Natural Disasters

Italian Court Convicts Scientists For Not Warning of Earthquake



Having grown up in a household with Neapolitan roots, I'm probably beyond shock at the odd twists and turns that Italian reasoning can take. Still, I have to raise an eyebrow at the news that an Italian court convicted seven earthquake researchers of manslaughter for failing to predict a 2009 rumble that killed over 300 people. After a trial that has been ridiculed worldwide for its semi-medieval quality, the scientists face six years in prison if the convictions survive the appeals process.

From the AP:

Scientists worldwide had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no reliable way of predicting earthquakes.

Among those convicted were some of Italy's most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the national Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

"I am dejected, desperate," Boschi said after the verdict. "I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don't understand what I was convicted of."

According to the charges, the defendants' specific transgressions appear to have been providing "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" in the lead-up to the earthquake. Reading between the lines about devastated towns and survivors living in tents for months after the disaster, I suspect that the real crime was being convenient scapegoats for officials who had a mess on their hands and wanted to divert attention elsewhere. Since every effort to forecast future events of which I'm aware is inherently "inexact" and "incomplete" and the participation of more than one voice often makes it "contradictory," those scapegoats were easy to come by in the form of these researchers.

According to the AP report, "[a] defense lawyer, Filippo Dinacci, told reporters that the sentence would have 'big repercussions' on public administration since officials would be afraid to 'do anything.'" Well, yes. That outcome seems not only likely, but in the case of researchers into matters potentially traumatic, would appear to be highly advisable. The Guardian noted in 2009 that a researcher not included in this case was cautioned by officials for actually warning of an earthquake in the days before the 2009 event. Given the no-win situation that creates, it's better to just keep your mouth shut.

Or, maybe failing to say anything is prosecutablle, too.

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  1. Ah, at last science and religion have merged.

    1. What? Did you miss the AGW brouhaha?

  2. It looks like the Eye-talians are going to be having daily earthquake warnings from now on. A caution is better than a prison term.

    1. Exactly. If I was an Italian seismologist (not an ethnicity or a career path I have ever previously considered), I would make sure that I announced, daily, that I was hereby predicting a 7.0 Richter event, minimum, for the following day.

      1. Except, if there weren’t a 7.0 earthquake, you would be prosecuted for ‘causing panic.’

        How do you say “Catch-22” in Italian?

        1. With very animated hand gestures, I’d wager.

      2. “Today’s earthquake threat level is ORANGE!”

  3. God damn – that’s awesome. ly frightening.

    But not surprised – this is ITALY we’re talking about. ITALY. Let’s look back….oh, yeah. Don’t have to go far at all before we start running into stark, raving crazy…

    1. There appears to be a gaping fault in your comment.

  4. Italy is a great place to visit but I don’t think I’d want to live there if I were an earthquake researcher.

    1. Or if you want to give vaccines to children.….._case.html

      1. I love the headline in that link:


        As though a court ruling – in any court – can ‘prove’ a scientific argument.

        1. I couldn’t resist that.

          Gotta love how the Italian court system is an effective mechanism for anyone to reinforce whatever beleif they want.

          OMG, an Italian court said so! Truth! I’m right! I’m right!!!

  5. And I’ve always blamed the Catholic Church for Galileo, turns out it was Italians all the way down.

  6. On the bright side: at last a country doing something so stupid even America wouldn’t do it.

    1. In the US, there might not have been criminal prosectutions, but there would have been lawsuits coming from all directions. (Including psychics who would claim that the failure of scientists to accurately predict the quake prevented the psychics from taking measures to protect their precognitive powers.)

    2. Fuck you, Tim. America can be stupider any day than a bunch of lazy noodle-twirlers.

      USA! USA! USA!

  7. I think if I were a scientist in Italy who specialized in, well, ANYTHING, I’d be getting the fuck out.

  8. Holy fuck, Italian astronomers better start predicting asteroid impacts right quick!

  9. The likely unintended consequence is that there will be no more earthquake researchers left in Italy, as they flee the country, and thus no predictions are given about possible earthquakes.

    1. Well the earthquakes will flee as well, won’t they?

    2. Who said they have to be in Italy? Italy commonly prosecutes non-italians in absentia for crimes that didn’t happen in Italy.

  10. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a geologist.

    1. If you didn’t become one, it’s just not your fault.

  11. Italian courts are known for stupid prosecutions, including prosecuting people outside their jurisdiction entirely.

    Try googling ‘italian court autism ruling’, to start.

    They also have a habit of trying US soldiers in absentia for various war crimes.

    1. Someone linked part of the autism vaccine stuff upthread. It’s ridiculous.

  12. So, can we prosecute politicians for running the world economy into the ground and causing physical and mental anguish to billions of people worldwide?

  13. Not proud of the Old Country

  14. Italy is one of the few Western countries I can think of that makes the American justice system look relatively civilized.

    1. In hell, the cops are Italian, the cooks are British, the engineers are French, and the lovers are German.

      In heaven, the cops are British, the cooks are French, the engineers are German and the lovers are Italian.

      Or some variation thereof. I think Americans get to make the barbecue.

  15. Does this mean we can start trying politicians for providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” in their campaign promises, and failing to deliver on said promises?

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