Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Not sure this is going to help anyone

On the one hand, the news of two days ago (yes, yes, sorry but life keep interfering with my blogging) of "six scientists and a government official [being]sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter by an Italian court on Monday for failing to give adequate warning of an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in L'Aquila in 2009" sounds like an excellent precedent for many other events.

Can we gaol the people who get the various financial predictions wrong? Of course, the hacks in the media would be the first to go in that case.

Or the people who predict wrongly the outcome of various EU negotiations? Can we gaol them?

Naturally, all those scientists who have been threatening us with huge destructive heat waves if we did not stop all our activity at once and crawl back into caves should get hefty sentences. After all, did they actually predict the recent fairly harsh winters? Did those who went on and on about the British drought predict the floods we have actually been experiencing? I think not.

Unfortunately, a little bit of thinking makes one realize that this is not such a good idea after all. Undoubtedly, the immediate result will be scientists not giving any opinions or advice at all, in case they get it wrong and end up in gaol. As for the long-term problem: I note that there is only one official in the group and six scientists. To what extent was the problem caused by officials not doing their job and how is not prosecuting them going to prevent future tragedies of this kind?


  1. Having read a thread on another forum about the court-case, my understanding is that they're not being prosecuted for failing to predict the earth-quake, but for expressing (false)certainty that an earth-quake wouldn't happen. The second part of the issue (if I understand it correctly) is that the Commissione Grandi Rischi is responsible for checking that building standards (and other emergency measures?) are up to scratch. Then the earth-quake hit and it was revealed that they had been less than truthful, both on preparedness and on the probability of the quake happening.

    It appears that they did understand the risks but made a conscious decision to down-play them for public consumption. The generous assumption is that they lied to avoid a public panic, the less generous assumption is that they were trying to cover up the fact that they hadn't been doing their well-paid public-sector jobs for years.

  2. I am quite sure the officials in question had not been doing their well-paid public-sector jobs for years but that, as I understand it, was not the issue. I imagine if they started arresting and trying people for that, the gaols would fill up very quickly.