It’s The Geeks’ Fault

Posted on Friday 27 May 2011

At least in Italy anyway…

Italian government officials have accused the country’s top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

The seven scientists were placed under investigation almost a year ago, according to a news story on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — the world’s largest general-science society and a leading voice for the interests of scientists worldwide.

Alan Leschner, chief executive of AAAS, said his group wrote a letter to the Italian government last year — clearly, to no avail.

“Whoever made these accusations misunderstands the nature of science, the nature of the discipline and how difficult it is to predict anything with the surety they expect,” Leschner told FoxNews.com.

The case could have a “chilling effect” on scientists, he noted.

“It reflects a lack of understanding about what science can and can’t do,” he said. “And frankly, it will have an effect of intimidating scientists … This just feels like either scapegoating or an attempt to intimidate a community. This really seems inappropriate.”

Judge Giuseppe Romano 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, reported the Italian daily Corriere della Sera

In doing so, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public,” the judge said.

Can these people be serious? Do these government officials be so clueless as to think that the field of seismology is precise enough to predict accurately when major natural events like earthquakes will happen? Seismology, like much of science, is more of an exercise in observation and hypothetical correlation; watching what the earth does and making guesses as to what made it do what it just did. I would think that if the technology existed to predict earthquakes, wouldn’t it have been used in an earthquake-prone place like Japan?

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

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