There is a bizarre case in Italy where Italian prosecutors have charged the country’s top seismologist with manslaughter for failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009. The massive earthquake killed 308 people and they blame Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. Six other scientists and technicians are also charged.
The charges are based on the flawed assumption that earthquakes can be predicted with precision. The USGS ‘s website notes that “[n]either the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake.”
The scientists have been under investigation for a year. Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information” on the earthquake. This information was made available in a press conference six days before the earthquake. By giving such information, they are accused of “thwart[ing] the activities designed to protect the public.” However, Boshi had predicated that a large earthquake was coming. He just didn’t know when.
It is a case that threatens all scientists and creates a chilling effect across fields that range from seismologists to climatologists to volcanologists to medical scientists.