This reply by Wallace H. Campbell and Robert J. Geller to the comments of Freund and Bertucci was published in the 18 May 1999 issue of EOS, Vol. 80, No. 20.

Reply: U.N. Should Have Sought Expert Advice

Let us first consider points raised by Freund.

Campbell is a physicist. His area of specialization for the last 41 years has been geomagnetism, not seismology. He did consult and reference respected seismologists in preparing his Eos article [Campbell, 1998]. The co-author of this reply, Geller, is a seismologist who has extensively studied proposed earthquake prediction methods [e.g., Geller, 1997].

Campbell's [1998] negative evaluation of the UN "Manual on the Forecasting of Natural Disasters: Geomagnetic Methods" was based on scientific grounds. We invite readers to obtain a copy of the manual from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York NY 10017 USA, or to visit the UN program's Web site (http://www.globalwatch.org/ungp) for an eye-opening experience. These will show that Campbell's [1998] criticisms of this work were fully justified.

Apparently, the UN manual did not undergo the type of peer review that would have eliminated the large number of obvious technical errors—or perhaps even precluded its publication. Most recognized researchers are skeptical of the premise of this research, which is the claim that earthquakes are preceded by electromagnetic precursors. Freund should have cited and discussed recent criticisms of such claims [e.g., Johnston, 1997; Michael, 1997; Pham et al., 1998] as well as positive results.

Freund discusses a claim of a successful evacuation, on a local scale, that supposedly was carried out before the 1976 Tangshan, China, earthquake (during the period of the Cultural Revolution). This claim was reported in a news story in Science [Li Hui and Mervis, 1996]. However, it appears that no claim of a life-saving evacuation was made immediately after the earthquake. This claim apparently was first publicized about 15 years after the quake; a time lag that raises obvious questions. This claim has not, to our knowledge, been substantiated by authoritative publication of Chinese national government scientific agencies or by refereed papers in international journals.

A recent news story in Nature [Saegusa, 1999] reports that more than 30 unofficial earthquake predictions, none of which was accurate, were issued in China during the past three years and that the government plans to introduce tough new regulations to stamp out such "'false' earthquake warnings." When Campbell visited China in May 1998, a respected geophysicist, who asked not to be identified, informed him about one specific case in which a prediction (which was not followed by a significant earthquake) induced a temporary evacuation of government officials from Beijing. The UN manual makes no mention of such fiascoes.

Let us now consider Bertucci's comments.

Bertucci says the UN program in question was funded solely by private donations, but this appears to conflict with information in the manual. The cover of the manual displays only the UN logo, and lists only the names "UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York" and "UN Development Programme, Beijing." The preface (page I), written by UN employees J.-M. Col and A. N. Holcombe, states "The United Nations actively encourages the sharing of disaster mitigation technologies. To this end, the United Nations Global Programme for Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters in the Department for Economic and Social Affairs in New York and the UN Development Programme in Beijing, China, have joined together to hold an international workshop on the forecasting of natural disasters using geomagnetic methods." Also, the foreword (page iv) states "These lectures are written with the support and encouragement of the United Nations Global Programme ...."

The UN manual, which apparently was printed and distributed by the UN, makes no mention of any private donors. UN employees (Col and J. J. Chu) wrote one of its sections. Presumably, the UN paid their salaries, and is also paying for at least some of the costs of the Web site mentioned above. Under these circumstances, (1) Bertucci's claim that no UN funds were used seems questionable; (2) even if his claim were correct, it is inconsistent with statements in the manual.

However laudable its intentions might be, the UN's programmatic decisions on earthquake prediction research should be based on expert advice. There is no evidence that the UN sought or obtained the advice of organizations under the umbrella of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) before establishing the program that published the manual and set up the Web site. The organizations that the UN should have consulted (but apparently did not) include the International Association of Seismology and Physics of the Earth's Interior (IASPEI), the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA), and the International Association of Meteorological and Atmospheric Sciences (IAMAS). The apparent failure of the UN to seek advice from the many distinguished scientists of these organizations is regrettable.

Authors

Wallace H. Campbell, World Data Center A, NGDC/NOAA, Boulder Colo., USA, E-mail: whc@ngdc.noaa.gov; and Robert J. Geller, Department of Earth and Planetary Physics, Graduate School of Science, Tokyo University, Japan; E-mail: bob@global.geoph.s.u-tokyo.ac.jp

 

References

Campbell, W. H., A misuse of public funds: U.N. support for geomagnetic forecasting of earthquakes and meteorological disasters, EOS, 79, 463-465, 1998.

Geller, R. J., Earthquake prediction: a critical review, Geophys. J. Int., 131, 425-250, 1997.

Johnston, M. J. S., Review of electrical and magnetic fields accompanying seismic and volcanic activity, Surv. Geophys. 18, 441-475, 1997.

Li Hui, and J. Mervis, China's campaign to predict quakes, Science, 273, 1484-1486, 1996.

Michael, A. J., Testing prediction methods: Earthquake clustering versus the Poisson model, Geophys. Res. Lett., 24, 1891-1894, 1997.

Pham, V. N., D. Boyer, G. Chouliaras, J. L. Le MouŽl, J. C. Rossignol, and G. N. Stavrakakis, Characteristics of electromagnetic noises in Ioannina region (Greece): A possible origin for so called "Seismic Electric Signals" (SES), Geophys. Res. Lett., 25, 2229-2232, 1998.

Saegusa, A., China clamps down on inaccurate warnings, Nature, 397, 284, 1999.