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Italy seismologists convicted for manslaughter


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#1 MadMonk

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:17 PM

From BBC

L'Aquila quake: Italy scientists guilty of manslaughter

A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.
Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes.
The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people.
Many smaller tremors had rattled the area in the months before the quake that destroyed much of the historic centre.
It took Judge Marco Billi slightly more than four hours to reach the verdict in the trial, which had begun in September 2011.
Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence. As convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeal in Italy, it is unlikely any of the defendants will immediately face prison.
'Alarming' case
The seven - all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks - were accused of having provided "inexact, incomplete and contradictory" information about the danger of the tremors felt ahead of 6 April 2009 quake, Italian media report.

In addition to their sentences, all have been barred from ever holding public office again, La Repubblica reports.
In the closing statement, the prosecution quoted one of its witnesses, whose father died in the earthquake.
It described how Guido Fioravanti had called his mother at about 11pm on the night of the earthquake - straight after the first tremor.
"I remember the fear in her voice. On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they repeated to themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed."
'Hasty sentence'
The judge also ordered the defendants to pay court costs and damages.
Reacting to the verdict against him, Bernardo De Bernardinis said: "I believe myself to be innocent before God and men."
"My life from tomorrow will change," the former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency's technical department said, according to La Repubblica.
"But, if I am judged by all stages of the judicial process to be guilty, I will accept my responsibility."
Another, Enzo Boschi, described himself as "dejected" and "desperate" after the verdict was read.
"I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don't understand what I was convicted of."
One of the lawyers for the defence, Marcello Petrelli, described the sentences as "hasty" and "incomprehensible".
'Inherently unpredictable'
The case has alarmed many in the scientific community, who feel science itself has been put on trial.

Some scientists have warned that the case might set a damaging precedent, deterring experts from sharing their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome reports.
Among those convicted were some of Italy's most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts.
Earlier, more than 5,000 scientists signed anopen letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the group in the dock.
After the verdict was announced, David Rothery, of the UK's Open University, said earthquakes were "inherently unpredictable".
"The best estimate at the time was that the low-level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game," he said.
Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the UK's Royal Berkshire Hospital said that the sentence was surprising and could set a worrying precedent.
"If the scientific community is to be penalised for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavour will be restricted to certainties only and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled."


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#2 Jägermeister

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:25 PM

This would lead to an absoluelty ridiculous precedent for future cases.
I really can't see that conviction being upheld.
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#3 lx Birdie xl

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:32 PM

Cancer researchers are next
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#4 Kryten

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:33 PM

It's a fine line that's for sure. If the conviction is upheld, I imagine scientists in all susceptible fields will flee Italy for less stringent locales. That would leave Italy in a tough situation if more natural disasters were to occur.
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#5 J.R.

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:34 PM

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"Science is like an inoculation against charlatans who would have you believe whatever it is they tell you."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson

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#6 Scottish⑦Canuck

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:37 PM

Earthquakes aren't possible to predict.

Easy enough to know where one might occur, but you can't narrow it down to a particular time. There's no just cause for a conviction.
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#7 elvis15

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 01:08 PM

If, and only if, the prosecution was able to prove that the scientists had thought there would be a sizeable quake with possible damage similar to the actual one that happened but continued to say everything was safe would I feel right about any legal action against them. Even then I don't know about manslaughter, but rather liability in civil court versus criminal.

As far as their jobs, if they were incapable of making the proper readings despite having the equipment and training required to do so then they should absolutely be fired. That's a whole different ball game than a court case however.
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Tanev is going to EDM. I can put my life savings down on it

 


#8 TOMapleLaughs

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 01:25 PM

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"Woohoo! Not guilty!"
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#9 Hobble

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 01:31 PM

This news rocks my world. Earth-shattering news.
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#10 MadMonk

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 07:45 PM

Here's a good article on Nature on the story, which sheds some light onto the sequence of events leading up to the case. It's rather long so I won't post it here.

Some main points:
- A series of smaller earthquakes struck the region from Oct 2008 to Mar 2009
- Local government set up a meeting with a government risk assessment panel (consists of the 6 seismologists indicted)
- Meeting appears to be an attempt to calm the local population
- Main issue is the subsequent press conference:


Two members of the commission, Barberi and De Bernardinis, along with mayor Cialente and an official from Abruzzo's civil-protection department, held a press conference to discuss the findings of the meeting. In press interviews before and after the meeting..., De Bernardinis said that the seismic situation in L'Aquila was "certainly normal" and posed "no danger", adding that "the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it's a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy". When prompted by a journalist who said, "So we should have a nice glass of wine," De Bernardinis replied "Absolutely", and urged locals to have a glass of Montepulciano.


That message, whatever its source, seems to have resonated deeply with the local population. "You could almost hear a sigh of relief go through the town," says Simona Giannangeli, a lawyer who represents some of the families of the eight University of L'Aquila students who died when a dormitory collapsed. "It was repeated almost like a mantra: the more tremors, the less danger." "That phrase," in the opinion of one L'Aquila resident, "was deadly for a lot of people here."


The suggestion that repeated tremors were favourable because they 'unload', or discharge, seismic stress and reduce the probability of a major quake seems to be scientifically incorrect. Two of the committee members — Selvaggi and Eva — later told prosecutors that they "strongly dissented" from such an assertion, and Jordan later characterized it as "not a correct view of things". (De Bernardinis declined a request for an interview through his lawyer, Dinacci, who insisted that De Bernardinis's public comments reflected only what the commission scientists had told him. There is no mention of the discharge idea in the official minutes, Picuti says, and several of the indicted scientists point out that De Bernardinis made these remarks before the actual meeting.)


Some other good quotes:

The failure to remind residents of earthquake preparedness procedures in the face of such risks is one of the reasons that John Mutter, a seismologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, declined to sign the open letter circulated to support the Italian scientists. Mutter says that in his opinion, "these guys shouldn't go to jail, but they should be fined or censured because they should have said something other than what they said. To say 'don't worry' — that sort of thing just isn't helpful. You need to remind people of their earthquake drills: if they feel the house moving, get out of the building if you can, or get under a table or a door frame if you can't. Do all the things that we know save lives."



Attorneys for the other scientists all insist that the charges are without foundation, while raising additional arguments. Barberi's lawyer, Petrelli, acknowledges that the meeting was intended "in part" to defuse the panic over Giuliani's predictions, but insists that everything his client said was scientifically sound and correct. To convey the difficulty of communicating risk assessments, he offers the analogy of being asked the safest way to travel, and recommending flying because it is statistically much safer than car or train. "If the person takes the plane, and the plane is involved in an accident, this doesn't mean that my advice was wrong," he said. "I gave the right advice, since scientific advice is based on statistics, and the statistics don't exclude the possibility of an event that we would like to avoid."


The absurdity aside, I do feel that this case raises an important point, which is how risk should be communicated to the public.
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#11 Special Ed

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 11:49 PM

Wow I thought Italy already looked bad for suggesting to reopen an investigation on 9/11. Now this. Man now I understand why so many Italians are immigrating.
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If you like looking at statistics to determine who's better, you're just a casual fan.

2.41 season GAA isn't very impressive. Let's not get into playoffs and his SV%.

Cory Schneider is the next Patrick Roy.


#12 Buddhas Hand

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 12:14 AM

Scientific community rattled as 7 earthquake experts convicted for not sounding alarm



By The Associated PressPublished: Monday, October 22, 2012, 8:28 p.m.
Updated 4 hours ago



L’AQUILA, Italy — In a verdict that sent shock waves through the scientific community, an Italian court convicted seven experts of manslaughter on Monday for failing to adequately warn residents of the risk before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.
The defendants, all prominent scientists or geological and disaster experts, were sentenced to six years in prison.
Earthquake experts worldwide decried the trial as ridiculous, contending there was no way of knowing that a flurry of tremors would lead to a deadly quake.
“It’s a sad day for science,” said seismologist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s unsettling.” That fellow seismic experts in Italy were singled out in the case “hits you in the gut,” she said.
In Italy, convictions aren’t definitive until after at least one appeal, so it was unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.
Italian officials and experts have been prosecuted for quake-triggered damage in the past, including a 2002 school collapse in southern Italy that killed 27 children and a teacher. But that case centered on allegations of shoddy construction in quake-prone areas.
Among those convicted on Monday were some of Italy’s best known and internationally respected
seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
“I am dejected, desperate,” Boschi said. “I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don’t understand what I was convicted of.” The trial began in September 2011 in this Apennine town, whose devastated historic center is still largely deserted.
The defendants were accused of giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether small tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the weeks and months before the April 6, 2009, quake should have been grounds for a warning.
The magnitude-6.3 temblor killed 308 people in and around the medieval town and forced survivors to live in tent camps for months.
Many much smaller tremors had rattled the area in the previous months, causing frightened people to wonder whether they should evacuate.
“I consider myself innocent before God and men,” said another convicted defendant, Bernardo De Bernardinis, a former official of the national Civil Protection Agency.
Prosecutors had sought convictions and four-year sentences during the trial. They argued that the L’Aquila disaster was tantamount to “monumental negligence,” and cited the devastation wrought in 2005 when levees failed to protect New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Relatives of some who perished in the 2009 quake said justice had been done. Ilaria Carosi, sister of one of the victims, told Italian state TV that public officials must be held responsible “for taking their job lightly.”
The world’s largest multidisciplinary science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, condemned the charges, verdict and sentencing as a complete misunderstanding about the science behind earthquake probabilities.
There are swarms of seismic activity regularly in Italy and most do not end up causing dangerous earthquakes, said geologist Brooks Hanson, deputy editor of the organization’s Science magazine. He said that if seismologists had to warn of a quake with every series of tremors, there would be too many false alarms and panic.
“With earthquakes, we just don’t know,” Hanson said on Monday. “We just don’t know how a swarm will proceed.” Quake scientist Maria Beatrice Magnani, who followed the trial closely and knows the defendants professionally, called the outcome “pretty shocking.” She disagreed with putting scientists on trial and contended that the death toll would have been lower had buildings in the quake-prone area been better reinforced.
The verdict left Magnani and others in the field wondering about the way they articulate their work.
“We need to be extremely careful about what we say, and the information we provide has to be precise. We cannot allow ourselves to slip,” said Magnani, an associate research professor at the University of Memphis.
Still, some experts argued that the trial was about communicating risk and n
Comments on Twitter about the verdict abounded, with references to Galileo, the Italian scientist who was tried as a heretic in 1633 for his contention that the Earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa as Roman Catholic Church teaching then held.
ot about whether scientists can or cannot predict earthquakes.
“This was about how they communicated” with a frightened public, said David Ropeik, a risk communications consultant who teaches at Harvard and offered advice to one defendant scientist. It was “not Galileo redux,” he said.


Edited by The Ratiocinator, 23 October 2012 - 12:17 AM.

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The Real war is not between the east and the west. The real war is between intelligent and stupid people.

Marjane Satrapi

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That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.

Aldous Huxley.


#13 Nathan MacKinnon

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 12:21 AM

That's stupid. The world is so stupid nowadays :picard:
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+1 this post!

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Credit to Intoewsables :wub: :wub: :wub:

Formerly known as UMADBRO?

Luongo Supporter. Does not deserve any of this BS


#14 nucklehead

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 05:09 AM

What's next, the weatherman will be held accountable for getting the weather wrong when basements flood? I think in comparison weather prognosticating is more of an exact science.
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#15 Dral

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 10:35 PM

I can't remember which news site I read this on, but the story said that as a result from this verdict, several scientists in Italy who were on this board but not tried have resigned. I had to laugh at the quote that said as part of the verdict these scientists are barred from holding public office... as if, after an experience like this, they would ever want to...
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