Monday, October 22, 2012

Science on Trial

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced today to six years in prison over the deadly earthquake that hit the town of  L'Aquila in 2009, and killed 309 people. A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.

The scientists convened a meeting of local residents after a number of smaller quakes had hit the town and then gave assurances that there was no indication that a major incident was likely. The court has held them to account for providing 'inexact, incomplete and contradictory' information about the danger of the tremors. This was compounded by accurate predictions of the disaster by local physicist, Giampaolo Giuliani. However, his predictions appear to be based on disputed tests.

The prediction of earthquakes remains a very inexact science and in many ways this court case has been seen as a trail of science itself and its inherent uncertainties. It may set a dangerous precident, since in future scientists may be unwilling to share their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits.

Here is how the BBC reported the trial a year ago, prior to publication of the verdicts:

And here, a BBC World Service podcast I found which includes a short discussion on the trial, the verdicts and the possible effects on the reporting of scientific findings in Italy:

Science on Trial

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