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June 02, 2004

Predicting Earthquakes: Science or Pseudo-Science
Ali Mostashari  [info|posts]

As we all know, Earthquakes are the most destructive among all the natural hazards. Most of the time, they occur without any warning, which makes them most feared and unpredictable natural phenomena. Globally, on average, two earthquakes of magnitude 8 are known to occur every year. Iran is surrounded by tectonically active zones. Earthquakes are regularly felt on all sides of Iran. But the capital, Tehran, has been fortunate enough to avoid a major quake this century. Tehran was shaken in 1830 by a magnitude 7.2 quake. A recent earthquake in the northern part of Iran has raised the stakes for people who are interested to know whether or not earthquakes can be predicted. Recently, like many others, I received a message saying that Dr. Rahmi Tabar has predicted an earthquake in Tehran within the next 10 days (now 6 days).
What was interesting was not necessarily the validity or credibility of such a prediction, but the way even educated people, like those in the Sharif University of Technology narrated the messages.

Predicting Earthquakes

A comprehensive look at the literature shows little success in predicting earthquakes. The first successful prediction of a major earthquake was made in 1975. The earthquake took place in China (Haichung) on Feb. 4, 1975. The intensity of the earthquake was 7.3 on the Richter scale, and about ninety percent of the structure was destroyed in a city of 90,000 people. In this case thousands of people were saved by the massive evacuation from unsafe housings just before the earthquake. The short-term prediction was possible primarily on a series of foreshocks that began four days prior to the main shock. Unfortunately these types of short-range prediction on the basis of foreshock are not always reliable. Earthquake prediction by any geoscientist is far from success, however a detailed and systematic investigation may lift haze in its prediction. Earthquake prediction in an area may be carried out under the following heads:

a. Lithological characterization and structural setting of the region
b. Crustal deformational studies
c. Frequency of foreshock
d. Repetitive land level survey
e. Water tube tiltmeters
f. Geomagnetic observation
g. Geothermal gradient
h. Gravity survey
i. Hazard mapping

Lithological Characterization and Structural Setting of the Region

Geological mapping of an area is the first step towards the surface and subsurface investigation of a region. The accuracy of these investigations decides the prediction accuracy before an earthquake and also the post earthquake control and reduction measures. The advent of Geoinformatics has brought revolutionary change in these investigations. Nowadays, a number of geological software packages are available in the market for the geological mapping of an area. These software packages are highly useful in the speedy and accurate execution of mapping work. The arrival of GPS has the capability of recording spatial co-ordinates with an accuracy level of up to a millimeter. Remote sensing and air photogrammetry is of immense potential at the reconnaissance stage of the mapping. Now, it is possible to map the inaccessible regions through the satellites. Structural setting indicates the future earthquake by giving enough information regarding the palaeoseismology of the area. It is also helpful in the hazard mapping of the area to take preventive and control measures. Carrying out systematic lithological mapping of the terrain can very well minimize the magnitude of seismic destruction. It has been observed that the structures on a consolidated foundation, e.g. igneous and metamorphic rocks, are safer than those on unconsolidated basements, viz. Alluvial, sand and loamy soil. Different surface materials behave differentially in response to seismic shaking of various frequencies. Unconsolidated earth materials (mud, alluvium, and bedrock) vibrate more compared with hard bedrock. Therefore, an area sensitive to earthquake hazards must be mapped for it to be available to land-use decision makers. So a highly accurate geological map can be prepared with the help of recent geomatic tools and they can be analysed through GIS to use it for the prediction, or the preparation of action plan during the post earthquake rehabilitation measures. By predicting the intensity of shaking due to an earthquake before the earthquake occurs, we can help plan to prevent damage. Doing this rapidly after an earthquake can help manage the emergency response efforts. Intensity is a measure of the effects of earthquakes. Examples include damage to man-made structures, ground failure and felt shaking. Intensity is not the same as magnitude, although it is influenced by earthquake magnitude. Intensity is also influenced by distance from the fault, ground conditions, and sometimes, directivity. The most commonly used intensity scale today is the Modified Mercalli Scale. This is the scale we have used in the predictive models. These predictive intensity maps have been generated following the method described in the 1995 ABAG report "On Shaky Ground" by Jeanne Perkins and John Boatwright

Crustal Deformation Studies through GPS

Throughout the world, most of the earthquake activities are confined to plate margin associated with crustal deformation. Nowadays, crustal movement can be recorded with high degree precision using GPS. Crustal deformation through GPS is one of the fast emerging areas, and most probably, the only area where the real potential of GPS lies as far as effective earthquake predictions are concerned. GPS is now being used effectively for monitoring of crustal movement. In modern time, earthquakes are studied with more authenticity, as high quality seismic and geodetic data are available globally. Progress in this field with the establishment of broad-band digital seismograph and geodetic network. Data accumulated through the seismological, geological and geodetic observations can be of great help in the delineation of the earthquake-prone areas. This will have direct impact on the hazard assessment and public safety measures.

Frequency of Foreshock

There are cases where minor foreshocks have indicated the major coming shock. So, it is highly desirable to establish a seismological observatory for the continuous monitoring of seismic activity in an area. In modern time, earthquakes are studied with more authenticity, as high quality seismic and geodetic data are available globally. Data accumulated through the seismological, geological and geodetic observations can be of great help in the delineation of the earthquakes prone areas. This will have direct impact on the hazard assessment and public safety measures. On that basis countries can be divided into 5 zones with respect to intensity of earthquake. Of these, zone V is seismically the most active where earthquake of magnitude 8 or more could occur. Zone I is the least active region. There are various parameters, which can be analyzed collectively for the purpose of an earthquake prediction. Surface parameter include topographical changes and subsurface parameter includes subsurface geomagnetic, geothermal and gravity variation. Rates of uplift and subsidence, especially rapid or anomalous change may be significant in predicting earthquakes. For example, for more than ten years before the 1964 earthquake near Nigata, Japan, there was an anomalous uplift of the earth crust. It has also been observed that the speed of primary waves may decrease for a month, and then increase to normal just before an earthquake. With recent advancement in science and technology, a proper sensor developed to measure these variations can be put on satellite to get regional idea by periodic and continuous monitoring of these variations and their quantification may helps us in forecasting such hazardous events. Changes in the electrical resistance of an area have also been reported before earthquakes. Increase in the amount of radioactive radon gas that is dissolved in deep well water has also been reported.

Dr. Rahimi Tabar's Study and Its Impact on Society

Dr. Rahimi Tabar's study as published in the LANL pre-print archive (arXiv) is definitely an admirable effort at linking changes in surface resistivity of the granites to Earthquakes. This is an interesting proposed correlation, although the paper in the archive was not at all well-written, and would have qualified more for a detective magazine than an academic publication, but I can understand that they wanted their paper to be out there so their idea would be preserved. Perhaps that correlation can be used for linking the two phenomena, perhaps it can't; time will show, but one observational experiment in itself would not be sufficient to predict an Earthquake in Tehran with a resolution of 10 days, let alone determine whether the order of magnitude would be directly correlational with the extent of changes in resistivity (the earthquakes measured in the study for Yazd were 3.1 Richters or less).

Generally, publishing something this rudimentary even in the arXiv is not good practice, although other people do this too. What really upsets me (and I have had discussions on this with students in Iran who were willing to swear by Dr. Rahimi Tabar's results) is the way a very rudimentary, and at this point raw finding, which would not qualify for a conference proceeding, let alone an academic journal is used as "scientific" evidence that earthquakes can be predicted within a 10 day period (the messages didn't have probabilities, order of magnitudes, or anything like that). Whether Sharif University and Dr. Rahimi-Tabar are willing to do this is their issue, but when educated people cannot distinguish between a suspected qualitiative correlation (with no numbers whatsoever) and clairvoyance, it is saddening.

There are two consequences that I can see from this set of actions:
1) People are on guard for earthquakes (which is always good).
2) People start believing whatever an "authority" tells them is right, which is really lousy.

I think it's a given that anyone with a scientific mindset should look at such results with interest, but at the same time with caution and critical awareness. If Dr. Rahimi Tabar's correlation makes it through the scientific "prodding" process, nobody would be happier than me, but the way we treat science and its application in everyday lives and public policy is really important.

Mehdi Y. at June 2, 2004 02:44 PM [permalink]:

I am not sure if you fully understand the situation.
This man, Reza Rahimi Tabar, is a pretty good scientist. Based on patterns of mid-IR radiation, he believes that there is a high chance for an earthquake in Tehran. The method he is using is not yet fully calibrated but at its current stage, it is predicting that there is going to be an earthquake in Tehran in the coming days. There are roughly 10 million people living in Tehran. An earthquake more than 5 richter can cause tremendous destruction and loss of life. What should he do?

Just not warn those people about such a potential catastroph because he wants to wait to improve his method.

This man is under enormous pressure at the moment.
He is risking his own credibility. Do you suggest he shouldn't tell people about his findings because he cares about scientific procedure? Do you think he should wait for months until his paper gets published then make an announcement?

Even if there is 1% chance for an earthquake to happen, I believe people should be warned and let to decide what to do. Do the math: 0.01 * 10000000 = 100000.

Rahimi-Tabar is a scientist and is using a scientific method even if it is not completely well established yet. Your comparison of him with people you mentioned in your last paragraph is simply out of place not if outragous.

SG at June 2, 2004 03:10 PM [permalink]:

"Your comparison of him with people you mentioned in your last paragraph is simply out of place not if outragous."

Correction: His *second* last paragraph.

I don't know any of these guys, but the info (in the 2nd last paragraph) was sure enlightening.

Ali Mostashari at June 2, 2004 03:46 PM [permalink]:


I took away the paragraphs you mentioned from the main body, given that they are not part of the important arguments of the article, but I will repeat them here because I think it is important to realize that if prominent scientists do not conform to scientific standards they should be held accountable.

My main focus was not Dr. Rahimi Tabar's article, but the way the news was dessiminated by Shairf students (Zelzeleh dar 10 roozeh ayandeh dar Tehran). I think like always you didn't read the post carefully, but I am used to that.

The point is the unquestioning acceptance of authority, be it scientific, religous or otherwise. I definitely do criticize Sharif university students because they don't give themselves credit to think critically about things they are told by "authorities". First of all the way I hear it, Dr. Rahimi Tabar has indicated a probability of 37% for the earthquake, and has not given any indiciation as to its magnitude (it could be 2 richters), in fact according to the USGS there have been 300 earthquakes less than 2.5 richters in Iran in the past 14 months, so the basic probability of (low order of magnitude) Earthquake in Iran as a whole is always high. But the students didn't even include this probabilistic assessment, nor did they mention what the basis of the announcement is. The way the message was distributed was in fact similar to the way Resalat Taxi drivers talk about scientific things.

Again "Scientific Authorities" say a lot of things. Sharif University Professors in the early 1980s swore to have seen a face on the moon, and many insisted that "Shagholghamar" could be seen as a crack on the surface of the moon today. If Sharif University students do not have the capacity to think critically, and believe in clairvoyance then our country is in big trouble. This is important, it is not irrelevant to anyone, and the Sharif Physics community is not a "red line" for these kinds of discussions. My critique of Dr. Rahimi Tabar was his choice of disseminating the rudimentary findings (by word of mouth and rumor) instead of a more formalized approach (media). If nothing happens in the next 6 days many people will not pay attention anymore attention to what scientists say.

The last paragraph in your comment was really not worthy of a Ph.D. student in Physics. That kind of probabilities didn't need any scientific anything, my grandma can do that. If there is something outrageous, it's that simplistic defense in the last paragraph :) No offense intended.

Mina at June 2, 2004 04:04 PM [permalink]:

Hi all,

I Have received some emails saying about Dr. Rahimi Tabar's prediction. I want to know what he has exactly predicted. I agree that even if there is a high probability , meaning higher than normal days, we should take it seriously and evacuate the city.

I am at present in Sweden and I am worried for my family and friends and everyone who is in Tehran after hearing the prediction from Dr. Rahimi Tabar.

My question is, Has he really predicted anything? I tried to call his office and I also sent him an email but I couldn't get any answer.

If you know him, would you please tell me what he has exactly said about earthquake in Tehran?

Best Regards,

Yashar Ahmadian at June 2, 2004 04:06 PM [permalink]:

I totally agree with mehdi about the penultimate paragraph, and think that it's just irrelevant and in particular is not a fair depiction of Dr. Rahimi-Tabar at all.
but i also agree with Ali about the rest.
i know that the stakes are very high, but then if so, and if he wants to put his humanity before his scientific career then why doesn't he come out publicly. why don't they describe what they've seen unambigiously (possibly publishing some relevant pieces of their data so that the claim can be judged independtly in the scientific community)
i don't buy the whole 'ertehal' issue as a justified rationale behind their paranoid secrecy.
or the fear of loosing the 'patent' for their discovery for the failure to publish something respectful. that's more pathetic.
and i don't understand people who keep saying 'scientific', 'based on scientific method', etc. since i havent seen a single piece of science here yet. i know that rahimi-tabar has produced science before but i don't see any of that here yet.
just mentioning terms like fluctuations IR raditaion or Markov correlation length, etc doesnt make me take something for science necessarily.

but i can say that claiming such huge predictions based on very scarce data without giving any quantitative degree of credibility or uncertainty for them, is not a very common scientific practice. at least not in physics.

Yashar Ahmadian at June 2, 2004 04:32 PM [permalink]:

i totally agree with Ali's last comment also.
good to take that piece out because you can see the real point more clearly now.

if we think we deserve the name scientist we should in the least know that if for example the expectation value of the number of casualities ( say 10^7 * 10^-2) we predict (based on our (in this case very scarce) data, or phenomenological theory, or whatever estimate) has an uncertainty (s.d.) that's of the same order of magnitude (or much bigger), then that prediction is simply not worth making really.
what is to my total bewilderment missing from all these outrageously bold predictions based on apparently such scarce set of data (disseminated(hehe) in secrecy, and thru the word of mouth as ali puts it) is a single measure of their uncertainty.

the more significant figures they use to report their predictions with (like '37% probability', 'in 10days', 'epicenter 70 km's southwest of tehran') - perhaps to make their predictions look more accuarate and 'scientific', -
and the less uncertainty they give for these figures, the less credible i will find their claims.

Mehdi Y. at June 2, 2004 04:44 PM [permalink]:

check out also this page. In persian:

Babak S at June 2, 2004 05:15 PM [permalink]:


I don't think the math you did has any relevance to the issue at hand. As Yashar just mentioned, the uncertainty is of the same order. To give a more clear picture, in my opinion, let's do this math: just based on the rough one per century frequency of occurance of such huge earthquakes in Tehran, the probability of having an earthquacke in any 10-day time period could be set at ~ 3*10^(-4), so the mean number of casualties in any such period would be about 3,000 persons. With no reference to the uncertainty of such math, could we conclude that we have to permanently evacuate Tehran of its 10,000,000 strong population?

An Iranian Student (AIS) at June 2, 2004 05:15 PM [permalink]:

I also agree with all Ali said. It is not really the scientific nature of the approach that is criticized but the way it is being stated and defended.
There is also another side to this and that is the same attitude by the geophysics department of Tehran University. Saying with such certainity that it is absolutely impossible to predict anything is also unscientific and nonsense.

I think Sharif University or atleast the corresponding team should really come out public and clear things in a rational way.
This is really pathetic!

Ali Mostashari at June 2, 2004 05:33 PM [permalink]:

I just rethought the grandma piece, it was offensive on my part, and I apologize to Mehdi in front of the public. But it wasn't a good argument.

Please think about the following carefully: What happens if the Earthquake doesn;t happen in 10 days, but within the next two months? Shoudl the people feel secure that the scientists at Sharif would be able to predict any earthquake, or should they be on guard all the time? Public policy is not about 10 days, it's about taking bold steps to reinforce buildings and create emergency management procedures regardless of whether the Earthquake happens in 10 days or 5 years. My problem is that this ( a 10 day awareness thing) is no solution to a potnetial catastrophe waiting for Tehran. Again Mehdi my apologies for poor judgement on your last paragraph.

Niayesh at June 2, 2004 05:33 PM [permalink]:

I believe it is NOT fair to talk about Mr. Rahimi Tabar's group with contempt, without knowing their side of the argument.

All the scientists know that preparing a scientific paper, especially an experimental one with many collaborators, may take months, and the refreeing process can take even more. While that might be the proper scientific procedure, waiting that long would completely ignore the humanistic dimension of the problem.

It seems to me that, assuming their finding is based on sound basis, due to its urgency, it is appropriate to skip the formal process.

Why would we, as scientists, accept Mr. Rahimi Tabar's predictions, in lieu of a publishable paper? Because scientists, generally, trust other scientists, with the exception of those in their own fields. An absolute skeptic cannot function as a scientist in the 21st century, simply because of the abundance of works out there. We can only hope that the usual profesional faith in a fellow scientist, and a pretty good one in this case, does not fail for Dr. Rahimi Tabar's group.

Ali Mostashari at June 2, 2004 05:39 PM [permalink]:

As for contempt for Dr. Rahimi Tabar's group. I think you guys didn't read my post carefully. The issue at hand was not the quality of his work, but the way it was disseminated. I am sure once he publishes the actual article it will be scientifically sound. Can anyone defend word of mouth as the way to disseminate scientific knowledge on an issue that can totally make people paranoid?

Ali Mostashari at June 2, 2004 05:50 PM [permalink]:

For reference purposes, this is the message sent by Sharif students on the earthquake prediction, that I am referring to:

"Be nameh khodavande mehraban, salam,bache ha,Dr rahimi tabar,ostade daneshgahe sharif,khiely jeddi,gofte ke tyme oona pishbini karde ke emshab tehran yek zelzeleye ghavi miyad,hamo ro ham az daneshkadeye physic biroon karde, emrooz ham har ki sare class bahman abadi boode,midooone ke bahman gofte; tyme rahimi tabar pishbini karde,ke tehran tooye in 10 rooze ayande ye zelzeleye ghavi miyad,ensha allah ke nayad rasti bedoonid ke time oona 4 ta zelzelaro pish pini karde boodand,yekish ham zelzeleye bam bood, emshab ehtiat konid,hata agar nayoomad,ke ensha alh nemiyad, in chand rooz ehtiat konid,in pm ro bara hameye doostatoon befrestid. "

This is the result of scientific miscommunication and this is what I am criticizing. Sharif students who got this sent this to others without even thinking whether this information makes any sense.

Niayesh at June 2, 2004 05:53 PM [permalink]:

" ... But one observational experiment in itself would not be sufficient to predict an Earthquake in Tehran with a resolution of 10 days, let alone determine whether the order of magnitude would be directly correlational with the extent of changes in resistivity. "

At this moment, we are unaware of the extent of the observational data that was used for this prediction. That is why I think the above statement is unwarranted.

" Generally, publishing something this rudimentary even in the arxiv is not good practice, although other people do this too."

I completely agree.

" What really upsets me (and I have had discussions on this with students in Iran who were willing to swear by Dr. Rahimi Tabar's results) is the way a very rudimentary and at this point raw finding, which would not qualify for a conference proceeding, let alone an academic journal is used as "scientific" evidence that earthquakes can be predicted within a 10 day period ..."

That's the point of uncertainty. If they say there is a probablity of 37%, they'd better have damn good observations to support it with. The fact that we don't know them, doesn't mean that they don't exist.

Fana at June 2, 2004 06:27 PM [permalink]:

Great Article Ali,

And I think towards the end, you touched upon the route of the problem that higher education is having in Iran. There could never exist such a thing as islamic university; either a place is a university, subject to the rules of scientific method, or not.

The concept of islamic university is as naive as the concept of islamic democracy, islamic human rights, islamic banking or islamic music.

Pedram Khalili at June 2, 2004 06:38 PM [permalink]:

I think the paper is very interesting, and certainly a valuable effort. But at the present stage it does not have the quality to be considered a scientific paper, it seems to be much more of a preliminary report. I could think of two possibilities at the present stage:

1. The group has already advanced much more than stated in the report, and for some reason they have not published it yet, either they didn't have the time, or they didn't want to publish at this stage, etc. In that case, their announcements should be taken seriously, but unfortunately they don't seem to reveal anything that would enable us to beleive they really "know" something we don't know.

2. The work is not advanced, it is essentially at the same stage as stated in the report. In that case, the so-called prediction would be actually a "guess", which cannot be taken too seriously.
Overall, anybody familiar with science would admit that in a problem as complex as this, with so many known and unknown variables, making a prediction based on just one or two previous experiments is not wise. It is necessary for developing the theory, but it is certainly not suitable for announcing outside the lab. The possibility of a wrong prediciotn at this stage is simply too high.

It seems to me that the second case holds, and that this is actually not a prediction but a guess. The reason is that not much time has passed since the paper was submitted to Arxiv, and I don't think the raw idea has been developed to an accurate method in the short time. My personal feeling is that Dr. Rahimitabar just wanted to be sure he has done everything he could, in case the worst case happens. However, I'm not sure whether this was a particularly good idea right now.

About what was said about "authorities", I think this is not quite the same as seeing somebody's face on the moon or things like that. I think the reason for this reaction by sharif's students is not their beleif in what authorities say, but just the fact that this whole thing is too serious. They think they'd better let every one know, in case there is a small chance for the prediciotn to be right. As far as I could see, everybody read it, and everybody got a little more alert and prepared than before, but nobody really accepted it as an accurate, scientific prediction. Perhaps you're a little unfair towards sharif's students at this point.

Saeed at June 2, 2004 07:06 PM [permalink]:


1) Has there been any meeting between Rahimi Tabar et al. and Tehran University physicists about this issue? Have they "discussed" the issue at hand?

(My impression from reading the news was that Tehran University physicists say that the paper was not credible because no one can predict earthquakes.)

2) Is there a way to do heavy simulations in this "science"? I mean what do scientists, in this field mean, when they talk about "uncertainties" for the "event" of an earthquake?


About consequences part… “People start believing whatever an "authority" tells them is right, which is really lousy.”

Well, people do this all over the “civilized” world. They “trust” their scientists and it’s not their lousiness, it’s their smartness. If CNN announces today that the scientists in MIT have predicted a major earthquake in Boston, people don’t go and look details of their “analysis”. They check the news and the confirmation of Geology association of America and if the “news” was right, they pack up their stuff and go to na koja bad, even if they know that there hasn't been any earthquake in Boston before! (Well don't take it too literally)

The fact that this atmosphere doesn’t exist in Iran is more our problem, as scientists in astronomy or condensed matter or quantum optics or chemical engineering or …, than Rahimi Tabar’s problem. By that I mean we shouldn't critisize a scientistif we are working on a different field !

Saeed at June 2, 2004 07:21 PM [permalink]:

What about Islamic architecture Fana? Did it exist? What about church music?

The way you CONFUSED different concepts like Islamic University or Islamic Banking is pretty much an EARTHQUAKE in the space of these concepts. I won't discuss this issue, since it isn't the place and we've had enough discussion without any concencuss! However your connections were "amusing".

Hossein at June 2, 2004 07:21 PM [permalink]:

It all looks like a disaster movie to me: a brave scientist warns people of a coming earthquake in a major city and everyone is skeptical of his warnings. (Although his scientific reasons have yet to be seen, in the movies in the shape of strange signals on weird monitors and in the real scientific world in the valid papers with observational data and appropriate graphs.)

The question is, would I be among the people who believe the brave scientist and warn my family to leave the city for a couple of days or should I think that since I haven't seen proper reasoning I should ignore him?

Yashar Ahmadian at June 2, 2004 07:22 PM [permalink]:

No we don't really always accept other scientist's predictions even if they are in a different field than ours before other independent bodies (= authorities! if you want) in that field have confirmed their results.
that's for example what's happened many times in high energy physics, when a group of respected scientists claim (usually thru publishing their findings!) that they've found the blah-blah elementary particle sought for long. but after scrutiny of other groups it is found that noise was taken for a signal for example.

in this case since the stakes are very high we could still put our trust in Dr. Rahimi Tabar's predictions before waiting for them to be verified by other independent specialists in the relevant fields.

but the problem is, the manner in which these predictions are (privately) being reported by this group (the vagueness, the arxiv paper, the secrecy, the significant figures, missing uncertainties,...) just doesn't help except to make me less trustful and more skeptic.

but still, i just wish nothing happens. cuz it's really scary if it does. khoda bekheyr kone! hehe.

Yashar Ahmadian at June 2, 2004 07:25 PM [permalink]:

i have to deny any connection between that last sentence and zarathustrian fatality.

Saeed at June 2, 2004 07:35 PM [permalink]:

Well, Yashar what I meant by "Geology Association of America" was that "authorities" :)

Zarathustrian Fatalists Inc. at June 3, 2004 12:37 AM [permalink]:

We deny the existence of any links between us and any universities around the world.

We also firmly stress our belief that the world will (and should) end in a nuclear showdown between Ahura and Ahriman. Earthquakes of the sorts mentioned in these forums are simply not worthy of our attention unless they are followed by some major global catastrophe.

From Iran at June 3, 2004 08:18 AM [permalink]:

A member of Sharif University group on earthquake reported that mid-IR sources have stoped. They say the likelihood of an earthquake will highest in the next few hours after the radition stops. They reported this around 2p.m.(Tehran Time) today. After tonight, the danger level will go back to the usual danger level in Tehran.

Amir massoud Farahmand at June 3, 2004 10:01 AM [permalink]:

Actually this last comment from "Iran" is a fascinating one! Now we can wait to see all one can see! (; In other word: To quake or not to quake.

Mehdi Y. at June 3, 2004 10:07 AM [permalink]:

I had problem with the last two paragraphs of your article and your removed them. Thanks.

But, now I am picking up issue with four other paragraphs in your article, the whole section about predicting earthquake. It is a risky business to write something about earthquake science if you are not in the field, but I assume you can do a reasonable job if you talk/interview enough experts. If you haven't done that it is ok. After all, FToI is a weblog and we look at your article more as an opinion piece not a source of information on earthquakes. However, I still feel you are using that information to support your conclusion that is why I am bringing up this issue:

You never wonder may be your "comprehensive look at the literature" was not comprehensive enough. Here, I add a number of references that I found by a simple search on "IR earthquake prediction,"
which is a reasonable thing to do because in the emails sent out by people working for Rahimi-Tabar, the issue of increase in mid-IR radiation in the area in southwest Tehran was talked about. These google results show that irregularities in mid-IR radiation was observed in a number of other earthquakes. Does it say that it is a reliable way of predicting an earthquake? probably not, but it shows where Rahimi-Tabar's concern is coming from.

Temperature rises hint at earthquake prediction
"The pair examined data from a NASA satellite called MODIS for the days preceding the 26 January 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India, and found that the temperature rose 2 to 5 °C in the days preceding the quake."

Breaking new ground(NASA)
"In the 1980s and 90s, Russian and Chinese scientists noticed some strange thermal anomalies associated with earthquakes in Asia--for example, the 1998 Zhangbei earthquake near the Great Wall of China. This earthquake occurred when ground temperatures in the region were around -20o C. Just before the quake, thermal sensors detected temperature variations as large as 6o to 9o, according to Chinese documents."

Monitoring the Thermal IR Anomaly of Zhangbei Earthquake Precursor by Satellite Remote sensing technique
"The dynamic process of detecting the thermal IR anomaly precursor of Zhangbei earthquake is a typical case for using the satellite remote sensing technology to forecast earthquake."
"Thermal IR anomaly belt in which the temperature had kept increasing prior to the earthquake suddenly disappeared 9 hours before the earthquake on the image of Jan. 10."

Ali Mostashari at June 3, 2004 02:07 PM [permalink]:

Dear Mehdii,

Thank you for sharing with us your Google skills. Of course not being informed about the topic, you couldn't have known that IR methods generally fall under the "Geothermal Gradient" measurement techniques that I listed. Again, your reading skills (or their lack of) is the culprit in your critique, but being your friend I am used to this :) "A comprehensive look at the literature shows little success in predicting earthquakes". This doesn't mean that I am presenting the comprehensive literature survey in the Freethoughts weblog. For a list of the references I have gone through in the past 5 months working on the ISG Natural Disaster Management Project (while you were dilligently working on the Iranian Academics project :), please refer to the bibliographic listing at the end of the following article.(

Ali Mostashari at June 3, 2004 02:21 PM [permalink]:

Mehdi, "Ali, I am not sure if you fully understand the situation"...this was a dangerous remark to make with this tone :) It tickles me to bring out my heavy artillery..Given that point is aboout challenging authority, I am open to criticism, but those who do it better be prepared to defend their arguments well:) Next time when trying to come up with an argument please go beyond multiplications of meaningless probabilities and basic Google searches.

As you indicated Freethoughts is not an academic journal. Still, what I wrote in Freehtoughts has more literature review than what Dr. Rahimi-Tabar's group used in their Arxiv paper (1 lousy reference!?!?! and a picture of granite!!?!?!!!). I guess you didn't get the point of my article, and that was my fault, I should have organized it better. The question is not whether such an approach is acceptable or not, it is how the science is disseminated. In this case, the dissemination methodology was plainly "SCIENTIFICALLY UNETHICAL". Please refer to ethical codes of scientific communication (search Google).
I understand you are keen in defending the statements you made in Hoder's weblog, after Hossein praised you as one of the brighter minds today, but that doesn't mean a blind defense of a behavior that is unacceptable. Here I rest my case, I think there is sufficient material in my postin and my comments as well as those by others to illustrate the point I am making, but I guess you may wish to get a final word to win back your scientific honor (which I didn't intend to undermine). I will grant you that. Nice discussions everyone.

sami at June 3, 2004 04:43 PM [permalink]:

i think its not gonna be funny. o.k i know that is hard know to answer any question but please dont make them more and more. im seating here so far and cannt sleep and lookin for any news about some death in the way and sure that many other like me do the same, friends! its not funny now your scientific honor.

a grad student at June 3, 2004 04:56 PM [permalink]:

For those who are familiar with the circumstances
in Iran, it should not be hard to see that publicizing such a speculation is very likely to be interpereted as an act againts the national security. (imagine the reaction of people to this news,) I am glad that Dr. Rahimi Tabar has announced his result. He cannot explain all the nitty gritties of his work to the lay and he cannot wait until he finds "solid scientific grounds" for his method. A fairly strong quacke in Tehran can be a historic catastrophy;

I agree that science has its standards. So when you use an elusive concept such as "probability", make sure you understand what you are talking about.

Ali Mostashari at June 3, 2004 09:53 PM [permalink]:

Exams Postponed at Sharif for one week after the announced prediction of the earthquake. I think this issue will teach all of us something one way or another. I just hope everyone is open to understanding the social implications of science and does not hide away in their cocoons.

Attached find the message from Sharif:
"agha emtahanate daneshgahe sharif yek hafte be tavigh oftad.emrooz panjshanbe eddei az bachehaye shoraye senfi va basij va anjoman ba Dr vosooghi sohbat kardand va tavighe emtahanat ghati shod.faghat maloom nist ke emtahanat kollan yek hafte be aghab shift peida mikone ya inke emtahanate hafteye avval baadan bargozar mishe.baraye in ke emtahanat aghab biofte hezaro khordei emza jam shode bood ke aksaran az bachehaye khabgah boodand.khabgahha ham alan hodoode 70-80% khali shode va aksare bacheha raftan shahrestan.dalile in amr yani emza jam kardan va aghab oftadane emtahanat zelzeleye ehtemali hast(va sad albate alagheye shadide bacheha baraye emtahan nadadan).hodoode 37% ehtemale zelzeleye shadid dar tehran ta doshanbe dade shode.nokate imeni ro hatman raayat konid."

Mehdi Y. at June 4, 2004 12:01 AM [permalink]:

Ali, I was probably too critical of the weak points of your article, but your point of article was not in fact in those 6 paragraphs that I criticized. I do agree with your main point of article that this way of dissemating information is not scientific.
I expressed a similar opinion a few days ago when the rumours came out:
"There is paper by Rahimi-tabar at Los Alamos archive on Earthquake prediction. The paper is very vague. I am afraid this is one of those cases where physicists see one single correlation and think they found the way to predict things without fully appreciating the complexity of the problem. Rahimi-tabar is a good physicist and scientist. He has many articles in condensed matter theory but he has only one paper(based on ISI) on earthquake prediction and that is the vague one. I hope he knows what he is doing because he is putting the credibility of Sharif's Physics Department in danger by claiming so forcefully that there is going to be an earthquake in Tehran in the next ten days. The big shots of Sharif Physics Dept are standing behind his prediction. "

After that, I received specific information about Rahimi-Tabar's work and prediction, and it became clear to me that he is not claiming things with no basis. Still, I believe that considering the urgency of issue and not having enough time for writing a paper, it was better that his group would have come out publicly and said what they have observed and knew. That would have allowed other scientists to judge.

Do I consider the way information was dessimated "scientifically unethical"? not quite, at least not for someone who lives in Iran. Iran is not a free country. This issue was made a national security issue by the government which was very keen to make sure the ceremony of Khomeini's death (which was today) wouldn't get disturbed by the public wariness about earthquake (read Probably, the only way that was left to get people aware without taking any risk was leaking the information. Now one of their leaks says that the danger has subsided. (should I say alhamdolellah or insha-allah? which one is correct?)

Ali, it seems I always start with fisking your weak part of argument. Next time, I'll make sure to give you some praise for the strong part before moving to my favorites:) Some how my eyes filters out the parts of your writings that can't be poked at. It could be the result of the fast reading classes I went at Sharif Univ or your cryptic writing:)

nancy at June 4, 2004 09:39 AM [permalink]:

attention please

From Sharif at June 4, 2004 01:14 PM [permalink]:

Exams have not been postponed, at least not yet. This is the university's announcement on thursday:

Reza at June 4, 2004 01:30 PM [permalink]:

Ali Mostashari: Exams Postponed at Sharif for one week. (based on an email from Orkut).

From Sharif: "Exams have not been postponed, at least not yet. This is the university's announcement on thursday: "

It seems Ali Mostashari also fell to the same trap that he talked about in his article:)

Kaveh Kh. at June 4, 2004 03:02 PM [permalink]:

In case you didn't get the news, there was indeed an earthquake happening in the predicted location, Semnan, south of Tehran, around the predicted temporal window, but of course a minor one: 3.5 in Richter scale. It happened 1-2 hours after the infra-red sources had stopped [They said it would happen 8 hours after that...]

Of course it was not mentioned in the Iranian media for obvious reasons but this definitely gives Dr. Rahimi-Tabar's work a refreshing credit!

I am happy that this came to a "happy ending" both for people and science, but the earthquake warning due to the aftershocks is still on and this should not stop people from preferring their own safety and security above their material gain, even if predictable, earthquakes are among the worst disasters threatening the Iranian people.

yaser at June 4, 2004 03:11 PM [permalink]:

It is not in the website which you guys put its link in the website. What is your source?

Yashar Ahmadian at June 4, 2004 03:39 PM [permalink]:

I'm also happy to hear that kaveh.
and i'm waiting to see the real paper that they say will be published soon.

by the way, as i remember Semnan was to the east of Tehran not south, right??! is that a typo?

Kaveh Kh. at June 4, 2004 04:46 PM [permalink]:

I thought it was in the East too, but I tried to be verbatim!

Reza at June 4, 2004 05:11 PM [permalink]:

Here are links to Semnan Earthquake

Another link for Semnan Earthquake

Niayesh at June 4, 2004 06:46 PM [permalink]:

This is utter nonsense.

According to

there are estimated to be ~130,000 earthquakes of the strength 3-3.9 worldwide, every year. Assuming that they are distributed homogeneously on the sutface of the earth, there should be ~8 in a radius of 100 km, around say Tehran, IMPLYING THAT THERE IS A PROBABLITY OF 22% DURING ANY 10-DAY INTERVAL FOR SUCH EARTHQUAKES. This is probably an underestimate, since earthquakes are more concentrated around geologically active areas, and as Tehran is one of such areas, the actual probablity (at any random time) must be even higher.

Therefore, the 37% probablity prediction, for an earthquake that can be as weak as 3.2 richter, is completely useless.

yaser at June 4, 2004 07:44 PM [permalink]:

The Semnan earthquake (even 3.2 richter) hasn't happened as far as here says

Niayesh at June 4, 2004 08:00 PM [permalink]:

The US Geological Survey is probably not complete for minor earthquakes in the rest of the world. This Iranian website:

lists the Semnan earthquake, as well tons of other earthquakes in Baladeh!

m at June 5, 2004 06:16 AM [permalink]:

ba salam agar etelaate bishtary ragebe zelzele darin be manam mail bezanid gorbane shoma:)
shoon bar asase sohbat Dr.rahimirabar az tarikh zelzele dar tehran gozashte albate chand zelzele dar atrafe tehran shodeh mesle shahr rey ba 2richter va north of semnan ba 3.8 richter.....
felan bye:)

Roozbeh Pournader at June 5, 2004 08:40 AM [permalink]:

Just now, Dr Rahimitabar was in Sharif's Computing Center. I unfortunately missed him, but he has given a letter in Persian to the web team to post it online. He claims that the mid-IR radiation has stopped "in the last few days", and "no serious risk threatens the region currently". By *region*, he means the Tehran-Qom-Semnan triangle, which makes me wonder why everybody was talking about the south*west* of Tehran. The URL is:

It gives two new references:
1. M. Reza Rahimi Tabar, etal. Phys. Rev. Lett 91, 226101 (2003).
2. F. T. Freund, J. Geodynamics 33, 4/5, 545-572 (2002).

Kaveh Kh. at June 5, 2004 11:14 AM [permalink]:

Let me extract my own personal laughter from this please.

Niayesh at June 6, 2004 06:40 AM [permalink]:

I just saw this:

Dear Colleagues,

In the last few days a certain rumor has spread, claimed to be made by Professor Reza Rahimi-Tabar, of Physics Department of our university, concerning occurance of a large earthquake in the next few days.
As Dr. Rahimi-Tabar's research is heavily financed by the Center of Excellence of Physics of Sharif (Ghotbe Elmi), of which I am the head, it is my duty to clarify the issue:
1-Last year Dr. Rahimi-Tabar and collaborators successfully applied a technique, Markov Length, to a certain number of problems in physics. (Phys. Rev. Lett. article). After the Bam earthquake he decided to try to use his methode to a possible warning system for earthquakes. It may now be possible to make such an alarm of few minutes, I repeat FEW MINUTES, before the event. Though this has to pass the test of scientific scrutiny.
2- In the past there have been many phenomena such as radiation, clouds, magnetic field variations, elevation of underground water levels, and even animal behaviour, claimed to be precursers of an upcoming earthquake, not substantiated by scientific methodes. These claims have been by and large ignored by the large and significant earthquake communities of the US and Japan.
3- After the recent earthquake in the North, a rumor surfaced that Dr. Rahimi-Tabar had observed some of these effects and thus predicted a large earthquake to occur in a few days in Tehran area. Although these claims were denied by Dr. Rahimi-Tabar both in conversations with our faculty and students, and even in a large gathering of the department students and faculty on Sunday last, the rumors have exponentiated.
4- I take this oportunity to reflect the position of the international scientific community that earthquakes can not be predicted now or in the forseeable future. ( see the website of USGS, the US Geological Survey, on FAQ).

Farhad Ardalan, Professor, Physics Department Sharif U.


Is this Dr. Ardalan playing politics?

Señor Græd at June 6, 2004 10:42 AM [permalink]:

Mehdi wrote:

"I had problem with the last two paragraphs of your article and your removed them. Thanks."

And I have a problem with changing the article after it is posted, except for minor editorial changes (punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.).

It is probably not written anywhere in FToI's book of rules not to change the article after it is criticised, but I thought it simply would be an unspoken rule, an implicit convention.

I remember once somebody (it may hev been Babak Seradjeh or Kaveh Khodjasteh) *crossed out* their words in the article they had posted because some comment writer raised doubts about the accuracy of their claim, but did not erase it.

The reason for doing so must be clear: Once you post something you've got to take responsibility for that and don't keep modifying it based on people's comments. Either you withdraw it completely (like what once Mehrad did, if I remember correctly), or leave it the way it is.


Reza at June 6, 2004 11:19 PM [permalink]:

Niayesh:"Is this Dr. Ardalan playing politics?"

I would call that lying and being dishonest. Just compare what he said with the link sent by Rouzbeh.

Mamad at June 7, 2004 01:01 PM [permalink]:

rahimi tabar's response:

KGB at June 7, 2004 05:00 PM [permalink]:

Can't you people talk a little more about IRAN as opposed to an earthquake that hasn't happened yet?!
Senior Grad, What do you study?

Senior Grad at June 7, 2004 05:54 PM [permalink]:


I study the post-graduatory behavior of extremely smart Iranian students outside their natural habitat, i.e., Sharif University.

Ali at June 7, 2004 06:04 PM [permalink]:

Without Wessie things aren't as lively as they were before :)

Kazem Dadkhahipour at June 8, 2004 03:49 AM [permalink]:

Hi FT!
I had some studies and experiments about data capture of bioelectrical signals by using some trees, named as Electrobotany.
It seems that using pulse-response methodes makes the root system of plants as well as a biosensor for quakes!
Please tell me that how can I get some facts in this important subject and how can I develop this idea?

KGB at June 8, 2004 11:24 AM [permalink]:

SG, I checked through my connections and found out that no grad school offers a degree on such an awkward subject! Besides, not all the people who come by this site are Sharif U. students. You know, you sound really suspisious, and if you don't tell me what you study, I'll send the secret police to take you to Gulog!

Senior Grad at June 8, 2004 12:40 PM [permalink]:

You mean a gulAg? I'd really love that. :-)

Anyway, FYI, KGB, I am an independent researcher, so you are probably right: my study is not in any school's curriculum. After all, I pride in being an original thinker (and no, for Heaven's sake, don't label me "intellectual". I hate that word not only from the bottom of my heart, but from the depth of my soul). ;-)

HaajJabbar at June 8, 2004 04:24 PM [permalink]:

Why don't we ask the "Supreme Leader" to talk to "Supreme God" and ask for a "Supreme prediction"!

someone at June 8, 2004 10:25 PM [permalink]:

I saw this comment in viewsfromiran weblog:
"Every time you turn on the television here, there is a discussion about earthquakes. Predicting an earthquake is still impossible; predicting an earthquake is possible; what to do in an earthquake; what not to do… that sort of thing. Honestly, I am not interested in long-term predictions. I do not care if you can tell me that in the next 10 months there will be an earthquake. That's like telling someone in Oklahoma that there will be a tornado this summer. What I want is a few minutes, but I'll settle for a few seconds. This article says that a few second warning is indeed possible: ( ). If you give me a few seconds, I'll go outside with a mattress on my head. How about it? Is the Iranian government willing to spend $20 million on an earthquake warning system? Seems like a good deal to me."

Senior Grad at June 9, 2004 09:21 AM [permalink]:

"Is the Iranian government willing to spend $20 million on an earthquake warning system?"

Sound like a good idea, but reminds me of the old story of mice and the cat:


Seeker at June 25, 2004 04:09 AM [permalink]:

Salaam All
I am fascinated with dyanmics of Earth quakes.
Can anyone please send me more information regarding Dr.Tabari.I am really interested to know more about the scientific bases of his method. Would anyone be able to e-mail some articles to me?
Also I would like to know his educational background..Where did he get his Phd from?
Many Thanks

stock at July 1, 2004 02:42 AM [permalink]:

This website is poo!! No proper info! Just daft comments!

Sartaj Singh Manhas at July 9, 2004 09:23 AM [permalink]:

Will you please let me know earthquakes that are going to happen in the months of July,August,September,October,November nad December in the year 2004 even they are still predicted and not sure.I'll be awaiting your answer.I am a student so plese try to give me the information I want.Thanking You.
Your's Sincerely