For the first time, a U.S. government scientist has attempted to make a precise prediction of a major earthquake, saying that a devastating series of tremors will begin in Peru in the next few days and end with the largest measured quake in history.

The prediction by Brian Brady, a mathmetician with the Bureau of Mines in Denver, has created consternation among other earthquake scientists, who see little or no evidence for the prediction, to say nothing of the concern in Peru.

Seismologists have had little trouble debunking earthquake predictions by psychics and stock market analysts, but Brady has a doctorate from the Colorado School of Mines and has done work in mathematics and physics a the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, created specifically to deal with Brady's prediction, has rejected his evidence as "speculative and vague." But the prediction has received widespread publicity in

No American scientist has ever successfully predicted a major earthquake. Brady said a 5.5 Richter scale magnitude from Lima lends support to his prediction, but Earthquake experts in governments and in universities here do not agree.

Brady made his prediction last year that an 8 magnitude quake, greater than the tremblor that hit San Francisco in 1906, would occur near Lima on or about June 28, 1981. This would be followed by a 9.2 magnitude quake on or about Aug. 10 and a 9.9 magnitude quake on or about Sept. 16, he said in a prediction that was supported at the time by geophysist William Spence of the U.S. Geological Survey.

A quake of 9.9 magnitude on the Richter scale would exceed what is thought to be the most powerful quake ever recorded by modern instruments, a 9.5 magnitude quake in Chile in 1960 which caused 5,700 deaths.

Brady and Spence have been discussing their theory with other scientists since 1977. Word of their work eventually caused such a sensation in Lima that the Peruvian government asked the U.S. Geological Survey for an official opinion.

The survey had just organized the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, composed of government and university experts. On Jan. 27 after a two-day session in Golden, Colo., the council said it was "unconvinced of the scientific validity of the Brady-Spence prediction."

The council's statement said it "regrets that an earthquake prediction based on such speculative and vague evidence has received such widespread credence outside the scientific community. . . . We cannot say with complete confidence that major earthquakes will not occur at the predicted times, but we judge the probability of this happening to be very low indeed. On the basis of the data and interpretation currently available, none of the members of the council would have serious reservations about being present personally in Lima at the times of the predicted earthquakes."

Barry Raleigh, the geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park primarily responsible for earthquake prediction efforts, served on the evaluation council and had been one of the most outspoken in deriding Brady's prediction. Asked if he thought Brady was a reputable scientist, Raleigh said "my opinion is that he is not."

He said Brady didn't give the council any detailed written equations supporting his prediction, and said some of Brady's previous research papers had errors in them. "That is not to say other scientists' papers don't have some errors, too," Raleigh added. "He's got qualifications; you can't discount them."

In a telephone interview from his office in Denver, Brady said he was sticking to his prediction. He complained that the council had not given him enough time to explain his theory. "There is no way anyone is going to evaluate an earthquake prediction in just five hours. That's absurd," Brady said, describing the January meeting in Golden.

Raleigh said Brady had declined to give the council a written version of his theory which they could have studied beforehand, but added the council gave Brady at least 7 1/2 hours to defend his work.

James Rice, professor of theoretical and applied mechanics at Brown University and an adviser to the council, said he felt some parts of Brady's earlier published work on his "inclusion theory" were simply mathematically wrong." Rice said Brady presented a large series of slides covered with equations" at the council session but did not give members enough time to study them.

Brady's theory involves a complex analysis of the unusually severe stresses along the fault line running down the west coast of South America. He said he developed the mathematical model to predict quakes while analyzing ways to predict "rock bursts," small earthquake-like events caused by underground mining.

A study of the 1971 earthquake in the San Fernando Valley here convinced him his model could predict large natural quakes.After hearing Spence describe his study of a 1974 quake in Peru, Brady worked out equations for predicting a major series of quakes in 1981.

Spence, 43, dissociated himself from Brady's prediction shortly after the January meeting with the council. He said the area around Lima "is highly stressed and could conceivably produce a big earthquake. . . . But I think for a series of quakes of that magnitude there should be all kinds of indicators present" which he said he does not see.

Brady and Spence told the council they would withdraw the prediction if there was not a substantial increase in the number of quakes of 4.5 magnitude in the area of May.

Spence said he has seen no evidence of such an increase. Brady said an increase has occurred, although the quakes were recorded only by scientists in Peru who have kept him in touch by letter and telephone.

The Brady controversy has revived an old debate over the socially explosive issue of earthquake predictions, particularly now that American scientists are attempting to construct a system to predict major eartquakes along the temblor-ridden U.S. West Coast.

A federal report has said there is a greater than 50 percent chance of a major earthquake along the southern San Andreas fault in the next 30 years and estimated the death toll from 3,000 to 13,000 persons.

The greatest earthquake death toll in the United States was 700 in the 1906 San Francisco quake. A 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Tex., resulted in 6,000 deaths, the highest toll from a natural event in this country.

Chinese authorities say they have predicted several earthquakes and saved thousands of people by evacuating buildings. There is evidence, however, that they have ordered evacuations in some instance where earthquakes did not occur.

Politicians in California fear this would cause panic and eventual resentment and hurt chances of reducing losses if a real quake struck.

Both Brady and Spence said they wished their prediction hadn't been so publicized and scrutinized in a public forum like the January council meeting before they had presented it in full.

In separate interviews, both said they favored a system allowing lengthy private discussion of a prediction with scientific evaluators before any public examination.

Raleigh of the Geological Survey said in an interview that "we are not in a stage where we can predict. We are trying some ideas out but we need many more good observations."

He described the process this way: "You have a match and you know there is a candle in the room somewhere, so there is a certain amount of groping around."