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Predicting the Unpredictable:
The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction
Susan Elizabeth Hough

eBook | ISBN: 9781400831807 | Where to buy this ebook

Hardcover | 2010 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691138169


An earthquake can strike without warning and wreak horrific destruction and death, whether it's the cataclysmic 2008 Sichuan quake in China that killed tens of thousands or a future great earthquake on the San Andreas Fault in California, which scientists know is inevitable. Yet despite rapid advances in earthquake science, seismologists still can't predict when the Big One will hit. Predicting the Unpredictable is the first book to explain why, exploring the fact and fiction behind the science--and pseudoscience--of earthquake prediction.

Susan Hough traces the continuing quest by seismologists to forecast the time, location, and magnitude of future quakes--a quest fraught with controversies, spectacular failures, and occasional apparent successes. She brings readers into the laboratory and out into the field with the pioneers who have sought to develop reliable methods based on observable phenomena such as small earthquake patterns and electromagnetic signals. Hough describes attempts that have raised hopes only to collapse under scrutiny, as well as approaches that seem to hold future promise. She recounts stories of strange occurrences preceding massive quakes, such as changes in well water levels and mysterious ground fogs. She also ventures to the fringes of pseudoscience to consider ideas outside the scientific mainstream, from the enduring belief that animals can sense impending earthquakes to amateur YouTube videos purporting to show earthquake lights prior to large quakes.

This book is an entertaining and accessible foray into the world of earthquake prediction, one that illuminates the unique challenges of predicting the unpredictable.


"Susan Hough's book about earthquake prediction reminds us that many respectable scientists and numerous nutcases have tried--and failed. Predicting the Unpredictable tells us what has been tested and abandoned and why. It follows the winding path taken by this potentially useful discipline in the past four decades, from the shadows to centre stage and back again. . . . Famous moments in earthquake prediction are dissected for the reader through Hough's diligent research in obscure archives; history will thank her for these abandoned threads."--Roger Bilham, Nature

"Hough's book, however, is not frustrating at all; it offers an enlightening, fair and insightful look at how one science has dealt with the intersection of an extremely hard problem with legitimate public demands for results. Those of us in other fields who read it may find ourselves profiting from the example someday."--Cosma Shalizi, American Scientist

"In this forensic and engaging overview, Susan Hough presents a frank, entertaining and personal review of the history of ideas, practice, personalities and experience in the science of earthquake prediction. Although Hough is a respected scientist, she takes a journalist's viewpoint here, not shying away from legitimate criticism of those she regards as friends, and taking on the credulous at the edge of, or even beyond, the mainstream scientific."--Ian Main, Times Higher Education

"Susan Hough is all about solid science, and her examples of accepted research that turned out to be dead wrong will resonate with readers suspicious of anybody who predicts the future."--Stephen Matchett, Australian

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  • File created: 10/12/2016

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