1. Joined
    06 Mar '12
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    22 Oct '12 20:242 edits
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2012/oct/22/guilty-verdict-for-italian-earthquake-scientists
    “...
    Seven scientists have been found guilty of the manslaughter of some 308 people following the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the city of L'Aquila in Italy on 6 April 2009. All seven have been sentenced to six years in prison.
    The verdict comes after a year-long trial in the Italian city – about 100 km north-east of Rome – that ended last month. The scientists are members of a committee that provides a risk assessment of potential natural disasters and include Enzo Boschi, president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, as well as Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa.

    The researchers were accused of incorrectly assessing the likelihood that a major quake could happen in L'Aquila given the large numbers of tremors in the region in the months before the deadly event. As a result of this assessment, argued the prosecutor Fabio Picuti, residents and officials failed to take steps that could have saved lives. In particular, he said that some residents remained indoors on the night of 5 April when the tremors returned – followed by the early-morning earthquake.
    The ruling comes in spite of an open letter to the Italian president from 5000 international scientists saying that the charges are unfounded.
    ...”


    I may not know any details about the case other than what I read above and I am certainly no expert on earthquakes but, “ incorrectly assessing the likelihood that a major quake”? I thought that earthquakes are extremely unpredictable so how could it necessarily be the fault of the scientists if their prediction of risk is wrong?
    If a weather forecaster fails to correctly predict the risk of a hurricane that kills some people, should he be labelled a murderer and be locked up in jail?
    Since when has predicting risk been an exact science? perhaps the Italian authorities are simply totally ignorant of how science works?
    Smells suspiciously to me of vindictive persecution from the blame culture. What do you think?
  2. Joined
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    23 Oct '12 00:451 edit
    Originally posted by humy
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2012/oct/22/guilty-verdict-for-italian-earthquake-scientists
    “...
    Seven scientists have been found guilty of the manslaughter of some 308 people following the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the city of L'Aquila in Italy on 6 April 2009. All seven have been sentenced to six years in prison.
    The verdict comes afte mells suspiciously to me of vindictive persecution from the blame culture. What do you think?
    I've been following this case for a while (it's been on our news).

    The case is ludicrous and sets a hugely damaging precedent.

    Who the hell is going to even try to make predictions if you can be prosecuted for getting it wrong?

    What the scientists said in the meeting they held was that there was not any significant increase
    in the probability of a major earthquake based on the number/size/frequency of the smaller earthquakes
    that they had recently experienced.

    The problem being that about as many small 'swarms' of earthquakes didn't build up to a bigger earthquake
    as did making them highly unpredictive.

    What they didn't say (but what the local official did say when he came out of the meeting) was that everything
    was safe and that there wasn't likely to be a major earthquake.

    The place was in the middle of some serious concentric rings on the earthquake risk maps and so had a permanent
    high risk of a big damaging earthquake.

    Which was just as likely to come completely out of the blue as it was to be preceded by a string of smaller quakes
    as it was on this occasion.


    Blaming the scientists (and what's more prosecuting them) for this is ridiculous which is why thousands of scientists
    worldwide have petitioned against this.


    What was wrong was the public messages put out to the locals by the local officials who either didn't grasp what the
    scientists had told them or deliberately put a 'lets not induce panic' spin on things.

    These messages did (likely) lead to more deaths as people were reassured and didn't do what they normally do which is
    head for the hills and camp when lots of small earthquakes hit.

    But the scientists didn't give these messages and didn't give that advice.

    They were asked one simple question.

    Did the earthquake swarm mean that they were more likely to be hit with a major earthquake?

    The answer was that their data didn't show any significant correlation of the likelihood of a major earthquake with a
    swarm of smaller quakes.

    That was correct.

    That shouldn't get them sent to prison.


    EDIT: BBC version of the story.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20025626
  3. Cape Town
    Joined
    14 Apr '05
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    52945
    23 Oct '12 05:19
    Originally posted by humy
    What do you think?
    I believe natural disasters can be planned for, and that we should blame people for not properly preparing for them. But I do not believe that such blame should come in the form of murder cases except in exceptional circumstances for example, if a building is improperly constructed and falls down, then maybe a manslaughter case is in order.
    In the case of death due to an earthquake, there are many people to blame. The town planners who let people settle in an area. The builders who didn't build sufficiently well to withstand the earthquake. The people who should have warned them about the coming earthquake. The evacuation personnel. But at the end of the day, unless we all avoid living in earthquake zones, we must accept that we are taking some risk by living there and some of the responsibility must always go to those that chose to reside there.
    Unless there is a clear single cause of death, I don't think a murder charge is in order.
  4. Cape Town
    Joined
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    23 Oct '12 20:46
    A similar case occurred here in SA. A group of striking armed mine workers were shot by the police. The workers were then charged with the murders of the people the police shot - the logic being that they caused the situation which resulted in the deaths. But as in the earthquake case, there were actually many causes and it is rather difficult to put the blame on a single person or group and somewhat controversial to call it murder.
  5. Subscribersonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    slatington, pa, usa
    Joined
    28 Dec '04
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    26 Oct '12 12:021 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    A similar case occurred here in SA. A group of striking armed mine workers were shot by the police. The workers were then charged with the murders of the people the police shot - the logic being that they caused the situation which resulted in the deaths. But as in the earthquake case, there were actually many causes and it is rather difficult to put the blame on a single person or group and somewhat controversial to call it murder.
    Unless you are in Italy. I hope upon appeal the convictions get thrown out of court.

    For one thing, putting scientists in jail stops the very research that would give accurate earthquake forcasts.

    They should tell them, you need a bigger budget to get better instruments or supercomputers or whatever the geology dudes need to better their science, and tell them, get your asss back to work.
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