Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction

Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction

by Susan Elizabeth Hough
     
 

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An earthquake can strike without warning and wreak horrific destruction and death, whether it's the cataclysmic 2008 Sichuan quake in China that killed tens of thousands or a future great earthquake on the San Andreas Fault in California, which scientists know is inevitable. Yet despite rapid advances in earthquake science, seismologists still can't predict when

Overview

An earthquake can strike without warning and wreak horrific destruction and death, whether it's the cataclysmic 2008 Sichuan quake in China that killed tens of thousands or a future great earthquake on the San Andreas Fault in California, which scientists know is inevitable. Yet despite rapid advances in earthquake science, seismologists still can't predict when the Big One will hit. Predicting the Unpredictable is the first book to explain why, exploring the fact and fiction behind the science--and pseudoscience--of earthquake prediction.

Susan Hough traces the continuing quest by seismologists to forecast the time, location, and magnitude of future quakes--a quest fraught with controversies, spectacular failures, and occasional apparent successes. She brings readers into the laboratory and out into the field with the pioneers who have sought to develop reliable methods based on observable phenomena such as small earthquake patterns and electromagnetic signals. Hough describes attempts that have raised hopes only to collapse under scrutiny, as well as approaches that seem to hold future promise. She recounts stories of strange occurrences preceding massive quakes, such as changes in well water levels and mysterious ground fogs. She also ventures to the fringes of pseudoscience to consider ideas outside the scientific mainstream, from the enduring belief that animals can sense impending earthquakes to amateur YouTube videos purporting to show earthquake lights prior to large quakes.

This book is an entertaining and accessible foray into the world of earthquake prediction, one that illuminates the unique challenges of predicting the unpredictable.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Susan Hough's book about earthquake prediction reminds us that many respectable scientists and numerous nutcases have tried—and failed. Predicting the Unpredictable tells us what has been tested and abandoned and why. It follows the winding path taken by this potentially useful discipline in the past four decades, from the shadows to centre stage and back again. . . . Famous moments in earthquake prediction are dissected for the reader through Hough's diligent research in obscure archives; history will thank her for these abandoned threads."—Roger Bilham,Nature

"Hough's book, however, is not frustrating at all; it offers an enlightening, fair and insightful look at how one science has dealt with the intersection of an extremely hard problem with legitimate public demands for results. Those of us in other fields who read it may find ourselves profiting from the example someday."—Cosma Shalizi,American Scientist

"In this forensic and engaging overview, Susan Hough presents a frank, entertaining and personal review of the history of ideas, practice, personalities and experience in the science of earthquake prediction. Although Hough is a respected scientist, she takes a journalist's viewpoint here, not shying away from legitimate criticism of those she regards as friends, and taking on the credulous at the edge of, or even beyond, the mainstream scientific."—Ian Main, Times Higher Education

"Susan Hough is all about solid science, and her examples of accepted research that turned out to be dead wrong will resonate with readers suspicious of anybody who predicts the future."—Stephen Matchett, Australian

"Earthquake prediction is on everybody's mind when reports of the horrific event make headlines. Why the failure to predict it, especially in this age of scientific and technological achievements? Hough tells readers why in this deeply interesting, enlightening, and entertaining book. . . . The book skillfully weaves the influence of politics, economics, and psychology into this authentic, delightfully perceptive account of earthquake prediction science."Choice

"[T]his book can be enjoyed by anyone, but it will be enjoyed most by seismologists because it is a treasure of seismological lore, as well as a useful guide and moral support for those participating in what Susan calls the 'combat sport' of seismic prediction research."—F. A. Nava, Pure and Applied Geophysics

"This book is sparkling, entertaining, and a good read and . . . it is a rocking piece of literature. It keeps a delicate balance between the genuine scientific efforts and the difficulties, which scientists face in prediction science."—Afroz A. Shah, Geosciences Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400831807
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
11/16/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
402,031
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author

Susan Hough is a seismologist with the Southern California Earthquake Center and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. Her books include "Richter's Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man" and "Earthshaking Science: What We Know (and Don't Know) about Earthquakes" (both Princeton).

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