Predicting Hailstorms, Earthquakes and — Boycotts

In 2011 a professor at Hebrew University, Daniel Rosenfeld, co-authored a finding published in the esteemed American Geophysical Union (AGU) that was all but ignored in the popular media in Israel, the United States and elsewhere. There is data to suggest that hailstorms on the US East Coast are more likely to occur mid-week and moreover to be more powerful—due to the heightened levels of particulate pollution pumped into the atmosphere issuing from large metropolitan areas. What is more, the same can be said for tornados.

Millions of Americans along the eastern seaboard didn’t panic when the paper’s conclusions were released, foregoing a tumultuous rush on umbrellas before the next Wednesday rolled around. That’s more a tribute to some fortunate developments in the history and culture of science than anything else. Modern populations are better informed and less inclined currently to descend into bedlam owing to the scientific community’s next pronouncement, or even the one after.

Profound changes wrought by the digital revolution have reverberated from one end of the planet to the other. The idea of heightened probability for hail or tornadoes, without saying on which Wednesday in particular that battening down the hatches might be advised, is obviously grasped by a more mature society. It’s understood as well by the public that by at least noting and cataloging incrementally small steps forward in any discipline, science is better served. On thousands of prior occasions, small discoveries which at the time didn’t seem to be that important have led to fairly monumental achievements.

I’ve written four books and published uncountable papers and articles, from the mid-1990s on, regarding a comparable topic: my hypothesis that there may indeed exist “higher probability windows” for seismic activity along the US West Coast at dawn and at dusk during full and/or new moon phases—owing to increased tidal pressures—or during perigee, when the Moon’s elliptical orbit brings it 10% closer to Earth. Again, that is not to say that earthquakes—or hail storms or tornados—are being predicted to occur on the east, west or any coast of any country. Only to note that science always attempts to take note of empirical evidence hopefully to glean more knowledge and a fuller understanding of any problem being studied.

Tidal triggering of earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault in California, it should be noted, has recently become a plausibly accepted phenomenon; the jury is only out concerning whether the impetus of the tides is a paltry and minuscule force in seismicity or something more, and whether the solar tides at dawn and dusk merit consideration as well or not. As recently as 2016, the planet’s greatest and most-read publications, including the Los Angeles Times and USA Today, have published the changing views in science regarding this question.

In Israel and the United States, however, there are also regressive forces pushing science another way, utilizing it as a weapon to be used against their political opponents. The “Boycott, Disinvest, Sanction” anti-Israeli adherents, for example, aren’t just striving mightily to weaken the Jewish state but also pharmaceutical companies, computer giants, industrial machinery consortiums and other leading corporations whose enterprises support and maintain the health of a scientifically advanced Western civilization.

According to the BDS Movement’s website, they’d very much like to drag down the Intel Corporation, the US computer chip colossus, but admit that “Intel is not currently a worldwide BDS target because of its near monopoly status in its sector, making a consumer boycott of the company hard to achieve at present.” That seems much like Torquemada’s Spanish inquisitors bemoaning the fact that they wished they could ban fire for its demonic connection to the sulphur and brimstone of the infernal regions, but grudgingly pulling back from it owing to the obvious trouble such rabid extremism would  cause.

Sophisticated societies can’t move forward viewing science either as a dogma or a cudgel for political strife. It is what the scientific method says it is: repeatable results. And those results need not be Earth-shattering, nor should they only work in one language, for one faction, on this side of a border—and not others.

About the Author
David Nabhan is a science and science fiction writer. He is the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three other books on seismic forecasting.
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