Earthquake Scientists On Trial: Put it in Scope
This week, six Italian scientists and a former government official have begun trial for manslaughter over the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which struck the region of L’Aquila in 2009. It is a watershed case, and I believe I say correctly that this will go down in the history annuals among the most famous anti-science trials of Galileo/Vatican and John Scopes/State of Tennessee. It is also a watershed moment in the dangerous nature and ignorance of the anti-science, or anti-reason, culture that has permeated many levels of society.
The Italian scientists range from a physicist to the former president of the National Institute of Geophysics, and they are on trial due to the smaller quakes that had struck prior to the 6.3 mag. quake on April 6th. As would be expected, the public and government wished to know the possibility of a major quake in the wake of these smaller tremors, and the defendants had made statements to the effect that there was “no reason to believe that a series of low-level tremors was a precursor to a larger event”.
After all, this is not a false claim: from what is known about seismic activity, although it is always possible that a large quake could occur after some smaller tremors, in this case, as in so many around the world on a daily basis, there was no way for scientists to indicate the possibility of a large quake after small tremors effectively. The only times probabilities can be calculated to a rough extent are in highly seismically active areas, and after a large quake has happened.
But so many, many factors play in these events, and human knowledge is still so limited in these areas, that even half-precise predictions cannot be made easily. I believe it is fair to say that those prosecuting do understand this, or at least some of them do, because, as can be read in this article, much more informative article than the BBC’s bones-only piece, those prosecuting say that they do not wish to “put science on trial”, but they feel that the scientists should have given better advice. The defendants urged calm and stressed the unlikelihood of a large quake occurring, and now many in the affected area feel that this was not clear enough regarding the possibility of a disaster occurring.Continued on the next page