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Seismologist Manslaughter Trial Begins Next Week

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the defining-reasonable-prognostication dept.

Government 185

El Puerco Loco writes with a followup to a story we discussed in May about the manslaughter charges facing six seismologists and one government official in Italy after an earthquake there killed 309 people and destroyed 20,000 buildings. The case is going to trial next week, and an article at Nature provides an update on how things stand: "The indictments have drawn global condemnation. The American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), both in Washington DC, issued statements in support of the Italian defendants. ... The view from L'Aquila, however, is quite different. Prosecutors and the families of victims alike say that the trial has nothing to do with the ability to predict earthquakes, and everything to do with the failure of government-appointed scientists serving on an advisory panel to adequately evaluate, and then communicate, the potential risk to the local population. ... [The charges allege that the defendants] provided 'incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory information' to a public that had been unnerved by months of persistent, low-level tremors. [Prosecutor Fabio Picuti] says that the commission was more interested in pacifying the local population than in giving clear advice about earthquake preparedness. 'I'm not crazy,' Picuti says. 'I know they can't predict earthquakes. The basis of the charges is not that they didn't predict the earthquake. As functionaries of the state, they had certain duties imposed by law: to evaluate and characterize the risks that were present in L'Aquila.'"

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185 comments

Lack of evidence of damage.... (4, Interesting)

gtvr (1702650) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422576)

Can the prosecution prove that with proper warning, any specific number of lives or amount of property would have been saved? I doubt it.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (4, Funny)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422618)

No one in Naples has moved away from Vesuvius despite insistent warnings of disaster from seismologists.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (5, Insightful)

DanTheStone (1212500) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422642)

The crime is (apparently) that they failed to provide sufficient and consistent information for everyone to ignore.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422748)

Some of the dead might have heeded.

Thats sounds emo-ish, but I do know people who take into consideration how disaster prone area is before they buy a house there.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (3, Interesting)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422804)

I won't live somewhere if I can't afford earthquake and flood insurance at that location. The insurance actuaries are better at calculating risk than I am :)

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422932)

So as your income increases you are happy to live in riskier areas?

I'm pretty sure some people would rather not be dead even though their property was adequately insured.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422982)

I assumed he meant it as a rule of thumb, not a strict, context-adjusting, home-buying criteria.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423006)

So as your income increases you are happy to live in riskier areas?

Maybe "afford" isn't the right word. I use the cost of insurance as a gauge as to the riskiness of the area. Even within my neighborhood, there is wide variation in the cost of flood insurance depending on your elevation and which side of the creek you live on.

I'm pretty sure some people would rather not be dead even though their property was adequately insured.

I'm pretty sure those people no longer care one way or another :)

Yes (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423594)

because as your income increases, you can better prepare for the risks. Like having your mansion made to withstand an earthquake, and having it rebuilt (on the gov't dime) if it's bad enough.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

lgarner (694957) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423674)

I won't live somewhere if I can't afford earthquake and flood insurance at that location

So as your income increases you are happy to live in riskier areas?

Wow, what logic. It's hard to imagine that someone believes that "I won't do A unless I have B" is equal to "If I have B I absolutely will do A."

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423686)

No, he's saying that he's not an expert on what locations are risky and which locations are not. Are you? If you are, then that means that you're a professional seismologist, a flooding expert, and several other things all at the same time, which I highly doubt.

Regular people can't be asked to be experts at numerous sciences just to select a house to buy. However, insurance companies have people on staff who do consult with these experts, and then use this information to calculate insurance rates. Regular people can then use these rates to determine which places are risky, and which are not. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work, when everyone's doing their job properly.

Let's use an obligatory car analogy. Part of the cost of owning a car is the fuel; in fact, it's a major cost. But different cars use different amounts of fuel. This isn't reflected in the car's initial price; while cheap cars usually are more economical and $100k luxury cars are usually gas hogs, there's exceptions, and within any segment of the market different vehicles can vary significantly in economy. You can't expect car buyers to do fuel-economy testing on every single car they look at; in fact, no dealership is going to let you borrow a car for a few months so you can gauge the fuel economy over several tanks of gas. So, the government does it for us, by creating a standardizes test methodology and then making the automakers test each model according to that methodology, and then print the resulting numbers publicly in advertising and on window stickers, so consumers can easily find out how any car compares to any other.

It's somewhat similar for houses, except that you can gauge risk by insurance rates (some of which are non-government, but flood insurance to my knowledge is all done by the government; also, in southern Mississippi, wind damage is covered by government insurance as well after Katrina). So if your property insurance rates for a house are sky-high, then you know it's a risky place to live, and you think twice about buying that house or moving there. But if someone isn't doing their job correctly (e.g. government seismologists not communicating the risks in certain locations), then the rates won't properly reflect that risk.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

Dinghy (2233934) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422838)

Anyone who is truly that thorough in picking where they buy a house probably would have been turned away by the frequent smaller quakes, and would have been clear of the area anyways.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (3, Insightful)

esocid (946821) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422846)

The crime is (apparently) that they failed to provide sufficient and consistent information for everyone to ignore.

Easy solution: point out Mt. Vesuvius, and tell the populace to follow what happened in AD 79.

If you want sufficient and consistent information, don't sue the people who have devoted their entire lives to doing so, otherwise you'll be left doing it the old fashioned way, not having any information at all.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423338)

Yup. Coming soon, doctors will be charged for failing to bring the dead back to life. Way to step back a whole 1000 years or more. The geologists at worst might be negligent and need a reprimand from their professional college at best. But manslaughter? OK, how about charging the government too, because after all they clearly hired incompetent geologists.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (3, Interesting)

Sal Zeta (929250) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423202)

Nope. the crime is that they deliberately ignored all the information available at the moment, and they even suggested the people to get back at their own homes after some earthquakes had previously happened in such zones, even destroying some buildings. It's extremely probable that most of such research institutions were pressed to mislead the population due to the local government, which supported the speculative construction industry backed by some companies controlled by the local mafia.

If you can understand, a well-known italian writer and journalist and journalist explained the whole affair here [youtube.com]

.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423358)

and they even suggested the people to get back at their own homes after some earthquakes had previously happened in such zones, even destroying some buildings.

And if they had warned people to stay away and the next earthquake had happened in say, 50 years (very short for geological time), what then? Sued for spreading alarm among the population?

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (4, Informative)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423344)

I should point out (lacking links to slashdot stories because I'm on a phone) that the scientists DID predict the earthquake, but were somethinglike 2 weeks early... they partially evacuated, and in under 2 weeks the authorities initiated "yelling fire in a theater" type charges against the scientists. Once those charges were made in haste, the actual earthquake came and people died.

From what I can deduce; authorities are blame shifting the damages that arose by hastily saying the scientists were wrong instead of admitting that they were right all along (albeit with imperfect prediction).

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

suso (153703) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422728)

Sounds more like a lynch mob to me. Someone choose to be in a position where the people could blame someone when random acts of nature kill people, and that seems to be exactly what happened here.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422972)

If you're in a position to evaluate danger and you hide facts and issue platitudes, then you're certainly unethical, and possibly criminal.

I say try them and see how the facts work.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (2)

suso (153703) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423152)

If you're in a position to evaluate danger and you hide facts and issue platitudes, then you're certainly unethical, and possibly criminal.

I say try them and see how the facts work.

You're kidding right? Italy is the country that holds the Vatican.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423226)

Yet, if you evaluate danger properly, and issue the proper warnings, you get sued because people were "scared" and it caused "damages, riots, and loss of earnings", and yet nothing happened.

If these guys do get punished for doing EXACTLY WHAT THE FUCKTARDS ABOVE THEM AND SOCIETY FORCE THEM TO, I sure hope all natural-disaster-related engineers and scientists just leave Italy (with their families) and let them die without any sort of warning whatsoever.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (1)

nharmon (97591) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422962)

I know almost nothing about Italian law, but you might need to show that such warnings would have saved lives, but rather that such warnings could have saved lives. If the seismologists had a legal duty to care in issuing the warnings, and failed to do so. I could see some culpability for that.

Re:Lack of evidence of damage.... (2, Interesting)

shadowfaxcrx (1736978) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423062)

Does it matter (to them) if they can? Go read up on the Amanda Knox situation, and I think you'll get the same impression I did - Whether she's guilty or not, the Italian justice system is seriously screwed up.

That this case can even make it to trial is a reinforcement of that belief.

Which is worse (4, Interesting)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422592)

In America, climatologists get sued and harassed [aaas.org] for making public statements about global warming.

Re:Which is worse (1)

Jessified (1150003) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422734)

Perhaps these prosecutors and politicians should be careful. They may be setting themselves up for a burning at the stake when the climate really starts a changin'.

Re:Which is worse (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422992)

No kidding. Which has a more direct relation to death and destruction: Acts of God (term of art), or releasing/plea-bargaining/failing to convict a prisoner/arrestee?

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Re:Which is worse (3, Insightful)

mc6809e (214243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422880)

In America, climatologists get sued and harassed [aaas.org] for making public statements about global warming.

Weren't they sued because they were public employees refusing to provide the public with all their data? The public paid for the data and the research. Seems reasonable the public should get to see what they bought.

Re:Which is worse (1)

GreatAntibob (1549139) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423144)

We pay for Defense Department research and data. Seems reasonable that the public should get to see what we've bought.

Re:Which is worse (3, Insightful)

sloth jr (88200) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423224)

Yup, agreed. I figure you probably were being sarcastic, but yeah: we do pay for DoD research and data, and we certainly should be able to see that. Too much is classified that doesn't need to be, and that which does need to be classified is classified for too long.

Re:Which is worse (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423166)

In America, climatologists get sued and harassed [aaas.org] for making public statements about global warming.

Weren't they sued because they were public employees refusing to provide the public with all their data? The public paid for the data and the research. Seems reasonable the public should get to see what they bought.

There's where you go wrong - expecting reason to prevail upon either side in any climatology debate.

And don't anyone DARE to claim reason stands with "man is causing global warming". Anyone who labels mere skeptics with derogatory labels such as "denier" is more into religion than reason. You might as well say "heretic".

Re:Which is worse (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423296)

You might as well say "heretic".

Or equate them with holocaust deniers.

Re:Which is worse (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423450)

Um, no, not if the people being provided the data don't have the training to properly analyze it and would just end up using it to spread misinformation about what the state of climate science is.

Re:Which is worse (2, Insightful)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423608)

Yes because we all know that people "outside the ivory towers" are just "uneducated masses" who have no understanding of things like physics, chemistry and biology. With no chance of having taught themselves.

None at all. That's what we call elitism.

Re:Which is worse (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423324)

Which would make sense if the geologists were running around predicting earthquakes that didn't occur.

Re:Which is worse (1, Troll)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423374)

In the meantime, the Martian south polar ice cap continues to recede year after year, proving that human pollution is the cause of planetary warming on Mars. If only we hadn't sent those rovers.

Government accountability (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422598)

They say they're trying to hold government agents responsible for not carrying out their mission? No wonder they're being internationally condemned.

I still don't get it... (1)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422648)

Even if I tell you the risk of something is insignificant, that doesn't equate to zero, and that means it can still happen. So, I still don't see how they are not expecting actual prediction here when that is the only way to be sure.

Re:I still don't get it... (0)

rahvin112 (446269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422752)

So if the prosecutor wins every seismologist in Italy (if anyone stays in the profession what with being threated with jail time) will issue reports about the maximum probable earthquake being likely (even if it's not) and overstating both the risks and damage potential. This could very well result in increased building standards that could cost every Italian serious money. Not only that but the predictions will be so dire that after a few years of all the dire predictions and no resulting quakes the public will ignore them even if they do issue a serious report (after all you can only call wolf so many times).

This shouldn't be even allowed to proceed, it's going to destroy the seismic community and the very idea that you would hold someone responsible for something they have no control over nor do they even an ability to predict events is absolutely ridiculous. The best part is that you can't even predict event sizes or locations in some cases, as an example, the Northridge quake in Los Angelos was on a fault that wasn't even mapped. IIRC most of the quakes in Italty are the result of volcanic activity, an situation where even predicting the maximum event possible isn't even certain.

Re:I still don't get it... (1)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422802)

Yeah, pretty much. And a precedent like this could easily begin affecting other areas too. Look out weathermen, you're next.

Re:I still don't get it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422930)

The problem is when you tell me the risk is insignificant when you actually don't know, or know there is a high risk. It was the case? Did you downplay the issue because of political pressure or other reasons? These are the questions the trial will investigate, and are questions which need an answer.

Re:I still don't get it... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422994)

The thing is they didn't say, "We think the risk is low", they said there was "no danger". I do not support this prosecution, but the scientists involved acted irresponsibly by trying to convince people there was no danger.

Re:I still don't get it... (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423342)

Even if I tell you the risk of something is insignificant, that doesn't equate to zero, and that means it can still happen.

"Insignificant" does not mean "very small", it means "not worth considering". Don't make such value judgements unless you're willing to be held responsible for them.

Social Responsiblity (0)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422656)

Such a grey realm, it's clear the geologists failed, better geologists might have saved lives. Do we hold the geoligist, the technology, or society responsible, or perhaps the hiring manager. Do we prosecute somebody for being incompetent, because their stupidity has caused people to pay the ultimate price?

I honestly don't know, prosecuting them seems extreme, making sure they never work in geology again seems like an acceptable solution. However, this is just the beginning of a case and the charges will probably not go through for the previous reason stated.

Then let's look at Italy as a whole, is this really the biggest thing to go wrong there? Perhaps its nobody's fault but they couldn't afford to do their jobs for lack of funding or planning which in turn means they couldn't communicate anything substantial as earthquake != tremor and in most active at risk for earthquake regions, tremors are a lot more common.

Re:Social Responsiblity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422714)

Such a grey realm, it's clear the geologists failed, better geologists might have saved lives. Do we hold the geoligist, the technology, or society responsible, or perhaps the hiring manager. Do we prosecute somebody for being incompetent, because their stupidity has caused people to pay the ultimate price?

Or maybe we could do the sane thing and not hold anyone responsible for acts of nature that can't be perfectly predicted and/or controlled?

Noooooo, that's crazy talk! That would mean we'd have to suck it up and take responsibility for our own actions! Sorry, I don't know what I was thinking there, fire up the Blame-O-Matic 5000 and let's solve this problem!

Re:Social Responsiblity (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422738)

we allow engineers to be sued for failed engineering designs. this is a failed earthquake warning from a person supposed to be responsible for providing earthquake warnings. why is it so different ?

Re:Social Responsiblity (4, Insightful)

Derekloffin (741455) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422848)

Because engineering has some very well established science behind it, and on top of that you can overbuild to get around uncertainty. Seismology is worlds away from that level of certainty, and you're suppose to give accurate predictions so there is no equivalent to overbuilding.

Re:Social Responsiblity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422850)

we allow engineers to be sued for failed engineering designs. this is a failed earthquake warning from a person supposed to be responsible for providing earthquake warnings. why is it so different ?

The first is a work product of the engineer, the second is tantamount to throwing bones.

Re:Social Responsiblity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422868)

Well a big difference is a civil suit vs. criminal prosecution. If you can't see that difference than there's no point in addressing the other flaws in your statement/question.

Re:Social Responsiblity (1)

Jibekn (1975348) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422870)

Things like engineering design can be tested, to a near 100% accuracy, if not 100%. With things like tensile strength, load bearing limits etc. Its very easy to see;

Customer: "This beam cant support the 10 tones you certified it to hold, why not?!"
Engineer: "I made a math error"

When compared to;

Citizen: "An earth quake happened?! You said there was a low risk?! What the hell?"
Seismologist: "Im not a god, nor do I control the weather, I can only make an estimation of risk."

I know which one looks like they should be liable for damages, and which one shouldn't, very easily.

Re:Social Responsiblity (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422926)

we allow engineers to be sued for failed engineering designs. this is a failed earthquake warning from a person supposed to be responsible for providing earthquake warnings. why is it so different ?

Because most of the time, engineering disasters result very clearly from a human error. Most of the things that engineers do are based on very sound science. Yes, there have been incidents like plane crashes that resulted from misunderstanding crack propagation and fatigue - but most of the time there is a design flaw that violated current standards.

Predicting the size and scope of a future earthquake is based on much less firm science. So long as these guys were within the generally accepted error bars of their field, they shouldn't be prosecuted.

To put it another way, if the brand-new New York Times building were to collapse tomorrow in a mild wind that gusted withing generally agreed design parameters, there would be similar calls for the heads of the engineers/architects/builders. If a freak 200 MPH wind storm hit the building and knocked it down, people wouldn't generally blame the engineers - but would certainly demand that the design parameters be changed!

Re:Social Responsiblity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423012)

we allow engineers to be sued for failed engineering designs. this is a failed earthquake warning from a person supposed to be responsible for providing earthquake warnings. why is it so different ?

*sigh* Is this what they're teaching the kids about trolling these days? I mean, it's not even worth declaring "obvious troll is obvious" anymore if this is the best you can do.

Re:Social Responsiblity (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423180)

Here's a better question: do we allow engineers to be sued for engineering designs that failed due to an earthquake? The answer is that we do if the earthquake was smaller than the design was required to be able to handle by local building codes and/or the engineers certification. In the case of gross negligence or fraud, the engineer can even get criminal charges like manslaughter. If the earthquake was above the level the design was required to handle, then we don't (unless the collapse somehow revealed some sort of inherent flaw that would have allowed it to fail in a smaller earthquake, I suppose).

The engineer is responsible for designing, testing and overseeing construction. The seismologist didn't build the earth, only knows how it's made up through observation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and sometimes guesswork, and is extremely limited in what actual tests they can conduct. If a seismologist actually performed some sort of testing that could lead to an earthquake, it's currently looking like, depending on locale, they would be held legally responsible for any damage, injury, or death. So, the seismologist has pretty much no power to prevent earthquakes, while an engineer has a huge amount of power to prevent their designs from failing inside operating conditions.

Re:Social Responsiblity (1)

burisch_research (1095299) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422762)

They're probably very good geologists trying to do a difficult job. They screwed up this time. Rather than prosecute them, time and energy should be directed toward improving the geology department, rather than trying to prosecute those who are only trying to help as best they can.

Re:Social Responsiblity (2)

NotAGoodNickname (1925512) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423010)

They aren't being tried for doing their jobs, they are being tried for allegedly NOT doing their job. The point is that they intentionally disseminated misleading information and not following the correct procedures, not that they didn't predict earthquakes. At least that is what the prosecutor claims. I have no idea if he is correct or not.

Re:Social Responsiblity (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423022)

The problem here is not that they failed to accurately predict the earthquake. The problem is that they tried to reassure people that there was no danger, when, in fact, there was deadly danger. It did not help that there was a fear monger trying to spread panic and burnish his reputation by successfully predicting 100 of the last 10 major earthquakes.

Re:Social Responsiblity (2)

RatherBeAnonymous (1812866) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423048)

I pulled this from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

Earthquakes mark the history of L'Aquila, as the city is situated partially on an ancient lake-bed that amplifies seismic activity.[1][2]

On December 3, 1315, the city was struck by an earthquake which seriously damaged the San Francesco Church. Another earthquake struck on January 22, 1349, killing about 800 people. Other earthquakes struck in 1452, then on November 26, 1461, and again in 1501 and 1646. On February 3, 1703 a major earthquake struck the town. More than 3.000 people died and almost all the churches collapsed; Rocca Calascio, the highest fortress in Europe was also ruined by this event, yet the town survived. L'Aquila was then repopulated by decision of Pope Clement XI. The town was rocked by earthquake again in 1706. The most serious earthquake in the history of the town struck on July 31, 1786, when more than 6.000 people died. On June 26, 1958 an earthquake of 5.0 magnitude struck the town.

On April 6, 2009, at 01:32 GMT (03:32 CEST) an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude struck central Italy with its epicentre near L'Aquila, at 42.4228N 13.3945E.[3] The earthquake caused damage to between 3,000 and 11,000 buildings in the medieval city of L'Aquila.[4] Several buildings also collapsed. 308 people were killed by the earthquake, and approximately 1,500 people were injured. Twenty of the victims were children.[5] Around 65,000 people were made homeless.[6] There were many students trapped in a partially collapsed dormitory.[7] The April 6 earthquake was felt throughout Abruzzo; as far away as Rome, other parts of Lazio, Marche, Molise, Umbria, and Campania.

Large earthquakes have killed thousands of people in this town. The people must have known about it. It doesn't take a Geologist to tell you that if a major earthquake killed 3000 in the town 300 years ago that it could happen again.

But really, "making sure they never work in geology again seems like an acceptable solution."? It seems reasonable to strip a scientist of his livelyhood because government officials misunderstood and made an incorrect announcement? It's reasonable to punish a scientist when the people, rather than walking outside during an earthquake as they have done in the town for thousands of years, stayed indoors because the government told them they were safe? It's reasonable to prosecute seismologists for the town's buildings collapsing in on them selves due to old age, disrepair, or insufficient building codes?

Holding the incompetent responsible for lost lives (1)

Quila (201335) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423120)

I fully support it.

Kiss most of our politicians goodbye!

If they get Amanda Knox's defense team, they're... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422724)

hosed.

Re:If they get Amanda Knox's defense team, they're (2)

rahvin112 (446269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422936)

Amanda's defense wasn't to blame. That a justice system could put two people in jail for the murder, then a month later convict a third person of the same crime (and revise the entire story of the crime to account for this third actor, which by the way had absolutely no evidence supporting the story) who was never mentioned when the first two were convicted. This turned a three person sex orgy gone wrong into a four person sex orgy murder. Not only that but the third conviction admits to being in the house during the murder and having sex with the victim and has been accused of other violent acts including rape and assault.

No, Amanda and her boyfriend were convicted because the prosecutor in the case was a lying sniveling asshole that concocted evidence and a damn near unbelievable story to get rid of a case that was generating a lot of publicity during an election cycle. This same prosecutor has been dismissed because he was proven to have done this in the past in creating evidence to get innocent people convicted in high profile cases. (do a search on his name, he tried to build a murder case against a journalist doing a story on him and his inability to solve another high profile murder case).

The third person convicted of the Kercher murder was the only murderer, he acted alone, likely broke in and tried to rape and ended up killing Kercher in the process. After he was arrested he was coached into saying Knox and her boyfriend were involved (amazingly under the exact same story as the prosecution put forward during the knox trial) under the promise of reduced sentencing, even though Knox had already been convicted and there was little reason to offer leniency other than to avoid the prosecutor getting a black eye for wrongly convicting two innocent people.

Re:If they get Amanda Knox's defense team, they're (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423278)

Yeah, no doubt. As imperfect at the US justice system can be at times, it's readily apparent that Italy's justice system is in desperate need of a great big enema.

not crazy? riiiiight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422740)

>>'I'm not crazy,' [Prosecutor Fabio] Picuti says.

Not crazy for going after scientists just for your own career advancement -- despite international support for the seismologists. Riiiiight. I cringe when I hear someone like a prosecutor say that, and doubly so when I see that it's from an Italian prosecutor. Remember the Amanda Knox fiasco, UW student found guilty of murder in Italy? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Meredith_Kercher

Re:not crazy? riiiiight (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422894)

I think part of the problem is that the numbers said that an earthquake was "probable" and "may cause severe damage" but management decided to override the numbers and have the report written stating that an earthquake was "unlikely" and "could cause some damage".

The models gave a range of possible outcomes and management had them write in the report the better/best case not the worst case (which actually happened).

Blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422744)

Can't put god on trial for the whole 'acts of god' thing... But we sure can put this guy on trial!

Everyone feel better now?

Interesting take (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422750)

Now that's an interesting twist on things. Holding them accountable for not being truthful with the public. Depending on the details, I would generally consider the government official significantly more accountable than the seismologists. That is, unless the seismologists were complicit (rather than merely compliant) in the government official's attempt to make things seems more rosy than they were.

Giampaolo Giuliani (5, Informative)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422768)

When one seismologist is accused of being alarmist by the Director of the Civil Defence, forced to remove his findings from the Internet, and reported to police for "causing fear" [wikipedia.org] when he predicts an earthquake, is it no wonder why other seismologists would hesitate to report an impending earthquake?

Re:Giampaolo Giuliani (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423192)

That involves the same quake -- L'Aquila 2009. I would think Giuliani's ultimately correct prediction being silenced is a key factor in the charges.

Re:Giampaolo Giuliani (1)

prattle (898688) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423260)

Giampaolo Giuliani is not a seismologist. He is a retired lab technician who used an unapproved radon gas test as the foundation for his predictions.

Re:Giampaolo Giuliani (3, Informative)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423542)

When one seismologist is accused of being alarmist by the Director of the Civil Defense, forced to remove his findings from the Internet, and reported to police for "causing fear" [wikipedia.org] when he predicts an earthquake, is it no wonder why other seismologists would hesitate to report an impending earthquake?

What is interesting is that the seismologists on trial appear to have called a special open session to basically discredit Giuliani (a laboratory tech) and calm the public. There wasn't a hesitation to report an impending earthquake, there was a statement of "many small tremors = no big earthquake = nothing to worry about" followed by an urging to go drink some wine. This caused many to ignore their routine (if a small tremor happens, the family sleeps outside or in a car). The break from routine (prompted by the statement of safety) cost many their families and/or lives as they slept inside "medieval" buildings that were not "anti-seismic".

There appears to be quite a bit of he said/she said between the scientists and those who took part in the press conference, and it's notable that the "commission did not issue its usual formal statement, and the minutes of the meeting were not even prepared, says Boschi, until after the earthquake had occurred."

Either way it's a real mess and many people died, and if the Nature article is correct, the press conference led people to believe it was safe when it was not. This caused more people to die then if a statement hadn't been issued. It's a difficult situation, and I wouldn't want to be the magistrate overseeing this.

Slippery slope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422806)

What's next? Pressing manslaughter charges against people that chose not to become seismologists? If the prosecutors had skipped law school, choosing instead to study geology, then they might have been able to warn of the high risk of earthquakes.

Next up.... (1)

d.the.duck (2100600) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422836)

Meteorologists. You did not tell me the icy roads were going to cause my family to get in a car accident. Absolutely crazy.

Pain in the AAAS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37422856)

Did someone come up with the acronym from the AAASES? American Association for the Advancement of Science should have been called AAFTAOS!!! What a moronic dumb AAAS! Anyway, it's time for the local L'Aquilans to kick these Berlescoli AAASholes for failing to reinforce ancient buildings in known earthquake zones!

Will happen, but when? should be worry? (2)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422918)

Seismologists (and alarmists) had been saying since long time ago that in some moment a big quake will hit San Francisco area, and the city hasnt even tried to be evaquated. Had been predicted that in some moment could be a big tsunami generated by a volcano in the Canary Islands that could kill a lot of people in the caribbean and eastern north america, yet nothing had been done about it. And somewhere in a (probably long, but last year raised concerns) future the yellowstone caldera could blow, and still North America is populated, wasnt evaquated because that incoming predicted disaster. In fact, this cities [cracked.com] are predicted to be somehow destroyed in a not very far future, and still people live there.

Even predicting that something will happen don't mean that it really will, or when, or with a strenght enough to worry about, or that authorities will do something, or that people, even warned, will do anything. If some of those predictions become true, lots of people will die, should the people predicting those things be treated as mass murderers if their predictions ever become true?

brilliant piece of legal work (2)

Zurk (37028) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422928)

For all the non lawyers at /. this may seem a travesty but this is such a brilliant piece of legal work by the prosecutor. Not only has he become famous -- instantly, he has a shot at changing the way the country functions and has managed to get untouchable people to be touched. Plus he has managed to get attention from the international community and the heads of his state. I expect that he has a good shot at putting the scientists behind bars after which he will move on to a well deserved legal career as a lawmaker. Expect solid career advancement as he might end up in the Italian cabinet one day.
Consider the response of all the international media AND the scientist organizations -- Scientists prosecuted for failed earthquake predictions. OMG !
Consider what is actually in the prosecutors complaint -- Scientists failed to communicate risks clearly as per their legal duties, which were attached to them as a result of their jobs.
A truly brilliant prosecution. With a good shot at changing the planet in a small way. With a tiny lever, great changes can be achieved.

Re:brilliant piece of legal work (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422990)

However, it's Italy. So expect the trial, which should last a day, to take 84 years.

Re:brilliant piece of legal work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423044)

it will last a couple of months. in the meantime press releases and media attention will keep following this case. expect a quick verdict.

This is all about shifting the blame (-1, Troll)

brennz (715237) | more than 2 years ago | (#37422960)

Idiots who chose to live in antique buildings, in an earthquake prone area.

Rather than take personal responsibility for it, they are now trying to blame the scientists.

I doubt scientists can accurately predict earthquakes due to the limited amount of time we have been observing the earth. Half the Nuclear plants in the Eastern US were built to specifications considered accurate at the time, something we now know not to be adequate.

Re:This is all about shifting the blame (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423016)

Um, those people are dead, or lost their houses and possessions. They've already taken the brunt of the responsibility.

If that's because these "scientists" knowingly understated the facts about the risk, then there's no reason to let the scientists get away with a shrug of the shoulders.

Re:This is all about shifting the blame (1)

del_diablo (1747634) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423114)

And lets be honest here.
We should not blame the scientists, but the politicans.
Why the politicans? Because they are the only people who can FORCE everybody to live in safe houses, by making minimum standards for buildings.
The same applies to anything that everybody saw coming, including the banking crisis and a lot of financial bubbles.

But since we live in reality: Nobody will prosecute the polticians for messing up, and nobody will vote for somebody who is willing to fix problems.
Everybody is apathic, and a dictatorship is only better than a indirect democracy because there will be no random change of seats.

Re:This is all about shifting the blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423230)

Except a scientist did issue warnings, and was shouted down by the very public that is now persecuting them for not speaking up.

Re:This is all about shifting the blame (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423378)

Um, those people are dead, or lost their houses and possessions. They've already taken the brunt of the responsibility.

No, they've experienced a lot of consequences, but they want someone else to be held responsible, in the form of lots of cash. Typical.

Everything bad that ever happens is always the fault of someone else who happens to have money or represent an entitiy with money available to confiscate/demand. This is modern western civilization.

Re:This is all about shifting the blame (1)

theArtificial (613980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423484)

Um, those people are dead, or lost their houses and possessions.

I don't wish this upon anyone and for the record I've lived in earthquake prone areas. This situation reminds me of a bash.org quote where the poster was storing 300gigs of work and misc files on his neighbor's computer via WIFI and the horror of no longer being able to connect to them. Storing precious/irreplaceable stuff in a risky place is not a wise idea.

They've already taken the brunt of the responsibility.

Of course they did, they lived in an area which has a known history of often fatal earthquakes by their own choosing. Unless they were forced to live there by decree of the Government which doesn't appear to be the case then relocation was and remains an option. If tremors aren't a hint and a half alone... no amount of finger pointing will change that the area they lived in is dangerous. Unless the earth splits open and you fall into it or are under a tree which topples the majority of deaths are caused by structures failing. Why aren't you looking to the people responsible for the buildings which collapsed?

If that's because these "scientists" knowingly understated the facts about the risk, then there's no reason to let the scientists get away with a shrug of the shoulders.

Why has it become the responsibility of the scientists for your own Family's safety? Regardless if these "scientists" say it's OK or not the fact remains this place has a known history of earthquakes which has destroyed the city on multiple occasions (or caused major damage to structures and residents within). When does personal responsibility begin? Do you need someone to tell you that living in a flood plane has risks?

Let's hope these scientists don't operate like the rest of Government.

An old tradition: (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423042)

When some surprising calamity happened, didn't they sometimes execute the king's fortune teller for not predicting it?

This makes about as much sense, though I have less sympathy for the fortuneteller than I do the seismologists.

How Many Open Positions Now? (2)

djl4570 (801529) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423066)

I expect the Italian government is having a hard time recruiting scientists and engineers to work in government posts. Why would you if some grandstanding prosecutor will go after you because you dissembled like a government bureaucrat. Had they issued unambiguous risk assessments of living in antique masonry buildings the management up the food chain would have been after their scalps for causing a panic.

Seismologists can't get risks wrong either? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423082)

So, apparently the prosecutor understands that individual earthquakes aren't predictable, but they are implying that seismologists aren't allowed to get the estimate of seismic risks wrong either? Seismologists try their best, but the simple facts are:

1) there is no where on Earth with *zero* seismic risk;
2) although there will be local variations, all of Italy is tectonically active (it is on a plate boundary) and therefore it has a substantial earthquake risk. If you lived in Italy you should *assume* that a big and damaging earthquake could happen anywhere, because it can;
3) "past results are not a guarantee of future performance" because geologists aren't always able to recognize relevant fault systems until after an earthquake happens, and the historical sample of earthquakes is so short compared to geological history. A century of precise measurement won't help if a major quake is only triggered along a particular fault every few centuries.

A good example of the challenges are the "blind thrust" fault systems [wikipedia.org] in southern California that weren't appreciated as a significant and somewhat different earthquake risk until after the 1994 Northridge earthquake [wikipedia.org] . The fault in that quake wasn't known, so how could you put a proper risk on its effects? On the other hand, anyone would be nuts to say there isn't a subsantial earthquake risk in SW California :-)

This is science. There will ALWAYS be surprises, although obviously as time goes on and you study the problem more and get longer time sampling, you'll have a better and better idea of what is possible. Seismologists can do their best but won't be infallible. "Not infallible" is a long way from negligent. The key is exactly what they said at the time.

If the seismologists said "the string of recent tremors is not evidence that a big earthquake is coming or cause for any particular alarm", that would be accurate, because you can't tell if smaller quakes are a prelude to big ones. People have tried to look for a pattern along those lines for more than a century and haven't found anything convincing. If they said "there is no risk of a serious earthquake here ever", then that would be stupid, because as mentioned above there is still a chance of a serious earthquake everywhere in Italy, rare though it might be in a particular area.

They denied any risk (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423086)

The problem here is that political appointed people doesn't know anything.
When small recurrent earthquakes happens, citizens start asking questions about security and risk in the zone.
Instead of saying "well _maybe_ there is a _potential_ risk, be prepared just in case..." they said "No problem here, everything is ok, no big earthquake is gonna happen, sleep well and shut the fuck up"
And this statement was louder and stronger after Giampaolo Giuliani told that a big earthquake was likely to happen anytime soon based on radon emissions.

So the problem is not that they didn't provide a warning, but that they denied any risk.

Translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37423102)

"I know they can't predict earth quakes but they didn't provide the proper information to predict earthquakes."

Good bye rational thought...how we miss thee.

adequate information? (1, Funny)

spidercoz (947220) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423204)

Three thousand years of documented history isn't enough? It's not like the place became seismically active overnight. Get a fucking grip you Italian morons. Jesus I wish I could slap the whole fucking country from here.

Typical of Italy (0)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423234)

Italy has perhaps the most warped sense of justice of any EU member. Just research the Achille Lauro hijacking where Italy demanded the right to try the hijackers/terrorists and then promptly felt sorry for all of them after it convicted them. I'm not sure that Italy is qualified to judge a dispute between 2 children fighting over a seat in a classroom. This doesn't surprise me at all as a country that cannot figure out how to meet out true justice to criminals will of course be completely unable to distinguish between what is and isn't a crime.

Re:Typical of Italy (0)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423678)

Don't forget Amanda Knox. They're so reactionary over there that even after they figured out who the real killer was, they had to concoct some bizarre satanic orgy story to keep the spotlight on the first 2 accused.

court comissioned "state of prediction report" (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#37423632)

The Italian court assembled an international panel of nine expert seismologists to write a report on the current state of earthquake prediction. The US representative was USC professor Thomas Jordan who runs the Southern California Earthquake Center. I heard him summarize this report in Golden Colorado last month. ironically it was few days following the Colorado and Virgina quakes.

Seismologists mostly prefer using the term "forecasting" instead of prediction for couple reasons. First, forecasting presents a spread of probabilities like they do in weather. The concept of prediction has a more binary outcome: either it occurs or does not- a subtle semantic difference, but more significant psychologically. Second, the term prediction has acquired a bad reputation in seismology, akin to "cold fusion" in physics. This is because the world spent a lot of effort trying to replicate alleged Russian and Chinese successful predictions reported in the 1970s, but with no success.

Tom mainly talked about how to evaluate and present forecasts, not the prediction techniques themselves. This is where the Italian seismologist may have been behind the current practice. But not to the point of criminal negligence as Italian prosecutors contend.

As regards to techniques, previous seismicity and increases in that have been and still are the most favored method. GPS ground strains, electromagnetic, radon, animals etc have not panned out.
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