The residents of New Madrid, Mo., were ready. They bought their emergency supplies and reinforced their windows. But no great earthquake violently rocked the area on December 3, as New Mexico business consultant Iben Browning had predicted. The ground didn't even quiver.

Maybe the earth didn't tremble, but Browning's prediction did set off some rumblings in the scientific community.

"We [seismologists] are very angry with the news media," says Max Wyss, a geology professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a researcher at that school's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). "I even wrote a letter to [CBS News anchor and managing editor] Dan Rather about it."

What angered Wyss and other seismologists was not so much the fact that Browning made such a prediction, but that those in the media did not bother to challenge or check the scientific validity of the forecast. "Reporters have to...

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