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Accused Italian scientists. The whole picture.

As an Italian speaker I have been reading reports from Italy on the case of  the Italian court’s judgement that six scientists and a government official are guilty of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake accurately.

When I heard this news I was outraged.  Knowing the basics of seismology I know that predicting an earthquake is impossible.  I tweeted my disapproval and dismay.  Of course being fluent in Italian I read a few reports and articles on this sentence, and I realised that what has been reported in the English speaking press is not the whole story.

The issue is not that they didn’t predict an earthquake.  They were part of an organisation that was responsible to advise citizens on likely risks of natural disasters.   Just before the devastating earthquake (there have been plenty of little earthquakes before then) they assured the population that they had nothing to worry about and literally said ‘you can safely sleep in your beds’.  In a highly seismic part of Italy, where there have been shocks for months that statement was very unwise.  It was like saying to people in a high bushfire area on a extreme hot high fire risk day to keep on doing what they wanted and don’t worry about the risks.  If they said that there was always a degree of risk (which is the truth) and be prepared they would not have been accused. Their inaccuracy wasn’t that they didn’t predict the earthquake on that day in that hour.  Was that as persons charged in giving as a clear picture of the situation they failed in their duties.

Saying that a prison sentence is ridiculous.  Perhaps being sacked from their positions would be more appropriate.

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