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Sensitive instruments


The one on the right costs nothing.

Sometimes being a bit of a birder has its rewards. Another little tumbler rolling through the region affords a perfect opportunity to explore the achievements of Lifetime Ward of the State Lucy Jones and her crew of well-fed knight-errants at Caltech on one of the world's longest-running and least-fruitful research grants.

Yesterday afternoon, happily, I had a chance to compare Caltech's work in earthquake prediction (choke, wheeze, cough) against a murder of crows in the deodar cedar across the vale.

The crows appeared startled by life itself, and suddenly flapped high above the deodar into the sky above it---an unusual ascent for them, as they typically swoop low from tree to tree in the ravine. A few seconds later, we felt the quake.

Do crows know? Maybe, maybe not. But we don't hand them over billions of dollars over generations to tell us that there was an earthquake (which we were just dying to know), that there may or may not be another one (ditto), and that this particular one was eight miles below the surface. All these things we could compute with three well-placed seismographs and a slide rule, as they did it in 1971.

Caltech knows the public doesn't want answers, only bread and circuses. We've given much for fifty years, and they still can't tell us what might happen, only what has happened. Even a crow does it a little better.