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Is Earthquake Seismology a Hard, Quantitative Science?

Yan Y. Kagan

Published August 1999, SCEC Contribution #454

Our purpose is to analyze the causes of recent failures in earthquake forecasting, as well as the difficulties in earthquake investigation. We then propose that more rigorous methods are necessary in earthquake seismology research. First, we discuss the failures of direct earthquake forecasts and the poor quantitative predictive power of theoretical and computer simulation methods in explaining earthquakes. These failures are due to the immense complexity of earthquake rupture phenomena and lack of rigor in the empirical analysis of seismicity. Given such conditions, neither "holistic," interdisciplinary analysis of geophysical data nor greater reliance on the currently available results of earthquake physics is likely to work without revising scientific methodology. We need to develop more rigorous procedures for testing proposed patterns of earthquake occurrence and comparing them to predictions of theoretical and computer modeling. These procedures should use methods designed in physics and other sciences to formulate hypotheses and carry out objective validation. Since earth sciences study a unique object, new methods should be designed to obtain reliable and reproducible results. It is likely that the application of sophisticated statistical methods will be needed.

Kagan, Y. Y. (1999). Is Earthquake Seismology a Hard, Quantitative Science?. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 155(2-4), 233-258. doi: 10.1007/s000240050264.