Send in the Clowns

November 29, 1990
State Building, Los Angeles, CA


Jim Berkland, CEG 58, RG 107
Fellow, Geological Soc. America
Member, Seismol. Soc. America
Member, Assoc. Engr. Geologists
Member, Eq. Engr. Research Soc.
Member, Peninsula Geological Soc.

Honorable Assemblyman Rusty Arieas and Ladies and Gentlemen:

Earthquake prediction may be too important to leave to the experts.
The experts of "High Science" have a demonstrably miserable record when it comes to prediction, even when their statements come under the guise of an "expectation", a "forecast," an "anticipation", or an "experiment." Let us at least have a mutual understanding that when we assign a probability for something to happen, that constitutes a PREDICTION, whether or not it is based upon cause and effect, historical research, experimentation, inspiration, statistical alchemy, black box interpretations, or any combination of the above.

The only real test of the efficiency of a predictive method is: How close do future events correspond to the earlier extrapolations? When a meteorologist plots the course of a hurricane and alerts the populace in its presumed path, he may be in error as to timing, location and/or strength of the storm; in fact, it may dissolve at sea with little effect in the anticipated storm track. Was the weatherman wrong to have made his forecast? Was the media wrong to announce it? Were the people wrong to have taken precautions? Of course not!

I recall a fine glossy popular publication of the U.S. Geological Survey a few years ago. The title was NATURE TO BE COMMANDED. I marveled at this scientific hubris, and now recall that we have had a bit of a problem with orders to Mt. Saint Helens or to the San Andreas Fault. Rather it is Nature to be respected, Nature to be appreciated, and that highest and perhaps unattainable goal, Nature to be understood!

Understanding Nature is an impossible task unless we start with the attitude that we do not yet have all of the answers. At the time I entered college in 1948, I honestly thought that there was no question I could ask that could not be answered by consulting some book or some professor in the field. It took me many years to discover that scientific fact is, at best, a progress report, subject to change with some new data or some new insight.

Scientific progress is not achieved by majority vote. It is not achieved by slavishly bowing to some ruling theory propounded by some person or by some groups, who themselves are products of their own limited intellectual and social experiences. No one has all of the answers. In fact the individual is fortunate who even has a piece of the puzzle! We need to encourage and nurture ideas from unlikely sources, or important contributions may be lost.

A recent book entitled "DISCOVERING" by Robert Scott Root-Bernstein states the case effectively: "It is not easy to be or to act differently from everyone else, but you can't create if you conform." In reviewing this book for the Los Angeles Times, Lee Dembart elaborated: "It is also an indictment of the current institutional structure of science, with its funding committees, peer reviews and demand for conformity. Under the present setup, caution is rewarded and new ideas are stifled."

For my own part, it seems that just about every time I come up with a new idea, I soon learn that someone else had already invented that particular wheel years (and even centuries) earlier. But if that idea could not be fit within someone's ruling theory, it failed to gain acceptance.

I am hopeful that the "Seismic Window Theory" will be accepted as valid if only by its continuing success. The concept of correlating gravitational stresses with earthquakes is at least as old as Socrates. Earlier this year computer research programs GEOREF and DIALOG yielded more than 300 journal articles dealing with tides and quakes in the world scientific literature. I keep hearing supposedly authoritative statements such as, "No one has been able to show positive correlations between tides and earthquakes." Such pronouncements show that the "authority" is unfamiliar with the literature and is speaking from a podium of personal prejudice.

The study of tidal forces and seismic events involve three main processes: (1) The solid Earth tide, with an amplitude of up to three feet, deforms the crust and mantle, and trigger those faults on the verge of failure into movement; (2) The oceanic tides can produce greater stresses, but affect mainly coastal areas. The six-hour cycle of loading and unloading each foot of water is equivalent to a change of pressure of nearly one million tons per square mile. Off the California coast, a perigean spring tide commonly exceeds a range of 8.0 feet, (and occasionally, 9.0 feet, or 9,000,000 tons per square mile.) (3) Ground water pore-pressure is critical for landslide failures, as well as for movement along fault surfaces. Any directed stress on a saturated fault plane produces hydrostatic pressure in interstitial water, and may force the blocks apart sufficiently to overcome the frictional resistance to movement. (The concept of Reservoir Induced Seismicity [RIS] is now widely accepted, following many practical examples around the world.) The pore-pressure effect induced many earthquakes in Colorado, near Rocky Flats, as well as at the Rangely oil fields. Even non-hydrostatic forces on the moon generate moonquakes, which concentrate at the time of the monthly closest approach of the Earth and Moon at perigee. Physicist Frank Stacey has concluded that for moonquakes "there is no alternative to the tidal hypothesis."

Since 1979 I have also subscribed to the concept of former Xerox physicist Antonio Nafarrate, who described to me how pets often react prior to earthquakes by running away. An objective measure of how many pets have been lost is easily obtained by monitoring the lost-and-found sections of local newspapers. The validity of this idea is easily established by watching any larger newspaper for a few days following Independence Day, New Years Eve, and thunderstorms. The ads for missing animals (especially sound-sensitive dogs) increase dramatically by up to 300-400 per cent. When such increases occur without known sound stimuli, one may suspect that an earthquake is imminent. If the tides are also extreme, the probablility of the quake is enhanced. The higher tides do not necessarily indicate higher magnitudes, whereas, larger number of missing pets generally do relate to larger quakes. I have the daily records of lost and found pets for more than ten years for the San Jose Mercury, San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. In addition library records demonstrate the usefulness of the classified section statistics in relationship to earthquakes at least as far back as the early 1960's (before which the numbers of ads were too few to be statistically meaningful.)



In my own experience, I conformed well within the system for a number of years. During my geological career of more than 30 years I have worked about 11 years with the Department of Interior (U.S.G.S. and U.S.B.R.); I taught at the university level on the East and West coasts. I have done private consulting, and in 1973 I initiated and have maintained the position of County Geologist for the most populous county in northern California. I have published more than 50 scientific papers, with very few rejections until 1974 when I started making accurate earthquake predictions and the censorship and harrassment began.

In 1979 a U.S.G.S. geologist (Roger Hunter) in Golden Colorado telephoned me to say that he had analyzed my first five years of predictions and that I had scored at the 99 percentile level of confidence, only the second person to do so. He also stated that he would deny telling me this if I asked him to confirm it to a newsperson, as he thought that I "..had been lucky." In his final report on the four-year study it was stated that out of hundreds of attempts no predictor had met the test for significance and that no scientists had even bother to submit predictions.

Between 1974-1979 there were only two earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area with magnitudes exdeeding 5.0M. I have documentation for having correctly predicted both with 14 hours of their actual time of occurrence. Through 1988 there were 12 additional mainshocks of 5.0-5.9M and I had predicted all within one day (as a scientific avocation and not as County Geologist, even though my job description declared that I was "to conduct independent geological research into matters involving public safety.")

On November 7, 1980 I predicted the 7.2M Eureka Earthquake fourteen hours before it hit. My prediction was recorded on the Earthquake Watch hotline, which was sponsored by the U.S.G.S. and included up to 1800 observers. Nearly a year later, and after considerable delay, I was informed by a secretary that the tape recording containing my prediction of the largest California quake in 28 years had somehow been lost in the mail between Menlo Park and Palo Alto. (Significantly, it was the only tape lost during the 4+ year history of the program.) Following the abrupt discontinuance of U.S.G.S. sponsorship at the end of 1981, I was asked by a director of Earthquake Watch to write about my experience. He said, "The U.S.G.S. won't like it, but they can be damned, because they aren't paying for it any more."

In the GILROY DISPATCH (October 13, 1989) I successfully predicted and named the World Series Earthquake that struck four days later. Within a week of this strongest Bay Area quake since 1906 a U.S.G.S. spokesman complained to the State Geologist that he had heard a rumor that I was predicting a new quake of 8M for the following month. The rumor was totally false, but the accusation very nearly cost me my job and my reputation. I would have lost both, except for the outpouring of public support from across the county, when literally hundreds of protest letters were received.

Finally, in the prestigious WALL STREET JOURNAL (June 5, 1990), an obviously frustrated seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey described me as follows: "We've known this guy throughout his professional life, and he's distinguished himself by being a clown the entire time."

Given the costly and pathetic record of failed earthquake predictions by "High Science", I would advise them to

James O. Berkland,

Send in the Clowns


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