Friday, June 23, 2006

Letter to the Editor

I sent the following to our local Christian apologist paper, the Lassen County Times, in response to last week's editorial bovine fodder suggesting we can all quit learning about plate tectonics and use Gay Pride Day attendance to start predicting earthquakes:

Dear Editor,

Bill Ashmore’s piece (Times 21 June 2006 - Signs of the Times, Judgment of America) suggests that America is a doomed nation in the 21st century. According to Ashmore the apparent increase of earthquakes and hurricanes is best explained by a God who has his knickers in a twist over Gay Pride Day. I suspect Ashmore is giving us better insight on the thought processes of 12th century clerics than offering a predictive model of volcanism, so I did what anyone with a modicum of intellectual acuity would do: I checked the data. Ashmore claims major earthquakes are on the rise since Roe v Wade and the exercise of First Amendment rights by the gay community. Turns out the correlation between years since 1970 and earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater is almost zero (and by the way, we experience an average of seven major quakes per year). If God is indeed causing earthquakes He is doing so, contrary to Einstein’s dictum, on the basis of dice rolls. While God did hit home with an earthquake on Gay Pride Day in 1992 as Ashmore suggests, He has been AWOL delivering a major rumbler every last Sunday in June since (or any before). You would also think that if God wanted to make a point about abortion, He'd at least try to strike on the anniversary of Roe V Wade every once in a while. However, since 1973 no quake stronger than magnitude 5.0 has ever occurred on that day in the United States (however, God did apparently strike Mexico on that particular anniversary in 1978; so I guess He tried, but...missed?). When you limit your sample to only those data that fit your idea, it’s pretty easy to demonstrate “correlation”.

A number of people have suggested to me that Ashmore’s piece has no place in the Lassen County Times. I would disagree. It’s much better to slay ignorance out in the open for all to see. It is, however, unlikely that the Times would allow a decent rebuttal of the same inordinate length as the Ashmore opinion. Fortunately, the “blogosphere” is filling the gap. I would suggest readers look at Scienceblogs.com, or my personal favorite, Northstate Science. Blogs offer an opportunity to bypass the editorial controls of local papers like the Times and provide a chance for coherent rebuttal.


I don't know if they'll publish it, but I'll keep you posted.

4 comments:

Kuvera said...

I'm so reassured - we had an amazing Europride here in London yesterday, and for a moment there I was worried about the possible seismic consequences...

Christopher O'Brien said...

Yeah, He apparently couldn't muster anything larger than a 5.3 yesterday (http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/recenteqsww/Quakes/quakes_all.php)and the closest He got to you was the eastern Mediterranian. I'll play darts at a pub any day of the week with HIM. So far today, there's nothing greater than 5.6 on the scale.

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