Monday, October 22, 2012

Time to Get Out of the Business

L'AQUILA, Italy - An Italian court convicted seven scientists and experts of manslaughter on Monday for failing to adequately warn citizens before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people. The court in L'Aquila also sentenced the defendants to six years in prison. Each one is a member of the national Great Risks Commission. In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one level of appeals, so it is unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.

Scientists worldwide had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no reliable way of predicting earthquakes.
The timing of earthquakes perhaps one of the least predicitable things in nature, except for maybe the exact time of an individual radioactive decay.  One can predict them well enough on a statistical basis over a long enough time period but the occurrence of an individual event is very difficult.  Scientists have been trying to predict earthquakes maybe as long a astrologers have, and made very little more progress.  There are a few things that may precede a shock, but in many cases, they also occur in the absence of a shock.

Among those convicted were some of Italy's most prominent 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 after the verdict. `'I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don't understand what I was convicted of."
I know one way to predict every earthquake; get up every morning and predict one.  If it doesn't happen, go to bed happy, and get up the next morning, and repeat.  You'll never fail to predict the earthquake, but since people will have stopped paying any attention years ago, it won't help.

The trial began in September 2011 in this Apennine town, whose devastated historic center is still largely a ghost town.

The defendants were accused in the indictment 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 constituted grounds for a quake warning.
Yes, small earthquakes can precede big earthquakes. Or they can precede years of nothing.

Before you reject this as merely an Italian fluke (they are an excitable bunch), remember that most stupidities from Europe end up being imported into the US, and if you don't think Gloria Allred and her ilk in the US wouldn't be happy to sue on behalf of the victims of a US earthquake, you are kidding yourself.

Of course, they'd probably have better success against scientists from a private university such as Stanford or Harvard than against scientists employed by the US government.

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