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The L’Aquila Verdict: A Judgment Not against Science, but against a Failure of Science Communication

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A court in Italy has convicted six scientists and one civil defense official of manslaughter in connection with their predictions about an earthquake in l’Aquila in 2009 that killed 309 people. But, contrary to the majority of the news coverage this decision is getting and the gnashing of teeth in the scientific community, the trial was not about science, not about seismology, not about the ability or inability of scientists to predict earthquakes. These convictions were about poor risk communication, and more broadly, about the responsibility scientists have as citizens to share their expertise in order to help people make informed and healthy choices.

It is ludicrous and naïve for the American Association for the Advancement of Science to condemn the verdict, as they did the charges when they were filed, as a misunderstanding about the science behind earthquake probabilities. That this was never about the ability of seismologists to predict earthquakes is clear from the very indictment itself; the defendants were accused of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether small tremors prior to the April 6 quake should have constituted grounds for a warning.

It was never about whether the scientists could or could not predict earthquakes. Even the leader of the 309 Martiri (309 Martyrs) who pressed for the case to be brought said so; Dr. Vincenzo Vittorini, who lost his wife and daughter in the quake, said back when the trial began “Nobody here wants to put science in the dock. We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices”.

Dr. Vittorini’s frustration and anger are understandable. The scientists did a horrible job of communicating. In fact, the scientists didn’t communicate at all! Italy’s national Commissione Nazionale dei Grandi Rischi asked the experts to convene after a series of tremors in the seismically active Appenines led a local physics lab technician to predict a big quake (based on radon levels).

The experts met for several hours, discounted the radon-based prediction, and agreed that the tremors could not help predict whether there would be a major quake. The scientists then left town without speaking at all. A local civil defense official who ran the meeting was asked about it by a reporter and casually and inaccurately described the discussions. “The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.” Dr. Bernardo De Bernardinis, deputy chief of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, added laconically that local citizens should go have a glass of wine. A little over a week later 309 of them were dead.

That is what this trial was all about; the poor risk communication from Dr. De Bernardinis – one of those convicted – and the NON-communication by seismic experts, who would certainly have offered more careful and qualified comments. Did that poor communication cause those tragic deaths and warrant manslaughter convictions? Certainly not directly, as the defense attorneys argued.

Did it fail a frightened community looking to the scientific experts for help, for guidance, for whatever insights they could offer…a community so scared by the tremors and that lab tech’s prediction that hundreds of people were sleeping outdoors? Yes, the poor communication was a serious failure, although scientists share the responsibility with the Italian national government.

While these scientists were there for their expertise in seismic risk, not as communicators, they also knew full well how frightened people were, and how important their opinions about the possibility of a major earthquake would be, and how urgently the community wanted…needed…to hear from them. But they just left town, and let a non-seismologist describe their discussions. For his failing to do so accurately and without appropriate qualifications, the scientists themselves are also surely to blame.

But so is the national government. How can a Commissione Nazionale dei Grandi Rischi, which convenes experts to try to predict and plan for various possible disasters, not include someone responsible for the vital job of risk communication? This is a critical part of overall risk management, because it shapes the way the public perceives a risk, and that has everything to do with how prepared people are for natural disasters, how they respond when a disaster strikes, and how they recover, both physically and psychologically.

The psychological recovery matters a lot to physical health. Chronic stress does great harm to human health in many ways and it is often the case in disaster recovery that the psychological damage does as much damage to the effected community, and in some cases more, than the disastrous event itself.

That there was no one at that experts’ meeting trained in and responsible for communicating the results of the discussion to the public, is a gross failure in and of itself. At the very least the experts in the meeting should have been expressly told that as members of the Commissione Nazionale dei Grandi Rischi they had an obligation to communicate to the public they were there to serve. Any risk management program that overlooks the importance of risk communication is dangerously inadequate.

This entire affair could well have been prevented but for that oversight.

But there is a subtext here that brings us back to the role of scientists as communicators and educators, particularly scientists with expertise about issues involving risk. Indeed, this trial sends a message to them all. As much as we need experts to help predict and plan for risk to society in general, we also need experts to help us understand what we need to know to protect ourselves as individuals.

Scientific experts are among the most highly trusted sources of information in society, and as much as they share their expertise about risk with governments, they should also communicate with and educate individuals looking for the same kind of guidance. Small wonder then that the people of l’Aquila are celebrating what is essentially their revenge against those they hoped would help them make informed choices about how to stay safe, experts who – quite innocently, to be sure – let those people down.

Image: Flickr/Darkroom Daze

David Ropeik About the Author: David Ropeik is an Instructor at the Harvard Extension School and author of 'How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts'. Follow on Twitter @dropeik.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 27 Comments

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  1. 1. phalaris 1:47 am 10/23/2012

    The “communicator” who’s going to be needed is a lawyer, to phrase any statement so as not to attract any liability whatever the outcome.
    Because the next step is going to be the scientists being sued for the damage caused by false alarms.

    All the communication in the world is not going to solve the problem of a public with totally unrealistic expectations created by self-serving politicians and sensationalist and politically motivated media.

    Link to this
  2. 2. oneco9mmentator 12:48 pm 10/23/2012

    “Did that poor communication cause those tragic deaths and warrant manslaughter convictions? Certainly not directly, as the defense attorneys argued.”

    But there was not “good” choice either way. They clearly said in the end that the as far as they could tell, there was no higher risk of a major quake then than 1 year ago, or 5 years ago or anytime. And that was the truth. The fact that the quake came 6 days later is completely irrelevant – it could have come 100 years later as far the current science knows. Were people mislead by such statements? I don’t think so, the quake was an accident and it was pure coincidence that it happened when it happened. There was no poor communication here.

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  3. 3. nav-water 1:05 pm 10/23/2012

    “These convictions were about poor risk communication, and more broadly, about the responsibility scientists have as citizens to share their expertise in order to help people make informed and healthy choices.”

    What if the scientists said there was a 10 percent chance of an deadly earthquake. Would that be sufficient information to make informed and healthy choices. The argument in that case would be that we were informed about 90 percent chance of not occurring an earthquake. so decision based on probabilities is also linked to risk attitudes of individuals. just because they left town without saying a probability of occurrence/nonoccurrence, it cannot be called a poor communication. May be the scientists did not have sufficient information to make an informed prediction.
    Moreover, what about the local physics lab that made the prediction. the scientists at that lab had responsibility as citizens to share the information. Did they share the information? if not, they should be punished as well. If they did, why didn’t the people respond to that information?
    What happened was tragic, but it is out of question to punish for poor communication.

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  4. 4. JohnVidale 1:11 pm 10/23/2012

    Yet another opinion voiced without any idea what was the risk the day of the L’Aquila earthquake. Apparently the facts don’t matter here.

    As best I can tell, the chance of an earthquake of the impact of the M6.3 mainshock has been estimated at about 1 in 10,000 the day it struck, and the chance of dying for people in the worst class of building to be about 1 in 100,000.

    The facts of the situation should be the starting point for deciding appropriate communications, not an irrelevant detail. The low risk seems to me to make the message delivered and the message heard, it’s earthquake country but we’re not recommending evacuations, not only easily defendable but also right.

    Communications and long-term preparations could have been more sophisticated and thorough, but that is largely an issue of resources available, and a much wider circle of people could be culpable.

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  5. 5. difrance 1:37 pm 10/23/2012

    Dear Dr. Ropeik,

    we all agree the the world would be better if people would be able to be a good communicator, a good scientist, a good electrician, a good plumber, and a good priest… and why not a good father, all at the same time. Nevertheless, 50% of the people I know do their job very well, and nothing else. Maybe 25% do their job well. And maybe 20% do their job well, plus they have a hobby. I am one of this supposed 20%, I try to be a good scientist as a job, and I make some amateur music as a hobby (not that often unfortunately). Maybe 5% are better than me, and they can do 2 professions well enough at the same time. But one thing is certain: none of the remaining 95% percent are in jail for that!
    You cannot put a scientist to jail (for 6 years… 6 YEARS?!?) for not being a good communicator, unless you are mad, or simply impressed, and stressed by a still frightened and desperate local community.
    Yes, this is pure madness, because some scientists were asked for a scientific consultancy, and those scientists acted as probably 95% of the scientists in the world would act (the remaining 5% would also be good communicators, maybe). They simply did what they were asked for. They are going to jail because they are poor communicators… This is hard to accept, even if I try to adopt the point of you of a person who wants to stress the importance of scientific communication, as you are doing.
    Now, this being said, I agree with some of your considerations. SOME communication would have not harmed in that context. I was in L’Aquila that night, in my flat (which was only partially affected because it was built as it should be… And by the way: builders! It’s them we should send to jail! Not the scientists!) and it appeared to me as the only good communicator was that Gran Sasso lab technician with the hobby of seismology (By the way, he predicted probably 30 quakes in few months… not that hard to pick the right one!).
    But then the Italian Protezione Civile is guilty for bad management, because they did not provide a good communicator, certainly this is not because of the scientists! And on top of that: a better communication from Protezione Civile could hardly improve the situation! I was in my home. There was a 4.0 quake at 11pm before the big one. People were already scared enough, and many were sleeping in their cars already. I doubt that some better communication from Protezione Civile could improve the situation. I decided to sleep in my bed, but certainly not because of the “poor communication”.
    I had a hard time, as my friends and colleagues all did, to recover after that tragedy. And we had to face the truth that we are not good enough as a country to face such a situation. Too much individualism. And then I decided to leave. If I think of the disaster of the post earthquake management by the Government, of Berlusconi trying to revive his propaganda with the earthquake, of the builders speculating on the new towns, of the local officers so slow and inefficient, of the individualism of people bound to their personal interest, of the local officers who ignored the reports about the many public buildings in the center which should have been renovated… there should be so many people who should pay, and will never pay. And now I see this silly trial. A waste of time. And a shame for my country, as I could realize today while talking to my colleagues here in the UK…
    Best regards,
    Marco

    Best regards,

    Marco

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  6. 6. outsidethebox 1:46 pm 10/23/2012

    If I had been on the jury I would have voted to convict. What exactly are these ‘demigods in white coats” being paid to do exactly? To help the public and in the extreme to save lives. They failed. And here so many say they deserve their pay and their societal privileges but have no responsibility for failure. I disagree.

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  7. 7. rlalli 1:50 pm 10/23/2012

    I am Italian and I agree with David Ropeik’s analysis.
    Unfortunately, the scientists made a meeting in L’Aquila because the director of the Italy’s Civil Protection Department (Dr. Bertolaso) asked them to reassure the local population. He called this meeting “a media event” to discredit those local scientists who were foreseeing a major quake.
    See
    http://inchieste.repubblica.it/it/repubblica/rep-it/2012/01/18/news/il_terremoto_negato-28369392/index.html?ref=HRER2-1

    The defending scientists met much less of the “several hours” quoted in Ropeik’s article. The minutes show that the duration of the meeting was just one hour.

    Of course, it is a legal matter to decide if their responsibility is worth the final sentence, but it is sure that the judgment was not against science, but about the link between political interest and science expertise with respect to risk communication in Italian local context.

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  8. 8. Lost Martian 3:27 pm 10/23/2012

    What has happened to Scientific American?

    This article (sic) Another example of post-modern anti-science mumbo-jumbo…

    There is, it seems, a tendency to rationalize everything, especially stupidity, in order to be politically correct.

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  9. 9. M Tucker 3:38 pm 10/23/2012

    “We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.”

    If evacuation was not an option what “choices” are you talking about? Are you talking about your government’s choice to not institute or enforce adequate building standards in a well known seismic hazard area? What is the standard that all responsible governments should aspire to? I would suggest your officials take a trip to Japan and perhaps California. “We know that earthquakes could not be predicted” So what did you need from the scientists after the “small tremors prior to the April 6 quake?” Did you need reassurance that everything would be ok? Did you need reassurance that a significant earthquake would not happen? But you said, “We know that earthquakes could not be predicted.” You know you live in Italy. You know you have a very long history with earthquakes. Your building standards should already but up to at least the standards of California of the 1970’s. You are surprised that medieval building standards are not sufficient? You want a scapegoat to take the blame. Look to your politicians. If you still live in caves, as some do in China, or unreinforced masonry buildings, as is evident from the photos, you are living in a disaster waiting to happen. Don’t you Italian’s know that Western geology students have been looking at photos of geologic disasters in your country for generations? Stop the witch-hunt’s and join the 21st century!

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  10. 10. WillBlau 4:52 pm 10/23/2012

    I’m just an engineer, but this is hog slop. Living my entire life in CA, earthquakes are something you prep for and roll with. If you are under constant stress because of them move, and definitely don’t live in a town that predates Columbus getting lost in the Caribbean located in a seismically active area.

    It is sad that the culture of assigning blame to people for acts of the universe has escaped the USA. The good is lower Italian court judges get overturned a lot in the 2 appeal courts.

    Is there a peer reviewed article that equates radon release and quakes in excess of 6?

    To me this reads as an ad for the author.

    Link to this
  11. 11. torloneg 3:55 am 10/24/2012

    I agree with David Ropeik’s analysis.

    Best regards from L’aquila

    Link to this
  12. 12. John Quinn 7:05 am 10/24/2012

    “Small wonder then that the people of l’Aquila are celebrating what is essentially their revenge against those they hoped would help them make informed choices about how to stay safe, experts who – quite innocently, to be sure – let those people down.” That phrase, “quite innocently, to be sure,” pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Of course, it contradicts the thesis of the entire article.

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  13. 13. CSBuckler 12:09 pm 10/24/2012

    This is much more about the political control of science information than scientists’ skills in communicating science to the public. Scientists in the US, as much as we complain about government funding, etc., are relatively free to do research and communicate as we see fit. And, for the most part, we can rely on the funding the government says they will give us. This is not true, however, in many countries, Italy being one of them.
    The transcripts from the 2009 Commissione Nazionale dei Grandi Rischi meeting show that it was called to gather information that would “tranquilize the public” regarding their fear of earthquakes. The meeting was only about an hour long, the transcript was two pages total. The scientists were NOT GIVEN the opportunity to talk to the public. It was the politicians who devised the media response, not the scientists.
    Yes, the scientist could have had better language when talking to the politicians, a more clear message. But put yourself in their position. What would you do, as a scientist, if a politician who controls funding for your research, and may be known for revoking that funding on a moment’s notice for arbitrary reasons, and who can guarantee that you might never work in your field again, says that his/her committee needs information that will stop public fear?
    Contrast that to the public communication of science during the earthquakes in Emilia Romagna in May of 2012. The University of Modena Earth Science Dept. held public forums, gave press releases, and generally gave the public information on what they need to do. Following that, the Commissione Grandi Rischi declared that “There are no reliable scientific methods of earthquake prediction in the short term” but that “does not exclude the possibility that, although less likely, the seismic activity could extend to areas adjacent to those activated so far.” This time, probably because the L’Aquila trial was already underway, the politicians let the scientists speak for themselves – and they did a great job.
    I totally agree that we need better communication of science to the public. I have my graduate students make sure they have what we call “The Barbershop Talk” down; a 3 minute plain talk description of what they do, and how it is relevant to the public. This kind of talk is very important – having this non-jargony, to the point explanations are essential if the public is to make sense of current science, and make informed decisions about science topics.
    However, all the straight talk in the world won’t make a bit of difference if your government dictates what a scientist can say or do, threatens their livelihood, or won’t put you in front of the public to speak on the issues.

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  14. 14. SteveJ4 11:09 pm 10/24/2012

    What you have here is a “distinction” signifying nothing.

    A variation on what the definition of “is” is.

    Semantic games are a common ploy by government officials looking for scape goats — and apparently by certain Harvard instructors as well.

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  15. 15. American Muse 11:42 pm 10/24/2012

    Harvard Extension School instructor David Ropeik’s analysis is either very naive or intentionally devious. The seismologists communicated the earthquake risk as best they could. They said collectively (in Italian, of course), “We don’t know!” Certainly, their spokesperson should have avoided the gratuitous “drink some wine” comment, but there is no criminality in that. Is Ropeik a lawyer or a scientist?

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  16. 16. difrance 5:46 am 10/25/2012

    It seems that the situation is much worse than how I depicted it in my previous comment.
    Today a new transcript from a phone conversation between the head of the scientific committee and the head of the Civil Protection shows evidence that the scientists were supposed to say exactly what the head of CP would tell them to say. Their scientific contribution is a total fake. They deserve their punishment indeed, I take my previous comment back. But as CSBuckler said, that’s not about “poor communication”: that’s because they explicitly deceived the population, hiding the real purpose of the meetings and their outcome. A scientist who is not free to communicate to people about real risks for their lives (it seems there were some issue related with a dangerous dam near L’Aquila which could be affected by the quake swarm), is a shame for science.

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  17. 17. David Ropeik 10:47 am 10/25/2012

    I’m sorry it has take me too long to offer replies to the comments.

    1. Phalaris – In the U.S. the law protects scientists who communicate in good faith. People can be angry, as they were in l’Aquila, but they can’t prosecute. thus protected, scientists can more freely participate in communicating. Many do.

    2. oneco9mmentator – The comments by De Bernardinis misrepresented the caution the scientists themselves would have offered had they participated. His statement was too simplistic and reassuring. It set up the ‘expectation gap’ that gave the angry citizens a basis for their suit.

    3. nav-water – I agree, and said so in my essay, that it is wrong to punish the communication errors that were made with criminal prosecution.

    4. JohnVidal – You charge ”Apparently the facts don’t matter here.” Of course the facts about the seismic risk to which you refer matter. And the experts understood what you describe. Too bad they didn’t carefully communicate that understanding to the public. The facts about how the communication was done matter too…they are in fact central to why the citizens brought the case.

    5. diffrance – Yes, it is ridiculous to put the scientists in jail, as my article states. And dangerous, as it scares other scientists away from communicating, which they should be doing more, not less.

    6. outsidethebo – These experts are not posing as the demigods you accuse them of claiming to be. And their job is to inform civil defense officials, and zoning and building inspectors, and citizens, to empower more informed choices, not, directly, to save lives.

    7. rialli – Good point. The whole meeting was in response to the local physics lab fellow’s radon-based prediction and the fear it created. All the MORE reason for the scientists to make sure they spent time explaining the actual risk to the public. Not to calm them down, as the national government wanted (governments hate it when people are ‘too afraid’ and the government is held responsible for safety) but just to inform people so they could make more intelligent judgments for themselves.

    10. will blau – Let me be a bit more precise with my criticism of your observation than you were about my piece (“hoglsop” and “and ad for the author”). Your suggestion that people who don’t like the stress of living in seismically active areas should move is thoughtless and arrogant. Tens of millions of people in your area alone, and hundreds of millions around the world, live with that stress but don’t have the wherewithal or freedom to “just move”. Such a suggestion is patently offensive.

    11. CSBuckler… You make a good point about the way politics and money create additional complications and pressures on scientists. But you yourself note that, based on the lessons learned in l’Aquila, and the advice given the Grand Risk Commission in the report it commissioned, the Emilia Romagna quake communication was handled much differently, more openly, more proactively, following the model of Tom Jordan of USC and the Southern California Earthquake Center (Tom helped lead the post l’Aquila review for the Italians.) In other words…the bosses who exerted the pressure in the first instance learned their lesson. Those with the power and purse strings ALLOWED and EMPOWERED scientists to communicate.

    15. American Muse – Setting aside your rudeness (it’s amazing how anonymity permits this), please examine first the description of the risk not by the seismic scientists but by the civil defense bureaucrat; “The scientific community tells us there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.” Now examine your claim; “The seismologists communicated the earthquake risk as best they could.” You call me devious, a ‘lawyer’, and yet how clearly your description innacurately (dishonestly?) describes what actually happened. The seismologists communicated NOTHING. The bureaucrat did all the talking. And to call the civil defense official’s remarks communicating “as best they could” is utter nonsense to any fair and honest observer.

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  18. 18. JohnVidale 11:05 am 10/25/2012

    The author replies “Of course the facts about the seismic risk to which you refer matter.”

    Then perhaps this article should have begun by mentioning the very low risk, measured according to best seismological practice, for example by van Stiphout et al. in GRL, before arguing that the scientists did not adequately alarm the population about high risks.

    This article perpetuates the mistake of the Italian court system that an earthquake happened, therefore the scientists must have had solid ground to tell the population about elevated risk, even though the risk according to current science did not warrant it. Science matters.

    Your credibility would be higher if you took the trouble to even cut and paste my name right.

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  19. 19. SteveJ4 12:05 pm 10/25/2012

    There was nothing of significance to communicate to the population. So there is no meaningful distinction between the communication and the scientific conclusion in this case.

    “Go about your daily business.” That was the proper scientific conclusion. And that is what was communicated — no matter how much parsing of words and phrases certain people wish to engage in to suggest otherwise.

    Your statement: (“to call the civil defense official’s remarks communicating “as best they could” is utter nonsense”) is remarkably false. One can always review the precise words used at public events and refine them. Mastering language is a lifelong project. But reasonable people know what was said here.

    And the best thing for you to do at this juncture is to move on to another topic.

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  20. 20. GentleRespect 9:50 pm 10/26/2012

    Dear David,
    It IS amazing what anonymity permits. Please let me apologize for the acidic unrefined undignified retorts to your article and more importantly, to your comments. These people are crude and dishonoring. NO where in my professional career has anything like this been accepted or tolerated. In ANY educated societal workgroup (ie. large professional companies), comments or attitudes like these would be dealt with by management, or HR, and ultimately termination. We couldn’t function with such discord or viciousness. Not that people can’t or don’t have differences of opinion; quite the contrary. But CIVILITY and HUMBLENESS and HONORING one another… Where did we lose it in such a short span of time?

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

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  21. 21. GinoL 7:53 pm 10/27/2012

    Mr Ropeik, thank you for one of the few reports on this issue which address the trial itself instead of some fictional version of the L’Aquila trial.

    We had 7 members of the Commissione per la Previsione e Prevenzione Grandi Rischi who came to L’Aquila and said false things. They said things that seismology disproved long ago.

    Doing so, they misled some people into actions they would not have done otherwise.

    Is it wrong to believe scientists?
    I don’t think so. The only thing wrong is believing scientists who speak in bad faith under the orders of bad politicians. Which is what happened in L’Aquila.

    Here are some of the things which were claimed in the meeting, and later were also spoon-fed to the press.

    “the continuing shocks are discharging energy from the fault, reducing danger”
    I have asked many seismologists if they can point me to a single paper in a peer-reviewed journal proving this thesis. At most I got embarrassed looks…

    “there won’t be any damage to structural elements”
    All previously published data about L’Aquila gave details about the buildings expected to be damaged in extraordinarily accurate detail, and a lot of that data was the result of work of some of the commission members!

    “the situation is favourable”
    How could it be favourable? Buildings had already been damaged by previous shocks, and the only way to say the situation is favourable is if you have a crystal ball to scry into for uttering your prophecy. Is that what we want from scientists? Divination instead of experimental fact?

    We all know seismologists can’t yet predict earthquakes (with a few fortunate exceptions such as Haicheng). Thousands of seismologists signed an appeal saying so. With this appeal they exposed the seven commission members as fraudsters. That appeal might have also been one of the elements convincing the judge of their guilt.

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  22. 22. ruipinho 3:31 am 10/28/2012

    On the contrary, Mr/Ms GinoL, this blog post by Mr Ropeik is misleadingly and offensively naive (as explained in http://greengabbro.net/), as are your words and misconstruction of the actual facts.

    But, more than that, debating on this courtcase/verdict being about science or science communication is actually wholly irrelevant, because the bottom line is that this was plain and simple a witch-hunt exercise aimed at freeing from any responsibility or wrongdoing those that should actually have done something about the well-known seismic vulnerability of many of the buildings in l’Aquilla (i.e. local officials and policy makers, local builders and engineers, local home-owners, local judges and media, etc), blaming instead those elements of the community (scientists and researchers) that have spent the last decades begging the former to do something about this serious problem.

    Indeed, by passing this insane verdict, the Italian judge has essentially stated that earthquake casualties are not caused by the collapse of vulnerable structures, nor by the lack of enforcement of earthquake-resistant design and construction, nor by the failure of local governmental bodies in introducing seismic retrofitting campaigns, nor by the absent demand for demonstrated earthquake-resistance when one acquires or rents a new house or property, nor by the reduced availability of credit or other financial mechanisms that promote a pro-active attitude regarding seismic safety, nor by the inexistence of urban planning policies that consider local seismic hazard, nor by the only sporadic interest of the media in increasing societal awareness and pressure on governments to address the vulnerability and lack of resilience of communities to earthquakes, nor by the inability of judicial systems to rapidly and effectively responsabilise those who knowingly disrespect seismic design codes, but rather can instead be solely attributed to a perceived failure from scientists in adequately communicating risk to the population during an earthquake swarm.

    So, I state without hesitations of any sort that this l’Aquila-based judge who passed on this verdict, and the underlying Italian judicial system that allowed such a non-objective emotions-driven court case to take place, are utterly and unequivocally flawed, and we cannot but to express our unreserved solidarity to the seven wrongly convicted individuals, and hope that this farcical and irrational court decision will be urgently quashed.

    Rui Pinho

    PS: with regards to the criticism of ‘Gentle Respect’ on the anonymous posts, it is perhaps interesting to note that ‘Gentle Respect’ him/herself posted in anonymous fashion..

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  23. 23. ecstatist 5:09 am 10/28/2012

    A GOOD GOVERNMENT SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATION.
    Alright people, listen up. Risk management is all about costs. The costs of risk alleviation versus what it will cost us to replace you if you die, or to look after you if you don’t.
    So, if you are a fully trained fighter pilot, commercial pilot, bribe paying mafioso, soccer player for Milan, or scientist, we recommend that, for a while, you live in a tent or take one or more of your lovers to the Riviera.
    The rest of you (including you Berlesconi, and Roma Turino etc players) just carry on as normal, perhaps adding some sincerity to your bedtime prayers, that might work two ways, you never know.

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  24. 24. JEGab 1:30 pm 10/28/2012

    Shortly, I fully agree on the point of view of the author. These scientists were not charged because of their ability to predict the earthquake. Nobody is puting this into question, neither their ability to communicate the facts. The were called to evaluate the situation, they apparently did, but then left without a single communication and leaving the responsibility to a non-expert. These are the facts, and this is what actually has been brought to court.

    Scientists are commited to communicate, good or bad, their own impressions according to our own criteria and experience on the facts. What is to be blamed is the complete lack of communication, and this is what happened this time. Contrary to others’ opinions I think that Italy is to be praised for daring to judge and condemn the scientist commissioners for this incident. It was definitely not a trial about science neither about their own professional skill.

    Link to this
  25. 25. bucketofsquid 5:53 pm 11/1/2012

    Interesting discussion for the most part. Having been in more than 1 situation where I have been ordered to lie or be fired, I find it far more relevant to discuss what the scientists involved were risking if they didn’t tow the mafia “it’s all good” party line. (I use the term mafia due to the U.S.A. placing many mafia leaders into Italian govt. positions at the end of WW2)

    Italy is a dangerous country to stand up to the government in. If a home owner or renter were to stand up to local or national bureaucrats and insist that their house wasn’t earthquake resistant most likely the result wouldn’t be very favorable to them.

    The average Italian is fairly honest but the average Italian can’t afford to rebuild their home to be earthquake proof and they tend not to be involved in govt. work either.

    The best solution is to get the bureaucrats involved and dump them in the Adriatic.

    Link to this
  26. 26. santiagopm88 10:03 am 11/2/2012

    It is beyond ludicrous to think that a scientist should be held liable for manslaughter for deciding that the probability was too small to warrant a public announcement. The scientists were not wrong, if they caused a clamor every time a possible disaster was detected, no one would listen to them as they would be doing so every day, night and day. They should only prepare the public for probable outcomes.
    The people of L’Aquila have found their scapegoat.

    Link to this
  27. 27. tina66 11:21 pm 04/1/2014

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    Link to this

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