On an early Friday morning in November 2018, the ground gave way in Anchorage, Alaska. At 8:29 a.m., a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit just north of the city. Street lights blinked off, highways began to buckle, and buildings shook as enormous cracks opened in the walls and floors, coughing plumes of dust into the air. Later that day, photojournalist Marc Lester used a small plane to capture a chilling photo of Vine Road, a major artery, fractured like a puzzle, detritus scattered across it like broken toys.
For Ian Dickson, things only began to get truly bizarre later in the day. At the time, Dickson was a communications specialist for the Alaska Earthquake Center, the U.S. Geological Survey’s contractor in Alaska. About three hours after the quake, he watched in alarm as all of the Earthquake Center’s social media channels—Facebook, Twitter, direct messages on both platforms—were flooded with people saying that a larger earthquake had been predicted. Worse still, Dickson said, “some of the things I saw were highly specific, saying an 8.4 earthquake was predicted in the next hour. Scientists can’t predict that. Absolutely not.”