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James Berkland

ignorant of the world literature. They’re just ignorant of it, and so I no longer consider it my problem. I think it’s their problem. They’re not looking at the evidence, and I see it time and again. There’s John Mack, Galileo, whatever. If your idea doesn’t match the ruling theory, the mainstream opinion, there’s something wrong with you. So we have to have legislation, and off with his head.

David: According to Thomas Kuhn novel approaches tend to appeal to younger scientists, people in graduate school, whereas the older establishment, which has more invested in the past, is less open to new ideas.

James: Yes, so I’ve had a lot of good advice. My old mentor with U.S.G.S. said, Jim, you know you probably will never convince your severest critics. Your goal should be to outlive them, or have your ideas outlive them. And I’ve been so pleased because I have been doing this since 74 with. My first couple years I kept it under wraps because I valued my scientific reputation. I didn’t want to be iconoclast really. I want to do my work, try to increase public safety on geological matters, and try to resolve differences between property owners in area or between different scientific branches, and try to bring the Santa Clara County up to speed. So with my work in the U.S.G.S., my friends there, a lot of friends with the California division of Mines and Geology and the Bureau of Reclamation, I really felt needed. And for the first fifteen years with the county I had hit my ultimate niche. Everyday I was was excited to get up, and was ready to go, thinking, what’s today going to bring?

David: You’d been predicting earthquakes since 1974, but this was primarily with tides and the moon. You hadn’t gotten interested in animals or the lost pet ads yet?

James: No, not until 79, after five years. A lot of things happened in 79. One thing I learned of was a U.S.G.S. study that lasted four years, taking predictions from numerologists, astrologers, psychics, dreamers, whatever the source, and filing their predictions. This is because they were being troubled by having to answer all these wild ideas that people come up and say, okay, there’s going to be a quake that’s going to destroy Los Angeles. California is going to slide into the sea. The last days of the great state of California. That was called “The Book”. Then for several years it really disturbed the U.S.G.S., because they had to answer all these people that read the book and loved it as gospel truth.

So, they decided, let’s establish a track record, which is the way to go. Take all of these people, and say they’re predicting. Okay, what did you say last time? How come you missed that one? Why should we believe you know? Good approach, that’s great. So I heard about this, and I sent my predictions into them, with the newspaper articles and everything. And they were trying to get me, while I was out in the field a number of days, and they finally got through to me, and they said, Jim, Jim, the computer spit out your name, you’ve got the 99th percentile level, which means there’s only one chance in a hundred that what you’re doing is accidental.

But we think you’ve been lucky you know. Keep on predicting and you fall back in the grass with the rest of them. I said, well, gee that’s good news. Well, so fine, but if you tell some media person I told you this I’ll deny it. And that didn’t bother me too much either, because you know this is kind of informal, and okay at least I’m achieving something that caught his attention, and I’m sure they’re going to do something with this.

When they closed the program about a year later I read in the summary that no one had achieved the 99th percentile level, and no scientist had even bothered to submit a prediction. I quickly called him. I said Roger Hunter at the U.S.G.S. in Golden, Colorado. Roger, how could you say that nobody hit the 99th percentile? I know you told me not to tell the media, but I hit it. And how could you say no scientist even bothered to submit a prediction? I’m a fellow in the Geological Society, and I’m a scientist. I published over 55 papers, and had responsible positions.

Well, yeah, that was a little wrong, he said. I meant to say that an insufficient number of scientists submitted predictions to make it statistically meaningful. Well, that is certainly is far different from saying none had done it, or none had hit 99th percentile. He said, well, we’ll probably correct that in the final version or something. He never did.

The same thing happened when I joined Earthquake Watch at SRI under contract with the U.S.G.S. to see if they could reproduce what the Chinese had done. Before the Haichang earthquake they had a system there, of maybe a hundred thousand peasants measuring water levels, checking radon with it’s film exposure, measuring little tilt-meters, doing simple things. So they just day after day said, oh little tilt in the ground here. Or they would see where the patterns of earthquakes were. And animals especially– farm animals, wild animals, pets. And because of the accumulation of data just before March 3, 1975 they evacuated the city of Haichang of about 100,000 people. They had lectures on communism, and had tents and blankets and things up on the hill.

David: They evacuated everybody on the basis of what?

James: Mainly animals.

David: What did they notice?

James: There was water-level changes. There was radon gas sudden increase. There was a pattern of small earthquakes in an area where they hadn’t had big earthquakes before, and suddenly they stopped. Meanwhile the zoo animals were pacing back and forth. The birds were crying. Turtles made noises, like they were shrieking. Fish were jumping out of the aquarium. I’ve got the complete listing. I have probably a dozen or two different things. The pheasants were crying at night, and would not sleep on the ground like they normally would do. The common thread, what I actually have never seen anyone else even mention, but it’s quite clear in all these reports– is that animals try to leave their normal places of security prior to an earthquake, on first awareness of an earthquake, which sounds weird.

Why don’t they go into security? Well, some do, but those are not considered anomalous. If a cat jumps on your lap and wants to be petted, that’s not as interesting as if he jumps up on top of the shelves, leaps to the TV, knocks things down, and just runs around the house like he’s crazy. If he runs off, and gets hit by a car or something, people say that’s unusual. There are many aspects of it.

So you say why do they run away? Why don’t they head for some kind of security? Well, look what people do. When the ground begins to shake, if we suddenly get rocked here, really like a repeat of Loma Prieta, we’re not going to want to stay in here and take a chance that it’s going to topple over on us. We’re really going to be startled. Books are going to start bouncing. The refrigerator may hop across the floor. Things are falling. Noise all over the place. You hear the swimming pool out here, which we filled in, because it lost about four feet of water out of that. Some people lost more than that, so you want to get outside, away from what is normally your place of security, your office, your home. The tendency is to get me out of here, so we rely on instinct instead of natural thought processes.

David: What do you think it is the animals are picking up on?

James: I am very confident that the major phenomena that they are detecting is a change in the magnetic field. I didn’t know by what means they were detecting it.

David: Why do you think that?

James: When Antonio Nefaradi first called me, interrupting my dinner, I said, how long you been doing this? And he says since April, and now this is September. Well, how long in advance? A week to ten days in advance they seem to run away, and then show up in the Lost and Found column. And when he said that, suddenly the light flashed on. A lot of my skepticism began to recede, because six days before the 5.9 quake at Coyote Lake on August 6, 1979, six days before on my birthday, July 31st, our cat Rocky disappeared. We’d had him for about two years. He never had never run away before, but he was gone. I thought, gee he’s been hit by car or something. I didn’t even think about putting an item in the paper. I didn’t even bother putting a poster up. I asked a few of the neighbors if they’d seen Rocky. No, nobody had. And the quake happened, six days later- the strongest quake in the Bay Area since 1911.

And I didn’t associate it with the earthquake until a month later when Antonio called me, and suddenly I could just picture the light bulb over my head. Well, Rocky followed this outlandish hypothesis, that the animals ran away, and Rocky never appeared as a Lost and Found item. But twelve other cats showed up in the paper’s Lost and Found. The normal was two or three at that time, and suddenly it was twelve- the most he’d ever seen in watching this for six months. So that made me think that a lot of other cats didn’t show up in the paper either, and maybe there was something to this.

For the few months I would look at the Lost and Found column much as you would look at the horoscope. You know, I don’t believe stuff, I just want to see what it says, and there were no significant quakes. Then on the 20th of January, 1980, following the 79 quake, I got a call early in the morning from my daughter who was just about to head for high school. Daddy, Rocky’s home. Six months he’d been gone. I picture this poor emaciated scrawny cat crawling in out of the woods or something. He was sleek and fat,. Somebody had taken excellent care of him. But he’d fled that veritable paradise four days before the next five magnitude quake in the Bay Area.

It didn’t matter which home he was living in, he fled it prior to the two biggest quakes since 1911. And when I came home

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