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Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.

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HOME > Tanoro's Blog  >  Italian Scientists in Prison for Not Predicting...
Italian Scientists in Prison for Not Predicting Earthquake
Posted by: Tanoro - Oct 22, 2012 5:58pm

Today is interesting, because I am both appalled and delighted at the same time. I am appalled by the utter stupidity that has reared its ugly head in the Italian justice system in the form of Judge Marco Billi. I am delighted because I was starting to think only my country was turning science-dumb.

Back in 2009, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the small Italian town of L'Aquila, resulting in 309 deaths. Months before, a number of smaller quakes raised some concern about whether or not a big one was on its way. Amateur seismologist, Giampaolo Giuliani, was causing a public stir at the time spinning his own unofficial predictions. In the face of this panic, six scientists from the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks were tasked with assessing the risk of a major earthquake event.

As one with a reasonable mind might expect, the experts assessed the risks and found a number of concerns. Firstly, the town was located on what has long since been known to be a high risk fault line, prone to earthquake activity. Secondly, building codes were not suitable for the types of seismic activity one might expect in that area. Finally, the report noted that earthquakes remain unpredictable and that there is no certainty in whether or not a major event was coming. Instances of smaller earthquakes are "not necessarily" signs of a major earthquake approaching.

After the assessment was completed, the findings were presented to the public a week before the major earthquake occurred on April 6, 2009. Reportedly, now ex-government official, Bernardo De Bernardinis, had taken the extra step and informed the people that there was "no danger." The earthquake devestated the older buildings in the region. The family of those lost in the event fed the outcry to prosecute anyone responsible. The six scientists and Bernardo De Bernardinis were all arrested and put on trial for manslaughter.

More than 5,000 experts in seismology and academia worldwide signed a letter to President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the six scientists. Unfortunately, the prosecution did exactly what every slimy lawyer does. They persented testimonies from the family of those tragically killed in the quake in order to apply emotional bias rather than objective facts. They called the assessment "inexact," "incomplete," and "contradictory." The judge, a man who is suppose to be objective and beyond such bias, ate it up and reached his verdict in just over 4 hours, convicting the six scientists and Bernardo De Bernardinis of manslaughter. Lawyers for the defense will be appealing the decision.

I feel that the real absurdity of this story was echoed by the BBC.

Some scientists have warned that the case might set a damaging precedent, deterring experts from sharing their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome reports.

I agree and it should. However, it would simply be a tragic waste for scientists to withhold their knowledge from everybody, so I present two solutions.

  1. If you are a scientist in any field and requested to assess the risks of a natural disaster in Italy, your only valid response should be, "Go fuck yourselves!"
  2. If you are a judge in Italy, if not everywhere, and you presided over a conviction that is later overturned by new evidence, you should be sent to carry out the remainder of the sentence that you imposed because your assessment was "inexact," "incomplete," and "contradictory." That is a comparable punishment for Judge Marco Billi's disgrace.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

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