Science

Italian Prosecutors Target Scientists Who Failed To Predict the Future

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Earthquake

I understand the impulse to kill the bearer of bad news — it's rude, but understandable — but what about punishing people who fail to properly read their tea leaves so as to foresee unpleasantness in the future? That's what Italian prosecutors are doing in the wake of the devastating earthquake that killed over 300 people in L'Aquila; they're prosecuting seven geologists and volcanologists who downplayed the possibility of an earthquake shortly before the big event actually hit.

From the London Daily Telegraph:

Prosecutors in Italy have called for a group of scientists to be sent to prison for four years each for allegedly failing to give adequate warning of the L'Aquila earthquake in 2009 that killed 309 people and injured hundreds more.

The trial of the seven experts has proved immensely controversial, with the international scientific community saying that earthquakes cannot be predicted and that the experts are being made scapegoats for an unforeseen natural disaster.

But critics say that by downplaying the risks, they consigned hundreds of people to their deaths when the quake struck at 3.32am on April 6, 2009, reducing centuries-old buildings as well as modern apartment blocks to dust.

In calling for the jail sentences, prosecutors accused the experts of offering "an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken analysis" of the dozens of tremors which rattled the mountain city in the days before the massive quake.

Note that in the days before the L'Aquila quake, researcher Giampaolo Giuliani was targeted by authorities for doing what prosecutors say the L'Aquila seven should have done. The Guardian wrote in 2009:

Meanwhile, Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher for a physics lab in the nearby Gran Sasso, claimed in media interviews that he forecast the quake days earlier by measuring the amount of radon gas released by the earth, but was muzzled by officials.

Giuliani said Monday that he was placed under investigation by prosecutors for causing alarm after he sent warnings of a pending quake in the Sulmona area 30 miles south of L'Aquilato.

So, scientists can get into trouble for predicting disaster, and they can get into trouble for not predicting disaster.

Methinks that research and scientific inquiry will play a dwindling role in Italy's short-term future.