Italy convicts scientists who failed to predict deadly quake

Here in the U.S.'s northeast we tend to get ticked off when the weather service fails to predict a major storm, but in Italy, it turns out that making inaccurate predictions about natural disasters could send you to the slammer for six years.

That's the verdict that was handed down to each of seven prominent scientists, who gave faulty predictions about the deadly earthquake that struck central Italy in 2009. The magnitude 6.3 quake killed over 300 people in and around the town of L'Aquila, after the scientists had told residents that the danger of a quake was low.

The scientists were mostly geologists and seismologists from the country's National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, who had been called in to assess the risk after a weeks of smaller tremors had been shaking the area. Their conclusion was that this was actually a good sign, showing that the fault was moving and relieving built-up pressure slowly.

In a move that has sent shock waves through scientific communities worldwide, the judge didn't accept their argument that predicting earthquakes can never be an exact science, and convicted all seven of manslaughter. They also have to pay court costs of over $10 million. As you might expect, they plan to appeal the verdict.

The big problem is the impact — or chilling effect — this is likely to have of future attempts to predict natural disasters. After all, who would want to go out on limb with any kind of prediction if it could send you to the big house?

Via New York Times

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