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Scientists Say Toads Can Predict Earthquakes

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the does-the-toad-think-it's-safe? dept.

Idle 66

reillymj writes "Researchers claim toads sensed a severe earthquake last year five days before it hit. Last spring's L'Aquila earthquake devastated the medieval city of the same name in Italy. Five days earlier, a group of biologists noticed some toads behaving strangely in a pond nearby that would later be the quake's epicenter."

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66 comments

Pfft (4, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698424)

They didn't predict it. They CAUSED it.

Re:Pfft (2, Funny)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698534)

This should be an ad for a university.

"Study biology and you too can get excited watching frogs fuck!"

Re:Pfft (1)

d3m0nCr4t (869332) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698746)

From the "League of Gentlemen":

Workman: Got a frog here for Mr. Denton.
Harvey Denton: A WHAT?
Workman: A frog.
Harvey Denton: How dare you sir. In this house we do not use the f word. This... is a toad!

Still hilarious! :)

Re:Pfft (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#31700112)

>>>"Study biology and you too can get excited watching frogs fuck!"

This morning a girl kissed me.
Beware. The end is nigh.

Re:Pfft (1)

Moryath (553296) | more than 4 years ago | (#31700286)

They must have all had beer goggles on. Have you ever seen how ugly toads are?

Wait.

Oh shit. Sorry scientist-dudes, but your premise is busted. Me and my buddies were out getting shit-faced that night and I think I just figured out where I spilled my last beer...

So Mrs. Frog (1)

crowne (1375197) | more than 4 years ago | (#31700268)

So Mrs. Frog did the earth move for you ....

Re:Pfft (3, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698542)

Scientists are doing a lot of strange things nowadays ...Scientists Use Gene Splicing To Create Real "Cadbury Easter Eggs" [slushdot.com]

Re:Pfft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31699274)

I fucking hate April 1st. Lame.

Re:Pfft (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698676)

I wondered who the f*ck modded THAT as "insightful". Hopefully not a seismologue...

Re:Pfft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698696)

It was the frogs. Yes frogs read /.
And we all welcomed them as our Earthly overlords years ago.

Don't mess with the frogs or they might just ruin your city.

Re:Pfft (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698700)

Obviously a fellow toad hunter, well versed in the knowledge of their dark and mysterious powers.

Re:Pfft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31700208)

If they could only learn to predict car tires!

Telluric current (1)

MasaMuneCyrus (779918) | more than 4 years ago | (#31700858)

Japan's been researching this sort of thing for hundreds of years. This is actually in perfect timing with my senior project in Japanese; I translated a textbook article about the history of the relationship between catfish and earthquakes in Japan. Catfish are the popular ones there, and once upon a time they actually were assumed to cause the earthquakes.

It's basically non-scientific common knowledge over there that some animals can predict earthquakes in some form. According to the textbook, people from seaside countries all over the Pacific are well aware that before a large earthquake, odd animal behavior occurs. That often manifests itself as animals being suddenly and uncharacteristically unruly, swarms of deep-sea fish pooling near the surface of the ocean, rodents appearing out of nowhere, snakes suddenly coming out of hibernation, or all other sorts of things of that nature.

A scientist in the early 1900s, Dr. Shinkishi Hatai, hypothesized that the reason catfish went so berserk shortly before an earthquake is that they could detect minute changes in Earth's telluric current. Another famous Japanese geophysicist, Dr. Torahiko Terada, apparently dedicated his thesis to, and showed a very convincing correlation between the 1930 Horse Mackerel catches and the Ito Seismic Swarm at that time.

Re:Telluric current (1)

Smauler (915644) | more than 4 years ago | (#31702596)

I heard an interview with the woman whose PhD project this is on Today [bbc.co.uk] this morning I think (though could have been yesterday), and she was pretty unassuming. Basically, she said the toads have been studied for about 4 years, and their dissappearance was pretty unexpected, but she wasn't drawing any major conclusions. Seemed pretty sensible to me...

Though she didn't explitly say it, I think what she was implying was that weird occurences happen _all_ the time, and some are bound to happen just prior to an earthquake by chance. It's worth looking at weird results that seem to predict something, just in case, but it's got to be remembered that it could just be pure chance. Strange animal behaviour is _bound_ to happen just before an earthquake somewhere, because strange animal behaviour is being recorded all the time, everywhere. It's only after the fact a connection is drawn.

I'm not saying categorically that animals cannot predict earthquakes, but if animals _did_ predict earthquakes reliably, we should have lots better evidence for it with all the research that's been done thus far. There isn't any good consistent evidence, unfortunately. Looking for animal behaviour patterns that match seismic events after the event does not count, because you're always going to find some correlation with some species - prediction is key..

Useful (5, Funny)

VisualD (1144679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698454)

So all we need now is a way of measuring this reliably and we canALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD

Facepalm (3, Insightful)

DryGrian (1775520) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698456)

The pinnacle of scientific achievement, obviously.

April Fools!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698460)

sorry to spoil it for y'all...

Re:April Fools!! (1)

Nofip (1174643) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698704)

Actually it was published on the 30th...

Vaticinium ex eventu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698480)

Everything sounds better in Latin, but it basically means hindsight bias. That's what we have here. It's sloppy science, since it's very likely that SOMETHING strange would have happened in the area around the time of the earthquake.

To be fair, TFA quotes Susan Hough saying basically this. Too bad the summary couldn't be bothered.

Re:Vaticinium ex eventu (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698694)

Everything sounds better in Latin

Amen, frater !

it's very likely that SOMETHING strange would have happened in the area around the time of the earthquake.

Finally someone who does not mix up causality and concurrency. Pfew.

Re:Vaticinium ex eventu (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699092)

hindsight bias

I'm not so sure. I've got a knee that can predict rain.

And I've got a system for picking horses. Seriously. Now I've got to get out to Sportsman's Park before it starts raining.

Don't RTFA (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698490)

That's right. Don't read it. I'm going to summarize it for you:

Some scientists noticed frogs acting "strange". A couple days later, an earthquake followed. Scientists wondered if the frogs were somehow aware of the earthquake. They had no particular reason to believe they were. Other scientists interviewed on this matter say probably not. People retroactively attribute all kinds of things to big events that follow.

The article ends: "For now at least, the hunt for a way to predict earthquakes must continue."

That's it. You're welcome.

Re:Don't RTFA (4, Informative)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698660)

That's right. Don't read it. I'm going to summarize it for you:

Some scientists noticed frogs acting "strange". A couple days later, an earthquake followed. Scientists wondered if the frogs were somehow aware of the earthquake. They had no particular reason to believe they were. Other scientists interviewed on this matter say probably not. People retroactively attribute all kinds of things to big events that follow.

The article ends: "For now at least, the hunt for a way to predict earthquakes must continue."

That's it. You're welcome.

No, I heard the researcher on the radio yesterday; the toads unexpectedly left the area for a few days & whilst they were gone, the quake hit; the toads returned after the quake, she had a couple of hypotheses about how the toads could detect the coming quake, but freely admitted she had no strong evidence for them.

Re:Don't RTFA (3, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699094)

No, I heard the researcher on the radio yesterday; the toads unexpectedly left the area for a few days & whilst they were gone, the quake hit; the toads returned after the quake

I'm sorry to be the one to have to burst this bubble, but toads cannot travel far enough in a couple of days to leave the large area affected by an earthquake. And if they just so happened to be right out the outlying portion of the area affected by the earthquake, then they would have been too far away from the epicenter to have detected it anyway, if they could, which they can't, because they are toads.

Re:Don't RTFA (2, Insightful)

shock1970 (1216162) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699882)

So the researchers studying the toads obviously don't know much about them other than their mating habits. The toads in my area leave sometime around the mid to late fall. But it's not like they're packing their bags and catching the cheapest Southwest flight to Miami. They really can't leave because even if they hop 5 miles away, its still going to be cold. Perhaps a more astute observation would be that the frogs were not observed to be in the area, which doesn't necessarily imply that they left the area, but possibly, like they do in the winter, burrowed themselves in the ground.

Re:Don't RTFA (2, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699100)

No, I heard the researcher on the radio yesterday; the toads unexpectedly left the area for a few days & whilst they were gone, the quake hit; the toads returned after the quake, she had a couple of hypotheses about how the toads could detect the coming quake, but freely admitted she had no strong evidence for them.

More anecdotes if you want them. I was on Grand Cayman a week after Haiti was struck with an earthquake. Anyway, offshore a large earthquake happened [allheadlinenews.com] . Coincidentally I was at the turtle farm (a massive sea turtle farm on the island). Now, all we felt was a bit of a brief shaking but the sea turtles were flipping out during it and for about ten minutes afterward. They were trying to crawl out of their cement tanks and looked like they didn't care what was getting scratched up, they just wanted up and out. I asked one of the workers what was going on with the turtles and he said he'd never seen it. Then we were told that an earthquake had just hit offshore (I was extremely intoxicated on some variant of rum so I 'missed' the earthquake).

I'm not saying they predicted it but they sure exhibited a crazy amount of sensitivity and acted like it was the end of the world when it happened. More so than my drunk ass could conjure anyway. I remember hearing that animals left for higher ground during tsunamis [msureporter.com] but never gave it much credibility but who knows? Sounds far fetched but it's a difficult if not impossible thing to prove or disprove I suppose.

Re:Don't RTFA (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698798)

The article is a load of crap, unsurprisingly.

However, although there is no more than anecdotal evidence to go on - it being difficult to experiment with earthquakes - it is not something that is necessarily taken out of thin air. An earthquake doesn't just happen - it is basically like when any other material under stress breaks, just scaled up. Before the big breakage occurs, a number of smaller "cracks" form in the material. This is likely to have some measurable effects - perhaps a characteristic "rumbling" can be heard, perhaps the chemstry of the local environment changes because rocks that were previously impenetrable become porous. Toads, like many other, small animals are highly sensitive to their environment, so it isn't really all that unreasonable to imagine that they react to the changes that warn about an earthquake.

We can do the same, certainly with technology - the difficulty is not to predict that a big one is probably going to hit very soon, but to predict exactly where and when. Small animals don't have to worry about being exact; it is safer to run away even if it turns out that you are wrong sometimes.

Re:Don't RTFA (1)

raisedbybadgers (1606071) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699256)

difficult to experiment with earthquakes

Oh, I don't know. Maybe we'll find a way. [popsci.com]

From that link:
On December 8, 2006, Markus Häring caused some 30 earthquakes -- the largest registering 3.4 on the Richter scale -- in Basel, Switzerland. Häring is not a supervillain. He's a geologist, and he had nothing but good intentions when he injected high-pressure water into rocks three miles below the surface, attempting to generate electricity through a process called enhanced geothermal. But he produced earthquakes instead, and when seismic analysis confirmed that the quakes were centered near the drilling site, city officials charged him with $9 million worth of damage to buildings.

So, how much do we have to shake things up to make toads and turtles start freaking out?

(Yeah, I know that's from Popular Science, which phrase is an oxymoron. More's the pity.)

Re:Don't RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31699288)

you keep searching. i, for one, welcome our new toad overlords

Re:Don't RTFA (1)

shock1970 (1216162) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699798)

What the article failed to mention is that part of the frog's strange behavior involved etching out signs in the mud of the nearby pond that read "EARTHQUAKE COMING". And FYI... yes, it was in all caps.

Coincidence (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698496)

The quake was the 6th of april, and the toads already sensed it 5 days before that... What a marvelous coincidence that this news reaches us *exactly* one year later. We should declare this day a worldwide holiday to celebrate the glory of toads!

Re:Coincidence (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698620)

Oh ye of little faith! Here's the video [youtube.com] of one of them acting strangely. I know it's says it's a frog but Italian toads are just more handsome than your average toad.

Re:Coincidence (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699128)

The quake was the 6th of april, and the toads already sensed it 5 days before that... What a marvelous coincidence that this news reaches us *exactly* one year later. We should declare this day a worldwide holiday to celebrate the glory of toads!

Five days you say? Hmm ... 365 days in a year ... minus five days for unanticipated toad activity ... that's 360 ... a circle has 360 degrees ... the Earth is a circle (this was proven years ago by that guy with the boats who does have a day named after him) ... the Earth has earthquakes ... Ah Ha! This isn't a coincidence, it's a geometrically based inevitability!

Toads Say Slashdot Editors Are Morons (2, Informative)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698500)

From TFA:

I consulted with Susan Hough, a seismologist at Caltech. After having a read of the paper, here's what she had to say: This is a good example of bad science. The earthquake prediction heyday of the 1970s was launched and sustained by similar studies: people who found snippets of data after the fact that showed an apparent correlation between some signal and an eventual earthquake. This is not good statistics. You can't select data after the fact. In this case, there's no way to know what kind of fluctuations are normally seen in toad activity, or what else might have been going on in the study area that could have influenced toad behavior.

Slashdot interpretation: Scientists Say Toads Can Predict Earthquakes!!!

Re:Toads Say Slashdot Editors Are Morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698580)

True.

My cat, on the other hand, can predict stock market turns. Whenever she gets constipated, the stock market's trend turns. I keep watching her bowel movements to see when i should load up on index options.

Slashdotters Say Seismologists Are Morons (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698878)

"This is a good example of bad science."

This is a good example of horseshit. No science is bad unless it persists in promoting a point that it has already discredited. Examining prima facie unlikely hypotheses is as necessary and expected as examining hypotheses that are 'obviously true by common sense'. It is also perfectly good science to publish observations rather than experiments, particularly when it is impossible to catalog the entirety of the environment as well as impossible to enforce controls, both of these being the case when observing animal behaviors in the natural habitat. Being a seismologist you'd think she would be used to the facts of naturalistic observation and lack of control. Unless they've managed to produce a set of standardized earthquakes to use as a control group for doing seismology experiments. No? No wonder then the apparent lack of grasp on what's acceptable methodology.

"This is not good statistics."

'This' are singular. 'Statistics' are plural. Grammar are as necessary for good science as am methodology, controls and inferential statistics when it an be applied, or descriptive statistics when simply observing.

"In this case, there's no way to know what kind of fluctuations are normally seen in toad activity"

Only if you can show that observations stretching back probably centuries by locals, as well as relevant publications by herpitologists, are invalid. I suspect she has no idea whether any of either exist. TFA had no mention of any, but to assume this absence represents a lack is worse.

Being a scientist does not qualify one to be a critic of other fields, and sometimes even of one's own. Whose idea was it to ask a seismologist to critique a paper on animal behavior?

Not only toads, also human (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698522)

I would like to point out that Giampaolo Giuliani predicted that same earthquake measuring radon gas around there (link: http://www.nowpublic.com/environment/giampaolo-giuliani-laquila-earthquake-youtube-warning-ignored )

Real funny thing (4, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698554)

Nowadays, I can't tell the difference between your typical slashdot stories and April Fool's Day stories.

Everyday is April Fool's day here.

Re:Real funny thing (2, Informative)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698690)

Nowadays, I can't tell the difference between your typical slashdot stories and April Fool's Day stories.

Everyday is April Fool's day here.

This isn't an April fools story, the BBC also has coverage. Note the date:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8593000/8593396.stm [bbc.co.uk]

Re:Real funny thing (1)

RKThoadan (89437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699278)

This is the OMGTOADS! version.

Ladyhawke Due (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698562)

In a seemingly unrelated incident, Philippe Gaston XI, nicknamed "The Toad", had inexplicably escaped from police holding cells when the earthquake cracked a wall.

Same name?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698612)

Are you saying that the city was name after the earthquake?

March 30th, not April 1st... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698616)

I thought April 1st as well, when I saw this, even though it may be plausible that small creatures are more sensitive for certain things like tiny vibrations.

Anyways, the post on the website was posted on March 30th. Two days too soon for April's fool.

That's nothing. (2, Informative)

kirill.s (1604911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698618)

The same toads can also predict the release date of Duke Nukem Forever.

Did they lick the toads? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698650)

Did they?

In case you didn't notice, "April 1st." (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698652)

When it comes to getting news or information on the net, this is one day that pisses me off more than any other. Say what you like about "spirit of the day" or whatever, but I do what I do because it keeps my brain working in ways that work and solitaire cannot. I frikken NEED my slashdot fix every couple of hours and if I don't get it, weird things start to happen to me. And since nothing today can be taken seriously at all, it's useless.

Re:In case you didn't notice, "April 1st." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698766)

It's not an april fools http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8593000/8593396.stm

Re:In case you didn't notice, "April 1st." (1)

Mike Mentalist (544984) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698768)

The only thing worse than predictable April Fool jokes are the smart-arsed attention seekers who have to run around shouting "omg is april fools olololo" instead of just shutting up and watching people fall for it.

They didn't predict it. They CAUSED it. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698668)

They didn't predict it. They CAUSED it.

China Mobile Phones [chinamobilephones.org]
Chinese Girls [chinese-girls.org]
Indian Girls [indian-girls.net]

I am... (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698670)

...utterly shaken by this news.

Oh no! Another earthquake predictor... (2, Interesting)

ctrl-alt-canc (977108) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698950)

Whenever I read a piece of news like this, I remeber what happened at a scientific congress many years ago.
A well known seismologist (I will omit his name...) published a paper claiming that he found a way to predict earthquakes. Some time later at a conference a young and brilliant mathematician showed, using the very same equations and methods described by the seismologist, that not only it happened that every time the seismologist did a prediction an earthquake happened, but that the reverse was true, i.e. after an earthquake the seismologist would announce an earthquake prediction. A very inconvenient problem....the conference room was filled with laughs.
The mathematician then continued by demonstrating a well-posed method for earthquake prediction that was properly honouring the cause-effect relationship, but the predictor was pretty useless, since it could forecast only a small fraction of all earthquakes happening in the area under study (I think about 15% or so).
I believe that this anecdote suggests that whenever the newspaper (or Slashdot) talks about exotic methods for earthquake prediction, one can safely jump to the following piece of news. Making earthquakes forecasts is a very thought topic, and it is very unlikely toads will ever be of some help...

Who the hell is responding to this? (0, Flamebait)

kramerd (1227006) | more than 4 years ago | (#31698954)

The article includes a video of a dog on a trampoline.

Happy April 1st, dumb-asses.

After the earthquake, they said... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31698986)

I toad you.

This story was somewhat predictable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31699020)

A toad toad me.

News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31699080)

Isn't it somewhat common knowledge that a lot of wild animals start to behave abnormally shortly before a natural desaster?

Re:News? (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699130)

Shortly yes, they are thought to feel vibrations. It is the 5-days ahead that is the news.

Great - during spawning season (1)

Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699110)

This is fabulous news for those earthquakes that occur during Bufo bufo species sex season that just happen to have a team of biologists observing them. When the males lose interest in sex, RUN!

But what about other seasons? And places that don't have Bufo bufo to rely upon? Will Bufo alvarius (Colorado River toad [wikipedia.org] ) work just as well? And can I claim it's an earthquake detector when I bet busted for toad-licking?

Scientists say ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31699116)

Scientists also say that Jews can predict when terrorists are about to fly plains into buildings. None turned up for work on 9/11

What? (1)

Lord_Breetai (66113) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699126)

No Hypnotoad comments yet?

April first already (1)

denisbergeron (197036) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699358)

What I hate about april first is that this odd new will be on the site tomorrow also, and tomorrow it's not april fool day!

Geologists (1)

jprupp (697660) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699616)

Thus a group of geologists was transformed into toads by an evil Italian sorcerer. Now they are trying to warn us all against earthquakes by not having toad sex when they should.

Is it time for the Toadmograph! (1)

Riskable (19437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699792)

Or would that be Toadmometer? I can just imagine the news stories of the future...

"Citizens of San Diego evacuated today in response to a 9.2 reading on the city's recently installed toadmograph. The mayor had this to say, 'We thought it might be a false alarm but we almost hit 10 toadies when one of them didn't make it across the road. Hence the extra two-tenths of a toad. That's not something you take lightly!' The mayor continued saying that if no further toadmic activity is reported citizens can return in five days."

So Douglas Adams's writings were part of a coverup (1)

badger.foo (447981) | more than 4 years ago | (#31699912)

This makes it fairly obvious that it was actually toads, not mice, that rigged up the earth in the first place.

Nice bit of coverup, Douglas!

Next up, what species if not the dolphins? And what's the real qoute behind "So long and thanks for all the fish?"?

Excellent Technological Breakthrough (3, Funny)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31700492)

Now that we have frogs to predict the earthquakes, we can more effectively employ sheep bladders to prevent them!
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