Italian scientists found guilty of manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake.

By on October 24, 2012 11:43:37 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

DrJBHL

Join Date 04/2002
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When this controversy started, I posted in Forums about it. This post comes as follow up.

So, these scientists (and one government official) were put on trial for manslaughter. The essence of the matter was that they did not predict this earthquake which killed 300 people in 2009 in Abruzzo, Italy.

Back then, as now I felt that this was irrational as both then and now there is no method or testing which can reliably predict an earthquake, even if these scientists were on the Italian “Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks”.

Apparently, some local lab tech predicted (based on Radon levels and seismic tremors) that there would be a major earthquake. The official on trial told the people that the tremors were releasing energy, not to fear and have a glass of wine. The earthquake struck on April 6th, 2011.

Apparently in Italy, not much has changed since Galileo’s trial back in 1633. Galileo made a big claim which while correct, could not be proved, and more relevantly, he did not communicate his findings to the Church since any discovery which would cause a change in Biblical interpretation first had to be communicated to the Church. In 2009, the official's communication was equally faulty. He should have stated that the lab tech's method of prediction has not yet been supported by science, and that no reliable method for prediction yet exists. He sought instead to calm a nervous populace.

As a result of Galileo's trial, astronomy (in Italy) was held back hundreds of years.

As a result of the current farce, I wonder who will be foolhardy enough to study or work in the field of geology in Italy?

Expectations must be balanced by reality. While we can hope for the advances we’d love to see in science, expecting them is quite another matter. Worse still are unrealistic expectations.

I hope these scientists’ sentence can be appealed successfully. They haven’t been sentenced yet as in Italy, the verdict undergoes a review process before sentence is pronounced.

Source:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/post/italian-scientists-found-guilty-of-manslaughter-for-failure-to-perform-magic/2012/10/22/8f52e872-1c6d-11e2-9cd5-b55c38388962_blog.html

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October 24, 2012 11:49:51 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Amazing. 

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October 24, 2012 11:56:46 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sorry, no, the story is wrong.  Our judges are crazy but not THAT crazy. 

It's not about "not predicting", it's about "miscommunicating". They "reassured" the people that there was no "particular reason" to expect a major earthquake; people interpreted that as "it's safe to go home", and they did go home, even to the ones that were unsafe (for no fault of the scientists)

Of course *I don't think* they should have been found guilty, but it's true that the announcement *could* have been worded a bit differently. Regular people don't have the technical background to understand the finer points of such arguments.

 

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October 24, 2012 12:03:50 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

As I stated, I agree that both are based on miscommunication.

However, that should not amount to manslaughter.

 

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October 24, 2012 12:07:37 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Those error filled witches should be burned. 

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October 24, 2012 1:10:42 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Some of our malpractice plaintiff attorneys must be working with the Italian government now.  Their biz has been a bit slower here of late.

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October 24, 2012 1:22:20 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

This would have to be one of the worst travesties of justice in the history of mankind and those who arrived at a guilty [of manslaughter] verdict should be imprisoned for perverting the course of justice.

In fact, I can see no justice in the guilty verdict.

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October 24, 2012 1:35:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting mastroego,
Sorry, no, the story is wrong.  Our judges are crazy but not THAT crazy. 

It's not about "not predicting", it's about "miscommunicating". They "reassured" the people that there was no "particular reason" to expect a major earthquake; people interpreted that as "it's safe to go home", and they did go home, even to the ones that were unsafe (for no fault of the scientists)

Of course *I don't think* they should have been found guilty, but it's true that the announcement *could* have been worded a bit differently. Regular people don't have the technical background to understand the finer points of such arguments.

 

 

Every geologist I know, and i know a few as I have an aspiring interest myself (but don't pretend to be anything beyond a novice fan), would have said the same thing -- as rare as earthquakes are, it is extremely rare for a small earthquake to be a precursor to a larger one, to the point no geologist I know would consider it a sufficient risk to ever say anything even vaguely like "there may be a larger earthquake to follow."  If asked "could this earthquake have been a foreshock?" I know that "no particular reason" would be a very apt and accurate descriptor.

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October 24, 2012 1:54:59 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

This decision is like something out of the dark ages.

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October 24, 2012 2:49:27 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

I thought Italians were an intelligent people. Evidently not if they sentence this person. STUPID!

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October 24, 2012 3:20:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Chibiabos,

Every geologist I know, and i know a few as I have an aspiring interest myself (but don't pretend to be anything beyond a novice fan), would have said the same thing -- as rare as earthquakes are, it is extremely rare for a small earthquake to be a precursor to a larger one, to the point no geologist I know would consider it a sufficient risk to ever say anything even vaguely like "there may be a larger earthquake to follow."  If asked "could this earthquake have been a foreshock?" I know that "no particular reason" would be a very apt and accurate descriptor.

True, but they were not random scientists, they were part of a specific crisis committee meant to handle "the mob".

When you look at the Italian wording of their announcement, they effectively told people (who were leaving their homes out of fear) to go back inside. The fact is that many of those houses weren't even fit to stand a mild earthquake. Given their role, they maybe could have factored that too in their advising.

I'm not saying the sentence is just: it's wrong, VERY wrong for a lot of reason. But it's not as "medieval" as it sounds if you read the reports without knowing the context.

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October 24, 2012 8:42:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Mastroego,

 

I disagree with your depiction of the facts, because the central concept behind the charge of manslaughter as I understand it is that either through your actions or through criminal negligence you caused the death of a person without intending to do so.  Since the scientists neither caused the earthquake, nor were capable of being criminally negligent in failing to predict another quake due to that fact that all geologists agree it is impossible to do so, they can not be guilty of manslaughter.

 

This very much is ignorant and a gross miscarriage of justice and makes Italian jurisprudence look extremely foolish and backwards.

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October 25, 2012 12:09:09 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

No, minor earthquakes happen all the time.

 

This is like someone saying people have accidents, so we need to stop driving cars.  If someone rational comes out and says it's absurd to stop driving just because there's an extremely rare chance you'll have an accident tomorrow, they haven't mislead you.

 

No reasonable, thinking individual, would assume one will have a damaging quake just because there was a minor one.  People along the Ring of Fire would live in constant terror, they happen all the time.

 

Your judicial system is batshit insane.  This couldn't have gotten to a grand jury in the US, let alone a trial.  That you went all the way to a conviction is plain fucking nuts...  Everyone is fucked up a wee bit, but Italy makes most of western civilization look damn good.

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October 25, 2012 12:41:32 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Knew it...Exactly why I never became a scientist.

My fore sight never ceases to amaze me.

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October 25, 2012 2:48:56 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Quoting mastroego,
I'm not saying the sentence is just: it's wrong, VERY wrong for a lot of reason. But it's not as "medieval" as it sounds if you read the reports without knowing the context.

Yeah, no.

There is no context (in any *rational* world) where the natural reticence of a scientist constitutes any fault at all, let alone manslaughter.

It *is* medieval. This is nothing more than a case of morons wanting absolute certainty where such certainty cannot possibly exist.

Italy has more than enough to deal with on a governmental and budgetary level, they don't need to be making themselves the laughingstock of the rest of the rational world.

By sacrificing their scientists to the crucible of political stupidity, they've all but guaranteed that they'll suffer all the more when the scientists either leave Italy entirely, or simply refuse to make any statement whatsoever.

Forget the idea of shooting oneself in the foot, Italy shot itself in the brain. Good luck with that.

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October 25, 2012 5:40:09 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Quoting DrJBHL,
As I stated, I agree that both are based on miscommunication.

However, that should not amount to manslaughter.

 

I also believe that the scientists themselves when having viewed the official's statement should have added that no earthquake can be predicted with any accuracy and emphasized safety precautions. At most, and in hindsight, there might have been some negligence in not expanding on the official's statement... but certainly not manslaughter. That is ludicrous. 

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October 25, 2012 6:01:05 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Again, there's a big misunderstanding here.

You think of them as "scientists", while in this case you should regard them as "public officers". That was their role, what they were paid for. It's not about "failing to predict", rather about giving "misleading advice", which amounts to not living up to their specific task.

Which of course still doesn't constitute manslaughter anyway (and the merit itself would be debatable on its own to boot).

I'm only saying that journalists paralleling this case to Galileo's are just trying to get more hits. 

I also believe that the scientists themselves when having viewed the official's statement should have added that no earthquake can be predicted with any accuracy and emphasized safety precautions. At most, and in hindsight, there might have been some negligence in not expanding on the official's statement... but certainly not manslaughter. That is ludicrous. 
 

This, to summarize. 

 

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October 25, 2012 6:32:14 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

mastroego, you're right that I think of scientists as scientists... why else would they, and not some political flunky be hired?

Weren't they paid to give scientifically based advice? If not, why were scientists hired?

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October 25, 2012 11:58:08 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

The long and short of it......earthquake prediction is not possible given the present state of technology. That the scientists failed to predict the quake is due to that fact not...through any fault of their own. To charge them with manslaughter is more than just ludicrous.....it is downright inhumane!

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October 25, 2012 4:58:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting DrJBHL,
mastroego, you're right that I think of scientists as scientists... why else would they, and not some political flunky be hired?

Weren't they paid to give scientifically based advice? If not, why were scientists hired?

You know, I think you're pin-pointing the original anomaly here: instead of accepting chairs at the "Committee for Big Risks" they probably should have acted as advisors for an actual decision maker/speakperson. Scientists, gods bless them, are not politicians nor managers, they aren't generally suited for those tasks, as this case, in its twisted way, proves. 

Again, I'm not saying they deserve what happened to them (actually I think the sentence will be undone in the second grade of the trial, or the third if it comes to that). Just that the facts are more subtle than the press reported. 

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October 25, 2012 5:32:59 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Quoting mastroego,
instead of accepting chairs at the "Committee for Big Risks" they probably should have acted as advisors for an actual decision maker/speakperson.

Who knows what they were 'offered'... It seems quite weird to me.

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October 26, 2012 8:09:10 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

I agree that manslaughter is absurd in this case.

Quoting Aleatoric,
There is no context (in any *rational* world) where the natural reticence of a scientist constitutes any fault at all, let alone manslaughter.

I'm not so sure.....How about the "Give me a billion dollars and I'll figure out how to predict earthquakes for you" scenario? How about the scientist who creates a world wide panic and institutes massive spending by saying the polar caps will melt by 2010? Shouldn't those guys be libel for something?

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October 26, 2012 9:19:53 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Well, it's a good thing he said they would melt by 2010, so that we would do something to prevent it.  And look, they haven't.  So good job, scientist!

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October 26, 2012 5:37:05 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

As an astronomer, I failed to predict the asteroid which is going to wipe out the Earth tomorrow.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused by the short notice

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October 26, 2012 5:52:19 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Well the Italian Justice system had a better day today. Hopefully Berlusconi doesn't escape on an appeal. His country certainly needs all that money he's been trying to hide.

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October 26, 2012 6:13:15 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Quoting Fuzzy Logic,
As an astronomer, I failed to predict the asteroid which is going to wipe out the Earth tomorrow.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused by the short notice  

 

Always figured humanity's last words would be "Well fock!".

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