Italy has never been an exemplar of cool headed thinking and calm rational response. They are more often categorized as hot blooded, emotionally driven. Case in point this week is the conviction of six scientists and a government official to six years in jail for failing to warn citizens of a 2009 earthquake.
They were convicted even though the prosecutor acknowledges that earthquakes are impossible to predict. Current models forecast the potential for an earthquake within a period of decades. Even if these scientists said that there was a 100% chance of an earthquake they could not say with any certainty when it would happen. What did the Italian court want them to do? Did they really think it would be reasonable to evacuate a region for ten, twenty, thirty or more years until something happened?
What if they scientists issued a warning that said there was a 90% chance of an earthquake happening in the next 8 weeks? Would they have evacuated then? If it did not happen, would the courts then be looking to hold the same six scientists financially accountable for economic impact of shutting a place down for several weeks?
The conviction is a travesty. Thousands of researchers, geologists, and other scientists and scientific organizations around the world are speaking up against this conviction and writing to Italy’s president to step in. For Italy’s sake let’s hope he does.