Scientists on Trial For Failing to Predict Earthquake

This article from CNN… hurts to read. The title basically says it all; some seismologists in Italy failed to predict an earthquake in 2009, many people died, and now they’re on trial for manslaughter. Wow.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) wrote to Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano in June last year to express “concern” over the indictment of its Italian colleagues.

“The charges against these scientists are both unfair and naive,” the letter said. The basis of the indictments appears to be that the scientists failed to alert the population of L’Aquila of an impending earthquake. However, the letter continues, “there is no way they could have done that credibly.”

This (the Italian government’s) is not a good attitude to have… I wanted to make a broad statement about the fallibility of scientific opinions, but I think it really varies from field to field. If an engineer of a rocket ship is negligent and this results in people’s deaths, maybe it makes sense to hold them responsible, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that this earthquake mistake was preventable. It seems like the major mistake was one of the scientists’ apparently strong claim that there would be no earthquake at that time. Maybe the public’s misunderstanding of his science was a result of his own failure to properly communicate it.

In any case… well, suddenly seismologists know how doctors feel when they’re sued for everything.


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