitting the floor. You are also more protected from falling overhead lighting, flying glass from windows and mirrors, and shelving and their contents flying around the room.
However, during the rescue efforts after the 1985 magnitude 8.0 quake that affected Mexico City rescue workers were able to crawl through the pancaked buildings along passages created by what was left of the crushed desks supporting the debris above. People that were under their desks were injured or killed when the ceilings above came down crushing the desks on top of them. It is difficult to say for certainty when one should be under or next to the desk.

If you are in bed, wrap yourself in the blankets and roll off onto the floor beside the bed. DO NOT GET UNDER THE BED. If the building should collapse, the bed will collapse but may help support the debris enough to create a void space around where you lie. Roll to the side that is furthest away from any glass that may shatter or items falling off walls and shelves. Unsecured shelves tend to fall over in quakes so it is a good idea to avoid them.

If you are outside, move out into the open. Move away from buildings, especially those with brick and glass facades. Stay away from power lines and tall trees. If you are in a shopping center the best place to go is out into the parking lot UNLESS it is a parking structure which may collapse.

If you are in a downtown area near skyscrapers or other very tall buildings where there is no open space to move towards, move to the entranceway of the nearest building but do not enter. Be careful of choosing an entranceway with a lot of glass. It may be better to simply crouch or lay down beside a parked vehicle if you cannot get elsewhere quickly enough.

If you are in your car, slowly come to a safe stop on the side of the road so as to not cause an accident or lose control of the vehicle. Avoid stopping on or under bridges or near poles and large trees. These can fall on top of the car injuring you. STAY IN YOUR CAR.

However, what if you are stopped in traffic under a bridge? If this is the case, DO NOT try to drive out from under the bridge. Put the car in park, turn off the engine, get out of the car and lay flat on the ground next to the car face down with your hands covering your head and neck. DO NOT GET UNDER THE CAR. If the bridge should collapse, the car will be crushed by the weight of the concrete, but there is a very good chance that a void space will be created next to the car that you will be relatively safe in. If you cannot get out of your car quickly, lay down across the seats or floor of the car. You may have to undo your seatbelt to do this. In the 1989 Loma Prieta quake some of the survivors of the Cypress Freeway collapse were found laying sideways in their cars when the freeway collapsed on top of them.

Mountains and Ocean
The obvious danger when in the mountians or hilly areas is the danger of rock falls and landslides. If you are out hiking, keep your eye towards uphill for falling debris. It may even be a good idea to seek a large tree to hide on the downhill side of. Once the quake is over, immediately hike back out of the area to the trailhead or seek a ranger station.

The danger of large earthquakes near the ocean is the possibility of a tsunami. The best bet is to assume a tsunami is on it's way and to move quickly inland or to higher ground. It is never known immediately after any quake whether a tsunami has been generated. Often times it may take several hours to determine this from seismograph information alone. In areas where there are tsunami detection buoys it may still take tens of minutes before a warning is sounded. If the source of the tsunami is close to shore, it may take only a couple minutes before the tsunami strikes, long before any official warning.

An ominous sign that a tsunami is imminent is abnormally high swells crashing on shore or the sea receding further out than any low tide. Sometimes the sea will pull back so far that it exposes a hundred meters of ocean bottom. Do not be tempted to run out and collect fish or seashells. RUN AWAY!!!

Another dangerous fact about tsunami is that they are rarely just one wave. Tsunami are like the ripples from a stone thrown in a pond; there are multiple waves. Often times the first few waves
are not the worse. The first couple waves crash ashore and people think it's all over not realizing that in a few minutes even bigger and deadlier waves will arrive.

Stay inland or on higher ground until it has been officially declared that there is no tsunami or the tsunami is over and it is safe to return. Only then should you return to the shoreline.

See Section IV - Tsunami for more details.

After the Earthquake

Plate Tectonics

Types of Faults
The types of faults are categorized by the orientation of the fault plane relative to level ground and the direction of slip. There are two basic types of fault, the strike slip and the dip slip. A strike slip fault is one where the fault plane is vertical and the predominant motion is side to side. A dip slip fault is one where the fault plane lies at an angle and the motion is predominantly up and down. From these two type are various descriptions depending on the relative motion of each side of the fault.

Dip slip faults have a hanging wall and foot wall. If you view the fault along its length, the fault dips at an angle. The crustal block that hangs over the other is the hanging wall and the other is the foot wall.

Not all faults are purely of one type. Typically they all exhibit multiple types of movement. The description applied to any particular fault rupture is usually based on the predominant motion.

I have made several animations to help you visualize the motion and the focal mechanism (beach ball) associated with that type of fault.

Left Lateral - This is a strike slip fault where the opposite side moves to the left. That is, if you are standing facing the fault line, the other side moves to the left.

Right Lateral - This is a strike slip fault where the opposite side moves to the right. That is, if you are standing facing the fault line, the other side moves to the right.

Normal - This is dip slip fault where the hanging wall slides down the foot wall.

Reverse - This is a dip slip fault where the hanging wall slides up the foot wall.

Thrust - This is a reverse fault where the angle of thrust is less than 45 degrees.

Oblique - An oblique fault is one that has nearly equal characteristics of both strike slip and dip slip. The relative motion between each block has both side-to-side and up-and-down motion.

Subduction - A subduction fault is a dip slip fault at an extreme angle. They are almost flat.

Transform - A transform fault is a strike slip fault and are different only in their speciic location relative to other faults. They often appear from spreading ridges and are caused by different parts of the spreading ridge not spreading at the same rate. Other transform faults lie between the ends of spreading ridges that are seperated by some distance.

Here are some sample images of the focal mechanisms for a few types of fault. In all these images the fault is plane is horizantal (E-W) in the image. Animations are also available which demonstrate the ground movement and its associated beach ball symbol.

Left Lateral Strike Slip
Right Lateral Strike Slip
Normal Dip Slip
Reverse Dip Slip (Thrust)
Oblique Reverse
AVI (1248k)
QuickTime (1531k)
AVI (1267k)
QuickTime (1568k)
AVI (1370k)
QuickTime (1637k)
AVI (1327k)
QuickTime (1569k)
AVI (1314k)
QuickTime (1564k)

Focal Mechanisms (aka Beach Balls)

A focal mechanism is a fancy way of saying which way the fault moved during an earthquake and is often derived automatically by computer based analysis of seismograms. A "beach ball" symbol is used to visualize this movement. The beach ball is a sphere cut into quarters and shaded with alternating colors, usually white and some other color. In our example we use white and red.
    The two "slices" through the beach ball represent the two possible orientations of the plane of the fault. The computers look at the waveforms from as many seismographs as possible and by looking at the direction the ground first starts to move at each location, they can compute which way the fault moved. Unfortunately, there's always two possible solutions, each orthogonal to each other. However, it's pretty easy to determine which fault plane is the correct one by comparing the computed solutions with the orientation of known faults. One of the computed solutions usually lines up very closely to the direction of the fault which produced the earthquake.
    The other feature of a beach ball are the colored quadrants. These quadrants represent the stress field around the hypocenter, with the tension axis (where strain is reduced) represented by the white quadrants, and the pressure axis (where strain increases) represented by the red quadrants. A simpler way to look at it is that it represents the direction of motion, that being from white to red.
    Sometimes the beach ball is difficult to understand due to it's orientation. Sometimes it's just a flat line drawing. Just remember, the image you are looking at is supposed to be a 3 dimensional sphere.
    Here's an animation demonstrating the direction of stress orientation with movement. Remember, the red quadrants represents increasing stress and the white quadrants represents decreasing stress.
To see more animations demonstrating various fault types and their associated beach balls, see Types of Faults, above.

Magnitude Scales

from: - Earthquakes rupture a patch along a fault's surface. Generally speaking, the larger the rupture patch, the larger the magnitude of the earthquake. Initial estimates based on the aftershock distribution show the magnitude 9.0 Sumatra-Andaman Islands Earthquake ruptured a patch of fault roughly the size of California, and modeling of the seismic waves show that most of the slip occurred in the southern 400 kilometers of the patch. For comparison, a magnitude 5 earthquake would rupture a patch roughly the size of New York City's Central Park.

Amount of Energy
The range of energy released by an earthquake is quite large. The smallest earthquakes (mag 1) are equivilant to a typical blast at a rock quary. The largest quakes (mag 9) are the equivilent of millions of nuclear bombs going off at once. This is why magnitude scales are logarithmic. It's difficult to grasp just how much energy there is in 1,000 megatons. The logarithmic scaling of earthquake magnitudes makes it much easier to understand by representing them with a small range of numbers, rarely exceeding 9. However, most people do not understand mathematical logarithms. There are two common misconceptions about how magnitude scales. The first is that a difference of one magnitude is a doubling of magnitude; that is, a magnitude 7 is twice as big as a magnitude 6. The other misconception is that it is 10 times; that is, a magnitude 7 is 10 times as big as a magnitude 6.

The reality is that a magnitude 7 is about 32 times as big as a magnitude 6 in energy. A magnitude 8 is 1,000 times as powerful as a magnitude 6 quake (32 * 32)!!!

This misunderstanding of the logarithmic nature of earthquake magnitudes is what leads to the another misconception; that several smaller quakes can release the energy of a big one, thereby preventing the big one from occuring. Since the scale is logarithmic, that means it would take 32 magnitude 6 quakes to relieve the stress of a potential magnitude 7 quake. I don't knwo about you, but I think I'd rather experience ONE magnitude 7 quake than 32 magnitude 6's!!! To continue, it would take 1,000 magnitude 5 quakes, or 32,000 magnitude 4 quakes, or 1 million magnitude 3 quakes to relieve the stress of a magnitude 7.

If you're wanting to relieve the stress from a potentially devestating magnitude 9 earthquake, it would take 1 million (1,000,000) magnitude 5 earthquakes to equal the amount of energy in a magnitude 9 quake. Just one magnitude 5 quake can still cause a lot of damage in lesser developed areas and be a considerable inconvenience in even the most prepared and structurally sound cities, but to have to experience a million of them?
description of moment magnitude & rupture size and offset

Richter TNT for Seismic Example
Magnitude Energy Yield (approximate)

-1.5 6 ounces Breaking a rock on a lab table
1.0 30 pounds Large Blast at a Construction Site
1.5 320 pounds
2.0 1 ton Large Quarry or Mine Blast
2.5 4.6 tons
3.0 29 tons
3.5 73 tons
4.0 1,000 tons Small Nuclear Weapon
4.5 5,100 tons Average Tornado (total energy)
5.0 32,000 tons
5.5 80,000 tons Little Skull Mtn., NV Quake, 1992
6.0 1 million tons Double Spring Flat, NV Quake, 1994
6.5 5 million tons Northridge, CA Quake, 1994
7.0 32 million tons Hyogo-Ken Nanbu, Japan Quake, 1995; Largest Thermonuclear Weapon
7.5 160 million tons Landers, CA Quake, 1992
8.0 1 billion tons San Francisco, CA Quake, 1906
8.5 5 billion tons Anchorage, AK Quake, 1964
9.0 32 billion tons Chilean Quake, 1960
10.0 1 trillion tons (San-Andreas type fault circling Earth)
12.0 160 trillion tons (Fault Earth in half through center,
OR Earth's daily receipt of solar energy)
To put the amount of energy into several different perspectives, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake is equivilant to:
A 32 thousand megaton bomb.
2.13 million Hiroshima bombs.
561 times the largest nuke detonated of 57 megatons.
Equivilant mass/energy conversion (E=mc2) of 24.9 kilograms. (The largest nuke ever detonated at 57 megatons was 2.7kg)
1000 gigawatts of electricity for the next 72 years.
7.1 billion 100 watt lightbulbs for 100 years.
Total electricity production of US in 2002, for over 161 years.
Total eletricity production of the world in 2001, for over 40 years.
Total energy in sunlight the Earth receives in 4.8 hours.
Amount of energy the Sun produces in 5.8 millionths of a second.


Types of Seismic Waves
Love Waves
Raleigh Waves


Significant Historical Earthquakes
The earthquakes included in this section are not significant because of death-tolls, property damage, or the like. They are included because their occurence had a significant impact on the science of seismology. These earthquakes exposed the field to new data that lead to a greater understanding of the processes involved in earthquakes. They can also be significant because they dramatically pointed out a danger previously not given enough attention.

New Madrid, Missouri - December 16, 1811; January 23, 1823; February 7, 1812
Three large quakes occur in America's heartland. Are they prepared for more?

Haicheng, China - Fubruary 4, 1975
A successful prediction?

Tangshan, China - July 27, 1976
A failed prediction.

Loma Prieta, California - October 18, 1989
A wake up call for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Landers, California - June 28, 1992
The San Andreas is not southern Californias only big quake producing fault.

Northridge, California - January 17, 1994
Blind thrust faluts in urban areas.

Kobe, Japan - January 16, 1995
A city that was supposed to be well prepared.

Izmit, Turkey - August 17, 1999
Poor construction, failure to enact and enforce building codes.

Hector Mine, California - October16, 1999
A triggered quake.

Parkfield, California - September 28, 2004
The Parkfield Experiment. It finally arrived, if a few years too late.

Sumatra, Indonesia - December 26, 2004
The need for tsunami education and warning systems in all the worlds oceans.

Earthquake dangers of the near future.

Section III - Predicting Earthquakes
This section is obviously devoted to the topic of predicting earthquakes, prediction methods, what works and what fails, and why.

Can earthquakes be predicted?
Many people will probably answer YES to this question. The reality is, not yet. If you ask any seismologist they will almost certainly say that prediction would be wonderful to obtain, but almost always agree that it is some time off in the future. Of all the people who claim to be able to predict quakes, very few are willing to seriously discuss and answer the inevitable questions raised by such a bold claim. Many are unwilling to discuss their methods. Some of them are only willing to discuss their methods with large infusions of 'research funds.' Some even make their methods available through the purchase of their books and equipment. Yes, I am implying they are probably selling snake-oil, only being interested in making a profit instead of truly helping humanity protect themselves from the wrath of Mother Nature. Such people become vehemently defensive when their motives come into question.

But to get more in line with science, many seismologists feel that prediction could just be a matter of knowledge. We simply do not yet know enough of the details of the inner workings of Mother Earth in order to predict what she will do next. Some will even say we may never be able to truly predict quakes because the computational requirements to take into account enough details are beyond any computing power we can currently envision, but that we may be able to shorten our forecasts to the same level as current weather forecasts. Other will say it's entirely impossible due to the forces of chaos acting on a such indeterminant systems.

Prediction vs. Forecast
A prediction and a forecast have much in common, but they often differ in their scale, generally the prediction being more precise.

The main difference between a prediction and a forecast is one of probability. Nearly all predictors say the quake WILL happen, a probability of 100%. They are nearly 100% wrong as well. A forecast on the other hand simply states the percent likelyhood of a quake occuring in the given time span, usually on the order of decades. the forecast is much more accurate because it is usually based on the seismological history of the region.

A prediction and a forecast usually do not give the exact location of the expected eathquake. Seismologists forecast quakes for specific faults more often than for an entire region. If they do give a regional forecast, it is based on a summary of forecasts for the specific faults in that region. Predictions on the other hand tend to be very broad and imprecise in their location. A seismologist will give a forcast for the southern segment of the San Andreas whereas a predictor will simply say 'somewhere in Southern California.' The problem is that there are dozens of major faults in Southern California. This is a case where the seismologist generally is more precise than the predictor.

The time of the expected quake is expressed very differently between predictions and forecasts. The predictor tends to give precise dates and times with a time window on the order of days. For example, they may say quake will occur within 3 days of January 17, 2000. That means the quake can occur anywhere from the 14th through the 20th. A forecast provides a much larger time window, more likely stating that the quake has a 50% probablity of occuring within the next 15 years.

The methods of deriving predictions and forecasts almost couldn't be greater. A forecast is based on the seismological history of the region or fault. If a fault shows a history of rupturing every 50 years on average, and it's been 40 years since the last rupture, the forecast will probably say somehting like "a 50% probability of an earthquake happening within the next 10 years." Predictions, on the other hand, are derived from as many varied sources as there are predictors. The most common methods seem to involve 'scalar waves', earthquake clouds, animal behaviour, astrology, planetary alignments, lunar effects, visions, and probably a dose of tea leaf reading as well.

Are scientists looking for ways to predict quakes?


Earthquake Clouds
Some claim that prior to an earthquake, certain types of clouds form over the region. Typically, these clouds are described as having a wavelike pattern to them, like ripples in the sand. To use the correct meterological term, they are undulatus in form. Some say these clouds are caused by radon gas escaping from the Earth whereas others claim they are formed from scalar waves.

Radon - Radon is element number 86 on the periodic table, one of the noble gases. It is colorless, oderless, and the heaviest element that can be gaseous at room temperature. Radon is the decay product of other radioactive elements, mainly radium and actinium, decaying primarily into polonium. The half life of radon is very short, the longest lived isotope being 222Rn with a half life of only 3.8235 days. This is also the most common form of radon found in nature. Being element number 89 on the periodic table makes radon a very heavy element, heavier than even gold or lead. This means radon gas is heavier than air and collects in low lying unventilated areas such as basements. Being a radioactive gas, radon is a health hazard and is considered the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. For more information on the health risks of radon, please visit the Environmental Protection Agency website. People are encouraged to obtain radon detection kits to determine their risk. Free ones are available. The abundance of radon in the atmosphere is 1 part per 1021, or 1 atom of radon for every 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of air.

Now that we know something more about radon, we can ask a lot of questions about radon's role in forming earthquake clouds.
  1. How does radon cause water vapor in the atmosphere to condense and form clouds?
  2. Since radon has such a low abundance, how can there be enough of it to form clouds?
  3. If large pockets of radon gas suddenly form and are released, what causes this sudden build up of radon? Remember, radon's half life is only 3.8 days so it can't accumulate unless there is a concentrated source of radium that suddenly decides to decay into radon.
  4. Since radon is heavier than air, how does it manage to get thousands or even tens of thousands of feet into the air to form earthquake clouds?
  5. Why isn't there always a lot of earthquakes in those areas where radon gas is abundant?
  6. Why isn't there always a lot of radon in those areas where there a lot of earthquakes?
  7. Why hasn't anyone ever detected all this radon, or it's parent nuclides, or it's decay products?
Further thinking also reveals a couple questions about earthquake clouds in general, regardless of radon's role.
  1. Why aren't there always earthquakes when earthquake clouds form?
  2. Why aren't there always earthquake clouds when there are earthquakes?
Undulatus Cloud Formation - Clouds are formed when a mass of air containing water vapor cools, causing the vapor to condense into small droplets which scatter and reflect light. This is generally caused by a mass of moist air being forced to rise higher into the atmosphere. As the altitude increases, the pressure and temperature drops, increasing the relatice humidity level until it reaches 100% and condensation forms. Sheets of clouds can also form where two overlying air masses meet. The lower air mass may be warm and moist whereas the overlying air mass is cold and dry. Where these too air masses meet there is some mixing of the air and clouds form. Undulatus formations occur when these two air masses are moving at slightly different speeds relative to each other. As the air masses move across each other turbulence forms and at the right relative speeds can form organized undulations. These undulations control the zones where more or less vapor condenses producing the undulatus formation.

Planetary Alignments
Some argue that the alignments of the planets have a gravitational effect that can cause or influence earthquakes. Although every body in the solar system is attracted to every other body by gravity, gravity is not as powerful as one might like to think. Of the four fundmental physical forces - gravity, electromagnitism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces - gravity is by far the weakest of the bunch. The weak and strong nuclear forces fall off very rapidly and only have effective ranges within the nucleus of an atom; it's what holds them together! Electromagnetism and gravity fall off much more slowly (inverse-square) and can be detected across the entire universe. Gravity, though, is 1036 times weaker than electromagnetism. This means that at short distances, electromagnetism wins out. Gravity only wins when at least one body is a large mass or when one mass is very dense and the other is very close. This is why even a small magnet can defy gravity and pick up small objects. Although the Earth's mass is large compared to the magnet, gravity is so weak that at close enough ranges, the magnetic field can overpower gravity and still pick up that piece of metal.

In the Solar System, the body with the most gravitational influence on the Earth is of course the Sun. The Moon is next but the force is about 165 times weaker. The maximum possible gravitational attraction between the Earth and other major bodies in the Solar System are summarized in the table below, ranked in order of greatest possible attraction.

Times Weaker Than Sun
Times Weaker Than Moon
reference = 1
reference = 1
1,662,588 10,080
112,511,698,279 682,149,944

As can be seen from the above table, the gravitational influence of the planets is much weaker than the Moon and many times weaker still than the Sun. Even if you added up the attraction of all the other planets the combined result would still be many dozens of times weaker than the Moon's influence. Studies have been done to look for a correlation between earthquakes and the Moon and have found at best only a very weak relationship, and that small amount is still under debate. Since we know the Moon has little to no influence, how could the planets have any at all? For information, see the part on Lunar Influence.


Lunar Influence

Ocean Tides

Scalar Waves
Scalar waves is the brainchild of a one Thomas E. Bearden who first proposed them beginning in the 1980's. These waves are supposed to be a form of electromagnetic energy that hase been described variously as an energy transfer on another plane, another dimension, subspace, or hyperspace. Many people have proposed theories using scalar waves to explain various phenomenon, including that there are scalar waves emanating from the Earth's crust prior to an earthquake. Various 'instruments' have been devised to measure and record this scalar energy and proper analysis is supposed to be able to predict impending quakes.

The fact is, after researching it, there is no such thing as scalar waves. It appears to be the result of a misunderstanding of the not often used quaternion form of Maxwell's EM equations. I barely
understand quaternions myself, so I won't pretend to explain them here. The upshot is that it reduces Maxwell's set of 4 vector equations down to 2. They are mathematically identical, just written differently and more compactly. Some have failed to realize the two forms are identical but instead think the quaternion form leads to a different physics than the normally used vector form. This misunderstanding is the apparent basis of 'scalar electromagnetics.'

BTW, a scalar is simply a value without dimension. They have magnitude, but not direction. Examples of a scalar quantity are mass, speed, temperature, and time. Electromagnetic waves have both scalar and vector quantities, that is, both magnitude and direction. Literally, a 'scalar wave' would only have magnitude and no direction. The 'wave' doesn't go anywhere, so how can there be any energy transfer?

For further information, here's some wikipedia articles:

This simple conclusion is that any theory based on 'scalar waves' is based on a fundamental error and is therefore fundamentally flawed. It would behoove the authors of theories based on scalar waves to rethink their theories without the use of these imaginary waves.

Earthquakes Triggering Other Earthquakes?

Section IV - Tsunami

What is a tsunami?
Tsunami is a Japanese word meaning "harbor wave."  A tsunami should not be confused with the word tidal wave. A tidal wave is by definition a wave caused by ocean tides, which in turn is caused by the Moon and a little by the Sun. A tsunami is specifically caused by an earthquake, landslide (both undersea and from land into water), or even from an asteroid hitting the ocean. Generally, a tsunami is almost always cause by an earthquake under water.

What causes a tsunami?
A tsunami can be caused by several things; an underwater landslide, a landslide falling into water, an asteroid impact, an exploding volcano, but most notably and underwater earthquake.

When an earthquake occurs, the land shifts and permanently changes position. If the land moves from side to side, not much will happen to the water. However, if the land moves up or down, it displaces a large body of water. Since water seeks to level itself, this displaced water will attempt to adjust itself in the form of a wave. What makes a tsunami so special is that this wave extends from the surface of the water to the bottom of the ocean. Your common everyday wave that crashes on your favorite beach is only moving water in the top few meters of water. Deeper down the water remains relatively immobile and unaffected. But a tsunami affects the whole mass of water above the land that moved. This translates into a large amount of water being displaced.

The waves from a tsunami radiate outward and can travel a great distance. This is because the period (the time from crest to crest) is extremely long. Most waves crashing on a beach have periods of tens of seconds whereas a tsunami has periods of minutes to hours. Also, tsunami waves out in the open ocean move at a very high rate of speed, as much as 500 kilometers/hour. This may seem astonishingly fast, but the waveheight out in the open ocean is typically only a few tens of centimeters. If you were in a boat in the middle of the Pacific when a tsunami went by, you wouldn't even notice it amongst all the other wave action.

What makes the tsunami dangerous compared to tide and wind driven waves is what happens when they reach shallower waters on their way to land. As anyone who's been to the beach has noticed, far from shore the waves are gentle rolling swells. As a wave approached shallower water, the wave is forced to slow down, which causes the wave to pile up on itself. Eventually the wave piles high enough that it crashes over on itself. The remains of this crashed wave then runs up the slope of the beach to a level several feet above the current ocean level. A tsunami is effectively a large swell. As it approaches shallower water, it also slows down and piles up. However, they don't come crashing ashore like portrayed in the movies, nor like the big 50 footers surfers love in Hawaii. Instead, a tsunami wave simply acts as a sudden rising of water level, like an extreme tide but happening in seconds. In a way it's like a fast moving flood but from the ocean instead of a river. This rising water level happens so fast that the water rushes inland very quickly, knocking down all but the sturdiest of structures and carrying the debris inland. When the water has run up as far as it can go, it starts rushing back towards the ocean carrying all the debris with it.

A tsunami is never just one wave. Like a pebble dropped in a pond, a tsunami is several waves in a row. The first is rarely the biggest. This can be dangerous because people may see the first wave and think all is over when a few minutes later the next bigger wave comes ashore...then the next...and the next....

Landslides, asteroids, and exploding volcanoes can also displace large volumes of water generating a tsunami.

Do all earthquakes cause tsunami?
Not all earthquakes cause tsunami. Well, most cause at least a small local tsunami. For a large ocean crossing killer to be generated, a large land mass under the water must move up or down in order to displace a large volume of water. This is most common in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate slides under or over the other. If a strike-slip quake occurs, the land moves from side to side. This does not displace much if any water and therefore any tsunami is likely to be small and local.

What do I do in the event of a tsunami?
If you are caught in a tsunami, there isn't much you can do. The force of the water is just too great to swim against. It can even be so swift as to make it impossible to hold on to a pole or tree. In fact, that pole or tree is likely to be ripped from the ground in a larger tsunami. The best thing you can do is at the least sign of a tsunami is to run inland or to higher ground. Get on top of anything to get out of the water. Don't wait for the water to consume you.

If you are near the ocean and you feel a large quake, you should assume that a tsunami is coming and move inland to higher ground immediately.

If the ocean suddenly recedes or rises more than normal, even if you haven't felt a quake, it could be a tsunami and you should react accordingly. Hopefully the first wave will not be the worst and it will serve as a warning for you to seek safety.

How do I prepare for a tsunami?
The best preperation for a tsunami is to know the warning signs and what to do before the waves arrive. In areas that are prone to tsunami danger, plan your evacuation route in advance. Know where higher ground is.

If you are near the ocean and you feel a large quake, you should assume that a tsunami is coming and move inland to higher ground immediately.

If the ocean suddenly recedes or rises more than normal, even if you haven't felt a quake, it could be a tsunami and you should react accordingly. Hopefully the first wave will not be the worst and it will serve as a warning for you to seek safety.

Can tsunami be predicted?
Tsunami can't be predicted per se, but we do know what causes them. Large earthquakes can be detected and if the ground movement is such that a tsunami might be generated, a warning can be issued. But this takes time and many times it can be too long to help. Special buoys can be placed out in the open ocean that are designed to detect the large pressure wave of a tsunami as it passes. If these buoys are placed in known danger zones, they can help detect the tsunami long before the seismographs tell us that a large quake of the right type to cause a tsunami has occured. This information can then be relayed to the proper government agencies and evacuation orders given. But this is all predicated on a system being in place, proper communication channels established, evacuation plans put in place, and the public educated.


Indian Ocean tsunami from Sumatra 9.0 on Dec. 26, 2004
    Why wasn't there any warning?
    Why was the tsunami so big?

Section V - Volcanoes

Mt. Saint Helens

Mt. Rainier


Las Palmas

Section VI - Science and the Scientific Method
I have included a section of science and the scientific method in order to help educate the public in the ways that scientists think and the logic used to examine evidence and produce theories. Nearly every time a major disaster occurs, people begin questioning and even blaming the scientists. It is my opinion that this attitude towards science and scientists is due simply to a lack of education. Science is not something that always comes naturally. That's why most go to school for years to learn this stuff. I hope with this section I can provide a synopsis of the fundamentals of science that can be read and hopefully understood by nearly everyone without the need for four years of university.

This section is also useful for those who, to be blunt, think they are smarter than the scientists and think they have a theory that explains everything. For these individuals, I suggest jumping straight to Why People Believe Weird Things, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Actually, everyone should read this and humble themselves. I found it to be a real eye opener myself.

What is the scientific method?
The scientific method is a fundamental procedure for conducting science composed of four basic steps. I have seen this worded in many different ways, but they all fundamentally mean the same thing. Here it is in my own words:
Generally, this is an iterative process, that is, it is done over and over and over. The results of the experiment are combined with the previous observations and the whole lot goes through the process again.

If the results of the test verify the predictions of the hypothesis, the theory is supported. The hypothesis remains the same, but new predictions must be made to attempt to find holes in the theory.

If the results refute the predictions of the hypothesis, the hypothesis is in error. At this point, the hypothesis is adjusted to explain both the previous observations and the new observations.

Why People Believe Weird Things
The following section is quoted from chapter three of Michael Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things. The chapter, titled How Thinking Goes Wrong, contains a list of "Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things". These 25 Fallacies cover nearly every aspect of how non-skeptics, non-critical thinkers, pseudoscientists, and yes, even scientists, fail in their thinking processes and end up accepting conclusions based on incorrect assertions and false logic. Also presented are Hume's Maxim and Spinoza's Dictum, both important tools used in critical thinking.

I am grateful to Michael Shermer for graciously giving me permission to quote this material from his book. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine and director of the Skeptics Society ( In addition to writing several books, he is also a contributing editor and monthly columnist for the magazine Scientific American (

My purpose for including this text is to help educate the public in the ways of critical thinking used by scientists. It is also here as reference material for the section Predicting Earthquakes.
Hume's Maxim
    Skeptics owe a lot to the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), whose An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a classic in the skeptical analysis. The work was first published anonymously in London in 1739 as A Treatise of Human Nature. In Hume's words, it "fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots." Hume blamed is own writing style and reworked the manuscript into An Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature, published in 1740, and then into Philosophical Essays Concerning the Human Understanding, published in 1748. The work still garnered no recognition, so in 1758 he brought out the final version, under the title An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which today we regard as his greatest philosophical work.

    Hume distinguished between "antecedent skepticism," such as René Descartes' method of doubting everything that has no "antecedent" infallible criterion for belief; and "consequent skepticism," the method Hume employed, which recognizes the "consequences" of our fallible senses but corrects them through reason: "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." Better words could not be found for a skeptical motto.

    Even more important is Hume's foolproof, when-all-else-fails analysis of miraculous claims. For when one is confronted by a true believer whose apparently supernatural or paranormal claim has no immediately apparent natural explanation, Hume provides an argument that he thought so important that he placed his own words in quotes and called them a maxim:

    The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), "That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that it's falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

    When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. ([1758] 1952, p.491)

Problems in Scientific Thinking

1. Theory Influences Observations
About the human quest to understand the physical world, physicist and Nobel Laureate Werner Heisenberg concluded, "What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to out method of questioning." In quantum mechanics, this notion has been formalized as the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum action: "a probability function does not prescribe a certain event but describes a continuum of possible events until a measurement interferes with the isolation of the system and a single event is actualized" (in Weaver, 1987, p. 412). The Copenhagen interpretation eliminates the one-to-one correlation between theory and reality. The theory in part the reality. Reality exists independent of the observer, of course, but out perceptions of reality are influenced by the theories framing our examination of it. Thus, philosophers call science theory laden.

    That theory shapes perceptions of reality is true not only for quantum physics but also for all observations of the world. When Columbus arrived in the New World, he had a theory that he was in Asia and proceeded to perceive the New World as such. Cinnamon was a vluable Asian spice, and the first New World shrub that smelled like cinnamon was declared to be it. When he encounter the aromatic gumbo-limbo tree of the West Indies, Columbus concluded it was an Asian species similar to the mastic tree of the Mediterranean. A New World nut was matched with Marco Polo's description of a coconut. Columbus's surgeon even declared, based on some Caribbean roots his men uncovered, that he had found Chinese rhubarb. A theory of Asia produced observations of Asia, even though Columbus was half a world away. Such is the power of theory.

2. The Observer Changes the Observed
Physicist John Archibald Wheeler noted, "Even to observe so minuscule an object as an electron, [a physicist] must shatter the glass. He must reach in. He must install his chosen measuring equipment.... Moreover, the measurement changes the state of the electron. The universe will never afterward be the same" (in Weaver 1987, p. 427). In other words, the act of studying an event can change it. Social scientists often encounter this phenomenon. Anthropologists know that when they study a tribe, the behavior of the members may be altered by the fact they are being observed by an outsider. Subjects in a psychology experiment may alter their behavior if they know what experimental hypotheses are being tested. This is why psychologists use blind and double-blind controls. Lack of such controls is often found in tests of paranormal powers and is one of the classic ways that thinking goes wrong in the pseudosciences. Science tries to minimize and acknowledge the effects of the observation on the behavior of the observed; pseudoscience does not.

3. Equipment Constructs Results
The equipment used in an experiment often determines the results. The size of our telescopes, for example, has shaped and reshaped our theories about the size of the universe. In the twentieth century, Edwin Hubble's 60- and 100-inch telescopes on Mt. Wilson in southern California for the first time provided enough seeing power for astronomers to distinguish individual stars in other galaxies, thus proving that those fuzzy objects called nebulas that we thought were in our galaxy were actually separate galaxies. In the nineteenth century, craniometry defined intelligence as brain size and instruments were design that measured it as such; today intelligence is defined by facility with certain developmental tasks and is measured by another instrument, the IQ test. Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington illustrated the problem with this clever analogy:

Let us suppose that an ichthyologist is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into the water and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he proceeds in the usual manner of a scientist to systematize what it reveals. He arrives at two generalizations:
(1) No sea-creature is less than two inches long.
(2) All sea-creatures have gills.
    In applying this analogy, the catch stands for the body of knowledge which constitutes physical science, and the net for the sensory and intellectual equipment which we use in obtaining it. The casting of the net corresponds to observations.
    An onlooker may object that the first generalization is wrong. "There are plenty of sea-creatures under two inches long, only your net is not adapted to catch them." The ichthyologist dismisses this objection contemptuously. "Anything uncatchable by my net is ipso facto outside of the scope of ichthyological knowledge, and is not part of the kingdom of fishes which has been defined as the theme of ichthyological knowledge. In short, what my net can't catch isn't fish." (1958, p.16)

Likewise, what my telescope can't see isn't there, and what my test can't measure isn't intelligence. Obviously, galaxies and intelligence exist, but how we measure and understand them is highly influenced by our equipment.

Problems in Pseudoscientific Thinking

4. Anecdotes Do Not Make A Science
Anecdotes - stories recounted in support of a claim - do not make a science. WIthout corroborative evidence from other sources, or physical proof of some sort, ten anecdotes are no better than one, and a hundred anecdotes are no better than ten. Anecdotes are told by fallible human storytellers. Farmer Bob in Puckerbrush, Kansas, may be an honest, church-going, family man not obviously subject to delusions, but we need physical evidence of an alien spacecraft or alien bodies, not just a story about landings and abductions at 3:00 A.M. on a deserted country road. Likewise with many medical claims. Stories about how your Aunt Mary's cancer was cured by watching Marx brothers movies or taking liver extract from castrated chickens are meaningless. The cancer might have gone into remission on its own, which some cancers do; or it might have been misdiagnosed; or, or, or.... What we need are controlled experiments, not anecdotes. We need 100 subjects with cancer, all properly diagnosed and matched. Then we need 25 of the subjects to watch Marx brothers movies, 25 to watch Alfred Hitchcock movies, 25 to watch the news, and 25 to watch nothing. Then we need to deduct the average rate or remission for this type of cancer and then analyze the data for statistically significant differences between the groups. If there are statistically significant differences, we better get confirmation from other scientists who have conducted their own experiments separate from ours before we hold a press conference to announce the cure for cancer.

5. Scientific Language Does Not Make a Science
Dressing up a belief system in the trappings of science by using scientistic language and jargon, as in "creation-science," means nothing without evidence, experimental testing, and corroboration. Because science has such a powerful mystique in our society, those who wish to gain respectability but do not have any evidence try to do an end run around the missing evidence by looking and sounding "scientific." Here is a classic example from a New Age Column in the Santa Monica News: "This planet has been slumbering for eons and with the inception of higher energy frequencies is about to awaken in terms of consciousness and spirituality. Masters of limitation and masters of divination use the same creative force to manifest their realities, however, one moves in a downward spiral and the latter moves in an upward spiral, each increasing the resonant vibration inherent in them." How's that again? I have no idea what this means, but it has the language components of a physics experiment: "higher energy frequencies," "downward and upward spirals," and "resonant vibration." Yet these phrases mean nothing because they have no precise and operational definitions. How do you measure a planet's higher energy frequencies or the resonant vibration of masters of divination? For that matter, what is a master of divination?

6. Bold Statements Do Not Make Claims True
Something is probably pseudoscientific if enormous claims are made for its power and veracity but supportive evidence is scarce as hen's teeth. L. Ron Hubbard, for example, opens his Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, with this statement: "The creation of Dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to all his invention of the wheel and arch" (in Gardner 1952, p.263). Sexual energy guru Wilhelm Reich called his theory of Orgonomy "a revolution in biology and psychology comparable to the Copernican Revolution" (in Garnder 1952, p.259). I have a think file of papers and letters from obscure authors filled with such outlandish claims (I call it the "Theories of Everything" file). Scientists sometimes make this mistake, too, as we saw at 1:00 P.M., on March 23, 1989, when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann held a press conference to announce to the world that they had made cold nuclear fusion work. Gary Taube's excellent book about the cold fusion debacle, appropriately named Bad Science (1993), thoroughly examines the implications of this incident. Maybe fifty years of physics will be proved wrong by one experiment, but don't throw out your furnace until that experiment has been replicated. The moral is that the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinarily well-tested the evidence must be.

7. Heresy Does Not Equal Correctness
They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they laughed at the Marx brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right. Wilhelm Reich compared himself to Peer Gynt, the unconventional genius out of step with society, and misunderstood and ridiculed as a heretic until proven right: "Whatever you have done to me or will do to me in the future, whether you glorify me as a genius or put me in a mental institution, whether you adore me as your savior or hang me as a spy, sooner or later necessity will force you to comprehend that I have discovered the laws of living" (in Gardner 1952, p.259). Reprinted in the January/February 1996 issue of the Journal of Historical Review, the organ of Holocaust denial, is a famous quote from the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, which is quoted often by those on the margins: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident." But "all truth" does not pass through these stages. Lots of true ideas are accepted without ridicule or opposition, violent or otherwise. Einstein's theory of relativity was largely ignored until 1919, when experimental evidence proved him right. He was not ridiculed, and no one violently opposed his ideas. The Schopenhauer quote is just a rationalization, a fancy way for those who are ridiculed or violently opposed to say, "See, I must be right". Not so.

    History is replete with tales of the lone scientist working in spite of his peers and flying in the face of the doctrines of his or her own field of study. Most of them turned out to be wrong and we do not remember their names. For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating a scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose "truths" never pass muster with other scientists. The scientific community cannot be expected to test every fantastic claim that comes along, especially when so many are logically inconsistent. If you want to do science, you have to learn to play the game of science. This involves getting to know the scientists in your field, exchanging data and ideas with colleagues informally, and formally presenting your results in conference papers, peer-reviewed journals, books, and the like.

8. Burden of Proof
Who has to prove what to whom? The person making the extraordinary claim has the burden of proving to the experts and to the community at large that his or her belief has more validity than the one almost everyone else accepts. You have to lobby for your opinion to be heard. Then you have to marshal experts on your side so you can convince the majority to support your claim over the one they have always supported. Finally, when you are in the majority, the burden of proof switches to the outsider who wants to challenge you with his or her unusual claim. Evolutionists had the burden of proof for half a century after Darwin, but now the burden of proof is on creationists. It is up to creationists to show why the theory of evolution is wrong and why creationism is right, and it is not up to the evolutionists to defend evolution. The burden of proof is on the Holocaust deniers to prove the Holocaust did not happen, not on Holocaust historians to prove that it did. The rationale for this is that mountains of evidence prove that both evolution and the Holocaust are facts. In other words, it is not enough to have the evidence. You must convince others of the validity of your evidence. And when you are an outsider this is the price you pay, regardless of whether you are right or wrong.

9. Rumors Do Not Equal Reality
Rumors begin with "I read somewhere that..." or "I heard from someone that...." Before long the rumor becomes reality, as "I know that..." passes from person to person. Rumors may be true, of course, but usually they are not. They do make for great tales, however. There is the "true story" of the escaped maniac with a prosthetic hook who haunts the lover's lanes of America. There is the legend of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," in which a driver picks up a hitchhiker who vanishes from his car along with his jacket; locals then tell the driver that his hitchhiking woman had died that same day the year before, and eventually he discovers his jacket on her grave. Such stories spread fast and never die.

    Caltech historian of science Dan Kevles once told a story he suspected was apocryphal at a dinner party. Two students did not get back from a ski trip in time to take their final exam because the activities of the previous day had extended well into the night. They told their professor that they had gotten a flat tire, so he gave them a makeup final the next day. Placing the students in separate rooms, he asked them just two questions: (1) "For 5 points, what is the chemical formula for water?" (2) "For 95 points, which tire?" Two of the dinner guests had heard a vaguely similar story. The next day I repeated the story to my students and before I got to the punch line, three of them simultaneously blurted out, "Which tire?" Urban legends and persistent rumors are ubiquitous. Here are a few:
How many have you heard...and believed? None have ever been confirmed.

10. Unexplained Is Not Inexplicable
Many people are overconfident enough to think that if they cannot explain something, it must be inexplicable and therefore a true mystery of the paranormal. An amateur archeologist declares that because he cannot figure out how the pyramids were built, they must have been constructed by space aliens. Even those who are more reasonable at least think that if the experts cannot explain something, it must be inexplicable. Feats such as the bending of spoons, firewalking, or mental telepathy are often thought to be of a paranormal or mystical natures because most people cannot explain them. When they are explained, most people respond, "Yes, of course" or "That's obvious once you see it." Firewalking is a case in point. People speculate endlessly about supernatural powers over pain and heat, or mysterious brain chemicals that block pain and prevent burning. The simple explanation is that the capacity of light and fluffy coals to contain heat is very low, and the conductivity of heat from the light and fluffy coals to your feet is very poor. As long as you don't stand around on the coals, you will not get burned. (Think of a cake in a 450° oven. The air, the cake, and the pan are all at 450°F, but only the metal pan will burn your hand. Air has a very low heat capacity and also low conductivity, so you can put your hand in the oven long enough to touch the cake and pan. The heat capacity of the cake is a lot higher than air, but since it has low conductivity you can briefly touch it without getting burned. The metal pan has a heat capacity similar to the cake, but high conductivity too. If you touch it, you will get burned.) This is why magicians do not tell their secrets. Most of their tricks are, in principle, relatively simple (although many are extremely difficult to execute) and knowing the secret takes the magic out of the trick.

    There are many genuine unsolved mysteries in the universe and it is okay to say, "We do not yet know but someday perhaps we will." The problem is that most of us find it more comforting to have certainty, even if it is premature, than to live with unsolved or unexplained mysteries.

11. Failures Are Rationalized
In science, the value of negative finding findings - failures - cannot be overemphasized. Usually they are not wanted, and often they are not published. But most of the time failures are how we get closer to the truth. Honest scientists will readily admit their errors, but all scientists are kept in a like by the fact that their fellow scientists will publicize any attempt to fudge. Not pseudoscientists. They ignore or rationalize failures, especially when exposed. If they are actually caught cheating - not a frequent occurrence - they claim that their powers usually work but not always, so when pressed to perform on television or in a laboratory, they sometimes resort to cheating. If they simply fail to perform, they have ready any number of creative explanations: too many controls in an experiment cause negative results; the powers do not work in the presence of skeptics; the powers do not work in the presence of electrical equipment; the powers come and go, and this is one of those times they went. Finally, they claim that if skeptics cannot explain everything, then there must be something paranormal; they fall back on the unexplained is not inexplicable fallacy.

12. After-the-Fact Reasoning
Also known as "post hoc, ergo propter hoc," literally, "after this, therefore because of this." At its basest level, it is a form of superstition. The baseball player does not shave and hits two home runs. The gambler wears his lucky shoes because he has won wearing them in the past. More subtly, scientific studies can fall prey to this fallacy. In 1993 a study found that breast-fed children have higher IQ scores. There was much clamor over what ingredient in mother's milk increased intelligence. Mothers who bottle-fed their babies were made to feel guilty. But soon researchers began to wonder whether breast-fed babies are attended to differently. Maybe nursing mothers spend more time with their babies and motherly vigilance was the cause behind the differences in IQ. As Hume taught us, the fact that two events follow each other in sequence does not mean they are connected causally. Correlation does not mean causation.

In the paranormal world, coincidences are often seen as deeply significant. "Synchronicity" is invoked, as if some mysterious force were at work behind the scenes. But I see synchronicity as nothing more than a type of contingency - a conjuncture of two or more events without apparent design. When the connection is made in a manner that seems impossible according to our intuition of the laws of probability, we have a tendency to think something mysterious is at work.

    But most people have a very poor understanding of the laws of probability. A gambler will win six in a row and then think he is either "on a hot streak" or "due to lose." Two people in a room of thirty people discover that they have the same birthday and conclude that something mysterious is at work. You go to the phone to call your friend Bob. The phone rings and it is Bob. you think, "Wow, what are the chances? This could not have been a mere coincidence. Maybe Bob and I are communicating telepathically." In fact, such coincidences are not coincidences under the rules of probability. The gambler has predicted both possible outcomes, a fairly safe bet! The probability that two people in a room of thirty people will have the same birthday is .71. And you have forgotten how many times Bob did not call under such circumstances, or someone else called, or Bob called but you were not thinking of him, and so on. As the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner proved in the laboratory, the human mind seeks relationships between events and often finds them even when they are not present. Slot-machines are based on Skinnerian principles of intermittent reinforcement. The dumb human, like the dumb rat, only needs an occasional payoff to keep pulling the handle. The mind will do the rest.

14. Representativeness
As Aristotle said, The sum of the coincidences equals certainty." We forget most of the insignificant coincidences and remember the meaningful ones. Our tendency to remember hits and ignore misses is the bread and butter of the psychics, prophets, and soothsayers who make hundreds of predictions each January 1. First they increase the probability of a hit by predicting mostly generalized sure bets like "There will be a major earthquake in southern California" or "I see trouble for the Royal Family." Then, next January, they publish their hits and ignore the misses, and hope no on e bothers to keep track.

    We must always remember the larger context in which a seemingly unusual event occurs, and we must always analyze unusual events for their representativeness of their class of phenomena. In the case of the "Bermuda Triangle," an area of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and planes "mysteriously" disappear, there is the assumption that something strange or alien is as work. But we must consider how representative such events are in that area. Far more shipping lanes run through the Bermuda Triangle than its surrounding area. As it turns out, the accident rate is actually lower in the Bermuda Triangle than in surrounding areas. Perhaps this area should be called the "Non-Bermuda Triangle." (See Kusche 1975 for a full explanation of this solved mystery.) Similarly, in investigating haunted houses, we must have a baseline measurement of noises, creaks, and other events before we can sat that an occurrence is unusual (and therefore mysterious). I used to hear rapping sounds in the walls of my house. Ghosts? Nope. Bad plumbing. I occasionally hear scratching sounds in my basement. Poltergeists? Nope. Rats. One would be well-advised to first thoroughly understand the probable worldly explanation before turning to other-worldly ones.

Logical Problems in Thinking

15. Emotive Words and False Analogies
Emotive words are used to provoke emotion and sometimes to obscure rationality. They can be positive emotive words - motherhood, America, integrity, honesty. or they can be negative - rape, cancer, evil, communist. Likewise, metaphors and analogies can cloud thinking with emotion or steer us onto a side path. A pundit talks about inflation as "the cancer of society" or industry "raping the environment." In his 1992 Democratic nomination speech, Al Gore constructed an elaborate analogy between the story of his sick son and America as a sick country. Just as his son, hovering on the brink of death, was nursed back to health by his father and family, America, hovering on the brink of death after twelve years of Reagan and Bush, was to be nurtured back to health under the new administration. Like anecdotes, analogies and metaphors do not constitute proof. They are merely tools of rhetoric.

16. Ad Ignorantiam
This is an appeal to ignorance or lack of knowledge and is related to the burden of proof and unexplained is not inexplicable fallacies, where someone argues that if you cannot disprove a claim it must be true. For example, if you cannot prove that there isn't any psychic power, then there must be. The absurdity of this argument comes into focus if one argues that if you cannot prove that Santa Claus does not exist, then he must exist. You can argue the opposite in a similar manner. If you cannot prove Santa Claus exists, then he must not exist. In science, belief should come from positive evidence in support of a claim, not lack of evidence for or against a claim.

Ad Hominem and Tu Quoque
Literally "to the man" and "you also," these fallacies redirect the focus from thinking about the idea to thinking about the person holding the idea. The goal of an ad hominem attack is to discredit the claimant in hopes that it will discredit the claim. Calling someone an atheist, a communist, a child abuser, or a neo-Nazi does not in any way disprove that person's statement. it might be helpful to know whether someone is of a particular religion or holds a particular ideology, in case this has in some way biased the research, but refuting claims bust be done directly, not indirectly. If Holocaust deniers, for example, are neo-Nazis or anti-Semites, this would certainly guide their choice of which historical events to emphasize or ignore. But if they are making the claim, for example, that Hitler did not have a master plan for the extermination of European Jewry, the response "Oh, he is saying that because he is a neo-Nazi" does not refute the argument. Whether Hitler had a master plan or not is a question that can be settled historically. Similarly for tu quoque. If someone accuses you of cheating on your taxes, the answer "Well, so do you" is no proof one way or the other.

18. Hasty Generalization
In logic, the hasty generalization is a form of improper induction. in life, it is called prejudice. In either case, conclusions are drawn before the facts warrant it. Perhaps because our brains evolved to be constantly on the lookout for connections between events and causes, this fallacy is one of the most common of all. A couple of bad teachers mean a bad school. A few bad cars mean that brand of automobile is unreliable. A handful of members of a group are used to judge the entire group. In science, we must carefully gather as much information as possible before announcing our conclusions.

19. Overreliance on Authorities
We tend to rely heavily on authorities in our culture, especially if the authority is considered to be highly intelligent. The IQ score has acquired nearly mystical proportions in the last half century, but I have noticed that belief in the paranormal is not uncommon among Mensa members (the high-IQ club for those top 2 percent of the population); some even argue that their "Psi-Q" is also superior. Magician James Randi is fond of lampooning authorities with Ph.D.s - once they are granted the degree, he says, they find it almost impossible to say two things: "I don't know" and "I was wrong." Authorities, by virtue of the expertise in a field, may have a better chance of being right in that field, but correctness is certainly not guaranteed, and their expertise does not necessarily qualify them to draw conclusions in other areas.

    In other words, who is making the claim makes a difference. If it is a Nobel laureate, we take note because he or she has been right in a big way before. If it is a discredited scam artist, we give a loud guffaw because he or she has been wrong in a big way before. While expertise is useful for separating the wheat from the chaff, it is dangerous in that we might either (1) accept a wrong idea just because it was supported by someone we respect (false positive) or (2) reject a right idea just because it was supported by someone we disrespect (false negative). How do you avoid such errors? Examine the evidence.

20. Either-Or
Also known as the fallacy of negation or the false dilemma, this is the tendency to dichotomize the world so that if you discredit one position, the observer is forced to accept the other. This is a favorite tactic of creationists, who claim that life either was divinely created or it evolved. Then they spend the majority of their time discrediting the theory of evolution so that they can argue that since evolution is wrong, creationism must be right. But it is not enough to point out the weaknesses in a theory. If your theory is indeed superior, it must explain both the "normal" data explained by the old theory and the "anomalous" data not explained by the old theory. A new theory needs evidence in favor of it, not just against the opposition.

21. Circular Reasoning
Also known as the fallacy of redundancy, begging the question, or tautology, this occurs when the conclusion or claim is merely a restatement of one of the premises. Christian apologetics is filled with tautologies: Is there a God? Yes. How do you know? Because the Bible says so. How do you know the Bible is correct? Because it was inspired by God. In other words, God is because God is. Science also has its share of redundancies: What is gravity? The tendency for objects to be attracted to one another. Why are objects attracted to one another? Gravity. In other words, gravity is because gravity is. (In fact, some of Newton's contemporaries rejected his theory of gravity as being an unscientific throwback to medieval occult thinking.) Obviously, a tautological operational definition can still be useful. Yet, difficult as it is, we must try to construct operation definitions that can be tested, falsified, and refuted.

22. Reductio ad Absurdum and the Slippery Slope
Reductio ad absurdum is the refutation of an argument by carrying the argument to its logical end and so reducing it to an absurd conclusion. Surely, if an argument's consequences are absurd, it must be false. This is not necessarily so, though sometimes pushing an argument to its limit is a useful exercise in critical thinking; often this is a way to discover whether a claim has validity, especially if an experiment testing the actual reduction can be run. Similarly, the slippery slope fallacy involves constructing a scenario in which one thing leads ultimately to an end so extreme that the first step should never be taken. For example: Eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream will cause you to put on weight. Putting on weight will make you overweight. Soon you will weigh 350 pounds and die of heart disease. Eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream leads to Death. Don't even try it. Certainly eating a scoop of Ben & Jerry's ice cream may contribute to obesity, which could possibly, in very rare cases, cause death. but the consequence does not necessarily follow from the premise.

Psychological Problems in Thinking

23. Effort Inadequacies and the Need for Certainty, Control, and Simplicity
Most of us, most of the time, want certainty, want to control our environment, and want nice, neat, simple explanations. All this may have some evolutionary basis, but in a multifarious society with complex problems, these characteristics can radically oversimplify reality and interfere with critical thinking and problem solving. For example, I believe that paranormal beliefs and pseudoscientific claims flourish in market economies in part because of the uncertainty of the marketplace. According to James Randi, after communism collapsed in Russia there was significant increase in such beliefs. Not only are the people now freer to try to swindle each other with scams and rackets but many truly believe they have discovered something concrete and significant about the nature of the world. Capitalism is a lot less stable a social structure than communism. Such uncertainties lead them mind to look for explanations for the vagaries and contingencies of the market (and life in general), and the mind often takes a turn toward the supernatural and paranormal.

    Scientific and critical thinking does not come naturally. It takes training, experience, and effort, as Alfred Mander explained in his Logic for the Millions: "Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically - without learning how, or without practicing. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge players, or pianists" (1947, p.vii). We must always work to suppress our need to be absolutely certain and in total control and our tendency to seek the simple and effortless solution to a problem. Now and then the solutions may be simple, but usually they are not.

24. Problem-Solving Inadequacies
All critical and scientific thinking is, in a fashio, problem solving. There are numerous psychological disruptions that cause inadequacies in problem solving. Psychologist Barry Singer has demonstrated that whn people are given the task of selecting the right answer to a problem after being told whether particular guesses are right or wrong, they:

A. Immediately form a hypothesis and look only for examples to confirm it.

B. Do not seek evidence to disprove the hypothesis.

C. Are very slow to change the hypothesis even when it is obviously wrong.

D. If the information is too complex, adopt overly-simple hypothesis or strategies fro solutions.

E. If there is no solution, if the probllem is a trick and "right" and "wrong" is given at random, form hypothesis about coincidental relationships they observed. Causality is always found. (Singer and Abell 1981, p.18)

If this is the case with humans in gneral, then we all must make the effort to overcome these inadequacies in solving the problems of science and of life.

25. Ideological Immunity, or the Planck Problem
In day-to-day life, as in science, we all resist fundamental paradigm change. Social scientist Jay Stuart Snelson calls this resistance an ideological immune system: "educated, intelligent, and successful adults rarely change their most fundamental presuppositions" (1993, p.54). According to Snelson, the more knowledge individuals have accumulated, and the more well-founded their theories have become (and remember, we all tend to look for and remember confirmatory evidence, not counterevidence), the greater the confidence in their ideologies. The consequence of this, however, is that we build up and "immunity" against new ideas that do not corroborate previous ones. Historians of science call this the Planck Problem, after physicist Mac Planck, who made this observation on what must happen for innovation to occur in science: "An important scientific innovation  rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning" (1936, p.97).

    Psychologist David Perkins conducted an interesting correlational study in which he found a strong positive correlation between intelligence (measured by a standard IQ test) and the ability to give reasons for taking a point of view and defending that position; he also found a strong negative correlation between intelligence and the ability to consider other alternatives. That is, the higher the IQ, the greater the potential for ideological immunity. Ideological immunity is built into the scientific enterprise, where it functions as a filter against potentially overwhelming novelty. As historian of science I. B. Cohen explained, "New and revolutionary systems of science tend to be resisted rather than welcomed with open arms, because every successful scientist has a vested intellectual, social, and even financial interest in maintaining the status quo. If every revolutionary new idea were welcomed with open arms, utter chaos would be the result" (1985, p.35).

    In the end, history rewards those who are "right" (at least provisionally). Change does occur. In astronomy, the Ptolemaic geocentric universe was slowly displaced by Copernicus's heliocentric system. In geology, George Cuvier's catastrophism was gradually wedged out by the more soundly supported uniformitarianism of James Hutton and Charles Lyell. In biology, Darwin's evolution theory superseded creationist belief in the immutability of species. In Earth history, Alfred Wegener's idea of continental drift took nearly a half century to overcome the received dogma of fixed and stable continents. Ideological immunity can be overcome in science and in daily life, but it takes time and corroboration.

Spinoza's Dictum
Skeptics have the very human tendency to relish debunking what we already believe to be nonsense. It is fun to recognize other people's fallacious reasoning, but that's not the whole point. As skeptics and critical thinkers, we must move beyond our emotional responses because by understanding how others have gone wrong and how science is subject to social control and cultural influences, we can improve our understanding of how the world works. It is for this reason that it is so important for us to understand the history of both science and pseudoscience. If we see the larger picture of how these movements evolve and figure out how their thinking went wrong, we won't make the same mistakes. The seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza said it best: "I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them."

Section VII - Stuff on the Web
If you're looking for even more information, this is the section for you.


Alan L. Jones, PhD Website -
Seismic/Eruption - A program for the visualization of seismicity and volcanic activity in space and time. [near real time of events]
Seismic Waves - A program for the visualization of wave propogation.
AmaSeis - A program to obtain seismographs from the AS-1 amateur seismometer.
Eqlocate - An interactive program to locate earthquakes using P-wave arrivals.

Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology -
At last check there were dozens of pieces of software for accessing and working with the data available at IRIS.


Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology -
Waveforms, event catalogs, channel response data.

Southern California Earthquake Center -
Several catalogs available.

Advanced National Seismic System -
Composite worldwide catalog.

National Earthquake Information Center -
Worldwaide catalog.

Online Maps/Lists of Current Seismic/Volcanic Activity

NEIC - Worldwide Earthquake Activity in the Last Seven Days -

IRIS - Seismic Monitor

SCEC - Recent Earthquakes in California and Nevada

USGS - Recent Earthquakes in California and Nevada

PNSN - Washington and Oregon

AEIC - Alaska

Online Seismographs/Webicorders

Northern California Seismic Network -

Pacific Northwest Seismic Network -

Online Tsunami Information

Dora the Explorer's Indian Ocean Earthquake Science Page -
An excellent compilation of online resources for the magnitude 9.0 Sumatra quake and resulting tsunami.