Earlier this week a judge in Italy found six Italian earthquake experts and a government official guilty of manslaughter. The judge found that the men downplayed the risk of a major earthquake in the city of L’Aquila. A 6.3 magnitude quake struck in early April 2009 and killed more than 300 people. Here is a sampling of some of the reactions from the around the web.
- Nature has a great article giving the relevant background information, the lead up to the disaster and the trial of the 6 prominent scientists; Enzo Boschi, then-president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) in Rome; Franco Barberi, at the University of ‘Rome Tre’; Mauro Dolce, head of the seismic-risk office at the National Department of Civil Protection in Rome; Claudio Eva, from the University of Genova; Giulio Selvaggi, director of the INGV’s National Earthquake Centre in Rome; and Gian Michele Calvi, president of the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering in Pavia; as well as government official Bernardo De Bernardinis, then vice-director of the Department of Civil Protection
- Despite the difficulty in predicting earthquakes, an Italian man, Gioacchino Giuliani, claimed to have predicted the L’Aquila earthquake (after two previous failed predictions), by using radon measurements. His warnings were ignored and he was was reported to police for spreading false alarms (via a van with speakers), and asked to remove his findings from the internet, for fear of inducing unnecessary panic in the citizens. Giuliani’s claims was the reason why the scientists, The L’Aquila Seven, were brought in to assess the risks.
- The L’Aquila Seven assured the public at a meeting held in L’Aquila on 31 March 2009, that the earthquake risk was clearly raised but that it was not possible to offer a detailed prediction. The Civil Protection Department and local authorities reassured the population, stating that minor shocks did not increase the risk of a major one. At the trial, the prosecutor reasoned that the “inadequate” risk assessment of the expert panel led to scientifically incorrect messages being given to the public, which contributed to a higher death count. The persistent message from authorities of “Be calm, don’t worry”, and a lack of specific advice, deprived citizens of an opportunity to make an informed decision about what to do on the night of the earthquake.
- These scientists were convicted of manslaughter, much to the condemnation of the scientists involved and the global scientific community
- The crux of the trial was not earthquake prediction, which is almost impossible to do, but risk communication, or rather the failure of science communication and providing false assurances
- The trial has worried some scientists, who have responded to the verdict with warnings about the chilling effect on their ability to serve in public risk assessments, and have resigned their commissions given the precedent set by by this verdict
- Ironically, as these 7 scientists were convicted, a human induced earthquake rattled Spain, no charges are pending.
- Italy court convicts scientists for failing to predict quake (foxnews.com)
- Newsflash: L’Aquila Earthquake Experts Found Guilty (news.sciencemag.org)
- The Verdict of the l’Aquila Earthquake Trial Sends the Wrong Message (wired.com)
- L’Aquila Earthquake: Trial, Verdict and Response (adventuresingeology.com)
- Italian Court Charges Scientists for Manslaughter Over 2009 L’Aquila Earthquake (medicaldaily.com)
- Guilty verdict for Italian earthquake scientists (physicsworld.com)
- Sent to Jail for not being a Charlatan (seismo.berkeley.edu)
- Why The Italian Earthquake Case Isn’t An Anti-Science Witch-Hunt (newscientist.com)