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Discussion 2 to Meditation 880
Using a database for purposes it was not designed for can produce dubious results.

by: JT

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Dear Pastor Dempsey:

First, I must commend you for replying. Many in your position would have simply ignored the article.

Also, I must apologize for suggesting you got your misinformation from a third party and simply published it without doing some fact checking. I stand corrected. You apparently came up with your misinformation all on your own. Also, I note you say I quoted a couple of things out of context. Perhaps I did even though I tried to make it easy for readers to find the sources I used, but I must bow to a master at the art of taking things out of context.

I try to make a point of providing links to make it easy for the reader to verify my assertions and to put my claims into context. It would have helped if you had done the same by providing more than one link - and that single link, probably incorrect.

You credit www.usgs.com as one of the sources of your information. Perhaps that is true as it is possible to drill down and find links to earthquake sites from that particular web page, but usgs.com[1] is not the United States Geological Survey, which can be found at usgs.gov. I presume you may have made a typo[2], but I point this out as an illustration of the necessity to be sure of your sources and your facts. You may think this a trivial issue, but as it is the only link you provide for your argument, it speaks of the quality of your research.

Next you refer to the ANSS catalog as a source of your information. That is not the earthquake catalog that I mentioned and referenced in my initial article. Having done a web search and examined the ANSS catalog which you used, I will concede that the numbers you provide can legitimately be extracted from that particular catalog of earthquakes. But, those numbers do not prove what you claim they prove, possibly because you misinterpreted what that catalog contains, and more importantly, what it does not contain.

Before replying to me, a wise man might have asked himself why our databases differed. Why is the Centennial Earthquake Catalog which I referenced different from the ANSS (Advanced National Seismic System) which you used? Now the ANSS is a "is a world-wide earthquake catalog that is created by merging the master earthquake catalogs from contributing ANSS institutions and then removing duplicate solutions for the same event. The ANSS earthquake catalog grew out of the efforts of the CNSS (Council of the National Seismic System). It was previously called the CNSS earthquake catalog." So we are dealing with a compilation of earthquake catalogs from ANSS institutions, and only ANSS institutions. What the ANSS Catalog IS NOT, nor does it claim to be, is a comprehensive catalog of ALL world earthquakes in the period.

Now a wise man - seeing only 51 listed category 6.0 and higher earthquakes in the 1940s which multiplies an incredible 75 times in the 1990s might have asked why? It is an increase beyond rational belief. He also might have asked why geologists worldwide are not clamoring for massive research funds to investigate this phenomenon? Both those queries suggest that there may be an underlying problem with the assumed increase which warrants further investigation before leaping to any conclusions. Perhaps a wise man would have then noted the disclaimer on the web site that the ANSS composite catalog should be used with care. And on the caveat page, you can see how few agencies actually contribute to the catalog, and how brief a period some of them have contributed. The catalog is a mix of databases from different institutions from differing periods. That in itself suggests that data from one period cannot necessarily be compared to another. In fact just looking at the data for the '40s, should have raised the question "Why are the majority of these reports from the Alaska monitoring site with the remainder from only two other sites?" That in itself should have been highly indicative of incomplete reporting.

It clearly states on that caveat page

The reasons for the apparent increase you found are clearly identified. To interpret these statistics as an actual real-world increase is an incorrect interpretation by you. What we have is an increasing trend in the number of earthquakes cataloged by ANSS, and also in later years, the assignment of a magnitude to more of the earthquakes in the catalog. This is not the same as an increase in the number of actual earthquakes in the world.

You defend your 1990 figures as coming from the same USGS page I referenced - but I expressed no problem with your 1990 figures. Rather I questioned those from the '40s through the '80s. And admittedly the USGS claim that the number of earthquakes 6.0 and over is relatively constant is based on numbers from the 1990 on.. But the site makes it very clear that they chose 1990 as a baseline because of improvements in earthquake reporting. Why do you ignore that simple point of improvements in earthquake reporting when you accuse me of quoting out of context. Your entire so-called study ignores this essential fact. All your numbers are pulled completely out of context.

Now your rejection of the Institute of Creation Research paper is just ridiculous.[3] To say the data is old when your's goes up to 1999 and and the ICR's only goes up to 1997? A difference of two years at the tail end disqualifies it? It can't be that. Could it be because the data covers a longer period? Yes - it must be all that ancient 1900 - 1939 data that you consider "old." Good grief man! That "old" data makes it a superior indicator of whether the number of earthquakes is truly increasing over the years or not. Trends are better identified from long series of data than short ones. Anomalies get evened out. The study would be better if it included even older data - but older reliable data is not available.

You complain the ICR study only includes earthquakes of 7.0 and up. Of course! That's the level for which reasonably reliable data is available. Unlike you, the ICR tried to make sure that they only used reliable data. It's only your use of extremely incomplete information for magnitude 6.0 - 6.9 quakes that gives you the illusion of an increase. Garbage in - Garbage out.

A suspicious person would wonder, given that 7.0 is the level at which an earthquake is considered "major", why you chose to "study" 6.0 and up. Could it be that you had to drop to that level to find statistics that supported the conclusion you had already arrived at?

You accuse me of quoting the ICR study out of context.

What I wrote was:

From the conclusion to a paper prepared by a Creationist "Think" Tank:

A number of prophecy teachers say that a pronounced increase in frequency and intensity of earthquakes has occurred in the latter part of the twentieth century, a worldwide trend fulfilling a prophecy made by Jesus. Contrary to these prophecy teachers, no obvious trend is found indicating an abnormal increase in the frequency of large earthquakes during the last half of the twentieth century. Neither is there a noteworthy deficiency of earthquakes in the first half of the century.

Let me go with a longer extract to put that quotation in more context:

From the conclusion to a paper prepared by a Creationist "Think" Tank:

CONCLUSION

A number of prophecy teachers say that a pronounced increase in frequency and intensity of earthquakes has occurred in the latter part of the twentieth century, a worldwide trend fulfilling a prophecy made by Jesus. Contrary to these prophecy teachers, no obvious trend is found indicating an abnormal increase in the frequency of large earthquakes during the last half of the twentieth century. Neither is there a noteworthy deficiency of earthquakes in the first half of the century. Graphical plots of global earthquake frequency indicate overall a decreasing frequency of earthquakes through the century. The decades of the 1970s, 80s and 90s experienced a deficit of larger earthquakes compared to earlier decades of the century. The 70s, 80s and 90s are precisely those decades that many prophecy teachers suppose, erroneously, show a dramatic surplus of larger earthquakes. Regional earthquake data from California and Japan also do not argue for increasing earthquake frequency in the latter decades of our century. (emphasis added. [4])

That longer extract makes it even more clear. Your claimed increase in earthquakes - both in volume and in intensity - is incorrect.

You mention the USGS (Johnstones Archive). I wish you'd provided a link. I don't know what you are talking about. Nothing fitting the bill shows up in an internet search, with or without the brackets. Seriously!

But the USGS data (not Johnstones Archive, whatever that is) from 2000-2010 shows no significant change in category 6.0 and higher earthquakes from the 1990s to the 2000s. There was a significant increase in the 5.9 and lower earthquakes up until 2008 attributable to... improved reporting and improved monitoring. You'll see the same chart shows a dramatic decrease in total earthquakes in 2009 and later - however, not due to fewer actual quakes, but because of due to a decision not to include quakes of 4.5 magnitude and lower outside the US unless the quake was felt or caused damage.

You have to read carefully to understand the source of the numbers, to understand changes in the source of the numbers, and to understand changes in methodology before you run around making rash proclamations that earthquakes are increasing in number and intensity.

You and I can have very different views on theology and on the interpretation of bible passages. On those matters we can agree to disagree. There is little chance of us changing each others minds in those areas. But we should not have different views on verifiable facts about the physical world. Your statistics - extracted from a database which the developers admit is incomplete with respect to total worldwide earthquakes - cannot stand as facts to "prove" any increase. You do have an obligation to correct the information you have published.

If you still don't accept my interpretation of the statistics, I suggest that you contact the Earth Sciences Department at VIU. Make an appointment with any member of the faculty in that department for the two of us to sit down and get a professional opinion on changes in major earthquake frequency. We could even do it over lunch at my expense. While I don't know any of the faculty in the department, I am quite confident as to what the answer will be.

 

Footnotes:

  1. usgs.com is a link farm / domain sales site. In 1999 it was a sex portal, and then in 2000 it was turned into a link farm / domain sales operation which it has remained to this day. (Based on research in the Wayback Machine at archive.org.) Sites like this exist to take advantage of those making typing errors. It is possible to drill down in the usgs.com site and find earthquake links in it - but there are easier ways to get earthquake information.
  2. If you are going to reference a link, then it is best to do a CTRL-C in the address box of your browser while you are on the right page, then do a CTRL-V in the spot you want to put the link. That (as long as you are not in a frames site) can save you from a lot of error.)
  3. Though perhaps not as ridiculous as I feel for quoting, and now defending, an ICR study - but I will admit in this case they did a good job in interpreting the statistics.
  4. If I'd been a wiser man, I would have included the longer passage in the original article. I was going for brevity, knowing anyone interested could use the link to look at the article in more depth. But, as Pastor Dempsey accuses me of quoting out of context, I'll use the added context to hammer the issue home.