Scientists Convicted of Failing to Predict Deadly Earthquake in Italy; Others Resign in Protest
A judge in Italy has found seven experts guilty of manslaughter for not warning the public about a deadly earthquake.
The four scientists, two engineers and a government official were sentenced to six years in prison by Judge Marco Billi, who was asked by the prosecution to hand down only four-year sentences.
All seven participated in a meeting of Italy’s National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks in the town of L’Aquila on March 31, 2009. The area had experienced several tremors, but the experts did not believe it was necessary to issue a warning.
Six days after the commission met, a 6.3 earthquake struck L’Aquila, killing 309 people.
Charges were brought on grounds that the experts performed a superficial analysis of seismic risk prior to the disaster. The defendants, who plan to appeal the decision, will also have to pay court costs and damages of $10.2 million.
Luciano Maiani, who served as president of the risks commission, was one of several government officials who resigned in protest of the court ruling. “This is the death of public service on the part of professors and professionals,” Maiani told the Italian news agency ANSA. He attributed his resignation to the “impossibility for the Commission of being able to work with serenity and provide the State with a high level of scientific consultancy in such complex conditions.”
The commission's vice president, Mauro Rosi, and its president emeritus, Giuseppe Zamberletti, also resigned.
Thomas H. Jordan, a University of Southern California professor who led a post-earthquake commission that advised the Italian government, warned that the convictions could discourage scientists from participating in earthquake preparedness programs.
“I’m afraid it’s going to teach scientists to keep their mouths shut,” Jordan told the newspaper.
Journalist Giustino Parisse, who lost his two sons and his father in the earthquake, wrote in the newspaper Il Centro that he does not “feel able to take my anger out on those men. I have shaken hands with some of them over the last few months, including during the trial, and I did not find them to be stained with blood. I saw fragile men who were perhaps aware that they had made a mistake and for that reason were caught up in the turmoil of a tragedy that also swept them away.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Italy's Top Scientists Resign Their Government Posts After Quake Conviction (by John Hudson, Atlantic Wire)
Earthquake Experts Convicted of Manslaughter (by Edwin Cartlidge, ScienceInsider)
Italy Orders Jail Terms for 7 Who Didn’t Warn of Deadly Earthquake (by Elisabetta Povoledo and Henry Fountain, New York Times)
Scientists on Trial: At Fault? (by Stephen S. Hall, Nature)
Scientists on Trial in Italy for Failing to Warn about Deadly Earthquake (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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