In a blow to science and rational thought, Italian prosecutors have succeeded in convicting seven of that country’s leading scientists of manslaughter for failing to predict the 2009 earthquake that struck central Italy. Despite objections from the world’s science community that such accurate and consistent predictions are still impossible, the government blamed the scientists for failing to alert the public that an earthquake was coming.
The earthquake killed more than 300 people. The scientists were given six-year-prison sentences for their failure as members of a national “Great Risks Commission.” The scientists were accused of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about small tremors in the weeks and months before the earthquake.
At best, scientists insist, they can make low probability forecasts not true predictions. Yet, the court still convicted the defendants, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the national Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. The scientists stood in disbelief at the verdict. To make matters worse, the trial was held in an Apennine town devastated by the earthquake. As a fundamental measure of due process, one would have thought a change of venue would have been in order. Instead, the Italian judiciary held the trial on the site of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in L’Aguila.
The verdict is an outrage to both science and the law. It will now go on appeal in the Italian system.