This weekend a few of the struggling residents of earthquake-hit Christchurch have moved out of the city hoping to escape another dangerous quake, a shock foretold by Ken Ring, a New Zealand astrologer who makes a living producing “long range weather forecasts” for NZ, Australia and Ireland based on the movements of the moon. Ring claims that his moon methods predicted last September’s magnitude 7.1 Canterbury earthquake, and the M6.3 aftershock on Feb 22 that killed at least 182 people and devastated much of the central city and eastern suburbs.
But Ring’s methods don’t work. He can’t predict the weather, he can’t predict earthquakes, he is demonstrably ignorant of basic atmospheric and earth science – and yet apparently sane and rational people take him seriously. Are people simply gullible, especially those traumatised by two major quakes, the loss of lives and the incessant aftershocks? Or have the NZ and Australian media, all too happy to give Ring’s weather predictions, fishing forecasts and views on climate change air time and column inches, created an uber crank, a monster beyond their control who is now responsible for scaring thousands while callously building his book sales and brand?
I first started looking at Ring’s work five years ago, when I conducted a six-month audit of his weather predictions for New Zealand. I discovered that his forecasts were rubbish, little better (and often worse) than predictions based on climatology. You can read the full story in the Ringworld section of my old farm blog. In the course of that exercise I discovered that Ring’s predictions had been looked at by meteorologists and climate scientists, who also found them to be useless. In fact, everyone who has ever taken a systematic look at Ring’s weather predictions has found they don’t work.
What prompted me to examine Ring’s weather predictions in the first place were the blatantly nonsensical claims about climate and atmosphere he made in comments at the old NZ Climate “Science” Coalition web site, back in the days when they allowed comments. One that really stood out was Ring’s assertion that carbon dioxide, because it is “heavier than air” is constantly falling out of the atmosphere, and therefore can’t be warming the earth. This was back in 2005/6, and he was repeatedly told he was wrong. Unfortunately he seems to be a slow learner: here he is repeating the same nonsense in August last year, from his Youtube channel (warning: do not drink hot fluids while watching):
There are many choice moments in that little diatribe, but here are a couple of my favourites:
There is no way CO2 could get up there [35,000ft] even if it wanted to – it’s twice as heavy as air. CO2’s molecular weight is 44 and that of air is 29. CO2 sinks. If CO2 went up in the air the plants wouldn’t get it, plants would have to extend themselves hundreds of feet into the air to get the stuff.
What about giant redwoods, Ken. Or forests on hills? Why don’t all the mice die?
It [CO2] is so heavy that it gets into the holes in the rocks, it gets into caves, the miners used to get suffocated by it because it displaced the oxygen which is why they took canaries down.
Excuse me while I stop banging my head on the desk. Life’s too short to enumerate all the errors in Ken’s little video blog, but even a cursory viewing should be enough to tell anyone with the merest smidgen of scientific understanding that Ring is talking rubbish.
Ring is also comprehensively wrong about the way that plate tectonics drive earthquakes. Last month, flushed with the attention he was getting about his “successful” predictions, he published an article on his web site entitled Earthquakes cause fault lines, not vice versa. In this astonishing piece he reinvents the earth sciences:
The 4 September earthquake happened 12 km underground. Current geology wants us to believe that a mighty loose cannon of a 650 kiloton ball of energy, from 12 km away, hurtling surfacewards, has some sort of steering mechanism that seeks out old fault lines to surface through. Imagine an H-bomb the size of that which destroyed Hiroshima, heading towards Christchurch from 12 km away. Now imagine 43 such bombs in one explosive package of energy and you have the size of the 4 September earthquake. Would a 650 kiloton monster earthquake have bothered to set itself within the confines of a previously carved faultline? It is a little hard to imagine why it should be so respectful. Earthquakes can and do go where they choose. If there is a fault line there already, then a shake may shake that too and an observer will say the fault line was active. If there is no fault line the earthquake will make one.
Classic Ring, and classic crank thinking. He doesn’t know enough to understand how tectonics drive earthquakes, so he makes stuff up that confirms his own world view.
Ring has a long history of predicting earthquakes, and of making false claims to be successful. The Silly Beliefs web site has a very detailed section dealing with Ring’s forecasting efforts and his many failures, but more recently my fellow Sciblogger David Winter (who has also shown that Ring can’t predict the weather) used Canterbury earthquake data to show that Ring’s earthquake predictions are no use.
In all these cases, Ring uses the same basic tactics. In fact he’s built a career out of them. He sprays out a huge number of very vague predictions or forecasts, and then interprets them after the event to be successes. Failures are ignored or denied. Thus his claim to have successfully predicted the Feb 22 quake is based on this paragraph, published on his web site on Feb 14th:
Over the next 10 days a 7+ earthquake somewhere is very likely. This could also be a time for auroras in the northern hemisphere and in the southern tip of NZ. It may also be a time for whale strandings because of increases in underwater earthquakes. The 7+ is sure to be somewhere in the “Ring of Fire”, where 80% of all major earthquakes seem to occur, and NZ is at the lower left of this Ring. The range of risk may be within 500kms of the Alpine Fault.
Within 500 km of the Alpine Fault covers most of New Zealand. “Somewhere in the Ring of Fire” between the 14th and the 24th means, in Ring-speak, Christchurch. And he got the magnitude wrong. Nevertheless, he claims a successful prediction.
The day after the Christchurch earthquake he didn’t predict that killed 182 people, Ring published an article on his website with the following (taken from a Google cache I saved to disk):
The 19-21st of March will then be the next potent date.
19 March – Time: at 10am,
20 March – Time: at 11.30am
The Alpine Fault itself seems to be fairly inactive at the moment. Our pick for an epicentre, if a March earthquake should occur, is some geographical point between Hanmer and Amberley. Geonet should be asked where stresses are currently happening. It seems strange that so far no interviewer has sought to ask them. However it could be anywhere in NZ, or it may not even happen at all.
Since then, he has altered the page on his web site, to to make a much less definite prediction. As it happens, I live on a major fault line between Amberley and Hanmer Springs – the Boby’s Stream Fault. Investigations by Canterbury University geologists have shown that the fault ruptures on average every 900 years, moving 2 – 3 metres when it does so, producing enough energy to deliver the Christchurch area a nasty shake. The last event was about 300 years ago. The fault is certainly still active. My house is within 20 metres of the fault line, expressed as a cliff. The fault runs through the middle of my vineyard, which is why my as yet unreleased Pinot Noir is called The Faultline (not the most marketable of brands at the moment, sadly). At 11-30 am tomorrow, I shall be standing on my cliff top admiring the view. In Christchurch, Environment Minister Nick Smith will be joining the Christchurch Skeptics for a lunch in an old stone building (The Sign Of The Kiwi) to demonstrate their contempt for Ring’s fakery. And Ken Ring will be sitting in his house near Auckland, talking to fools on his Facebook page. Whether there’s a quake or not, he’ll claim success.
These predictions, made by an arrogant, ignorant, and foolish astrologer have somehow persuaded members of my community – friends and neighbours – that there is a real risk of a major earthquake in North Canterbury some time over this weekend. Some have left home, others have admitted being unsettled by the “moon man” and his predictions. For people who have already lived through two major earthquakes, suffered the knife-edge uncertainty of repeated aftershocks, stressed and traumatised by the loss of loved ones, the sort of “opinions” offered by Ken Ring are the worst kind of medicine.
But the real responsibility for the stress being foisted on my friends is not Ring’s – charlatan and hypocrite though he is – it lies with the people who give him credibility, the newspapers who publish his weather columns and fishing hints, the radio stations that give him air time, and the TV stations who have credulously interviewed him or reported his earthquake predictions and their impact on the Canterbury population. Every mention of Ring, every Marcus Lush saying “you got that one mate”, even the well-meaning attempt by TV 3’s John Campbell to reveal Ring’s mendacity has served to build the moon man’s brand.
Ring is a fool, but he is only influential because a compliant media have made him so. Now is the time to treat him with the respect cranks really merit: contempt. He deserves to be ignored by everyone, and the media outlets that continue to give him a platform should be vilified. And the next time I see his bloody weather almanac stacked in the “science” section of a bookshop, I swear I won’t be responsible for my actions.
The spread of the Supermoon nonsense
Interestingly, the non-existent moon at perigee/earthquake link is being referenced approvingly at several of the more credulous climate sceptic sites – it says a lot for the intellectual standards they’re prepared to endorse and adopt:
More material on Ring’s recent behaviour:
Alison Campbell (note Ring turns up in comments to claim success for predicting the Feb 22 quake),
Professor Euan Mason‘s pithy open letter to TV NZ for a particularly egregious piece of Ring puffery, and Dan Satherley at TV3 News provides a good roundup of Ring’s failures.
[Update 20/3 10am: just in, editorial at the NZ Herald web site: Charlatan Ring merits contempt.]
Special Ken Ring bonus bollocks!:
There is no reason to predict that anything added to the air is ever going to change climate. To change climate a country has to suddenly find itself at a different latitude. That means the earth must be knocked off its orbit of rotation. The only thing capable of that might be on the scale of a planet or comet colliding with Earth. One volcano won’t do it. [Source]
As we discovered in the early days of Hot Topic, Ring is apparently a follower of Charles Hapgood. See this post for more. The word lunatic springs unbidden to my mind…