Thursday 25 October 2012

Earthquake forecasts - get it wrong, go to gaol

‘Never make predictions,’ said Sam Goldwyn, ‘especially about the future.’  In April 2009, an earthquake devastated the medieval Italian town of L'Aquila, killing more than 300 people.   This week, seven scientists were sentenced to prison terms for failing to foretell it.

The group were all members of  the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Serious Risks.   Before the disaster, there had been a number of tremors in the area, but they told officials that, although a major earthquake was possible, it was not likely. 

In court, it was said that following their assessment, many people stayed in their homes and perished, while others who decided to remain outside in the street survived.    The experts were accused of providing ‘inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory’ information.

All of them are appealing, and remain free for the moment.     The head of the commission and his deputy have both resigned in protest, saying the verdict puts scientists in an impossible position.    More than 5,000 of their colleagues have sent an open letter to the president, supporting the convicted men. 

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