I was contacted by a journalist for the Sunday Star times a few days ago with some questions about Ken Ring. He's predicting an earthquake for June or July the 13th to 15th.

Here are my responses to the questions I was asked:

Is Ken Ring incorrect in his broad claim that studying the movements of the Moon can help predict earthquakes?

Yes, Ken Ring appears to be wrong about his idea that he can predict earthquakes from the moon. Ken has no solid scientific basis for his claims, and seismologists don’t take him seriously. He doesn’t have a proven track record of being accurate with his predictions, no matter what he says to the contrary. We would have expected that, by now, Ken would have compiled an extensive, robust list of successful predictions that show how well his method for predicting earthquakes works - not just a list of successes, but a list of failures as well. We would also have expected to have seen an improvement in accuracy over time, as he hones his technique.

Of course, Ken tends to be quiet about his failed predictions, and only talks about the times they could be described as accurate. To us his successes appear likely to be related to the fact that his predictions are often wide ranging in their dates and/or locations, and at other times because he accepts fairly minor earthquakes as proof of his predictions. Small quakes happen in New Zealand every day, and so it’s not hard for people like Ken to make predictions that can’t possibly fail.

I spoke to Ken yesterday and he told me that he expects a big quake this June or July, between the 13th and 15th - should we be worried? I asked him whether he thinks these predictions may scare people. He said it's better for people to be informed, have the info (ie prediction), then they can act as they choose - again what do you make of that? Do his claims have the potential to scare people unnecessarily?

No, people shouldn’t be unduly worried about earthquakes in mid June or July. We live in an earthquake-prone country, so of course there’s always a chance of there being a sizeable earthquake on any given day. It’s common sense for people to follow the government’s guidelines and be prepared for the worst.

But Ken’s predictions don’t help people to get prepared - instead they tend to scare people and cause them to make irrational decisions. Ken has been accused of scaremongering in the past, and we would love to see him refrain from making public predictions until such time as he’s managed to first convince seismologists that his ideas are correct. Telling the public about his earthquake predictions before he’s verified his hypothesis is a dangerous thing to do, and is jumping the gun in a way that is considered unethical, and even illegal, in other parts of society - for example, people in New Zealand are not allowed to sell or advertise cancer treatments before they’ve managed to prove to the government that the treatment actually works.

I asked him about the NZ Skeptics view of his work - he said you're 'skeptical for the sake of being skeptical' - again can I ask for your view on that?

The NZ Skeptics are skeptical of all claims - we expect that any claim should be backed up by evidence. The more extraordinary the claim, the higher we set the bar for convincing us that it is true. Skeptics tend to oppose people like Ken Ring because academia rightly dismisses them without expending too much energy countering their outlandish claims. Scientists have better things to be doing with their time than arguing with a person who has no expertise, no credibility, and a silly sounding idea. It’s up to the person with the new idea to publish papers, give talks at conferences and get people to understand what they think they have figured out.

Often it’s left up to us skeptics to point out to the public, for example, that psychics don’t have the ability to talk to the dead, or that aliens are not visiting us from other planets. Whereas scientists tend to be skeptical within their area of expertise, skeptics have a very broad range of interests, and we tend to apply our skepticism to anything that we consider isn’t being challenged by others. So in a way, yes, we are skeptical for the sake of being skeptical. We enjoy looking into fantastical claims and finding out if there is merit to them, and pretty much any claim is fair game for us - we have no sacred cows. To talk about this like it’s a negative thing sounds like a poor attempt to dismiss our work off-hand instead of engaging with our criticisms.

I love Ken - his twitter feed appears to be chock full of nonsense. Just this month he's talked about exploding whales, dead polar bears and other weirdness:

"Jacinda Ardern and Helen Clark, and the gullible rest, have been severely misled by NIWA and the Greens, who collectively fantasize that polluted air significantly contributes to "climate change". Then why is there no extreme weather over pigsties?"

"With Full moon on weekend, deep quakes felt widespread. Noted increase in road-kill, espec West Coast, all hwys south of Dannevirke. Wild cats, rabbits, etc, become disoriented, just like whales."