Turkey Earthquake 'Planetary Geometry Prediction' Slammed by Skeptics

A devastating series of earthquakes ravaged Turkey on Monday, February 6, with more than 2,300 people reported dead so far, and thousands more injured after the 7.8 magnitude tremor shook southern Turkey and northern Syria.

One of dozens of aftershocks recorded in the region over the past few hours was only a few decimal points weaker than the initial quake at 7.5 magnitude, according to United States Geological Survey records.

With videos of the devastating aftermath flooding social media as rescue workers continued to search through the rubble, the disaster has also become the subject of misleading and unevidenced claims, Newsweek Misinformation Watch found.

Devastating Aftermath of Turkey Earthquake, February 2023
This aerial view shows residents, aided by heavy equipment, searching for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the town of Harim, in Syria's rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on the border with Turkey, on February 6, 2022. Hundreds have been reportedly killed in north Syria after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that originated in Turkey and was felt across neighbouring countries. OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images

One such claim revolved around a tweet, posted by a self-described "researcher" days before the catastrophe, that appeared prescient in hindsight, with many users citing the tweet on Monday in the wake of what was reportedly one of the strongest earthquakes on record.

"Sooner or later there will be a ~M 7.5 #earthquake in this region (South-Central Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon). #deprem," Frank Hoogerbeets wrote on Twitter on Friday, February 3, 2023, with the tweet gathering more than 34 million views as of Monday afternoon.

Multiple media outlets, including Newsweek, cited the tweet and the ensuing social media hype around it.

Describes himself as a "researcher at SSGEOS, with "utmost respect for planets, especially Earth."

SSGEOS—a "Solar System Geometry Survey"—claims to be a "research institute for monitoring geometry between celestial bodies related to seismic activity."

Newsweek reached out to Frank Hoogerbeets for comment.

However, as the tweet went viral and began to hit the headlines, it drew a backlash from the scientific community, which questioned both the validity of the "prediction" and the broader scientific basis underlying the group's methodology.

"A prediction should state time, place and magnitude. 'Sooner or later' does not constitute a time. So he did not predict the quake," Roger Musson, author and geoscientist with over 35 years of experience in seismology, who formerly worked for the British Geological Survey as Head of Seismic Hazard and Archives, told Newsweek.

Other skeptics pointed to scientifically dubious methodology on which the "prediction" was based.

"The tidal forces within the Earth resulting from changing geometry with respect to other planets are miniscule and down among the noise," David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, told Newsweek in an email.

"Lunar tides within the Earth are bigger and so more likely to be the immediate trigger of an earthquake, but even so all they will do is act as the 'final straw', initiating a quake that was about to happen anyway because the long term build up of strain had approached a critical threshold.

"I could say that 'sooner or later' there will be a M7 earthquake on the half of the E[ast] Anatolian fault that did not move today. I would be right, but it would be of no value as a prediction," Rothery concluded.

Indeed, while on the surface timing of the tweet, just days before the quake struck, may seem prescient, Hoogerbeets' and SSGEOS Twitter feeds feature countless similar predictions, many of which did not precede any high-magnitude shocks.

Crucially, many of the predictions are vague enough to cover huge territory of where the earthquake(s) may strike, and/or focus on the well-known danger zones that are near prominent tectonic fault lines, and where spikes of seismic activity has been recorded.

 Aleppo Earthquake
Onlookers watch as rescue teams look for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in the regime-controlled northern Syrian city of Aleppo on February 6, 2023. Getty

In at least one case reported in the mainstream media, Hoogerbeets made a similarly audacious prediction of a massive 8+ magnitude earthquake that was seemingly imminent in late December of 2018.

The prediction was debunked by experts, including an Australian seismologist, who said that "planetary alignment doesn't have any impact on earthquakes," adding that there's "more gravitational pull from an airplane."

Indeed, as records show, no earthquakes of "high seven to eight magnitude" were recorded anywhere on the planet in the ensuing days and weeks, with the strongest-magnitude 7.0 striking the Philippines on December 29-falling short of the predicted scale.

With enough predictions, even if most do not pan out, given that dozens of tremors occur around the globe every day, it is not impossible that one forecast hits the bullseye.

"After an earthquake, we see many people claiming to have predicted it, despite a long string of previous failures," Ilan Kelman, a professor at the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, told Newsweek in an email.

But, as Newsweek reported in the past, the current scientific consensus is that there is no proven and reliable method to accurately predict such natural disasters, through planetary observations or otherwise.

"In general, we can predict where earthquakes are expected to happen, since we have done well at mapping fault lines, but not when—especially not far in advance. Some signals just before the shaking continue to be investigated to possibly give us short notice. None have been confirmed,

"As I cannot find peer-reviewed scientific publications regarding this alleged method of prediction, caution is advised in accepting it as a valid method, while continuing investigations along many lines," Kelman explained.

Similarly, Bill McGuire, Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London, told Newsweek in an email that there have been plenty of claims, but "there is no evidence that anyone has ever predicted an earthquake.

"Earthquakes may be preceded by pre-cursors, including changes in well levels, radon gas emissions, changes in the electrical/magnetic properties of rocks, but often aren't. And sometimes, such signs occur when no quake follows. The bottom line is that earthquake prediction is NOT currently possible. And may never be," McGuire concluded.

The reliance on planetary observations as basis for forecasting is in itself not new, and appears to hark back to astrology and similar pseudosciences, which have been debunked, but continue to fascinate the general public.

A combination of logical fallacies (namely selective omission) and psychological factors, such as the Barnum Effect (whereby a statement or prediction is sufficiently vague for anyone to be able to find meaning in it) are at least in part responsible for the apparent resilience of such beliefs.

With the emergence of social media, old posts occasionally resurface and become hyped as "prophecies." This type of content may be based on particularly astute analysis, but often it simply gets "shoehorned" to fit recent events, or represents a mere fraction of multiple "predictions" that did not materialize.