Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Of psychics and volcanoes

As I write this blogpost, I am at the foothills of New Year’s, that time of year when all good soothsayers are called upon to say some sooth about the upcoming year. But, should we pay any attention to the sooth that they say?


In this post, I am not considering those pundits who predict stuff based on some sort of discernible trend. I am not thinking along the lines of predictions about sports, politics, or economics. I just want to consider psychics who predict events that don't lend themselves to prediction by careful analysis.

So, I started by setting the rules for the experiment. I first would decide on a topic where a lot of psychics might be making predictions. The topic should be considered by scientists to be “tough to make precise predictions about”. The topic should be verifiable by a trusted source. I would then look for predictions that prognosticators made about the year 2014, and limit my experiment to the first 20 psychics that Google found for me.

Note that I decided on the rules of the test before I went to research what psychics had to say. In this way, I avoided cherry picking the results.

I decided ahead of time that I should not worry about predictions that are made about likely events. Finding one a psychic out of 20 who correctly predicted a single coin toss is not very impressive. Ten of the 20 psychics should be able to guess that correctly. I’m looking for predictions that are tough enough that you would expect that none of the 20 guessers would be correct by chance.


After a little pondering, I decided I would look for predictions about volcanic eruptions. I found a reliable source for information: the Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Project. They seem to have done a pretty thorough job of documenting all the volcanic eruptions. There database has just over 3,200 eruptions from the past century alone.

One note… I should define the term VEI (Volcanic Explositity Index). This is a measure of the amount of material that is ejected from a volcano during an eruption. The numbers go logarithmically from 0 to 8. The rank 0 means “effusive”, 1 means “gentle”, 2 means “explosive”, 3 means “catastrophic”, and so on. In the past century, the largest volcanic eruption was Mount Pinatubo in 1991, with a VEI of 6. There were 8 eruptions with a VEI of 5, and 61 with a VEI of 4.

I went googling on variations of the search “psychic predictions 2014 volcano”.

The results were pretty conclusive. I found 31 predictions that the 20 psychics made about volcanic events for the year 2014. I did not find a single prediction that was both correct and unlikely to have been stumbled on by chance.

My firm conclusion: psychics that Google says are popular have a perfectly lousy track record when it comes to predictions about volcanoes in 2014. This has been fairly well demonstrated.

Since I picked the topic more or less "at random", and since the results were completely unequivocal, it is my expectation that similar topics for predictions would reveal similar results. Until proven otherwise, I will make the bold statement that psychics do poorly at predictions that lack some sort of trending information that could serve as a basis for intelligent guessing.

Here are the details...

Tara Greene

[1] Major EARTHQUAKES worldwide, very high, 8+ on Richter scale and Volcano explosions- in usual places, In Indonesia, China, India, Central America- Guatemala. In California and up West coast- Washington State.

[2] Another blackout of flying because of Volcanic explosions in mid to late April 2014 in to May.

(The square brackets are mine. I am keeping a running count of specific predictions. Tara had two.)

She predicted that volcanoes will erupt in all the usual places? I hardly think this is much of a prediction. But she did mention some places that she said will have either major earthquakes or eruptions. Here is a list of the number of eruptions that each of these areas had:

Indonesia: 7, China: 0, India: 0, Central America – Guatemala: 0, California and west US coast: 0.

Granted, she said either earthquakes or volcanoes, but I am just looking at volcanic eruptions. I’m gonna call that prediction false.

Blackout in April or May? No. There were three volcanic eruptions in April and May, in Japan, Australia, and Alaska. None caused any issue with travel.

Tara is zero for two.

Betsey Lewis

[3] Major Earth Changes: … Extreme weather will continue worldwide--drought, flash floods, huge waves, volcanic activity, hurricanes, tornadoes, fierce winds. No place will be untouched.

[4] Italy's Mount Etna will see a huge eruption and Rome could shake. I see structures falling in Rome--large earthquake.

Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity: ... Watch for Mt. Etna in Italy and many volcanoes to suddenly erupt.

Extreme number of volcanic eruptions?  There have been 3220 volcanic eruptions since 1914. That’s about 32 per year. There were 34 in 2014, so this was hardly a banner year for volcanoes.

Mount Etna? The most recent eruptions of this volcano were from Jan 2011 to Feb 2012. Nothing in 2014, sorry.

For those keeping track at home, we have zero correct predictions out of four.

Nikki

[5] A huge earthquake and volcano eruption in Peru.

[6] A huge earthquake and volcanic eruption in Hawaii.

[7] Mt. St. Helen's erupting.

Peru had one class 1 eruption, hardly worth calling “huge”.

There were no volcanic events in Hawaii in 2014.

Mount Saint Helens has had no volcanic activity since 2008.

The count is now zero out of seven.

Jeanne Mayell

On Dec. 12, 2014, Jeanne Mayell reflected on her previous predictions, calling out the incredible number of her predictions that came true. The bold type is her indication of a correct prediction, “within a few months”. This was a prediction she made for April of 2014, which according to this webpage, she made “in 2013”:

[8] Volcanic eruption, smoke ash everywhere on an island. (lava flows in Hawaii threatening a town, volcanic eruption in Cape Verde)

She further predicts eruptions for the month of July, stating that this prediction was made January 9 of 2014: 

[9] Volcanic eruption somewhere (lava flows in Hawaii threatening town, Cape Verde volcanic eruption causes evacuations)

Another prediction was for an earthquake. She claims that she nailed this one, except that it wasn't a rural town in Italy, and was a volcanic explosion instead of an earthquake.

[10] Wash tub, Italian rural town, earthquake (Not Italian, but Cape Verde volcanic explosion)

She claims lots of correct predictions, but how did she really do?

She predicted a volcanic eruption on an island?  I would hazard to guess that this happens in pretty much every period of a few months. Not such a daring prediction, if you ask me!

How about those lava flows in Hawaii? Didn't happen.

Eruption on Cape Verde Islands? Close… There was an eruption of a volcano on the Cape Verde Islands on November 23. This is something of an odd event, since there have been only three volcanic events in the Cape Verde Islands in the past century. If she got that prediction correct, then I would be suitably impressed. But, her original prediction was for April. She was six months off. On this page she states: “Note that visions can be off by a few months.” I’m sorry… six is more than a few.

And her claim that the Cape Verde volcano fulfills her prediction about the Italian earthquake? I find this preposterous.

Even if we grant her that the Cape Verde prediction was “close enough”, do we know that this prediction was actually made prior to 2014? I managed to find one independent report of such a prediction. It was posted in the International Business Times in January of 2014. It gives a truncated version of the prediction: Volcanic eruption, smoke ash everywhere on an island. This event was predicted to occur in April of 2014.

I am not trying to imply that she lied about her prediction, just that the timing of her prediction is yet to be verified. There may be some independent evidence of the timing of her prediction of the Cape Verde volcanic eruption, but until that shows up, I’m gonna call her prediction not only false, but also not verified.

So, she made an insipid prediction, made a prediction about Hawaii that failed, and missed her own time window on a prediction about Cape Verde.

Joseph Tittel

[11] Again causing many new quakes and the eruption of three big volcanoes in 2014. [12] One causing major complications for people traveling in that area of the globe.

[12] Three ring of fire volcanoes erupt.


Three big volcanoes? I’m not sure what “big” means, but there were four eruptions rated at 3 VEI or larger: Japan, Kamchatka, north of Australia, and Indonesia. Close, but no cigar. Tittel didn’t say “three or four volcanoes”, he said three.

Might this just be an educated guess? Quite possibly. In the prior ten years, there were four years that had 2, 3, or 4 big eruptions. So, you could call his prediction “close, but not very daring”.

There were no volcanic events in 2014 that caused “major complications for people traveling in that area of the globe”. But, I guess if you consider people wanting to travel to the actual volcano, then almost all of the eruptions would constitute a major complication.

How about the claim of “three ring of fire volcanoes”? The “ring of fire” encompasses all the volcanoes at the edge of the Pacific. All four of the big eruptions in 2014 were on the Pacific rim.

Sorry. No valid predictions here, and we are still looking for a correct and significant prediction.

Blair Robertson

[13] I predict considerable volcanic activity around the Pacific Rim in 2014, causing scientific alarm.

This is a vague prediction. Most volcanoes are around the Pacific Rim, and as I said before, the year 2014 was not remarkable for volcanic activity.

Elizabeth Good

[14] Good …. thinks Iceland will be in the news this year (possibly with a big volcano eruption) [15] as will North Korea (which will make a lot of noise but do no damage).

[16] Volcano eruption and a disaster in China. "It feels to me like something involving large numbers of people, possibly a large public disaster, such as a train wreck with a significant release of toxic material, affecting many," according to psychic Elizabeth Good.

Was there an eruption in Iceland? Yes, at Barbarbunga. But this first prediction was hardly gutsy. Iceland has had at least one volcanic eruption in 33 of the last 100 years. She had a 1 in 3 chance of getting this one right.

How about North Korea? Nope. She got that wrong. The prediction of North Korea was very gutsy, though. North Korea has not had a volcanic eruption in recorded history.

She also predicted a Chinese volcanic eruption. Sorry… the most recent eruption in China was in 1951. Another gutsy and incorrect prediction.

So, the only volcanic prediction that Good has gotten correct was a fairly safe bet.

Heather Zais

[17] Earth changes or calamities continue: earthquakes, eruptions, lava, volcanos and floods. Waves and high tides and seas. Ships may need rescue. Build new ones or refurbish.

Once again, 2014 was not abnormal.

Cherie

[18] There could also be volcanic eruptions that would cause the fires to be an issue, so look to volcanic activity this year in a major way.

Major way? No way.

Green Wood Horse

[19] With fire energies running strong this year, we can expect some significant volcanic activity and some devastating fires come summer. International tensions and conflicts will persist, as will events involving fire-related calamities, volcanoes, explosions, air and sea accidents, wind disasters such as Katrina, as well as environmental challenges related to air, oil and water.

Significant volcanic activity? If "significant" means "more than zero", then this is an obvious prediction. If it means "considerably more than usual", then nope.

So far, that brings us up to zero predictions that could be considered correct and significant.

Lisa Caza

[20] And weather-wise – unfortunately we will need to expect much of the same that we saw in 2013. I continue on with my concerns about the volcano eruptions – both 2013 and 2014 we have seen and will see a huge number never seen before.

Huge number? Nope.

Before It’s News

[21] Yet another pope! Anytime between now and January 31st [April 16, 2014], the world could see a new Pope, because of the supposed plot to end corrupt Vatican powers. Also, during this upset and confusion, a volcano in Italy will produce some steam. Psychics expect this to happen in the winter while it is still snowing.

Italian volcano?  Nope. This prediction is notable in that Italy often does have volcanic events. Mount Etna had eruptions during seven of the ten years between 2004 and 2013. Not only was this an incorrect prediction, but he (or she) lost while betting with the odds.

Incidentally, this psychic's time window hasn't elapsed yet, but as of December 29, Pope Francis is still in the Vatican.

Patricia McLaine

[22] The NEW YEAR promises to start out with a BANG, with a possible MAJOR EARTHQUAKE and/or VOLCANIC ERUPTION as yet another force of destruction on our planet rumbles back to life: [23] ICELAND? MOUNT RAINIER? YELLOWSTONE? The NEW MADRID FAULT?  Prepare to be frightened and amazed.

You gotta love those capital letters! So much excitement!

Did we get a major eruption in the start of the year?  The largest volcanic eruption of the year was on Feb 13th. This was a major eruption, with a VEI of 4. Only 61 of these have occurred in the last century. But I don’t think I would quite call this the start of the year. 

If Patricia had been specific (like "in the first quarter of the year"), then she might have gotten a point for this one. But she left it vague, with "The new year promises to start out..." I take that to mean the first week or two of the year. Sorry. If you want a prediction to pass scientific muster, you can't be vague.

There was an eruption in one of the places that she mentioned. It was in Iceland, but that didn't occur until August 29th. And as I said before, Icelandic volcanic eruptions are not that uncommon. As for the other locations, neither Mt. Ranier or Yellowstone had any volcanic activity.

I'm still looking for that excellent prediction.

Chuck Bezio

[24] Italy Volcano erupts in July

[25] Greece Volcano eruption in Dec.

Unlike Patricia, Chuck provided some great predictions. They are precise, giving both a month and a location. He should be commended, since this makes the predictions actually predictions. Unfortunately both of his great predictions were wrong..

Psychic Science

[26] Jul 17 2014 17:52 PT       A big earthquake in California with volcanic eruption afterwards

Nope. Nothing in California in 2014.

Grassy Knoll Institute

[27] A major U.S. volcanic eruption will occur. It will erupt with almost no warning time. Everything in its eruption path will be incinerated.

In the US, there were two small eruptions during 2014. Both were of Mount Pavlof, off the Alaskan peninsula. But saying that there will be volcanic activity somewhere in the US is a pretty safe bet. Of the last 100 years, 94 of them have had volcanic activity in the US.

I may have lost count somewhere along the line, but I think my count is up to zero now.

Barbara DeLong

[28] 2014 is going to be a year of shifting and change for not only us as individuals but the planet as well. There are going to be above average storms of all types as well as an increase in natural disasters such as earth quakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Above average? Nope.

Stargazer Phillipines

[29] A volcano eruption

OMG! No!!!! 

Come on. Really? This is a pretty worthless prediction.

The score currently stands at zero for the psychics and 29 for the skeptics.

Rebecca

[30] Papua, New Guinea will experience a major volcanic eruption this year.

There was a volcanic eruption of VEI 2 at Manam, off the coast of Papau, New Guinea.  This could hardly be called a major eruption. There was another eruption at Rabaul, with a VEI of 3. I wouldn't really call that major, either. My interpretation of "major" is VEI greater than 4.

But even if VEI of 3 is considered major, this is Papau New Guinea. There are six volcanoes in Papau New Guinea that are more or less active. If my count is correct, there have been 50 eruptions between them in the past century. Six of the past ten years have had eruptions. So, you basically have even odds if you guess that there will be an eruption of a volcano in this country in any year.

So, this prediction fails if “major” is taken to mean “VEI > 3”, or is not significant if a VEI of 3 is considered major.

Nancy Bradley

[31] Either 6 pt. or better earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, draught, explosions or volcanic earth eruptions will affect the following countries and places: Japan, Mexico (BAHA in particular,) the Philippines, Columbia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Mideast, Nicaragua, Fiji, Peru, No. and So. Korea, Canada, Australia, the Cayman Islands, many of the small islands, Pakistan, Africa, Russia, Taiwan, Turkey, Greece, Guam, England, China, Spain Venezuela, Indonesia, New Zealand, El Salvador, Ecuador, Chili, Iran, Argentina, Panama, and New Guinea for just some. In THE U.S, California heavy hit, Eureka area, near San Francisco, San Simeon, Southern Ca,

Wow. Some sort of major natural disaster will occur in some place that regularly has earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions? Go figger. I’m not even going to bother with this vague and obvious prediction.


So... that ends the contest. It may take me a while to tally the results, but I think that the folks in the bleachers who were rooting for the psychics might be a bit disappointed.

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