L’Aquila Quake Prediction- Nature Failed Science – Scientists Sentenced For False Assurances

It Is Almost Impossible to predict earthquakes and not all minor tremors result in bigger quakes, but previous studies had found that about half of bigger quakes in Italy were preceded by swarms of smaller earthquakes. Italy Quake L'AquilaThat sounds like a good indicator, but the truth is that there are many more of these small swarms than big earthquakes, and only 2 percent of small swarms preceded bigger quakes. This fact led six Italian scientists to ignore the minor swarms in the town of L’Aquila, Italy and send out assuring information that there was “no danger” of a possible larger earthquake. However, the town was hit by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake on April 6, 2009 resulting in a death toll of 309.

The Italian Seismologists in question and a government official were put on trial for manslaughter, on October 22, 2012 and sentenced to six years in prison. The six scientists and Department of Civil Protection official Bernardo De Bernardinis sit on Italy’s Major Risks Committee, which is supposed to assess the risk of potential natural disasters. They were put on trial for manslaughter for failing to make the local government and citizenry fully aware of the possibility of a large quake during a March 31 meeting in L’Aquila. During that meeting one of the researchers, Enzo Boschi, called a large earthquake “unlikely,” but warned that the possibility could not be excluded.

The Accused Scientists

The scientists sentenced include Boschi, who is the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology; Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa; Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake Center; Franco Barberi, a volcanologist at the University of Rome; Mauro Dolce, head of the seismic risk office of the Civil Protection; Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering.

Bernardo Bernardinis

Government official De Bernardinis, who is the President of the Institute for Environmental Research and Protection, was also included in the sentence. Now the group of seven, all members of an official body called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, have been found guilty of negligence and malpractice in their evaluation of the danger of an earthquake and their duty to keep the city informed of the risks.

The sentences handed out by judge Marco Billi were higher than those demanded by the prosecution, which had asked for the accused to be given four years each. The judge also imposed lifetime bans from holding public office and ordered the defendants to pay compensation of €7.8m (£6.4m).

Wide condemnation on the sentence to Scientists

The case has drawn wide condemnation from leading scientists around the world. Dr John Elliott of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences said: “This verdict is a sad end to a tragic series of events in L’Aquila. Earthquakes cannot be predicted, and these scientists should not even have been on trial accused of providing incomplete information.”

The American Geophysical Union has warned that the risk of future litigation may deter scientists from advising governments or even working to assess seismic risk.

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