Expertise vs. Puffery and the Haitian Earthquake

I just read a Scientific American article about an expert who predicted last week that an earthquake near Port-au-Prince would be catastrophic. He was not predicting that such a quake was imminent but rather that it was a calamity waiting to happen.

Contrast that with a recent sparring match I’ve had with a misguided blogger who claims to have a theory that predicts earthquakes–but said nothing about an impending tragedy in Haiti.

That blogger’s last posting claims that if only he had been heeded, the death toll from the 2004 tsunami could have been much less.

He seems to think that seismologists didn’t recognize the danger, which is nonsense. Even worse, his theory is based on flawed physics — a misunderstanding of Newton’s Laws. His claims are pure puffery.

I have to wonder, is that blogger about to post something that claims to have predicted the Haitian tragedy? And is he about to say that understanding centrifugal force his way, in contrast to Newton’s way, would have given the people of Haiti enough warning to leave Port-au-Prince before the quake?

Stay tuned. If he posts again, I’ll add a comment pointing to the predictive power of this blog entry.

Fred Bortz

6 thoughts on “Expertise vs. Puffery and the Haitian Earthquake

  1. I predicted Tumalski would post, and I was right. As expected his posting is nothing that he hasn’t already cited on his own blog, where my critiques have been posted.

    I recommend that you read the article cited by Tumalski. That way you will see his complete misunderstanding of centrifugal force.

    Tumalski repeatedly cites this conference presentation as if the full article were published in a peer reviewed journal. As far as I can tell, the only possible publication is of the abstract in the conference proceedings, most likely in a poster session. Such abstracts get minimal scrutiny as a way of letting new ideas rise or fall in a public forum. I can imagine eyes rolling and polite but insincere “That’s interesting” comments when visitors to Tumalski’s poster learned what was driving his hypothesis.

    If you read the full article at the web link, you will discover that the reason for its failure to be published elsewhere is its fundamental error in interpreting centrifugal force.

    Tumalski continues to assert that centrifugal force is the “reaction force” to gravity and that a planet stays in orbit due to a balance between gravity and centrifugal force. Unfortunately for his argument, the reaction force to the Sun’s gravitational force on the planet is the planet’s gravitational force on the Sun. Centrifugal force has no reaction force because it only appears in the planet’s accelerated frame of reference. In that frame of reference, the planet is at rest.

    Newton viewed planetary motion from an inertial frame of reference (the Sun, in a simplified model, or more precisely the center of the mass of the Sun-planet system). He concluded that planetary motion can be explained by a single force–gravity.

    This is the notion that Tumalski dismisses in his paper, where he writes

    The fundamental error of the contemporary celestial mechanics is the mathematically prohibited transformation of the reference frames that leads many physicists to a conclusion that in the orbital motion the only force acting on a planet is the gravity force and that the centrifugal force does not exist.

    Take that, Isaac Newton! How dare you perform a mathematically prohibited (???) transformation from a non-inertial reference frame to an inertial one!

    If you want to see my discussion of action-reaction, see my explanation of conservation of momentum on pp. xx-xxi of Physics: Decade by Decade (Twentieth Century Science set, Facts On File, 2007).

    This will be my last reply to Tumalski unless he attacks me personally. Notice that my comments have been strictly about the science, albeit with occasional doses of sarcasm. Tumalski could be a great human being, but his scientific arguments here deserve to be ridiculed.

    Or as Senator Lloyd Bentsen might have put it, paraphrasing his debate with V.P. candidate Dan Quayle, “Tadeusz, you’re no Isaac Newton!”

    Fred Bortz

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