Mark Robbins comments over at CiF on the convictions of the scientists who failed to anticipate the severity of the L’Aquila earthquake. I find it incredible that people are charged and convicted of manslaughter for what was a natural disaster.
Okay, possibly they made a bad call due to incompetence. Possibly. More likely, though, it was a result of the same difficulty that befell weather forecasters in this country twenty five years ago – a prediction is just that; a prediction. One cannot guarantee its reliability.
It didn’t help that there had been a degree eof crying “Wolf!” going on with people being evacuated and nothing happening. As a consequence, it seems that the risks may have been played down.
After the meeting, Bernardo De Bernardinis from the Civil Protection Agency walked out and addressed the press: “The scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy,” he told them. “The situation looks favourable.” This was not accurate at all. It was 31 March 2009. Six days later, the earthquake struck. A year later, De Bernardinis and six scientists from the committee were indicted for manslaughter.
The prosecutors, and the devastated families they represent, are well aware that scientists cannot predict earthquakes. The accusation they make is not that experts failed to predict the earthquake, but that they failed to properly assess and communicate the risks, telling residents they were safe without any scientific basis for doing so.
If they are so aware of this, one wonders why they took so much notice of the reassurance…
All I see is a combination of capricious nature doing what nature does and a committee of hapless scientists caught on the wrong foot. These things happen. Sometimes people die. But failing to predict accurately (and as a consequence not giving an accurate assessment to the affected people) being a criminal offence with stiff gaol terms? Bernardinis apparently misrepresented what he was advised and gave a misleading reassurance. The scientists were held accountable because they didn’t contradict him. But, then, if nothing had happened, there would have been nothing to contradict.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a worrying development and Michael Fish had better be looking over his shoulder. Who, in their right mind would want to be an Italian seismologist?