Thursday, March 17, 2011

Open letter to TVNZ

Dear Closeup people,

I viewed your coverage of Ken Ring's "predictions" on your March 17th 2011 Closeup programme through TVNZ's "on demand" system.

Do you have no shame?

Your reporting was poorly researched, ill-informed, and scared large numbers of people in Christchurch unnecessarily.

You gave very large amounts of airtime to the views of two people who have had extremely limited and not statistically relevant "successful predictions" of earthquakes while ignoring all their failed "predictions".
You placed coverage of these two, Ken Ring and Jim Berkland, alongside two highly qualified scientists (with less airtime for the latter), thereby setting up a hypothetical "balance" between two points of view, when one view was well informed and the other was nonsense. This kind of so called "balance" gives undue credence to the nonsense, and as reporters you should have been well aware of this effect.
You lined up two very talented and famous New Zealanders who clearly have no scientific expertise and used their misguided opinions as support for Ken Ring.
You claimed that two earthquakes (the Napier earthquake of Feb 3rd 1931, and the Feb 22nd 2011 quake in Christchurch) had occurred during combined perigees and full Moons and sensationally implied that this validated Mr Ring's methods.
It appears that you bent over backwards to promote Mr Ring's views and to convince people that they were correct.

Facts that you should have researched before your programme went to air:

1) The Napier event was in fact very near to a coincidence of a full Moon and a lunar perigee
2) The Christchurch event occurred when the Moon was about 50 degrees from full and 3 days past a perigee.
3) If you insist on using isolated events as evidence (which is total nonsense, by the way), then what about the largest earthquake in the recent past in Japan, which occurred when the Moon was closer to apogee than perigee, and almost midway between a full Moon and a new Moon?
4) Of New Zealand's 20 largest earthquakes on record, only 2 were close to a perigee combined with either a full Moon or a new Moon and this is about what we would expect if those earthquakes were randomly distributed in time. If we take a more liberal view of Mr Ring's vague "prediction" method, then we get 5/20, which again is about what we would expect if the earthquakes were randomly distributed in time given the proportions of time represented by this "prediction" window.
5) An analysis of daily seismic intensity in Canterbury since September 4th 2010 shows a 2% correlation with the Earth-Moon distance (an r-squared of only 0.02), and a slightly higher intensity between full Moon and new Moon, although this latter relationship is also exceptionally weak (see The correlation with the Earth-Moon distance is totally inadequate for any sort of useful prediction, and the very weak correlation with lunar phase runs counter to Mr Ring's assertions.
6) Mr Ring's "predictions" always have a bob each way, so that having scared the bejesus out of people in Christchurch with his nonsense, if a large earthquake fails to occur then he will point to his website where he says that a quake might not happen. This kind of weaseling is a hallmark of pseudoscience.

So why did you give his "predictions" airtime and attempt to convince people they were correct? What did you hope to achieve? Was it done to try to attract an audience for your advertising clients, with absolutely no regard to the emotional consequences for an already shattered populace in Christchurch? When TV3 tried the same stunt and interviewed Mr Ring, my 9-year old daughter burst into tears in fear of March 20th.

I think your reporting was shameful, and that you only increased the panic in my home city.

So what should you have done? You should have ignored the fringe people with failed predictions.  This is obviously the moral thing to have done under the circumstances and it is astounding that your programme went to air.

What should you do now?  You should begin tomorrow's programme with an apology, and state that your implied support for Mr Ring's earthquake predictions was totally misguided and poorly researched.

Oh, and just in case you are planning a repeat performance, if we do get a large earthquake this weekend will that single event validate Mr Ring's methods? No, it won't. A large earthquake could still occur this weekend even if they are randomly distributed in time. Does this latter statement also represent a bob each way? No, I am not the one making predictions.

Yours sincerely,
Euan Mason

PS (sarcasm on)

Did you know that over 70% of all earthquakes occurred on days whose English names contained the letters s, y, d and a?

Also, over 70% of all earthquakes occurred on days whose French names contained the letters e, i, and d!

Oh, horrors! March 20th 2011 is a day whose English name contains the letters s,y,d, and a, and whose French name contains the letters e, i and d!

TVNZ should run a Closeup programme on this!  (sarcasm off)


Rather Dull Stuff said...

Your post overlooks the fact that media reporting and your account too, is woefully inaccurate in respect of the full details of Ken Ring's method. It's too comples for a TV soundbite. Accordingly any criticism is based on erroneous information and so has zero validity. I suggest you research this further instead of trivialising the subject.

John Holley said...

"Method"? A method is something that has been shown by hypothesising and testing to be valid. You can't say that about anything Ken Ring does.

Shawn said...

@Waiheke News Blog

Stop talking out of your arse. That would be a good start.

Ken Ring and his method has been debunked so many times by so many people that it's a travesty we're still talking about it.

This article is, in fact, spot on and it is you who should try to spend some time actually doing the research.

Ken Ring is already backtracking his story by try to create the 'it's not a prediction' distraction.

If it happens he points to his 'accurate' prediction but when it doesn't he uses the 'it wasn't a prediction' escape clause.

What I fail to understand is why you would want to support Ken Ring. What's in it for you? What do you get out of supporting him? Is he a friend? Do you rely on him for something? I just don't get why otherwise normal people with no vested interest would back up a man who is clearly a kook, who has had his 'theory' decimated many times over.

It makes no sense.

As a side question Mr. Waiheke News Blog, what is your opinion on homoeopathy and astrology?

Anonymous said...

Solid letter. I just watched the clips of the Closeup ep and couldn't believe it. Inexcusable.

Hugh said...

@Waiheke News Blog: It doesn't matter what the bleep his method is since it doesn't work. The proof of the pudding... By their fruits...