"Geller Set Science Back By Ten Years"
April 18, 2011 • 12:23PM

In that April 13 Nature article, Geller avoids pointing to his own inquisitional role, instead recording the suppression of earthquake-related science as supposedly objective history.

"Throughout most of seismological history, the prediction of earthquakes hours or days in advance has, for good reason, been regarded with great scepticism (see http://go.nature.com/ahc6nx). However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, several studies, initially by researchers in the Soviet Union, and followed by similarly positive studies from major U.S. institutions, led to a burst of optimism. The editors of Nature wrote in 1973 that the situation is in some ways similar to that in 1939 when nuclear fission suddenly became a reality. Positive results were also published at roughly the same time in Science and some leading speciality journals.

"The positive reports were based on claims to have observed 'precursors' of earthquakes. For example, some studies of the type discussed in Nature's 1973 article claimed to have observed decreases of 10-20% in crustal seismic velocities before earthquakes, with the return of the velocities to their normal values being the sign that an earthquake was imminent. But the 1976 earthquake in Tangshan, China, which caused a reported 240,000 fatalities, was not predicted, and by the late 1970s it had become clear to most researchers that the supposed precursors were artefacts. The prediction boom then largely died out, but like many similar examples (such as polywater and cold fusion), die-hard holdouts in several countries continue to make precursor claims."

But elsewhere, Geller has been more open about his own part, for instance in working to cut off funding. In Science magazine in 1997, in an article titled, "Earthquakes Cannot Be Predicted," he wrote:

"Is prediction inherently impossible or just fiendishly difficult? In practice, it doesn't matter. Scientifically, the question can be addressed using a Bayesian approach. Each failed attempt at prediction lowers the a priori probability for the next attempt. The current probability of successful prediction is extremely low, as the obvious ideas have been tried and rejected for over 100 years. Systematically observing subtle phenomena, formulating hypotheses, and testing them thoroughly against future earthquakes would require immense effort over many decades, with no guarantee of success. It thus seems unwise to invest heavily in monitoring possible precursors." (http://scec.ess.ucla.edu/~ykagan/perspective.html)

Russian scientist E.N. Khalilov outlined Geller's case as follows in Science Without Borders, Transactions of the International Academy of Science, Vol. 3, 2007/2008.

"What did Dr. Robert Geller achieve with his critical statements?

"Firstly, he gave a perfect opportunity to the hands of seismologists-pessimists to scientifically avow their failures.

"Secondly, he slowed down the development of science in the sphere of earthquake forecasting more than ten years, as after his speeches the epidemic of mass pessimism and scepticism had come in the sphere of earthquake forecasting.

"Thirdly, he divided seismologists in[to] two enemy camps—the adversaries of earthquake forecasting and the adherents of earthquake forecasting.

"The followers of Robert Geller published and publish now the articles which 'prove' the impossibility in principle of earthquake forecasting...."