Tag Archives: Italy

Prosecutors investigate scientists while blocking efforts against plant disease

The coming dark age: Italian prosecutors have ordered that all efforts to halt the spread of a deadly disease that attacks olive plants cease while they investigate scientists who study the disease.

Under European Union rules, Italy is obliged to carry out a scientifically based containment plan to stop the disease from spreading to other EU countries. In addition to culling infected trees, this plan involves destroying healthy trees to create buffer zones. But farmers, supported by environmental activists who deplored the destruction of ancient trees, have protested against its implementation. Individual court rulings have found in their favour, stopping tree felling and the spraying of insecticide on their land.

On 10 December, just over a week before Italian public prosecutors announced their investigation, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure over Italy’s failure to carry out containment measures quickly enough. Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio says that he does not know what will happen now that Italian courts have blocked the entire containment plan. “Xylella in all its strains is the most dangerous pathogen for plants, and epidemics have huge economic impact,” he says. “The emergency measures are necessary and need to be implemented.”

The article also notes that the disease can only have come from Costa Rica, which is an area that none of the scientists under investigation have ever worked.

Let me sum up: Environmentalists, hostile to the killing of “ancient trees”, have worked to block any effort to stop the disease, which can now run rampant killing “ancient trees.” Prosecutors, searching for blame, have teamed up with the environmentalists to attack the scientists studying the disease, making sure that any effort to either cure the disease or stop its spread will be discouraged now and in the future.

Maybe the prosecutors and environmentalists should get some torches and pitchforks and burn the scientists at the stake. That will surely solve the problem!

Europe test flies its engineering prototype space plane

The competition heats up: Europe today successfully launched and landed its Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) space plane.

More details here. And here.

As of 9 pm (Eastern) Wednesday the recovery ship was still “hurrying” to reach the ship, which was being held afloat with “balloons.” Update: The spacecraft has been retrieved.

This prototype is not full scale. It is only about 16 feet long, and was built as a testbed. Whether Europe follows up with a full scale version remains completely unknown. I am skeptical, as this program reminds me of many deadend NASA experimental programs like it, used to try out cool engineering technologies as well as provide pork to Congressional districts without any plans to proceed to the real thing. In the case of IXV, the Italians got most of the pork.

Test flight of Europe’s first prototype space plane has been rescheduled

The competition heats up: Preparations have resumed for a February 11 test flight of a European prototype space plane, initially scheduled for November but cancelled at the last minute because managers suddenly discovered its launch path was going to go over land.

The launch trajectory of the IXV space plane on a suborbital trajectory will differ from the Vega rocket’s previous flights, which flew north from the space center with satellites heading for high-inclination polar orbits. The launch of IXV will head east from Vega’s launch pad, and the geometry of the French Guiana coastline means it will fly over land in the first phase of the launch sequence.

Officials said they slightly adjusted the launch track to alleviate the the safety concern.

The four-stage Vega rocket was stacked on the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the IXV spacecraft was about to be fueled with hydrazine maneuvering propellant when officials announced the delay in October. A ship tasked with retrieving the space plane after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean had already left port in Italy when news of the launch delay was released.

I remain suspicious about the cause of the delay in November. How could they not have known about the launch trajectory until the last second? Instead, I suspect it occurred because of politics higher up in ESA related to Italian, German, and French tensions over the future of Arianespace. The Italians are the lead on this space plane project, to the apparent chagrin of the French, who mostly run the launch facility in French Guiana. Moreover, it appears the Italians have generally sided with the Germans against the French in the Ariane 6 design negotiations. I wonder if the delay was instigated by higher management in an effort to influence those negotiations.

Italy’s legislature rejects additional funding for space

The Italian legislature has refused to add an additional $250 million to the budget of its space program, money requested to help pay the country’s share in the development of Arianespace’s next generation commercial rocket, Ariane 6.

The money was also needed for several other ESA space projects. Not having it puts a question mark on Italy’s future in space. The article also illustrates how the committee nature of Europe’s cooperative space effort makes it almost impossible for it to compete in the commercial market.

Controversy surrounding IXV flight cancellation

Italian officials are suggesting politics or incompetence for the sudden cancellation Wednesday of the November test flight of Europe’s IXV experimental spaceplane.

ESA and CNES officials up to now have either declined to comment or, in the case of ESA, said they were at a loss to explain why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for [range] safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago.

One official, saying he could not believe that the two agencies simply forgot to evaluate the safety issues, said he preferred to suspect political motives. “Look, we are about to send a spacecraft and lander to Mars, in one year,” this official said. “Europe has rendezvoused with a comet a decade after the [Rosetta comet-chaser] satellite was launched. You want me to believe that somehow the agencies just forgot to evaluate safety? That is too far-fetched. I would rather believe there is some political motive.”

The claim is that no one ever evaluated the range issues in sending the Vega rocket to the east instead of its normal polar orbit trajectory. The Italian officials are suggesting that either the officials who cancelled the mission are incompetent, or that their competition with France within ESA over launch vehicles (Ariane 6 vs Vega) prompted the cancellation.

Europe’s lead launch-vehicle nation is France, which initially balked at participating in the Vega program. A French minister said that in Europe, launch vehicles are French. The French government declined to allow the export, to Italy, of the avionics suite that guides Vega, forcing Italy to develop its own. Italy has since done so and successfully flown it on Vega. As it stands now, one official said, France must accept the idea that with Vega, Italy has led development of a vehicle that at least in principle resembles an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Some people don’t like that,” this official said.

Either way, this cancellation combined with the difficult and extended disagreements within ESA over replacing Ariane 5 suggest that the future of this European partnership is becoming increasingly shaky.

Reactions to the Italian conviction of seven earthquake scientists

Two reactions today to the Italian conviction of seven earthquake scientists:

In the first, scientists are appalled. In the second someone asks what I think is at least a reasonable question. Even if we agree that prison is an overreaction in this case, it does seem valid to me that scientists face some consequences for misstating risks in certain circumstances.

An Italian court has convicted seven earthquake scientists of manslaughter for their failure to properly warn the public prior to the L’Aquila earthquake.

An Italian court has convicted seven earthquake scientists of manslaughter for their failure to properly warn the public prior to the L’Aquila earthquake.

The court also sentenced the men to six years in prison, which is two years more than the prosecutor recommended.

The more I have read about this case, the less I have been in sympathy with the scientists. While it is absurd to expect any scientist to be able to precise predict the occurrence of an earthquake, in this case some of the individuals convicted had issued statements that actually go against basic earthquake science in order to give the public a false sense of safety. They claimed that the increased level of seismic activity suggested a reduction in the risk of an earthquake, when all research actually indicates the exact opposite.

Some additional details here.

The prosecutor in the Italian trial of seven earthquake experts has requested four year jail sentences for their failure to properly warn the public about the possibility of an earthquake

The prosecutor in the Italian trial of seven earthquake experts has requested four year jail sentences for their failure to properly warn the public in advance about the April 2009 L’Aquila earthquake.

The trial of seven earthquake scientists in Italy on charges of manslaughter for not correctly predicting the earthquake in L’Aquila continued yesterday with each of the defendants testifying.

The trial of seven earthquake scientists in Italy on charges of manslaughter for not correctly predicting the earthquake in L’Aquila continued yesterday with each of the defendants testifying.

The trial will not resume again until the fall.

Have researchers found Leonardo da Vinci’s lost “The Battle of Anghiari” fresco, hidden for the past six centuries behind a wall?

Have researchers found Leonardo da Vinca’s lost “The Battle of Anghiari” fresco, hidden for the past six centuries behind a wall?

The painting, considered a masterpiece by contemporaries, had never been finished by da Vinci because he had used an experimental technique to paint it, and that technique had failed. Thus, the painting was painted over fifty years later. The only reason we have a good idea of what the painting looked like is that several artists were so impressed by it that they produced copies while it was still visible.

The research suggests the painting was not painted over, but that a false wall was built in front of it. If so, this would be truly exciting discovery. The painting would probably not be in very good shape, but to actually see it would be wonderful.

The manslaughter trial of six scientists and one government official continued yesterday in Italy over their reassurances to the public prior to a deadly earthquake in 2009.

The manslaughter trial of six scientists and one government official continued yesterday in Italy over their reassurances to the public prior to a deadly earthquake in 2009.

Guido Bertolaso, former head of the Department of Civil Protection and De Bernardinis’s direct superior, had not been indicted and was originally expected to appear as a witness. But a few weeks ago a wiretap revealed that he had apparently set up the meeting to convey a reassuring message, regardless of the scientists’ opinion. He also seemed to be the source of the “discharge of energy” statement. He thus found himself under investigation and, at the beginning of the hearing, he was officially notified that he too may soon be formally indicted for manslaughter.

Bertolaso was asked by the prosecutor to explain that telephone conversation. He defended himself by saying that by defining the meeting as a “media move”, he was not trying to downplay risks but rather to put some order into the contradictory information that was reaching the citizens in those days. In particular, he referred to Giampaolo Giuliani — a laboratory technician and amateur seismologist who was alarming the population with claims that a major shock was coming — and to a newspaper article that had misquoted some Civil Protection experts and stated that the shocks would soon be over. The meeting, he said, was meant to make clear that both were wrong and that no deterministic prediction could be made. [emphasis mine]

This increasingly appears to be another case of science being corrupted by politics.

A wiretap could exonerate the six seismologists on trial for manslaughter in Italy for not properly warning the public of an earthquake.

Scientists on trial: A wiretap conversation might exonerate the six seismologists on trial for manslaughter in Italy for not properly warning the public of an earthquake.

The trial of seven Italian earthquake experts facing manslaughter charges for not correctly predicting an earthquake continued this week.

The trial of seven Italian earthquake experts facing manslaughter charges for not correctly predicting a deadly earthquake continued this week.

The prosecution’s argument that the experts had underplayed the possible occurrence of a major quake was bolstered by testimony from Daniela Stati, the former civil protection officer for Abruzzo, who took an active role in the March 31 meeting. Stati confirmed what she had previously told prosecutors in 2010, that one of the indicted said during the meeting that the continuing tremors represented a “favorable signal” because there was a continuous discharge of energy that made stronger tremors less likely. In fact, scientific evidence suggests that groups of small earthquakes tend instead to increase the chances of a major earthquake nearby, even though the absolute probability of such a quake remains low. Stati said that nobody within the commission objected to this statement. She also underlined that the “reassuring message” given to the press by her, L’Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente, and two of the indicted, Franco Barberi and Bernardo De Bernardinis, was based on comments made at the meeting.

The story behind the Italian prosecution of six scientists and one government official over an earthquake prediction

The story behind the Italian prosecution of six scientists and one government official over their failure to make an earthquake prediction.

As is usual in these kinds of stories, things are more complicated than they appear at first glance.

Violence erupts in Rome after Berlusconi wins vote

This is how tyrants respond to democracy: Violence erupts in Rome after the head of Italy’s center-right government survived a no-confidence vote. Though the article does not tell us much about the political views of the protesters, this quote gives a strong hint that they might be leftwing:

The protesters were mostly students but also included workers and immigrants.