Scam earthquake predictions and the human brain

Scam earthquake predictions and the human brain

Astrologer Ken Ring claims to be able to do something that scientists cannot do: predict earthquakes. Can he really? No. Do many people believe him? Unfortunately, yes.

There’s a very thoughtful analysis of Ken Ring’s predictions by Ph.D. student David Winter on SciBlogs, here.  Winter takes a careful look at the evidence, failing to find any correlation between the phase of the moon or its distance from the Earth and the intensity of the earthquake sequence since the September earthquake in Christchurch. He did find that Ring predicts very many earthquakes indeed, with lots of false positives and false negatives. (Many others have had a crack at Ring, just Google “Ken Ring earthquakes”.)

Scientific historian Michael Shermer, in his book “Why People Believe Weird Things“, helps us to understand why people like Ken Ring can generate such a following. Here’s a summary of part of his argument.

Humans have evolved with a brain with a superb ability to make sense of incomplete data. We are very good at recognising patterns, reaching conclusions and making decisions fast. The problem is, we are sometimes driven to make conclusions, even when there is nothing in the data to support them. Humans have a strong urge to find “the reason” behind observations or events. Unfortunately, science often shows us that the reasons may be very complex, even beyond the capacity of our limited minds. The result is a wonderfully diverse range of beliefs, arising from all sorts of factors, not just a table of facts. We then sort through the evidence, keeping stuff that confirms our beliefs and throwing away or ignoring the rest. It’s a form of wilful blindness, not unlike how we behave when we’ve fallen in love.

But why do smart people believe weird things? Shermer contends that highly intelligent people are no less susceptible to forming unsubstantiated beliefs. Scientists too, that’s why there’s a system where others check the evidence to see whether they can confirm the same conclusion. But, Shermer says, smart people are very good at defending beliefs arrived at by unsmart means.


Ken Ring’s website

John Campbell’s (notorious) interview with Ken Ring on TV3

A lay person’s analysis of Ken Ring’s predictions

David Winter’s own blog , “The Atavism”



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