GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Six Italian seismologists and a civilian protection manager were sentenced to six years in prison late Monday 22 October for manslaughter, leaving the international scientific community in shock.
The guilty verdict stems from charges that they falsely reassured the population of L’Aquila in northern Italy that an earthquake was not likely to strike.
The town was hit by a major quake 6 April 2009: 300 people died, thousands lost their homes and much of the area was in rubble for weeks afterwards.
The seven were the members of an earthquake advisory board for the region.
The defense had asked for them to be acquitted and the prosecutor had asked for four years, so the final sentence surprised almost everyone. Reactions flowing in have included an analysis by The New Scientist,which asks, “Can we predict earthquakes? In short, no. Despite decades of research, we do not have a reliable way of predicting when and where an earthquake is going to happen with any accuracy. That’s not to say we don’t have any information … But the statistical forecasts are vague, and can span decades, says Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, UK. A truly useful prediction would be something like: ‘Next week, there will be an earthquake in Geneva of a magnitude greater than 6.5.’ That would allow for planned evacuations and other emergency measures. At the moment, nobody can make such precise, timely predictions.”
Musson is cited by Reuters Monday: “What those six scientists said was correct and any seismologists would support it,” said Roger Musson at the British Geological Survey. “It seems to be wrong that they should be prosecuted for offering scientific advice to the best of their ability.”