Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Whole lot o' shakin' going on

To all of my readers in California:  I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but you're all gonna die.

I know, I know, I should have told you about this sooner, so you could do something about it, but I didn't even know about it myself until yesterday, and by then it was too late.  I mean, just think if everyone had tried to leave the state yesterday evening.  The traffic would have been worse even than usual, and where would they all have gone?  I mean, it's not like Oregon wants 'em.

If you're wondering what all this is about, I'm referring, of course, to the fact that California is going to be destroyed by an earthquake today.  9.8 on the Richter scale, no less, and caused by the alignment of Mercury and Venus, or something.  Scary shit.

How do I know this?  Well, there's this article in IN5D Esoteric Metaphysical Spiritual Database, which as authoritative sources go, is pretty much unimpeachable.  In it, we learn that Nostradamus predicted this, and since Nostradamus's predictions have proven as accurate as you'd expect given that they're the ravings of an apparently insane man who did most of his writing after a bad acid trip, we should all sit up and pay attention.  Here, according to IN5D, is the quatrain in question:
Le tremblement si fort au mois de may,
Saturne, Caper, Jupiter, Mercure au boeuf:
VĂ©nus aussi, Cancer, Mars, en Nonnay,
Tombera gresle lors plus grosse qu’un oeuf. 
English translation: 
The trembling so hard in the month of may,
Saturn, Capricorn, Jupiter, Mercury in Taurus:
Venus also, Cancer, Mars, in Virgo,
Hail will fall larger than an egg.
The site goes on to clarify:
On May 28, 2015 towards the end of the day UTC time, and continuing on May 29, there will be a series of very critical planetary alignments whereby Venus and Mercury are really being charged up on the North-Amerca [sic] / Pacific side.
Wow.  Pretty scientific.  Bad things happen when Venus and Mercury get "really charged up."  Time to get outta Dodge, apparently, not to mention Los Angeles.

Okay, astronomer Phil Plait says we should all calm down.  In his wonderful column Bad Astronomy in the magazine Slate, he says:
First, there is simply no way an alignment of planets can cause an earthquake on Earth. It’s literally impossible. I’ve done the math on this before; the maximum combined gravity of all the planets under ideal conditions is still far less than the gravitational influence of the Moon on the Earth, and the Moon at very best has an extremely weak influence on earthquakes. 
To put a number on it, because the Moon is so close to us its gravitational pull is 50 times stronger than all the planets in the solar system combined. Remember too that the Moon orbits the Earth on an ellipse, so it gets closer and farther from us every two weeks. The change in its gravity over that time is still more than all the planets combined, yet we don’t see catastrophic earthquakes twice a month, let alone aligning with the Moon’s phases or physical location in its orbit.
He goes on to say that Mercury and Venus aren't aligning anyhow, at least not the way the prediction claims (I mean, they're always aligned with something; two objects always fall on a straight line, as hath been revealed unto us in the prophecies of Euclid, and said line includes an infinite number of other points).  So the whole thing is pretty much a non-starter.

This hasn't stopped it from being shared around on social media, of course.  It'd be nice if articles like Phil Plait's would get shared around as often as the idiotic one in IN5D, but that, apparently, is not how things work.  People still gravitate toward predictions of doom and destruction, even though said predictions have had an exactly zero success rate.

So my guess is that if you live in California, you have nothing to worry about above and beyond the usual concerns over wildfires, mudslides, droughts, earthquakes, and Kylie Jenner spotting 75 chemtrails in the sky and posting a hysterical claim that they're killing honeybees.

The usual stuff, in other words.

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