Seismologists face manslaughter charges for not predicting quake


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I happen to live in something of an earthquake zone and it seems that these things do happen quite randomly, such as when you're sitting at home watching TV.

However, some in Italy feel that it's about time seismologists were held responsible for their supposed ability to recognize when a trembler is going to hit a certain neighborhood.

Science magazine reports that Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and his fellow seismologists have been charged with manslaughter after they allegedly didn't alert the residents of L'Aquila in Central Italy before a quake hit that town and killed 308 residents.

This might seem insanely harsh. Seismologists do work hard at trying to discover when and where a quake might hit.

However, in this case, it seems that these seven, all of whom sit on Italy's major risks committee, reportedly offered certain words of reassurance that caused some residents of L'Aquila not to abandon their homes, but to stay in an area that had previously experienced some smaller quakes.

L'Aquila after the earthquake.

(Credit: CC Wolfango/Flickr) Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella reportedly offered that the seven had held a televised press conference six days before the quake and offered "imprecise, incomplete, and contradictory information."

Some might wonder whether this is what scientists regularly do, however certain their words might sometimes seem. However, Garagarella reportedly further accuses Franco Barberi, the vice chairman of the committee, of specifically stating that no quake was to be immediately expected in the area.

This reassurance, Gargarella reportedly claimed to Corriere Della Serra, "thwarted the activities designed to protect the public."

Science did manage to speak to Boschi's lawyer, Marcello Melandri, who reportedly stated that his client is extremely unhappy at the prospect of this lawsuit. Indeed, Melandri reportedly claimed that Boschi did state that a major earthquake was entirely probable in the region.

The Italian justice system does have its own highly unpredictable fault lines, so one can only speculate as to what political motives might be embedded in this lawsuit. The prospect of scientists' words being parsed in a court of law, though, is one that might make large brains all over the world judder with trepidation.

Sadly, though, words do get remembered at times like these.

Here are some that might haunt at least one of the defendants, Bernardo De Bernardis, at the time vice president of Italy's Civil Protection Department and now president of the country's Institute for Environmental Protection and Research. The Guardian reported that he was asked before the quakes whether residents of L'Aquila should just sit back and relax with a glass of wine.

His reported reply: "Absolutely, a Montepulciano doc (a very nice red wine from Tuscany). This seems important."

Source: Seismologists face manslaughter charges for not predicting quake | Technically Incorrect - CNET News


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The 6 April 2009 earthquake which shook the Italian city of L'Aquila killed 308 of the city's residents, injured thousands, and caused wide-spread damage to buildings and infrastructure; prosecutors have decided to bring seven geologists to trial for failing to alert city residents about the impending tremor; the geologists, all members of Italy's Major Risk Committee, met on 31 March 2009 to discuss the possible risk to the Abruzzo region, of which L'Aquila is the capital; the region had experienced several small tremors in the months before the meeting; in a press conference following the meeting, the geologists reassured residents of the region that no major quake was imminent, and that they had no reason to leave their homes

In what may be a world’s first, seven Italian geologists will be facing manslaughter charges for failing to alert the residents of the city of L’Aquila of an impending earthquake. The seven experts sit on Italy’s major risks committee.

The 6 April 2009 tremor killed 308 of the city’s residents, injured thousands, and caused wide-spread damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Science reports that those who will stand trial are Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV); Franco Barberi, committee vice president; Bernardo De Bernardinis, at the time vice president of Italy’s Civil Protection Department and now president of the country’s Institute for Environmental Protection and Research; Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Center; Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Center for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering; Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa; and Mauro Dolce, director of the office of seismic risk at the Civil Protection Department.

L’Aquila prosecutors and Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the charges have less to do with members of the risks committee not alerting city residents about the quake – but, rather, that the experts, in response to inquiries, explicitly reassured the city and its leaders that there was no risk of a tremor and that residents should, therefore, not leave their homes.

According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake. In doing so, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public,” the judge said.

Science notes that during 31 March 2009 meeting of the major risks committee, committee vice chair Barberi, one of the seven to be tried, said there were no reason to think a major quake was imminent, even though the area around the town had been experiencing a series of smaller tremors in the previous months. Prosecutors say that i the press briefing which followed the meeting, prosecutors say, the commission made statements that gave the town’s people a false sense of security.

Boschi’s lawyer, Marcello Melandri, told Science that Boschi not only never sought to reassure the population of L’Aquila that there was no threat – but, on the contrary, that he made it clear that “at some point it is probable that there will be a big earthquake” in the Abruzzo region, of which L’Aquila is the capital.

The trial is scheduled to start on 20 September.

Source: Scientists charged with manslaughter for not issuing earthquake alert | Homeland Security News Wire

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