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Seismologists Charged With Manslaughter in Italy

Seismologists Charged With Manslaughter in Italy
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Six Italian seismologists and one government official are on trial for manslaughter charges for what authorities claim was a failure to warn the public about the 2009 earthquake in the central city of L’Aquila. In early April of that year, L’Aquila experienced a strong earthquake that left 309 people dead, more than 1,500 injured and destroyed some 20,000 buildings.

Six days before the quake, a panel of prominent geophysicists had met with local and national officials to address the “seismic swarms,” low-level tremors that had been occurring for the past six months. The vice director of Italy’s Department of Civil Protection had concluded that there was “no danger” and the seismic activist was “certainly normal.” A few days earlier, that department had censured an amateur scientist who had said that he could predict earthquakes by measuring levels of radon gas.

The six scientists and the public official are on trial for negligence, for their “generic and ineffective” assessment of the danger and for providing “incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory information about the nature, causes, and future developments of the seismic hazards.” They could face up to 15 years in prison.

5,000 scientists have signed a letter supporting the defendants. In a letter to Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has said that the charges are “unreasonable… unfair and na´ve” in light of the impossibility of accurately predicting earthquakes and could have a “chilling effect on researchers.”

Crisis Communication and Disaster Management

The charges against the Italian scientists highlight the challenges of translating the specialized language of science to the public. Lee Clarke, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, says that the L’Aquila case perfectly demonstrates “elite panic,” a term that he and others have coined to refer to “a tendency by experts and government authorities to downplay genuine dangers out of exaggerated fear that the public will overreact to them.” The geophysicists seem to have oversimplified their assessment and not sufficiently translated their findings into the kind of vernacular, practical language that would have informed and more fully warned the public to take the necessary precautions.

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Photo taken in August of 2009 by wolfango

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2:23PM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

Italians are not known for their practical thinking, but no one can predict an earthquake 100%
although with new equipment these days with could go to 80%. I thinks a warning should have gone out, but really what could have been done? people leaving their homes for how long? probably leave for 2/3 months and on the day they come back - bang an earthquake...
Can't blame man for that.....

12:52PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

I'm not religious, but do you think the increasing secularisation (is that a word?) of our society means that we can't accept anything as an 'act of god'? Is this what makes people so insistent that everything must be somebody (else)'s fault?

1:17PM PDT on Oct 10, 2011 are correct in my opinion, 'More asinine stupidity.' And more so in that science is never exact science...we learn in school that it is...suckers. If these people are successfully charger (or not) it will bring into the realm of all so called science a bit of caution with regard to their much too often incorrect 'run off at the mouth'.

4:05PM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

This is ridiculous! Who can predict an earthquake? But what do you expect? They are Italian after all.

9:40AM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

Having, after 4 years in prison, had Amanda Knox elude their grasp, the Italian justice system has now gone after scientists for not being as omniscient and all powerful as their Pope.
And this is the land of DaVinci and so many others!

7:55AM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

@ Masha S. When have scientists ever said they knew everything about everything? If they knew everything about everything, there would be no need for science.

4:20AM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

finally scientists when pushed into a corner admit they don't know everything about everything

12:32AM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

Earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted. Seismologists should not be blamed.

9:47PM PDT on Oct 6, 2011


9:21PM PDT on Oct 6, 2011

For goodness sake, how ridicuous, an earthquake is an act of Nature or God which ever you choose. NO man is capable of controlling nature, how arrogant can one be!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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