Turkey earthquake ‘planetary geometry prediction’ slammed by skeptics

A devastating series of earthquakes tore through Turkey on Monday February 6, with more than 2,300 dead so far and thousands more injured after the 7.8 magnitude quake rocked southern Turkey and the northern Syria.

One of dozens of aftershocks recorded in the region over the past few hours was only a few decimal places weaker than the initial magnitude 7.5 quake, according to United States Geological Survey records.

With videos of the devastating aftermath flooding social media as rescuers continued to dig through the rubble, the disaster was also the subject of misleading and unsubstantiated claims, Newsweek Disinformation Watch found.

This aerial view shows residents, aided by heavy equipment, searching for victims and survivors amid the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the town of Harim , in the rebel-held province of Idlib in northwest Syria, on the border with Turkey. on February 6, 2022. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed in northern Syria after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake originated in Turkey and was felt in neighboring countries.
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images

One such claim revolved around a tweet, posted by a self-proclaimed “researcher” days before the disaster, that seemed prescient in hindsight, with many users. quoting the tweet on Monday in the wake of what would have been one of the strongest earthquakes on record.

“Sooner or later there will be a ~M 7.5 #earthquake in this region (south-central Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon). #deprem,” Frank Hoogerbeets writing on Twitter on Friday, February 3, 2023, with the tweet garnering over 34 million views by Monday afternoon.

Multiple media, including Newsweekcited the tweet and the resulting hype on social media.

Describes himself as a “researcher at SSGEOS, with “the greatest respect for the planets, especially Earth”.

SSGEOS – a “Solar System Geometry Survey” – claims to be a “research institute for monitoring the geometry between celestial bodies related to seismic activity”.

Newsweek contacted Frank Hoogerbeets for comment.

However, as the tweet went viral and started making headlines, it provoked a backlash from the scientific community, who questioned both the validity of the “prediction” and the broader scientific basis underlying the group’s methodology.

“A prediction must indicate the time, place and magnitude. ‘Sooner or later’ does not constitute an hour. It therefore did not predict the earthquake,” said Roger Musson, author and geoscientist with more than 35 years of experience in seismology, who previously worked for the British Geological Survey as an earthquake hazard and records officer, said Newsweek.

Other skeptics pointed to the scientifically dubious methodology on which the “prediction” was based.

“The tidal forces inside the Earth resulting from the change in geometry relative to other planets are tiny and in the middle of the noise,” said David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University. Newsweek in an email.

“Lunar tides inside the Earth are larger and therefore more likely to be the immediate trigger of an earthquake, but even so, all they will do is act as the ‘drop of water’. ‘water’, triggering an earthquake that was about to happen anyway because the long-term accumulation of deformation had approached a critical threshold.

“I could say that ‘sooner or later’ there will be an M7 earthquake on half of the E[ast] Anatolian fault which did not move today. I would be right, but it would have no value as a prediction,” Rothery concluded.

Indeed, while at first glance the timing of the tweet, a few days before the earthquake, may seem prescient, the Twitter feeds of Hoogerbeets and SSGEOS present countless similar predictions, many of which did not precede any earthquake shock. great magnitude.

Above all, many of the predictions are quite vague to cover a large territory where the earthquake(s) may strike and/or focus on well-known danger zones that are close to significant tectonic fault lines and where peaks of seismic activity have been recorded.

 Aleppo earthquake
Onlookers watch as rescue teams search for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in the regime-controlled city of Aleppo in northern Syria on February 6, 2023.

In at least one instance reported in the mainstream media, Hoogerbeets made an equally bold prediction of a massive 8+ magnitude earthquake that was apparently imminent in late December 2018.

The prediction has been debunked by experts, including an Australian seismologist, who said “planetary alignment has no impact on earthquakes”, adding that there is “more gravitational pull than a plane”.

Indeed, as records show, no “high magnitude seven to eight” earthquakes were recorded on the planet in the days and weeks that followed, with the strongest of magnitude 7.0 striking the Philippines on December 29, below the expected scale.

With enough predictions, even if most don’t come true, given that dozens of tremors occur every day around the world, it’s not impossible for a prediction to hit the bull’s eye.

“After an earthquake, we see a lot of people claiming to have predicted it, despite a long string of previous failures,” said Ilan Kelman, professor at the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. Newsweek in an email.

But as Newsweek reported in the past, the current scientific consensus is that there is no proven and reliable method to accurately predict such natural disasters, through planetary observations or otherwise.

“In general, we can predict where earthquakes are expected to occur, since we have done well in mapping the fault lines, but not when, especially not far in advance. Some signals just before the shaking continue to be studied to possibly give us a short notice None have been confirmed,

“As I cannot find peer-reviewed scientific publications regarding this purported prediction method, caution is advised in accepting it as a valid method, while continuing research in many areas,” Kelman explained.

Similarly, Bill McGuire, professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, said Newsweek in an email that there were many complaints, but “there is no evidence that anyone ever predicted an earthquake.

“Earthquakes can be preceded by precursors, including changes in well levels, radon gas emissions, changes in electrical/magnetic properties of rocks, but this is often not the case. And sometimes , such signs occur when no earthquakes follow. is that predicting earthquakes is NOT currently possible. And may never be,” McGuire concluded.

The use of planetary observations as a basis for prediction is not new in itself and seems to hark back to astrology and similar pseudosciences, which have been debunked but continue to fascinate the general public.

A combination of logical errors (i.e. selective omission) and psychological factors, such as the Barnum effect (whereby a statement or prediction is vague enough that anyone can make sense of it) are at least in part responsible for the apparent resilience of such beliefs.

With the emergence of social media, old messages sometimes resurface and become “prophecies”. This type of content may be based on some particularly astute analysis, but often it’s simply “based” to fit recent events, or represents just a mere fraction of many “predictions” that didn’t come to pass.


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