“Scientists on trial: At fault?”

by Walter Olson on September 16, 2011

“In 2009, an earthquake devastated the Italian city of L’Aquila and killed more than 300 people. Now, scientists are on trial for manslaughter.” [Stephen S. Hall, Nature via Arts & Letters Daily]

{ 5 comments }

1 KDP 09.16.11 at 9:55 am

The only things missing from the scene are torches and pitchforks.

2 Bob Roberts 09.16.11 at 6:10 pm

The answer is obvious – scientists shouldn’t serve on advisory commissions for earthquake preparedness. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about going to prison when an earthquake hits.

3 Kurt 09.17.11 at 10:28 am

I have been involved in emergency planning drills that involve giving local agencies recommendations for evacuating people. All have only been practices. One of the things that we are reminded in these drills is that it is not always better to evacuate people. It is very disruptive and anytime you have thousands of people on the move there is the possibility of accidents or even deaths. Therefore, we are always trying to make sure our decisions are the correct for the conditions but without the crystal ball, it is not a sure thing.

4 Mannie 09.18.11 at 1:59 pm

I agree with Bob. If I was a geologist or geophysicist on any of the advisory commissions, I would quit instantly. Otherwise, issue daily evacuation orders.

5 Leland Davis 09.18.11 at 11:22 pm

Of course, one thing that gets left out of the (quite justified, actually) concerns about chilling of scientific opinion is that the same scientists who are being charged now with manslaughter had a scientific rival (Giuliani) charged ON THE VERY DAY THE BIG ONE HIT with raising a false alarm, and ordered him to keep his research private, because he was predicting, on the basis of radon gas emissions that a large earthquake was imminent. As they say, sauce for the goose….is sauce for the gander.
Anyway, Italy way overcriminalizes everything, and in this case, it is going to result in scientific progress being retarded. Many multinational companies avoid putting their executives in Italy, for fear that they may be prosecuted for something random, no matter how careful they are about the law, by some hotshot prosecutor hoping to make his career by landing a big fish. Before we were angry at Standard and Poor’s, Italy tried to have them prosecuted, for raising concerns about Italy’s financial situation. And now, it’s scientists. Truly, nobody in Italy is safe.
One way to know that you have really arrived in the world is if, having never set foot in Italy, you are being prosecuted there. Another is that some woman in California that you have never met claims that you fathered her child. Extra credit on the paternity thing if you are a woman.

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