Italian court sentenced six scientists to six years behind bars for accurately express the risk of a possible earthquake
October 23, 2012- Word quickly spread throughout the scientific community following the conviction of six scientists on charges of manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake would take place. Experts on earthquakes around the world were appalled at the Italian court’s conviction.
The experts said the ruling could do severe harm to future scientific research. A L’Aquila court sentenced one government official and the six scientists on Monday to six years behind bars, in a ruling that said the scientists did not accurately express the risk of a possible earthquake. The earthquake hit in 2009 and killed over 300 people.
The legal case centered round a meeting that took place a week prior to the 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck. In the meeting, experts determined it was very unlikely, but not entirely impossible that a quake of large proportion would hit the area, even though many people in the area were concerned because of the seismic activity that had recently taken place.
Prosecutors at the trial said that the experts had provided incomplete, inaccurate as well as contradictory information covering the dangers that faced L’Aquila. The court sided with the prosecutors and convicted the six National Institute of Volcanology and Geophysics scientists and one Civil Protection Agency member. The court also ordered a fine of $10 million to be paid.
Scientists worldwide were aghast at the decision by the court, noting that forecasting earthquakes with any type of accuracy is impossible. One professor in Riverside, California said that to predict if a large quake will take place based just on a sequence of small tremors and advice an entire local population to leave is both bad public policy and bad science.
The same professor said that if scientists would be held legally liable for situations where their predictions did not pan out, you would find very few if any scientists who would be willing to put their necks on the line going forward.
One of the defendants tweeted that he was concerned because after all this time he was still not sure for what he was being accused. All seven will remain free while the appeal process takes place.