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Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction

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Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction Cover

 

Review-A-Day

"The current state of a lot of the science she reports on is frustratingly inconclusive. 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." Cosma Shalizi, American Scientist (Read the entire American Scientist review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"Sue Hough, in fine style, has written a fascinating history of one of the most vexing problems in science. Anyone who has ever wondered why geophysicists can't predict earthquakes should read this book."--Thomas H. Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center

"Irresistible optimism, exciting drama, scientific puzzles, risky investments, outright fraud, wise and wacky characters. Why does earthquake prediction attract them like no other science? And what about triumphant success? Susan Hough tells the story in this balanced, well-crafted, readable, and compelling book. I recommend it for anyone, especially those bold enough to enter the field."--David D. Jackson, University of California, Los Angeles

"A new book on earthquake prediction written by an accomplished seismologist is long overdue. There is something in Hough's book for everyone--from the nonspecialist with a general interest in the topic to the earthquake scientist looking for new perspectives and a bit of insider history. This is a book that is, quite literally, hard to put down."--Greg Beroza, Stanford University

"In this well-written account, Hough examines the elusive and controversial question of short-term earthquake prediction. Those living in quake-prone areas simply want to know when scientists will be able to predict the next (big) one. Hough's excellent account provides context and insight into why this seemingly straightforward question has both fascinated and frustrated researchers for so many decades."--Mark Zoback, Stanford University

"A highly entertaining and accurate book. As Predicting the Unpredictable makes clear, cutting-edge science is often untestable in the short term because the data have been pushed as far as possible and beyond, and because the research is often conducted by scientists guided by intuition."--John Vidale, University of Washington

"This book is significant and new. Hough's research into the history of earthquake prediction--its difficulties, efforts made, and errors committed--is well done. I don't think there are any competing books on the market."--Max Wyss, director of the World Agency of Planetary Monitoring and Earthquake Risk Reduction

Review:

"Though written before the catastrophe in Haiti, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Hough presents a look at the history of earthquake prediction, explaining why true prediction in the short term remains impossible, that sheds timely light on the intractable potential for seismic disaster. Hough begins in the heady 1960s and '70s, when top researchers still believed that real-time earthquake prediction was within reach. Hough describes theorized earthquake precursors-including electrical conductivity changes in the crust (magnetotellurics), groundwater fluctuations, high- and low-frequency sound waves, and anomalous animal behavior-and global efforts to exploit them for timely predictions; unfortunately, none have proved consistent. To this point, Hough contrasts the famous prediction of the 1975 earthquake in Haicheng, China, with the 1976 Tangshan (China) earthquake, which occurred with no warning and killed upwards of 250,000. Closer to home, an earthquake along the San Andreas fault predicted by the USGS in 1988 didn't materialize until 2004; many geophysicists now believe the best they can do is forecast areas of high probability over decades. Hough concludes that the best way to save lives is through strict construction standards, careful geological evaluation of building sites, and public education, techniques that remain sadly out of reach for the developing world. B&W illus." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

"Sue Hough, in fine style, has written a fascinating history of one of the most vexing problems in science. Anyone who has ever wondered why geophysicists can't predict earthquakes should read this book."--Thomas H. Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center

"Irresistible optimism, exciting drama, scientific puzzles, risky investments, outright fraud, wise and wacky characters. Why does earthquake prediction attract them like no other science? And what about triumphant success? Susan Hough tells the story in this balanced, well-crafted, readable, and compelling book. I recommend it for anyone, especially those bold enough to enter the field."--David D. Jackson, University of California, Los Angeles

"A new book on earthquake prediction written by an accomplished seismologist is long overdue. There is something in Hough's book for everyone--from the nonspecialist with a general interest in the topic to the earthquake scientist looking for new perspectives and a bit of insider history. This is a book that is, quite literally, hard to put down."--Greg Beroza, Stanford University

"In this well-written account, Hough examines the elusive and controversial question of short-term earthquake prediction. Those living in quake-prone areas simply want to know when scientists will be able to predict the next (big) one. Hough's excellent account provides context and insight into why this seemingly straightforward question has both fascinated and frustrated researchers for so many decades."--Mark Zoback, Stanford University

"A highly entertaining and accurate book. As Predicting the Unpredictable makes clear, cutting-edge science is often untestable in the short term because the data have been pushed as far as possible and beyond, and because the research is often conducted by scientists guided by intuition."--John Vidale, University of Washington

"This book is significant and new. Hough's research into the history of earthquake prediction--its difficulties, efforts made, and errors committed--is well done. I don't think there are any competing books on the market."--Max Wyss, director of the World Agency of Planetary Monitoring and Earthquake Risk Reduction

Synopsis:

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.

About 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).

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Ready to Rumble 1

Chapter 2: Ready to Explode 12

Chapter 3: Irregular Clocks 29

Chapter 4: The Hayward Fault 39

Chapter 5: Predicting the Unpredictable 47

Chapter 6: The Road to Haicheng 58

Chapter 7: Percolation 86

Chapter 8: The Heyday 96

Chapter 9: The Hangover 108

Chapter 10: Highly Charged Debates 125

Chapter 11: Reading the Tea Leaves 141

Chapter 12: Accelerating Moment Release 150

Chapter 13: On the Fringe 158

Chapter 14: Complicity 171

Chapter 15: Measles 191

Chapter 16: We All Have Our Faults 196

Chapter 17: The Bad One 206

Chapter 18: Whither Earthquake Prediction? 222

Acknowledgments 231

Notes 233

General Index 255

Index of Earthquakes by Year 261

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691138169
Author:
Hough, Susan
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Author:
Hough, Susan Elizabeth
Location:
Princeton
Subject:
Earthquake prediction.
Subject:
Earthquakes & Volcanoes
Subject:
Earth Sciences - Seismology & Volcanism
Subject:
History of Science and Medicine, Philosophy of Science
Subject:
Physics
Subject:
Earth Sciences
Subject:
Geology-Earthquakes and Volcanoes
Subject:
Popular science
Copyright:
Publication Date:
December 2009
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
College/higher education:
Language:
English
Illustrations:
34 halftones. 4 line illus. 4 maps.
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 21 oz

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Related Subjects

Religion » Comparative Religion » General
Science and Mathematics » Geology » Earth Sciences
Science and Mathematics » Geology » Earthquakes and Volcanoes
Science and Mathematics » Physics

Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction Used Hardcover
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Product details 272 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691138169 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Though written before the catastrophe in Haiti, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Hough presents a look at the history of earthquake prediction, explaining why true prediction in the short term remains impossible, that sheds timely light on the intractable potential for seismic disaster. Hough begins in the heady 1960s and '70s, when top researchers still believed that real-time earthquake prediction was within reach. Hough describes theorized earthquake precursors-including electrical conductivity changes in the crust (magnetotellurics), groundwater fluctuations, high- and low-frequency sound waves, and anomalous animal behavior-and global efforts to exploit them for timely predictions; unfortunately, none have proved consistent. To this point, Hough contrasts the famous prediction of the 1975 earthquake in Haicheng, China, with the 1976 Tangshan (China) earthquake, which occurred with no warning and killed upwards of 250,000. Closer to home, an earthquake along the San Andreas fault predicted by the USGS in 1988 didn't materialize until 2004; many geophysicists now believe the best they can do is forecast areas of high probability over decades. Hough concludes that the best way to save lives is through strict construction standards, careful geological evaluation of building sites, and public education, techniques that remain sadly out of reach for the developing world. B&W illus." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "The current state of a lot of the science she reports on is frustratingly inconclusive. 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." (Read the entire American Scientist review)
"Synopsis" by , "Sue Hough, in fine style, has written a fascinating history of one of the most vexing problems in science. Anyone who has ever wondered why geophysicists can't predict earthquakes should read this book."--Thomas H. Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center

"Irresistible optimism, exciting drama, scientific puzzles, risky investments, outright fraud, wise and wacky characters. Why does earthquake prediction attract them like no other science? And what about triumphant success? Susan Hough tells the story in this balanced, well-crafted, readable, and compelling book. I recommend it for anyone, especially those bold enough to enter the field."--David D. Jackson, University of California, Los Angeles

"A new book on earthquake prediction written by an accomplished seismologist is long overdue. There is something in Hough's book for everyone--from the nonspecialist with a general interest in the topic to the earthquake scientist looking for new perspectives and a bit of insider history. This is a book that is, quite literally, hard to put down."--Greg Beroza, Stanford University

"In this well-written account, Hough examines the elusive and controversial question of short-term earthquake prediction. Those living in quake-prone areas simply want to know when scientists will be able to predict the next (big) one. Hough's excellent account provides context and insight into why this seemingly straightforward question has both fascinated and frustrated researchers for so many decades."--Mark Zoback, Stanford University

"A highly entertaining and accurate book. As Predicting the Unpredictable makes clear, cutting-edge science is often untestable in the short term because the data have been pushed as far as possible and beyond, and because the research is often conducted by scientists guided by intuition."--John Vidale, University of Washington

"This book is significant and new. Hough's research into the history of earthquake prediction--its difficulties, efforts made, and errors committed--is well done. I don't think there are any competing books on the market."--Max Wyss, director of the World Agency of Planetary Monitoring and Earthquake Risk Reduction

"Synopsis" by , 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.

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