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Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Scientists on trial for manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake

Posted by on Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:16 AM
  • 10 Replies

Seven people went on trial for manslaughter Tuesday in Italy, accused of failing to predict an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in L'Aquila in April 2009.

The seven -- six scientists from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology and a member of the Civil Protection Agency -- were members of a governmental panel that prosecutors accuse of giving a "rough, generic and ineffective assessment of the seismic risk."

The seven, members of a so-called "major risks" panel, published "inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers of seismic activity undermining the protection of the population," prosecutors said.


The first hearing Tuesday morning in L'Aquila's tribunal was devoted to technical matters and claims by injured parties.

The city of L'Aquila has requested 50 million euros ($68 million) in compensation.

Only one defendant was in court, the vice president of the panel, Bernardo De Bernardinis. "I thought it was important to be here, not only because this is my turf but also to underline the professionalism ... of the other public officers," De Bernardinis told reporters.

The trial has attracted the attention of the scientific world.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) wrote to Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano in June last year to express "concern" over the indictment of its Italian colleagues.

"The charges against these scientists are both unfair and naive," the letter said. The basis of the indictments appears to be that the scientists failed to alert the population of L'Aquila of an impending earthquake. However, the letter continues, "there is no way they could have done that credibly."

Lawyer Marcello Melandri is defending Enzo Boschi, who was president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology at the time of the quake.

Melandri denies that it's a trial against science, saying: "Professor Boschi simply said that the earthquake is unpredictable, that it could or it could not happen."

The Civil Protection Agency had organized a meeting of the major risks panel in L'Aquila on March 31, 2009, amid concern among the city's residents over ongoing seismic activity.

After that meeting some members of the commission made reassuring statements to the press.

In particular De Bernardinis said in an interview with a local TV station that the scientific community was "reassuring" him, and that the numerous tremors were in some ways a good thing, as they released seismic energy.

The interview concluded with a joke. "Meanwhile, let's go and have a glass of wine," the journalist said. "Absolutely!" De Bernardinis replied.

Six days later, the magnitude-6.3 quake hit the city and surrounding areas, causing wide destruction and loss of life.

Eugenio Carlomagno is among the citizens of L'Aquila to feel let down by the panel.

"There are big responsibilities that this trial has to establish. No one alerted us, there were no evacuation plans that could have saved lives," he told CNN.

"It's not a matter of drinking a glass of wine, it's a matter of respecting rules."

The next trial session was scheduled for October 1.

by on Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:16 AM
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Replies (1-10):
_Kissy_
by on Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:19 AM
1 mom liked this

That would be like expecting a priest to predict when Jesus was coming back.

Both are unpredictible and on the brink of impossible.

mehamil1
by Platinum Member on Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:25 AM

How the hell are they supposed to know how/when and what magnitude an earth quake would be?!?!?! We don't even have that kind of technology. 

katzmeow726
by Platinum Member on Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:28 AM
2 moms liked this

Can I sue the weatherman then...they told us isaac was going to hit us, so we bought supplies and spent a good chunk of money. PLUS made us cut our vacation short.

I'm calling a lawyer tomorrow HMPH! 

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:59 AM

Oh, that's brilliant.

wickedfiress
by Kellie on Oct. 22, 2012 at 4:27 AM
3 moms liked this
Well it's a bit reassuring to know there are other governments made up of complete idiots. :/
Posted on the NEW CafeMom Mobile
Sekirei
by Nari Trickster on Oct. 22, 2012 at 4:55 AM

well, this is what the government is good at.. laying the blame on people who cannot control what they are getting blamed for... o.O

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 3:23 AM

Here are the consequences of that decision to prosecute:

It's four years since the deadly earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy, and six months since scientists were convicted of manslaughter for failing to communicate the danger. Today, evacuation orders are issued much more readily - too readily, some say.

"Everyone knows, you can't predict an earthquake."

Anne Thornley-Bennett, who lives in the Italian town of Barga, categorically believes this. So why, on 31 January, did she decide to evacuate when the local council sent out warnings of a major quake?

"We received dozens of phone calls and text messages, one of which just said, 'Evacuate'. We just went along with the mania," she sighs.

"If it had only been my husband and me, I don't think we'd have taken the advice. We'd have just stayed on the bottom floor in our sleeping bags as we'd done the previous nights. But when you've got little ones... well, if anything did happen, you'd never forgive yourself."

Barga is situated in the picturesque but seismically shaky Garfagnana region of Tuscany. For a week they had been experiencing constant tremors and aftershocks.

"It was pretty scary because you could hear the earth groan. One day the kids were even evacuated from school without their coats." She laughs, implying that only a real emergency would see Italian children being sent outside coatless in winter.

Garfagnana experienced a huge 6.5 magnitude quake in 1920, yet the local authorities and population have never panicked like this before.

One mayor's decision to evacuate a town centre on 31 January spread fear to the surrounding municipalities, where thousands of residents ended up being advised to sleep in their cars or in schools transformed into emergency shelters. Hospitals and care homes were emptied. In the end, nothing happened. The following day, everyone went home.

Italy never used to worry quite so much about little tremors.

The change appears to be the direct result of last year's conviction of seven members of Italy's High Risk Commission - six of whom were scientists - for manslaughter. They were found guilty of failing to properly communicate the risk of a major earthquake in L'Aquila.

The case has produced its own kind of aftershock.

"Alarmism? It's the poisoned fruit of the L'Aquila sentence," says Franco Gabrielli, the head of the Civil Protection Department, the day after the Garfagnana evacuations.

His spokesperson Francesca Maffini says it's inevitable that scientists are now erring on the side of caution.

"It's not the verdict itself, it's the very fact they were put on trial," she says. "If the risk is between zero and 40%, today they'll tell us it's 40, even if they think it's closer to zero. They're protecting themselves, which is perfectly understandable."

(source: BBC)

Carpy
by Ruby Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 7:09 AM

Wow did Italy just jump back a few centuries?

MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 7:35 AM

Natural disasters are considered an `acts of God' an should never be  prosecuted. 

Woodbabe
by Woodie on Apr. 6, 2013 at 8:05 AM

Those poor guys...

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