The Italian town of L’Aquila. Yeah, it’s the scientists’ fault a town built like this suffered from an earthquake.

The Italian government has a long and storied history of being distrustful and ignorant of science. Who can forget the tragedy of Galileo Galilei, the famous Italian scientist and astronomer who died under house arrest because he tried to figure things out instead of saying, “Meh, God is unknowable.”

Of course, an Italian would probably say “Suvvia! A lot has changed since the 1630s.” Then he’d look at all the women wearing tight jeans and applaud America’s rape prevention campaign.

Sure, the Italian legal system may have evolved to the point where it’s not arresting people for using telescopes and math, but it still has a long way to go before it shows a competent understanding of modern science.

In fact, it’s probably too much to ask Italian courts to understand science. I think the industrialized world would be happy if we could just get Italy to stop convicting scientists for doing their jobs….

Yesterday, an Italian court convicted six scientists of manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake. I was trying to come up with a witty analogy, but I can’t think of anything quite like convicting people for manslaughter for not predicting something that is fundamentally unpredictable. It’s not like the Germans convicted Heisenberg for equivocation. If you beat up a weatherman for not predicting the rain that ruined your day at the beach, you’d be vastly more reasonable, knowledgeable, and merciful than this Italian court.

From CNN (gavel bang: ABA Journal):

The court in L’Aquila sentenced the scientists and a government official Monday to six years in prison, ruling that they didn’t accurately communicate the risk of the earthquake in 2009 that killed more than 300 people.

The trial centered on a meeting a week before the 6.3-magnitude quake struck. At the meeting, the experts determined that it was “unlikely” but not impossible that a major quake would take place, despite concern among the city’s residents over recent seismic activity.

Prosecutors said the defendants provided “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers” facing L’Aquila.

No, you freaking idiots, THE EARTH provided inaccurate, incomplete, and contradictory information about whether or not she was going to destroy your insignificant human settlement. The scientists were just trying to make a guess. If you are going to blame somebody for the loss of life — you know, other than your precious “God” — why don’t you blame buildings I’m sure weren’t built to the maximum level of earthquake safety?

What kind of legal system charges people for not predicting the future?

Comments from one of the defendants — Enzo Boschi, the former president of the [Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology] — suggested the scientists were shellshocked by their conviction.

“I’m dejected, despairing. I still don’t understand what I’m accused of,” Boschi said after the ruling, according to ANSA, Italy’s official news agency.

You know, when you build a well so deep that it can’t be fixed if it breaks, then it breaks and you lie about it, that’s not a “natural” disaster, that’s a stupid human failure. But when an earthquake wrecks your town, looking for somebody to blame seems like a poor use of human and judicial time.

The next time a town gets leveled by a natural disaster, maybe the Italian courts should convict the town’s priests for not praying hard enough to escape God’s wrath.

Scientists aghast over Italian quake verdicts [CNN]
Italian Court Convicts Earthquake Experts for Failing to Adequately Warn of Impending Disaster [ABA Journal]


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