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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.

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3 comments

  • JGL

    Stupid and ignorant seem such inadequate words, dangerous and Galilean seems a better fit.

  • Patrick Ritchie

    From what I have read I don’t think this statement is accurate:

    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.

    See this source:

    http://www.ess.washington.edu/SEIS/PNSN/INFO_GENERAL/eq_prediction.html

    Even in areas where foreshocks are fairly common, there is no way of distinguishing a foreshock from an independent earthquake.

    Convicting 7 people of Manslaughter is likely to have negative ramifications throughout Italy, both in science and in public safety. Manslaughter is “a defendant intentionally puts himself in a position where he will be unaware of facts which would render him liable”.

    The city of L’Aquila has been largely destroyed by earthquakes twice in the past 500 years or so. While the public officials and scientists involved may have failed to translate that reality into a rational public policy, I fail to see how that translates to Manslaughter.

  • Research might point in both directions, but it does appear that at least one individual made unsubstantiated comments about the amount of risks that should not have been made. And that individual was part of a commission whose sole purpose was to tell the public what the risks were.

    At the same time, I agree that the charges and conviction are overkill. There are far better ways to deal with incompetence than prison.

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