L’Acquital: Legal battle over for six Italian earthquake scientists

In October of 2012, six Italian scientists and a government official were convicted of manslaughter for failing to give warning for the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 that killed over 300 people. The verdict was terribly misguided and was overturned in November of last year.

The judge justified his decision by saying they failed in characterizing the science and informing this public. This is probably true to a degree, but we must make allowances for scientists and decision makers dealing with potential natural and public disasters with uncertain data. It’s a complicated process and mistakes get made. The argument about reinstating the charges continued. Until now.

Yesterday, Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome formally acquitted all the charges against the scientists. That’s the end. It did not make the victims families happy as they are looking for someone to blame.

Bernardo De Bernardinis, the deputy head of Italy’s civil protection department at the time, did NOT get his conviction overturned. He mistakenly over assured the public when the scientists information was effectively “neutral” about potential danger. The citizens were not given the best information. He received a reduced jail term of two years. There are other allegations that attempts were made to quell the media about the earthquake danger. Let’s hope some valuable lessons were learned.


  9 comments for “L’Acquital: Legal battle over for six Italian earthquake scientists

  1. Hiram
    November 22, 2015 at 8:12 AM

    One has to feel for the victims’ families, but it’s difficult to understand chance events and the capriciousness of nature when you are emotionally overwhelmed. You cannot even predict the next day’s weather with hundred percent accuracy despite having access to so much data, let alone earthquakes.

  2. jockmcdock
    November 22, 2015 at 11:33 AM

    …”they are looking for someone to blame.” Em, God? I don’t think you can blame the scientists for the earthquake.

    As Hiram says, you can’t even predict tomorrow’s weather with 100% accuracy.

  3. fredthechemist
    November 22, 2015 at 4:45 PM

    I am not a fan of the original verdict – it would remove any incentive for a scientist to cooperate with a politician – but the original issue was not QUITE as bad as it has been portrayed.
    As I recall, the scientists were castigated for presenting an unreasonably optimistic prediction AND omitting the large uncertainty.
    Events later showed that the scientific committee’s advice did neither. However, it was substantially distorted by nonscientists before it reached the public.

  4. Haldurson
    November 22, 2015 at 5:29 PM

    How predictable are earthquakes anyway? Are there enough statistics to indicate that when a scientist predicts an earthquake (or a negative prediction of no earthquake), just how likely, accurate, and/or precise that prediction can be?

  5. fredthechemist
    November 22, 2015 at 10:23 PM

    Reasonably so over periods of decades to centuries. Day-to-day, essentially not at all.

  6. tightspotkilo
    November 23, 2015 at 1:32 PM

    The Italian justice system has been exposed as dangerously inept in recent years.

  7. Artor
    November 28, 2015 at 1:43 AM

    Exactly. These scientists were prosecuted for not accurately predicting an earthquake, but if they could predict one, they would win the Nobel Prize! How the hell were they supposed to be able to give a definitive prediction? WTF?

  8. Alan
    December 9, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    The weather man has the easiest job in the world. He can be wrong much of the time and still get paid for it. Geologists are supposed to be held to a higher standard? When I saw “politicians” were involved it made sense. Biggest liars of the bunch. Leave the scientists to do their work… at least they’re trying!

  9. Dale
    December 20, 2015 at 10:59 PM

    All government systems are arbitrary and inept at best. They are strict and capricious at worst. Rothbardian Anarcho-Libertarian-Capitalism is the best way to counter these systems.

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