Monday 3 October 2011

Disasters - blaming the experts

Six scientists from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology and the former deputy chief of the Civil Protection Agency, Bernardo De Bernardinis , have gone on trial for manslaughter in Perugia in connection with the earthquake that hit the medieval city of L’Aquila in  2009, killing 308 people, and destroying thousands of buildings.

For months, people living in and around the city had been experiencing earth tremors, but on March 31, 2009, Dr De Bernardinis told them there was ‘no danger’.  Six days later the earthquake struck.

The prosecution claims the seven were negligent in their assessment of the risks, and that the reassuring comments made by Dr De Bernardinis and a vulcanologist resulted in the deaths of people who would otherwise have left their homes after two tremors on successive nights just before the quake.

Some scientists have said that the case will have a ‘chilling effect’, and might deter them from sharing their expertise with the public for fear of the consequences if things go wrong.   (See also my blog of April 6, 2009.)

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