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Faith in Soothsayers

Entry 1283, on 2011-03-30 at 15:02:04 (Rating 5, Skepticism)

People really are stupid, at least a lot of them are. Maybe I'm focussing on a biased sample but stupidity is the only diagnosis I could possibly get from some of the comments I have heard recently in the New Zealand media. Now I am talking about a popular social commentator and contributors to talkback radio, and these aren't exactly places where common sense and logical thought flourish but, wow, this is just sad.

The subject was the "Moon Man", Ken Ring, a local expert on earthquake prediction (if you want to be generous) or a nutter (if you want to be less so) and his prediction of a major earthquake near full moon this month. While there were some aftershocks on that day (aftershocks following the big Canterbury earthquake of last year happen every day and will continue for a while yet) there was no big one as he predicted. So it would seem that he was wrong. But you wouldn't think that based on what some people were saying.

One newspaper commentator noted that without a background in science it was hard to distinguish between the scientists and the nutters. She listed a series of scientific issues and concluded with "Who knows?", and "There's a lot of us who might as well be living in the 16th century given our gullibility and our desire to put our faith in soothsayers". That is actually a very relevant and accurate observation (although it's also a very obvious one).

So what were "the people" saying? One caller to a talkback radio station the day after the major quake predicted by the "Moon Man" Ken Ring failed to eventuate said this: "I've got nothing against the dude, you know I welcome anyone who is going to give us warning because to me warning is preparation."

Yes, OK. Warning for what? Warning for something that didn't happen apparently. Isn't being warned about something that isn't real almost as bad as not being warned about something that is?

Here's another: "What Ken Ring has done for me is made sure that we now are prepared and I say thank God for this".

Huh? Prepared for what? Prepared for a major earthquake which didn't happen? The experts have been saying there will be continuing smaller aftershocks and probably one major one. That's exactly what has happened. What has Ken Ring contributed to that exactly? Nothing. In fact it's worse than nothing because he has contributed a lot of false information.

Here's an interesting one: "No one died in an earthquake in New Zealand yesterday and should that not be the focus?"

Yeah that's good. But no one died not because of Ken Ring's warning but because there wasn't a major earthquake. Are we now giving Ring credit for an earthquake not happening which he told us to prepare for?

And finally the most bizarre of all: "Caller: He warned us. If he hadn't told us to do that well we wouldn't have been prepared for it. Host: But he's a scaremongerer [sic]. According to the John Campbells of this world. Caller: Well he needs his head read. Yeah".

If he hadn't warned us we wouldn't have been prepared for something that didn't happen apparently. And anyone who questions this nonsense needs his head read? Really? If any heads need reading I think I know where I would suggest that it might be best to dispense that psychiatric help!

Dozens of experts have stated that there is no reliable way to use the Moon's position to predict earthquakes and that there is no reason to think Ken Ring could predict them accurately. Why don't people just accept that? And if they can't just take the experts' word for it have a look at the facts. If you do that it's very apparent that the the experts are right.

But most people don't listen to experts. They listen to talkback hosts like John Tamihere who said. "We've spent millions of dollars on all this sort of seismology stuff and on all the king's horses and all the king's men and Ken Ring is as good as any seismologist in this country. Full stop."

Full stop. Is that right John. Does saying full stop at the conclusion of a mindless and ignorant opinion like that make it more real? I'm afraid it doesn't really work that way although I'm sure your listeners are happier to have reality simplified in such a way that they don't have to think too much. Unfortunately you're wrong. Full stop.

And Tamihere's co-host got a bit mixed up as well. He said: "He [Ken Ring] got pretty close to it... [the time of the original Canterbury earthquake]". Unfortunately he was looking at the wrong date. When corrected he said "Yeah anyway but then they're vicious towards him, vicious!".

Yeah, anyway. You're a moron. Full stop.

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Comment 1 (2874) by BKD on 2011-04-12 at 01:10:16:

I still wonder why Ken Ring didn't pick up the Japanese earthquake last month.
PS I don't listen to talk back radio.

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Comment 2 (2875) by OJB on 2011-04-12 at 08:36:57:

I didn't hear whether Ken Ring claimed he had made a correct prediction of that. I'm sure if he looked through his extensive list of predictions he would find something that might seems to vaguely predict it. Make enough random predictions and you should get a few right!

I don't listen to talkback either. I was reporting the discussion of the subject second hand from National Radio. I think it was from "Media Watch" - a really interesting program on RNZ.

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