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Scientist Forced To Remove Earthquake Prediction

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the not-quite-your-average-psychic dept.

Earth 485

Hugh Pickens writes to mention that Italian scientist Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Physical Laboratory of Gran Sasso, recently gave warning about an earthquake that was to happen on March 29th of this year near L'Aquilla. Based on radon gas emissions and a series of observed tremors he tried to convince residents to evacuate, drawing much criticism from the city's mayor and others. Giuliani was forced to take down warnings he had posted on the internet. The researcher had said that a 'disastrous' earthquake would strike on March 29, but when it didn't, Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, last week officially denounced Giuliani in court for false alarm. 'These imbeciles enjoy spreading false news,' Bertalaso was quoted as saying. 'Everyone knows that you can't predict earthquakes.' Giuliani, it turns out, was partially right. A much smaller seismic shift struck on the day he said it would, with the truly disastrous one arriving just one week later. 'Someone owes me an apology,' said Giuliani, who is also a resident of L'Aquila. 'The situation here is dramatic. I am devastated, but also angry.'"

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lol (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480475)

sucks to be in italy! glad i'm several hundred km north of you!

suckers!

Re:lol (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480489)

So, your an american to?

Re:lol (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480711)

Looks like somebody failed Geography.

Re:lol (0, Redundant)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480923)

I was going to explain it but instead I'm just going to say whoosh instead

cry wolf (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480491)

The boy who cried wolf was eventually proven right too. Living to demand an apology is too good for this guy.

Re:cry wolf (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480695)

Well, if a police officer was stopped from preventing some catastrophe, and also humiliated in the process, how do you think that officer would feel?

Hell, instead of a police officer, how about any person at all?

Re:cry wolf (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480701)

Weak analogy. Getting within a few weeks of correct on an event that occurs irregularly on the scale of decades to centuries seems pretty good to me.

Now, given that the economic and logistical viability of moving a large number of people out of their homes and to somewhere else plummets after just a few days, his prediction wasn't good enough for use; but equating him with the boy who cried wolf(who, you'll remember, was deliberately dishonest, not merely wrong) is a bit much.

Unless the quality of earthquake prediction gets considerably better, the punchline is that the money is better spent on decent architects and engineers. Building structures that won't collapse and crush everybody inside isn't trivial; but it is doable now, which makes it a better investment.

Re:cry wolf (5, Funny)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480825)

This is more like a guy (boy) who has spent years researching wolves to a degree that he has wolf detection methods that pick up on wolf phermones and indicators that systematically suggest when the wolf might *actually* show up.

Re:cry wolf (5, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480957)

Weak analogy. Getting within a few weeks of correct on an event that occurs irregularly on the scale of decades to centuries seems pretty good to me.

The funny part is, he was *immediately* labeled an imbecile when the earthquake was late.

Re:cry wolf (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480831)

I think the problem here is saying ludicrous things like "It will happen on March 29th". That's simply trying to get one's name in the paper, so to speak. A more rational approach, if the underlying science fits (and I don't think seismology or vulcanology is at the point where you can say anything definite like this) is to say "Look, I'm getting some very troubling readings here that suggest that a major earthquake is imminent."

Re:cry wolf (5, Insightful)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480949)

to say "Look, I'm getting some very troubling readings here that suggest that a major earthquake is imminent."

Which would have been met with, at best, polite disinterest. So, in practical terms, the result would have been the same.

Re:cry wolf (1)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481041)

Who's predicting when the Vulcans will show up?

Bad Science (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480497)

The research put forward by Giuliani is from the 1980s and 1990s and was found to be completely unusable as a predictor. People make predictions of quakes all the time and some of those will be correct just by chance, which is likely the case here. Furthermore, finding correlation with radon does not mean it can be used as a predictor. You cannot evacuate cities for long periods just to find out that it was a false alarm.

Re:Bad Science (0, Flamebait)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480573)

You cannot evacuate cities for long periods just to find out that it was a false alarm.

Perhaps not, but tell that to people who lost loved ones in the earthquake.

Re:Bad Science (5, Insightful)

DM9290 (797337) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480705)

You cannot evacuate cities for long periods just to find out that it was a false alarm.

Perhaps not, but tell that to people who lost loved ones in the earthquake.

my tea leaves tell me that your town is going to be destroyed by an earthquake next week. You better evacuate. If you don't, then you'll be responsible for telling the people who lost loved ones that you ignored my dire warnings.

Re:Bad Science (1)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480911)

Regardless of what your tea leaves say, he was only a week off [cnn.com]

Re:Bad Science (1, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480921)

My tea leaves tell me that big-breasted beauties will show up here next week. Looks like we're at a stalemate, Trebeck.

Re:Bad Science (4, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480939)

my tea leaves tell me that your town is going to be destroyed by an earthquake next week.

I'm interested in purchasing your tea leaves. I've also heard you have a tiger-repelling rock...

Re:Bad Science (3, Insightful)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480953)

my tea leaves tell me that your town is going to be destroyed by an earthquake next week.

If by "tea leaves" you mean "recorded radon emissions from seismically active areas in the city" then I'm outta here...

Are you saying science and technology is nothing more than tea leaves? The computer you typed your post on...is it made of tea leaves?

Re:Bad Science (5, Insightful)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480963)

Quite so. What if they HAD left on the predicted date. There was a small tremor. The destructive earthquake didn't happen for another week.

Presumably, it's entirely possible that even being away for a week could have helped them out. One of the bigger ways to end up dead in an earthquake is to be in a large collapsing building and schools and such might have been closed or still in the process of reopening a week later.

That said, the returning people could have been completely caught off guard after returning from what they would consider a false alarm.

I have to say that I'm entirely with the people who were saying that the best method, by far, for dealing with an earthquake like this is to make sure you are in buildings that can take an earthquake. There's really no better way available to ensure that you are never caught by surprise.

They may well owe this guy an apology, after all he did predict it. On the other hand, I'm not entirely clear on whether it would have made things better or worse if they had done what he said to do at the time that he told them to do it.

Re:Bad Science (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480965)

You're seriously equating tea leaves with radon gas emissions and previously observed tremors? Methinks the latter are a *tad* more scientific than tea leaves.

Re:Bad Science (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480929)

Tell it to the people who lose loved ones to the panic caused by the false alarms. Heck, even if the alarm was real, people will panic like Chicken Little.

Re:Bad Science (1)

Synn (6288) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481001)

You cannot evacuate cities for long periods just to find out that it was a false alarm.

Perhaps not, but tell that to people who lost loved ones in the earthquake.

Maybe so, but tell that to the loved ones that'll die in car accidents as your cities are being evacuated constantly all the time for no good reason.

You can't (4, Interesting)

FST777 (913657) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480499)

That is heard quite often: "even with science, you can't..."

You know, some day we just might. Maybe not today, maybe never, but please, when someone who knows more than you about a certain topic warns you, listen!

Re:You can't (1)

mrvan (973822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480743)

Free beer is never free as in speech. Free speech is always free as in beer.

Unfortunately, free speech has a price, and we as a society are rediscovering time and again what that price is...

Re:You can't (5, Funny)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480823)

when someone who knows more than you about a certain topic warns you, listen!

"How you can tell when you are in perilous times. That's when people go out of their way to listen to the advice of engineers." -- DOOM Novel 3 "Internal Sky" p. 70.

Please mod my comment down (5, Funny)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480959)

I shouldn't be making jokes at a time like this. I'm sorry. Please mod my previous comment down. Thank you.

Mistake in repoting the earthquake correctly. (-1, Flamebait)

clam666 (1178429) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480513)

He has a higher accuracy rates than psychics AND the Vatican, yet none of them were blamed for not having reported it.

That's what you get for putting your neck out. If he had reported "due to global warming, an earthquake is coming...", then he would currently be regarded as an international hero.

Re:Mistake in repoting the earthquake correctly. (-1, Offtopic)

owlstead (636356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481011)

"If he had reported "due to global warming, an earthquake is coming...", then he would currently be regarded as an international hero."

How is this not flamebait? Mods? Anyone home?

How can... (1)

Rog-Mahal (1164607) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480515)

the government force you to take down posts on the internet? I know little of the Italian legal system, but even if he was pretending to be an expert, wouldn't that fall under some form of freedom of speech? We have pseudo-experts on /. all the time, wouldn't this fall under a similar "just ignore him" sentiment?

Re:How can... (4, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480593)

the government force you to take down posts on the internet? I know little of the Italian legal system, but even if he was pretending to be an expert, wouldn't that fall under some form of freedom of speech? We have pseudo-experts on /. all the time, wouldn't this fall under a similar "just ignore him" sentiment?

Yelling fire in a crowded theater.
Crying earthquake in a volcanically active region.

I think the issue isn't that he posted predictions, but that he called for evactuations.

Hmm... (5, Insightful)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480523)

My immediate reaction is to say, "Ha! Science, bitches: It works!" and laugh at the officials who denounced the prediction. However, the very fact that the prediction was *so* precise, saying that the devastation would strike on a certain day, seems particularly irresponsible.

    My thoughts go to those hurt in this incident. As the official says, though, it's not a habit to plan for stuff like this---perhaps it should become so.

Re:Hmm... (3, Informative)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480727)

Actually, he didn't alert anyone of the one that happened today/yesterday because he was warned that he would be arrested if he raised an alarm again, even though his last alarm was accurate, even if it wasn't as large an event that he initially thought, the mini-quake relieved some of the stresses his model was predicting. But his model predicted that the massive event was to happen as it did now, but he could not raise the alarm about it.

He is absolutely right that the officials should be apologising, not only to him, but to all the people who lost their lives or were injured.

Re:Hmm... (1)

SashaMan (263632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480795)

This story has been getting a lot of press in the news along the lines of "stupid politicians try to silence brave scientist," but seriously, what would YOU have done if you were those politicians? Were they supposed to just have everyone stand outside for a week? What if it had been two? The fact is, earthquake prediction is pretty useless until you get very high accuracy (something like > 90% of the time) with a very small time window (less than a day).

Guess what, there is going to be a major, devastating earthquake in California very soon. Though I'm pretty much guaranteed to be right, should I expect everyone to leave CA until it happens?

Re:Hmm... (5, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480885)

Guess what, there is going to be a major, devastating earthquake in California very soon. Though I'm pretty much guaranteed to be right, should I expect everyone to leave CA until it happens?

Fuck, no. I'd also like all the Texans possible to go to CA until after it's over.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27481033)

I'd also like all the Texans possible to go to CA until after it's over.

Hell yeah! Free trip to Disneyland!

Re:Hmm... (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480967)

I think that the criticism is fair.

Had the authorities simply disagreed with him, they would have been wholly in the right. As you say, earthquake prediction is a pretty fuzzy art at present, and evacuations of any nontrivial length are seriously impractical. If they had just said "We disagree with his conclusions, think there is no reason for concern, and recommend taking no action, other than usual precautions." then that would have been fine.

The trouble is, they threatened a scientist, who was delivering(so far as we know) a good faith warning based on his best estimates of the situation, with punishment and smears for doing so. That is what is excessive. You don't have to act on what just anybody says; but you'd better have a damn good reason for using state power to prevent them from saying it.

Re:Hmm... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480977)

My immediate reaction is to say, "Ha! Science, bitches: It works!" and laugh at the officials who denounced the prediction. However, the very fact that the prediction was *so* precise, saying that the devastation would strike on a certain day, seems particularly irresponsible.

Science: it works bitches, but please take it with a grain of salt.

Hm... not as catchy...

Still (5, Insightful)

dedazo (737510) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480529)

Does anyone have data on how many truly false predictions have been made? Because one out of X might not be enough to condemn the politicos and glorify the scientist. Clearly these things do need to be managed carefully.

Yep (3, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481015)

If you throw out predictions left and right, well sooner or later you may get lucky. That doesn't mean you are actually any good at predicting. The predictive value of a model doesn't come from getting a single answer right or near right, it comes from accurately modeling reality. That means having a track record of predicting events, and not making predictions when there are no events.

As an extreme example I could make a computer program that predicts a major earthquake every single day. You input a day, it says "Major quake will happen." Well, that program would occasionally be right. Any time an earthquake happened I could claim my software predicted it. However that wouldn't me meaningful, in the face of the massive number of false positives, the thousands upon thousands of days where it was wrong.

So ya, I need to see some real data that shows that his software had a reasonable prediction rate, not just that he happened to get lucky this time.

earth sciences, who needs them? (5, Interesting)

0WaitState (231806) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480533)

This is almost as ironic as when Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana and one-time preznitial hopeful) mocked funds for volcano monitoring in the federal budget [google.com] , and a week later an Alaskan (monitored) volcano blew up, with an orderly response since the eruption had been predicted for some time. Attention politicians: science is not negotiable. It's part of that reality thing not on your side.

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (2, Interesting)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480651)

This is almost as ironic as when Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana and one-time preznitial hopeful) mocked funds for volcano monitoring in the federal budget [google.com] , and a week later an Alaskan (monitored) volcano blew up, with an orderly response since the eruption had been predicted for some time. Attention politicians: science is not negotiable. It's part of that reality thing not on your side.

Jindal was against spending "job stimulus" money for a program that did very little to actually stimulate jobs.

Or...

It appears that Jindal was right. You stated yourself that the program is working just fine without additional funding.

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (3, Insightful)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480899)

It appears that Jindal was right. You stated yourself that the program is working just fine without additional funding.

I believe this was exactly the sort of thinking that caused NASA to languish, and then continue to languish when the thinking became "More money? Where's the results from that standard funding we've been giving you every year? You were able to do everything just fine with less money in the 60's, so why not now?"

I'm sorry if I seem like an economic heathen for hoping that this sort of thing doesn't happen to something like volcano monitoring.

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480955)

You were able to do everything just fine with less money in the 60's, so why not now?"

Didn't NASA get funded on a level with the military in the 60s?

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (3, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480655)

Ok, let's just be clear here, Bobby Jindal didn't mock spending money on volcano monitoring, he mocked having money earmarked for volcano monitoring in what was supposed to be an economic stimulus bill. I'm a freaking die hard democrat and even I can admit that there is a huge difference between those two things. One is politicians meddling in things they shouldn't be, the other is a legitimate complaint about the way our laws are written up.

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (5, Informative)

samkass (174571) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480775)

Bobby Jindal didn't mock spending money on volcano monitoring

Here's what he said. You decide if he was suggesting that monitoring volcanoes is "wasteful spending":

"While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes ... $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C."

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480961)

It is wasteful, how is the 140 million going to stimulate the economy, this just in... the stimulus bill was not designed to stimulate the economy just stimulate people's dependence on the government.

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (1, Flamebait)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481007)

You decide if he was suggesting that monitoring volcanoes is "wasteful spending"

In an ECONOMIC STIMULUS BILL, it is wasteful. In a budget allocation bill to a scientific agency that has peer-reviewed the proposal and decided the value is worth the cost, it isn't. Yes, there is a difference. The former is just one more example of pork in an allegedly pork-free bill. The latter is scientifically reviewed and scientifically based.

"While some of the projects in the bill make sense,..." "IN THE BILL".

No, not all "spending" is economic stimulus. Not even Democrats truly believe this. Why else would they still be bashing Bush for the money spent on the Iraq war? Hey, it's STIMULUS, unless a Republican does it, then it's a deficit buster!

Re:earth sciences, who needs them? (4, Insightful)

JerryLove (1158461) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480821)

The problem with calling something "not part of economic stimulus" is: All spending is stimulus.

Volcano monitoring, which is part of the money in question, gives money to consumers (workers who are paid) to place and monitor equipment which is purchased (money to sales) from a manufacturer (money to manufacturing company and workers therein).

"spending money", by definition, "stimulates spending" (as it *is* spending)

Off by a week? (5, Insightful)

blackholepcs (773728) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480537)

That seems like a pretty good improvement in earthquake prediction. If this guy can consistantly predict earthquakes with a +/- of one week, I'd say he's doing something right, and should be listened to. But he has to do it consistantly. One out of one is a good start.

A broken watch is right twice a day (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480545)

It is quite easy to predict that an earthquake will happen. However, what is the accuracy to the where, when, and intensity? If you do not have enough accuracy then you just create panic. The article says that Giuliani was partially right! So what? A broken watch is right twice a day, that does not make it a scientist.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (1, Troll)

clam666 (1178429) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480591)

A broken watch is right twice a day, that does not make it a scientist.

You've never met any chronologists or watch scientists have you. They need funding as much as anyone else.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (2, Insightful)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480687)

Anyone who can claim "horologist" as an official title earns my respect.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (2, Funny)

clam666 (1178429) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480713)

Hey that's my mother you're talking about...she only horoed because she was young and needed the money.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (4, Insightful)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480707)

Giuliani was off by a week. He wasn't off by a month or a year. But a week. And he was right about the location (L'Aquila). That's more than a proverbial broken watch.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (1)

rmav (1149097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480867)

Giuliani was off by a week. He wasn't off by a month or a year. But a week. And he was right about the location (L'Aquila). That's more than a proverbial broken watch.

Yes, but he said "the earthquake is going to happen in 6 to 24 hours".
Roberto

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (4, Interesting)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480989)

Yes, but he said "the earthquake is going to happen in 6 to 24 hours".

And he was right, just not about the magnitude. According to another comment after the smaller quake he re-ran the numbers and predicted the larger one that hit a week later but was barred from telling anyone about it.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (1)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480733)

Partially right in that the date he predicted for the earthquake was the date that something happened which triggered the quake (or itself was a precursor to a quake). If his method can predict within a week, that's better than what we have now, which is nothing, AFAIK.

Re:A broken watch is right twice a day (2, Insightful)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480787)

Read it again, he was very correct. A LOT more so than anyone has ever been in the past. The devastating event did happen. His models were saying that a devastating earthquake was imminent. A small quake relieved some of the stresses last week, which postponed the major event a few days. But his models also detected that the event was going to happen again with enough time to warn people, but he was not allowed to raise the alarm because they would have arrested him.

What data did he provide? (1)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480553)

Did he give a time range or just a specific day? The mayor might have had the information badly digested for him by his minions, in which case it's a case of miscommunication. If he claimed to the day as the article suggests then it's his fault, he should have been more careful.

Also how often do they get false predictions? (broken clock right twice a day etc....)

Re:What data did he provide? (1)

FrankieBaby1986 (1035596) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480937)

I wouldn't be surprised if he stated something along the lines of "in the days around March 29" and someone mistook it to be more specific.

Everyone knows... (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480555)

Everyone knows you can't predict earthquakes!

And global warming too!

So, hah!

Heck of a Job, Guido! - (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480565)

Somebody stick this chucklefuck in a room with Bobby 'We Don't Need No Stinkin' Volcanologists' Jindal. These two tools were clearly made for each other.

Spot on... (4, Insightful)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480571)

If indeed, it is "impossible to predict earthquakes, it seems to me that getting a minor quake on-the-day of prediction, and the major quake hitting a week later is pretty much as good as could possibly have been expected.

Now if all he did was guess, it'd be a whole different ball-game, but as far as I remember, doing this "science" thingy involves recognising a problem, taking measurements, postulating a theory to fit those measurements, and (sadly, in this case) testing that theory against further predictions it made. Seems like he followed the rule-book on that one...

Part of the problem, of course, is that people (including, one might say *especially*, elected officals) aren't good at assessing risk. They consider risk to be the consequences of an event, whereas really it's the consequences of an event multiplied by the probability of that event. It's why we look out for "global killer" meteorites, even though they are incredibly unlikely. The risk inherent in such a strike makes it worthwhile to keep putting in the effort at detecting them. It's easiest to illustrate when the fate of the whole world lies in balance, but the principle remains the same even for localised disasters such as this one...

So often, it comes down to better education being the key to good decision-making. Why is it that we let people who only want to run for power take on the mantle of power over us ? I recall a Sci-Fi story where on election, all a (wo)man's worldly goods were forcibly sold, and the cash amount held in trust. Once the successor appeared, the departing official was given access to his/her trust fund again - the implication being that you had to do well by everyone else before you could do well for yourself. I'm not suggesting this is workable, but perhaps an element of personal stake might be a useful thing for a politician to have... Perhaps then they'd listen to the scientist, and not just go on gut instinct...

Simon.

Re:Spot on... (1)

krlynch (158571) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480777)

If indeed, it is "impossible to predict earthquakes, it seems to me that getting a minor quake on-the-day of prediction, and the major quake hitting a week later is pretty much as good as could possibly have been expected.

Except that the area around the epicenter of the recent large quake has been having (at least) daily "preshocks" for weeks, and is currently experiencing large numbers of aftershocks. Under that scenario, missing by a week is tantamount to being completely wrong. Whether the response of the authorities was wrong is another question entirely that I won't address.

Re:Spot on... (1)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480801)

Heh... Plato's Republic described a similar idea for handling politians. In that writing, once you became a public servant, you coudn't own anything, and had to rely on the charity of your constituents to survive.

Re:Spot on... (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481061)

Be careful however. If the guy is used to spread false alarms, this could be pure coincidence. If he makes a prediction a day in a zone of heavy seismic ability, his predictions are of zero values. Maybe he just comes winning now that one prediction over dozens was right. Having a small earthquake right is no big feat in such a zone.
I can predict a 4.6 or bigger earthquake on April 7th in Japan with a fair chance of being right and if I predict a big one every week, I'll finally be right. I am not saying that this is what happened, I am saying that we need to know how many false alarms he spread before being right.

regardless of his science credentials (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480583)

this man can pretty much go to any city on the planet right now, make an excitable announcement, and cause a mass exdodus

that's a rather interesting gift

Empire Earth (2, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480791)

Remember the Prophet units in the Empire Earth games? In ancient times they started out as religious shamans. But once you played up to modern times they were nutjobs wearing "The End Is Near!" sandwich boards. They could cause earthquakes [impress.co.jp] .

Re:regardless of his science credentials (1)

El Torico (732160) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480799)

He could go to Napoli and no one would do anything.

Re:regardless of his science credentials (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480837)

I can do that right now too, but I think it is just last night's chili.

Re:regardless of his science credentials (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481031)

this man can pretty much go to any city on the planet right now, make an excitable announcement, and cause a mass exodus

Somebody please send this guy to Washington D.C. Or at least southern Manhatten.

the way it goes. (3, Interesting)

Composite_Armor (1203112) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480587)

you cant be right once and be believed,
you have to be right twice.

i look forward to any future seismic prediction technology.
complete with references.
of which this event will most likely be a hard data point.

What could have been done? (1)

concernedadmin (1054160) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480605)

Suppose the earthquake's precise location and time were known -- what then? Would there have been any way to spread out the total damage either over a larger time interval or over a greater radial distance?

We can somewhat control fires: we have a preventative measure -- public education and we have a cure -- firefighters. We can somewhat control floods: we have levees. We can't control tornadoes very well, though perhaps with some cloud seeding, we might be able to in the future.

But how does society mitigate the effects of earthquakes, especially in areas with very ancient architecture?

MOD PARENT INSIGHTFUL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480723)

Suppose the earthquake's precise location and time were known -- what then? Would there have been any way to spread out the total damage either over a larger time interval or over a greater radial distance?

We can somewhat control fires: we have a preventative measure -- public education and we have a cure -- firefighters. We can somewhat control floods: we have levees. We can't control tornadoes very well, though perhaps with some cloud seeding, we might be able to in the future.

But how does society mitigate the effects of earthquakes, especially in areas with very ancient architecture?

i don't know, but maybe there's a way to put giant springs that absorb any translational motion and spread that out over time after the earthquake has already struck. i think any solution you may be looking for in this particular situation will have to be some sort of hack. you can't have it both ways -- have old buildings and expect modern protection.

Re:What could have been done? (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480739)

"don't stand under a fragile ceiling when the quake happens"

Yeah, you can't protect the architecture but you can protect the people and possibly some amount of carry-on luggage.

Stupid scientists! (5, Insightful)

kaliann (1316559) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480615)

How dare you be inaccurate in your warning about the timing of a natural disaster? You caused me to be outraged and dismissive on record in the media! Now people think I'm a douchebag, and it's all your fault!

Must be a European thing. I'm sure nothing like that could ever happen here in the good ol' US of A.

DNF (5, Funny)

dchaffey (1354871) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480623)

'These imbeciles enjoy spreading false news,' Bertalaso was quoted as saying. 'Everyone knows that you can't predict the release of Duke Nukem Forever.'

Give me a break (1, Insightful)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480645)

It's pretty clear that no one owes this guy an apology (from the article)

Vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after Giuliani predicted the quake was about to strike.

Yes, he predicted that a major earthquake would happen. But he didn't predict when with enough certainty or accuracy to make his prediction useful.

[Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy's National Geophysics Institute] said the real problem for Italy was a long-standing failure to take proper precautions despite a history of tragic quakes. "We have earthquakes, but then we forget and do nothing. It's not in our culture to take precautions or build in an appropriate way in areas where there could be strong earthquakes."

Re:Give me a break (4, Insightful)

Nickodeemus (1067376) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480697)

Please. He didn't predict it with enough certainty? He was off by a week. I would gladly evacuate my home for a month if it saves my life or that of my family. You sir, have an odd definition of accuracy when attempting to predict something that has heretofor been considered impossible to predict.

Re:Give me a break (2, Insightful)

sweatyboatman (457800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480931)

would you also leave your job? would you close the hospital and all the schools for a month as well? and what if, after a month, there hasn't been any earthquake? do you keep the schools & hospitals closed, would you stay away from home?

in this case, the scientist made his prediction for a specific day. According to the article the people of the town were warned, and the earthquake didn't happen.

He was close, kudos to him, but not close enough.

Re:Give me a break (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480971)

He was off by more than a month, and a couple hundred miles. The location for which he was predicting the quake had no fatalities and only minor damage. He was also using a discredited earthquake prediction technique, which is monitoring radon levels.

Forced? (4, Insightful)

nightfire-unique (253895) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480649)

If he was legally compelled to fall silent in his warnings, whoever silenced him should be jailed for involuntary manslaughter or at least criminal negligence causing death. There should be equal consequences both for yelling "fire!" when there is none, and for yelling "no fire!" when there is.

Re:Forced? (1)

ojintoad (1310811) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480841)

It doesn't seem like anyone force him to say March 29. There was a large failure of communication here, and those who oppressed his message of possible disaster are at fault. But he's not entirely in the clear. It's a hard situation when someone yells "Fire in 10 minutes!" and stuff starts burning a week later.

I would like to know if anyone has some translations of his actual predictions and not what Time has translated. It seems incredible to me that a scientist would put so much stake on a particular date. Of course, I can imagine it is hard to find his predictions since they forced him to wipe them out.

Re:Forced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480951)

Even if Mr. Bertolaso was in perfect bona fide, he should be removed from office. The risks that the events that have occurred may impair his faculty of taking the right decision in the future are too high now

Re:Forced? (5, Interesting)

FroBugg (24957) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481049)

Nonsense. He made the prediction using methods which have been proven to be unreliable. All the current research is against him, and there was no substantive reason to believe his claims had any merit.

Besides, he predicted an earthquake a full week ahead of the one that actually struck. What if he had been listened to and people evacuated? They'd have watched his day pass and started to wonder. They'd be sitting in hotel rooms, or with family members or friends, and thinking about the food rotting in their fridges and the money they're losing by not being at work. A huge number of them would certainly have returned to town by the time the actual quake struck, and the death toll would have been similar.

The problem here is not that someone here using poor science happened to be sort of right, the problem is that Italy is a country with high risks of earthquakes and exceedingly poor construction and preparation.

Re:Forced? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481063)

There should be equal consequences both for yelling "fire!" when there is none, and for yelling "no fire!" when there is.

It's funny how out for blood we can be when hindsight is on our side.

Expecting a shakeup in the Italian CDA. (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480659)

/wink.

In further news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480673)

Unusual readings from the planet Krypton were denounced as fear-mongering sensationalism.

Italy seems to be a source of... (2, Informative)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480693)

Particularly brain dead politicians. Wasn't it also a local Italian prosecutor that decided the best way of dealing with a video of some kids bullying another one, was to sue Google [cnet.com] ?

I'm not saying Italy has a monopoly on boneheaded politico's but their particular brand of antics seem to stick on my mind.

Re:Italy seems to be a source of... (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480843)

I doubt a sample of 6 or 7 is indicative of the entire culture, but every male Italian transplant I've ever met here in the States has been a total fucking douche.

Re:Italy seems to be a source of... (1)

FesterDaFelcher (651853) | more than 5 years ago | (#27481053)

Io non sono una persona sacco doccio, Ã insensibile americano.

Prediction acurracy comparisons (3, Interesting)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480717)

Has anyone recorded earthquake prediction measurements and compared them? I would be curious to know which ones have been closest to the mark and on what frequency? I suspect different measurements are likely to be right some of the time, but not all the time, because the seismic triggers may vary from region to region.

Re:Prediction acurracy comparisons (1)

inviolet (797804) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480987)

Has anyone recorded earthquake prediction measurements and compared them? I would be curious to know which ones have been closest to the mark and on what frequency? I suspect different measurements are likely to be right some of the time, but not all the time, because the seismic triggers may vary from region to region.

That would be kewl, because then we would be able to predict earthquake predictions.

Eh, maybe not, we might stack-overflow the cosmos, and God would be mightly ticked off at us. Can you imagine walking up the pearly gates, and you peer through the bars and see that God is angrily looking through a coredump that YOU caused? Yikes!

Similarily (1)

Random2 (1412773) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480721)

This reminds me of a program I saw on the science channel, which predicts a major earthquake in Istanbul due to a series of quakes before it (it was something like 'earthquake storm'). Perhaps they could use this guy's methodology to try and estimate a time of impact?

Giuliani Smash! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27480745)

Giuliani Mad!!!

liability? (-1, Troll)

r00t (33219) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480859)

The people who got the warning removed should pay for the earthquake damage.

Since people died, they should also be charged with homocide.

Hmm... (2, Insightful)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480877)

It sounds like the guy kinda went about it the wrong way. He should have just had a note or a webpage up with his current data and predictions with chance of an event happening on any given day. Folks would treat it sort of like a weather forecast.

Heck, when it comes to weather, we like to look at the live radar maps and make our own decisions. Hey it's going to be raining for the next hour or two... ;) We aren't quiet there for earthquakes, yet.

Well, how accurate would he be in general? (3, Insightful)

jfern (115937) | more than 5 years ago | (#27480997)

Science demands more than a single data point of "within a week". He needs to get more data points so we determine whether he was just lucky or whether his predictions have some real value.

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