Italian Seismologist Acquitted of Murder


Here in the US, we think that our elected officials, judges, and the population in general is becoming more and more stupid by the day, but in Italy, they can prove it, legally and scientifically.  In 2009 the L’Aquila earthquake, which was rated about 5.8 or 5.9 on the Richter scale did a tremendous amount of damage to Abruzzo region in central Italy.  At least 309 people lost their lives during the quake.

“...The earthquake was felt throughout central Italy; 309 people are known to have died, making this the deadliest earthquake to hit Italy since the 1980 Irpinia earthquake. In a subsequent inquiry of the handling of the disaster, seven members of the Italian National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks were accused of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory” information about the danger of the tremors prior to the main quake.  On 22 October 2012, six scientists and one ex-government official were convicted of multiple manslaughter for downplaying the likelihood of a major earthquake six days before it took place. They were each sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. ..Some people saying that science itself had been put on trial…”

We all know that Italy is the land of prosecutorial over-reach on steroids, but the idea of putting scientists on trial, for manslaughter, for failing to predict a major earthquake at a specific time and place was rough, even for them.

“...A trial, which lasted from September 2011 until October 2012, found six scientists and a former government official guilty of involuntary manslaughter. According to the prosecution, they had spread “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory” statements after preliminary tremors could be felt on the days before 6 April 2009. While scientists were found guilty for failing to give adequate warning, the full text of the decision said that that “science [was] not being tried for failing to predict the April 6, 2009 earthquake” (“Non è sottoposta a giudizio la scienza per non-essere riuscita a prevedere il terremoto del 6 aprile 2009”). The seven members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks who were convicted were: Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission; Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology; Giulio Lorenzo Selvaggi, director of National Earthquake Centre; Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering; Claudio Eva, physicist; Mauro Dolce, director of the Civil Protection Agency’s earthquake risk office; Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of Civil Protection Agency’s technical department.

Boschi had called a major earthquake “unlikely”, while not entirely excluding the possibility. De Bernardinis had informed the public that there was “no danger”. The prosecutors cited a scientific opinion that the low-level tremors ahead of 6 April quake were typical of the seismic activity preceding major convulsions, but the defendants had classified them as a “normal geological phenomenon”. They were criticised in court for being “falsely reassuring” and Judge Marco Billi gave them a six-year jail sentence on 22 October 2012,  reasoning that they had provided “an assessment of the risks that was incomplete, inept, unsuitable, and criminally mistaken”. They were also banned from ever holding public office again and had to pay court costs and damages….”

Earthquakes cannot be predicted.  That did not matter in Italy, where the scientists were barred from ever holding public office,and were to pay restitution to a list of individuals they were convicted of as having ‘killed’ because they downplayed the likelihood of a major quake.  They were doing so because a quack ‘scientist’ had ‘predicted’ a major quake, using methods that have been entirely discredited by viable science.

Convicted were:

  • Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission
  • Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics
  • Giulio Selvaggi, director of National Earthquake Centre
  • Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering
  • Claudio Eva, physicist
  • Mauro Dolce, director of the the Civil Protection Agency’s earthquake risk office
  • Bernardo De Bernardinis (pictured), former vice-president of Civil Protection Agency’s technical department

Back in 2009 Jeffrey Kluger wrote:

“…More troubling than these types of individual illiteracy are the larger, population-wide ones that have a direct impact on public policy. As my colleague Bryan Walsh observed, the issue of climate change received not a single mention in all three of this year’s presidential debates, and has barely been flicked at on the campaign trail. Part of that might simply be combat fatigue; we’ve been having the climate argument for 25 years. But the fact is there shouldn’t be any argument at all. Serious scientists who doubt that climate change is a real threat are down to just a handful of wild breeding pairs. But sowing doubt about the matter has been a thriving industry of conservatives for decades — most recently in the form of a faux scientific study published by the Cato Institute, that purports to debunk climate science as fatally flawed at best or a hoax at worst. Speaking of a federally funded and Congressionally mandated report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program that responsibly reviewed the state of climate science, the Cato publication argues:

Well, no, but never mind. Our willingness to believe in junk science like this exacts a very real price — in an electorate that won’t demand action from its leaders on a matter of global significance; in parents who leave their babies unvaccinated because someone sent them a blog post fraudulently linking vaccines to autism; in young gays and lesbians forced to submit to “conversion therapy” to change the unchangeable; in a team of good Italian scientists who may spend six years in jail for failing to predict the unpredictable. No one can make us get smart about things we don’t want to get smart about. But every day we fail to do so is another good day for stupid — and another very bad one for all of us….”

Finally, though, reason and logic have won.  On Monday, all were acquitted of all charges, though one man is going to be required to serve 2 years in prison for his role in not predicting an earthquake.  I also suspect something like this will happen again – here in this country.  One of the reason bill be abject ignorance.  The other will be grandstanding prosecutors who want to get their moment of fame, as a stepping stone to elected office.

Just who is going to be the first person to throw the first torch to burn the scientists at the stake?