A few hundred years ago, a little movement called the Enlightenment caused us to take a very useful step in the name of human progress; that was the development of and reliance upon the scientific method. Reliance upon reason and evidence, and skepticism about everything else.

I say ‘useful’ because, since The Enlightenment, we’ve developed the most peaceful, most prosperous, most healthful period in human history. We’re killing diseases, we’re flying around, we’re connected, we’re informed, we’re enjoying luxuries like never before. And it’s all because of the scientific method. So it must work, right? And we must be skeptical when anything seems to rely on an unproven premise, one uninformed by science?

Like the claim that animal behavior is a predictor of earthquakes, which was around thousands of years before the Enlightenment. Yet what it relies upon is not a finding of science but a collective folklore obtained from years of anecdotes like ‘My dog was barking like crazy before the earthquake. He knew it was coming.’

We’ve had a lot of earthquakes lately. Yesterday on my radio show, I aimed my crosshairs at a website called quakeprediction.com, which sent everyone in Southern California into a frenzy yesterday on Twitter by claiming to predict a 5.0 to 6.5 magnitude quake ‘within 24 hours.’ My bullshitometer instantly peaked, since I was certain we didn’t have a proven method of predicting earthquakes. A Google News search quickly came up with an array of articles in which US Geological Survey scientists refuted the claim, saying there is no way to predict earthquakes. (I then bet my listeners $100 that there wouldn’t be such a quake in the United States by midnight. Nobody took me up on the bet, although last night’s quake in China would have qualified had it been in America!)

I noted that the site responsible for this tomfoolery says it relies on measuring ‘thermal temperature changes’ in the tectonic plates. Aside from the fact that citing ‘thermal temperature changes’ is as redundant as citing ‘beef meat products’ and thus raises my eyebrows a little, the site also doesn’t say what source it uses to measure the heat of tectonic plates, and one who believes they even have such a source has to wonder that the USGS hasn’t stumbled upon this predictor in its 120 years in existence.

But that isn’t all. The site’s other listed methods for predicting earthquakes are even more grin inducing, methods such as “Moon phases”, “Animal behavior” and “Human behavior.” Great! So they’ve conducted experiments with animals, have they? The USGS did exactly that, in the 1970s, and abandoned them after seeing zero results to prove the substance of those thousands of years of stories about animals sensing coming quakes.

Yet people keep insisting that animals predict earthquakes. Some callers to my show yesterday were flat-out certain of it. It was just a fact to them, like the sky being blue and carrots being vegetables and humans believing irrational nonsense.

So, in response to the insistence of so many people that animals sense earthquakes before they happen, I concocted an experiment live on-air that I’d like to bring to the attention of the USGS. The Twitter age allows us to share information for free, instantly and measurably. My mass experiment would rely upon the use of the Twitter hash-tag, a way to tag a Twitter message in a way that can later be tracked. In this case, I’d like to propose the use of the hash-tag #earthquakeprediction, which Twitter users can append to their messages when they wish to predict a coming quake.

For example, when Betsy down the street notices her dog Max barking inexplicably, she goes on Twitter and reports it: “Wow, Max is going crazy for no reason. There’s gotta be an earthquake coming! #earthquakeprediction.” Jose in the next city reports a weird feeling in his groin using the same hash-tag. Robert and Rupert tweet about their “thermal temperature”.

The net result would most likely be a general ‘noise’ of predictions, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But if there is any reason to think that earthquakes can be predicted by any of these methods, there should be a spike of messages on Twitter with the tag #earthquakeprediction in the hours or days before a big quake. If there isn’t, we’ve conclusively proven, on a mass scale, that such a belief is false.

And that’s how we assert the value of Enlightenment science over clumsy nonsense, and how I win money from people willing to bet that I’m wrong!