Examples: [Collected via e-mail, April 2010]
A Seismology Department in So Cal is sending their employees home out of fears of a major quake striking during the next
I'm starting to hear rumors about Caltech sending employees and students home in anticipation of a major earthquake in the next
Variations: Some later versions specified the intensity of the quake, pegging it at 8.4, plus changed the originators of the supposed "warning" from Caltech to the State of California.
Origins: This heads-up about an earthquake about to hit the
The rumor, which has spread via e-mail, Facebook posts, cell phone text messages, and Twitter tweets, posits that the risk of a devastating earthquake hitting that area within the specified timeframe is so great that the California Institute of Technology (better known as Caltech) proactively sent its people home to get them out of harm's way. Underpinning the believability of the whispers was the assumption that if anyone would know when a quake was coming, it would be the bright sparks at
As knowledgeable about earth sciences as are the staff and students at that institution, earthquakes can't be predicted. The Southern California Earthquake Center says of the notion that scientists have come up with a mechanism for determining when and where an earthquake will occur, "but scientists cannot yet make precise predictions of their date, time, and place." So also says the
As to whether Caltech sent any of its people home on
In a companion bit of backfencing, Caltech was whispered to be covering up its knowledge of the impending quake so as not to incite panic. The belief that those in particular positions of power or knowledge are hiding news of Something Very Bad from average folks out of fear that the truth's getting out would lead to rioting, panic, and anarchy is common to numerous urban legends and rumors, including 2009's belief that the CDC was concealing news that swine flu had
The bottom line is that earthquakes aren't predictable, Caltech hasn't sent anyone home, nor is it hiding from the rest of us dire news of an impending earthquake poised to strike a large U.S. population area.
Barbara "shake out" Mikkelson
Last updated: 14 April 2010