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Italian scientists convicted over earthquake warning

L'Aquila, Italy (Reuters) - An Italian court convicted six scientists and a government official of manslaughter on Monday and sentenced them to six years in prison for failing to give adequate warning of a deadly earthquake which destroyed the central city of L'Aquila and killed more than 300 people in 2009.
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9 Responses:

  1. Iskandar says:

    Prosecution asks for four-year sentence in Italian seismology trial

    All those indicted took part in a meeting held in L’Aquila on 30 March, 2009, during which they were asked to assess the risk of a major earthquake in view of many shocks that had hit the city in the previous months. At the end of the meeting the Department of Civil Protection held a press conference where it downplayed the risk of a major quake and urged the population to stay calm. In particular Bernardo De Bernardinis, then deputy head of the department and among those indicted, said in a TV interview: “The scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy”, a statement that most seismologists consider to be scientifically incorrect. According to the relatives of some victims and to the prosecutors, those reassurances prompted many people not to evacuate, hence the manslaughter charge.

    I remember hearing those declarations after months of news reporting perceivable earthquakes. They seemed quite optimistic, being Aquila a well documented seismic zone.
    Many people were quite scared, being woken in the middle of the night because of medium-small shocks. This happened various times during the previous months.
    They wanted to reduce panic: anyone who had the possibility to leave the city begun to do so. Economy, Università degli Studi dell'Aquila, tourism, ecc... were affected by this unlucky series of seismic events.
    I think that they decided to show off optimism more from a political perspective than a scientific one. They should have talked about earthquake drills, post-earthquake building inspections (some buildings were already damaged): stuff that could have been useful in the worst case scenario, that promptly happened just a week after.

    • nooj says:

      Yay! Let's send people to jail because they didn't overreact and cause mass panic!

    • Chris says:

      This is pretty heavy post hoc reasoning though. "They made a mistake because look, something bad DID happen!"

    • crowding says:

      If you had asked any decent seismologist, before the event, whether the early tremors indicated an increased probability of a major quake to follow, the answer would be "not, that we have the art to tell, significantly more than the probability that is continuously present in this area."

      Things that behave like Poisson distributions are annoying in that way.

      The thing is that if you are already accepting of the inherent risks of living in a continuously seismically active area in unreinforced earthen buildings, as evidenced by the way you already live there, then a few tremors does nothing that would make me tell you to change that level of risk tolerance.

      I don't see any way that it's scientific to tell people how to weigh seismic risk versus other reasons they might like to live in a place.

      True, they could have seized the moment to talk more about preparedness and upgrading the buildings, but that would actually have been political rather than scientific decision making.

  2. John Carter says:

    I can't see how this could possibly go wrong.

    Off-topic, JWZ: has your comment login via Twitter functionality been broken by their api changes?