5 years ago an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude hit L'Aquila in Italy causing 309 deaths and much destruction. In 2012 6 Italian scientists,

  • Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission
  • Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics
  • Giulio Selvaggi, director of National Earthquake Centre
  • Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering
  • Claudio Eva, physicist
  • Mauro Dolce, director of the the Civil Protection Agency's earthquake risk office
  • Bernardo De Bernardinis (pictured), former vice-president of Civil Protection Agency's technical department

were convicted of multiple manslaughter for falsely reassuring the residents with "inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory" information, following tremors.

Today the original conviction was overturned.

It bears pondering what science is, how it works, and the role it plays in governance to consider how, if at all, scientists can be held liable for recommendations or predictions they make.

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In this case, it would seem that the consensus among geologists is that earthquakes cannot be reliably predicted. We might consider that an evacuation recommendation would surely be based on a more nuanced assessment than "we cant say for sure", or "no earthquake nope", or "GTFO its coming for sure". It would seem churlish to expect a recommendation based on a probabilistic outcome, and then hold the assessor liable for an adverse instance.

Perhaps consistent false negative assessments would give rise to a reassessment of methodology as well as the theory of how these situations are evaluated. A failure to do so might perhaps be construed as a misstep which should burden those responsible with legal liability. But to convict on the basis of a single outcome, seems to me to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is, how data is gathered and conclusions arrived at, and when this impacts an issue of governance.

I am glad the convictions were overturned.

ETA : This wonderful tidbit from Vlad the Imploder on Space

This is what people at large need to understand about science as opposed to ... Well, any belief-based group, religious, political, or otherwise. Science wants to know if it's wrong, and is not afraid of being wrong. That's what makes it science.