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The Reluctant Ringnut

datePosted on 20:23, March 21st, 2011 by Lew

Since the 5.1 magnitude aftershock on the evening of March 20, various Ringnuts — that is, people who take Ken Ring’s moonie earthquake “predictions” seriously — have been saying things along the lines of “SEE ITS TRUE HE TOLD YOU AND YOU DIDN’T LISTEN!” Their ranks include people who really should know better, who’re revealing that when faced with a bit of smoke and a couple of mirrors they’re as credulous as the next rube.

Such as Brian Edwards, who asks “So – was Ken Ring right or wrong?”, and after arraying a series of banal and rigourless equivocations, attempts to turn scepticism on its head by appealing to the old charlatan’s fallback: cosmic uncertainty, man. We don’t really know anything, so everything’s as good as everything else, man.

The trouble is that Brian’s banal and rigourless equivocations — I’ll not repeat them here — are of a piece with those issued by Ken Ring, and that’s the whole point. Brian tries to have a lazy bob each way on the question of whether Ring is right or wrong. Ring has a bob in each of a dozen different ways, from earthquakes of unspecified magnitude across a very wide area, or possibly a weather event of unspecified nature, occurring in a very broad span of time; or possibly nothing at all. The predictive uselessness these banal and rigourless equivocations have been very thoroughly thrashed out in the past month — notably by David Winter, Alison Campbell [edit to add: and Grant Jacobs]. The punchline is that it would have been a shock if his “prediction”, such as it was, had not “come true”.

What separates the Ringnuts (both the reluctant, who claim the mantle of scepticism, and the True Believers) from the rest of us is the realisation that, given the nature of Ring’s “predictions” it is impossible to answer Brian’s question, “Was Ken Ring right or wrong?”. Ken Ring doesn’t give us a testable prediction, so we can’t even get to the point of assessing its rightness or wrongness. Ken Ring is neither right nor wrong. He doesn’t even get to the point of being wrong, since he hasn’t said anything meaningful.

Given all of this, being wrong would be a considerable improvement for Ken Ring.

L

12 Responses to “The Reluctant Ringnut”

  1. Grant on March 21st, 2011 at 21:15

    Ring hasn’t presented his model formally, so that’s not there to test properly. Having said that you can partially examine the meaningfulness of his predictions, which David Winter was doing for example, and some of his predictions are self-evidentally meaningless as Alison and I and seemingly countless others have pointed out.

    My own grief at Brian’s article is that it works by assuming we can take words at face value, giving each set of words equal merit, rather than looking to what substance, if any, they have supporting them. (My comment over there, written before your’s appeared, hasn’t been posted yet, perhaps because of it’s length. Admittedly it did get a bit long and I wondered if I ought to have written a blog post like you did!)

  2. Lew on March 21st, 2011 at 23:45

    Grant, thanks. I actually read the March 7 article (making much the same argument) at the time, but couldn’t recall the source. I’ve now added it to the list.

    (A more mischevious sort might have suggested that, whatever happened, Ringnuts would claim it as a positive — and then taken credit for predicting this outcome two weeks ahead of time.)

    L

  3. lyndon on March 22nd, 2011 at 10:33

    One gathers Ring did make one or two specific predictions for the 20th. He just unmade them in between times.

  4. Me Too on March 22nd, 2011 at 15:00

    Although I take your point that mostly his predictions are vague and aren’t testable, this prediction was very specific as to size, location, date and cause.

    Ring got it wrong because he said March 20th would see an earthquake ‘for the history books’. Not any old earthquake, but a really really big one. He also said people should avoid Christchurch that weekend.

    It didn’t happen.

    There were aftershocks, just as there were aftershocks on many other days (and will continue to be). But apart from that, nothing of note. And certainly nothing to leave town for.

  5. Lew on March 22nd, 2011 at 15:18

    Me Too, that was one of his predictions which he later backed away from. There are many examples of the same. On aggregate, there’s nothing that he definitively stuck to which is clear enough to test. The three articles linked in the OP cover this in considerable detail, I urge you to read them.

    On the other hand, the Japanese authorities released a forecast on March 13: 70% likelihood of aftershocks of 7.0 or greater in the following three days; and 50% of aftershocks of 7.0 in the three days after that.

    No aftershocks of that magnitude occurred in that window (there were several above 6.0, but none close to 7.0) so they were wrong — but their forecast was specific enough that we can at least say that about it.

    L

  6. Grant on March 22nd, 2011 at 19:22

    Very kind of you to add me. The two main players were Alison and David, but I won’t object! :-) Several others at sciblogs pitched in too. I wrote in Johhny-come-lately fashion as I was bothered by a few things I saw people saying in various discussion forums.

    About my previous point. By ‘model’, I mean the underlying mathematics or whatever his “predictions” are based on. My impression is that Ring’s “model” is more a collection of tables, which he uses much in the fashion as someone reading tarot cards might. They don’t “give an answer” so much as he “interprets” them. But, of course, that’s only the impression I have.

  7. Todd on March 24th, 2011 at 00:12

    I think attributing the dynamic to one man and attacking his persona is rather silly!

  8. Jonny on March 24th, 2011 at 09:57

    Last September, Marcus Lush asked Ken Ring when the next big quake would be for Christchurch. Ring responded ‘March 20’. Ring was, in fact, wrong. I understand what Lew is saying, but if you are looking to test the accuracy of Ring’s statement, it’s not that he ‘doesn’t get to the point of being wrong’, it’s that he’s wrong. Regardless of his methods, he did indeed give a ‘testable prediction’.

  9. Lew on March 24th, 2011 at 10:04

    Jonny, same objection as to Me Too: you can’t cherry-pick predictions in isolation.

    Ring has indeed made concrete, testable predictions at times — but these are inevitably (and were in the March 20 case) superceded by clarifications, partial retractions, and general waffle. If what he’d said to Marcus Lush (or to Aussie TV stations) was the final claim, then sure — test it. But it’s not.

    The sheer volume and variability of his claims is part of the hedge. If it comes true on March 20, he can point to the Lush interview. If it some true on another day he can point to something else. And so on.

    L

  10. Jonny on March 24th, 2011 at 10:44

    Yes, he does undo his predictions under the guise of ‘new shit has come to light’. What surprises me is that his weather books have sold for years despite being easily discredited first time around. Perhaps he should learn to keep things obscure by not bringing ink and paper into things… Anyway, those who In have heard claiming Ring was ‘right’ were mostly referring to the September-era predictions, so isolating those statements as ‘the prediction’ in question I think retains validity. So the full answer is something along the lines of ‘That prediction is in itself wrong, and was essentially invalidated by its author before time’.

  11. Lew on March 24th, 2011 at 10:52

    Right with you on that. And now that you mention it, I reckon it’s a point which hasn’t been well enough made in discussion of this topic.

    Always preferable to string someone up with their own words.

    L

  12. bradluen on March 28th, 2011 at 15:44

    Late and tangential, but:

    On the other hand, the Japanese authorities released a forecast on March 13: 70% likelihood of aftershocks of 7.0 or greater in the following three days; and 50% of aftershocks of 7.0 in the three days after that.

    No aftershocks of that magnitude occurred in that window (there were several above 6.0, but none close to 7.0) so they were wrong…

    No. Put another way, they forecasted a 30% chance of 7.0 aftershocks in the first three days and a 50% chance of 7.0 aftershocks in the next three days, and the observations were consistent with this.

    With probabilistic forecasts, you need a large sample size before you can do a severe test.

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