Send in the Clowns
November 29, 1990
State Building, Los Angeles, CA
REPORT TO THE CALIFORNIA COMMISSION OF
EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS AND NATURAL HAZARDS
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
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
THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING IS IN THE SHAKING, NOT IN COMPLAINING ABOUT
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
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
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
"SEND IN THE CLOWNS!"
James O. Berkland,