Earthquake prediction can be a grave, and faulty science, and in the case of Italian seismologists who are being tried for the manslaughter of the people who died in the 2009 L’Aquila quake, it can have legal consequences.
The group of seven, including six seismologists and a government official, reportedly didn’t alert the public ahead of time of the risk of the L’Aquila earthquake, which occurred on April 6 of that year, killing around 300 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
But most scientists would agree it’s not their fault they couldn’t predict the wrath of Mother Nature.
The decision to try the six members of a committee tasked with determining the risk of an earthquake in the area (along with a government official) was announced on Wednesday (May 25) by Judge Giuseppe Romano, according to a news article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Some people said the committee should’ve seen it coming, because of the earthquake swarms that occurred days before the big one struck, Vidale said.
“We get swarms of earthquakes all the time without a big earthquake. There was nothing strange about this swarm to suggest a big earthquake,” Vidale said in a telephone interview. [Album: This Millennium’s Destructive Earthquakes]
Regarding the charges against the Italian seismologists, Vidale said “we’re offended” that they are being charged with a crime “for telling the truth.” That truth is, he added, there was nothing to say that the level of danger was enough to warrant any public action.
Wow. My first reaction when I read this was “why not accuse them of witchcraft while you’re at it?” Personally, I think this is a little ridiculous. Seismology is a unique science in that the dataset is, in many ways, completely beyond human metrics — it is simply impossible to measure a lot of things with certainty, or to establish repeatable causality. And unlike materials science, it’s impossible to do sample tests on the scale at which problems actually occur. So what do you think? Is it fair to hold scientists accountable for things like this? Post your thoughts in the comments.