Manslaughter Sentence For Scientists Who Misinformed Public On Deadly Aquila Quake
    By Sascha Vongehr | October 23rd 2012 03:21 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    A court in L'Aquila, Italia, on Monday handed six-year-prison sentences to members of a national "Great Risks Commission". Although science has still not yet the means of predicting earthquakes, the scientists nevertheless stated that

    “It is unlikely that an earthquake like the one in 1703 could occur in the short term, …”

    Six days later, the disaster struck and the L'Aquila 2009 earthquake killed over 300 people and left 1,500 injured.

    Today, the news are full with that in some parallel world perhaps, scientists have been wrongly convicted for "failing to predict an earthquake". The precise opposite happened. They were condemned for pretending to have predictions that should make it into the public rather than admitting that they have no such powers.

    Amazing the way scientists refuse all responsibility for whatever they do. One argument goes that if scientists warn and then nothing happens, then soon none of the plebs listens anymore to warnings. What a snobbish attitude indeed. Yes, if your warnings are often wrong, people will come to conclusions – that is just being rational. None of this can excuse the act of giving people a false sense of safety, thus exposing them to danger.

    You do not excuse your own misdeeds about predicting complex systems by your further predictions about another, yet more complex system, namely about what others perhaps would have done. You do the correct thing, period. If others then do what they should not do, then indeed, it will be their fault, will it not? Well, if it is the plebs fault in that hypothetical case, why should it not be the scientists fault now in this case?

    As is by now almost stereotypical rather than just typical, scientism likes to compare to the trial of Galileo, the Italian scientist who was tried as a heretic in 1633 for his affront to the pope, calling him a “simpleton”, all based on a theory that contradicted the moon’s known influence on the tides. However, what we see today is that whenever members of a new priest class are held responsible, a rare event indeed, apologetic condemnation from the new church and its devote congregation follows immediately.

    With sadness we witness that news about science related issues, instead of being especially concerned with the facts of an issue, are now the worst in that regard. Go look at the articles and try to find what the official reason for the manslaughter conviction has been. In spite of very lengthy articles being dedicated to this story, all you can find is the straw man about a supposed conviction for "not predicting earthquakes” repeated again and again, dressed up with expressions of outrage by people who have large stakes in the established scientific community.

    Very worrisome, a huge red flag indeed, the moralizing from the pretend defenders of rationality. Emotionally disturbed about that justice has dared to touch one of their own group, which is regarded as above the law, rationalization mechanisms set in and suddenly it seems as if they care about poor individuals being wrongly convicted. But of course, if scientists were ever in the least concerned about innocent people being done in, day after day there would be outrage about the vast numbers of innocent in our jails and prisons, say all the victims of the “war on drugs” whose lives and families, including whole communities, have been utterly destroyed.


    Hi, you talk about "right" or "wrong" as a child that explains the physics of the jam fell to the ground. Then, starting from these basis you decide to apply Logic to Fault — but in the terms of an educator who is speaking to that child. Because the matter is the compatibility between human justice, individual responsibility and balance of contradictions [in mathematics], you should consider something more complex than physics of falling jam, i.e. paraconsistent logics — and modal+intensional too.
    1st people died, and now people go to jail, not so extraneous tragedies.
    Obr. j

    Not following, but anyway, you can be quite certain that they will not go to jail. This is soon a political trial. The outrage of the science upper class is going to translate into not uncertain hints from political figures directed via the channels that are used for such purposes at the judges in the appeals court. They are pretty much as free as you and me, we all know it, while innocent people of the lower classes are incarcerated every day by the thousands and nobody gives a moist rodent's posterior.
    lets face it

    people are jerks - and the more senior and senile they become the more they become jerks

    if you dig into any institution - especially any government funded institution - you will find that it is run by old men

    old men who gained their positions not so much by skill at anything useful as by being political, occasionally devious and always self aggrandizing one way or another

    the world would be a much better place if all such people paid the price of their shallowness, pomposity and greed

    the world needs far less bureaucrats, apparatchik, slime

    it's a crying shame that they get what's coming to them so infrequently


    Well, yes and no. I certainly do not think that they get what they deserved, if that is what your last line implies (they should go free). As always, I like to stir things up in order to focus on the religiousness in science and especially science writing (most terrible: blogging). The problem is never the old jerks, male or female. The question is: How much do we stabilize (with our writing or position in the social structures of science) those very jerk selection mechanisms, all in order to justify our own participation.
    it's a system - and the system is self-sustaining - until it's not - because it's a Ponzi scheme

    people gather round a food source and will stay there until the food runs out or they are forced away by nastier predators

    while hanging round that food source they will perfect whatever skills they can to monopolize as much of that source as possible - for humans that means not skill in science so much as it is skill in spotting opportunity - both opportunity to reduce the power of competitors and opportunity to raise as valued sycophants to stronger people

    it's very dog eat dog - it's just done in a human way - let's call it finesse but the right word would be something like cunning

    when such people gain the majority of power within a system (and not from us - because we did not give them that power other than by not killing them) they will pretend to themselves and others that they are superior

    i have worked with them - i have watched it so many times in so many places - and have seen even people i thought could never turn into such creatures do so

    the fact is that if you allow any system to become hierarchical you are asking for trouble

    if power is concentrated then to damage the majority you only need to corrupt or control the top

    they should not be free - but that is not the real problem

    the problem is that the man many more people out there who promised a good outcome before a bad one such that people lost lives and or property should also be punished, gaoled (jailed), whipped....

    if people were responsible truly responsible for what they said (and did)

    we'd all be a lot more careful

    and we'd all do less harm

    it's either that or let us all carry guns and shoot whoever does us wrong


    >> religiousness in science and especially science writing...

    Sascha, I think I'm beginning to understand. Thanks.

    Hi Sascha, the issue is indeed different than the way it's being interpreted elsewhere on this site and in some mainstream media. Indeed they were not convicted for merely dismissing the radon prediction. But you should have quoted more than

    “It is unlikely that an earthquake like the one in 1703 could occur in the short term, …”
    This is from

    Residents had become nervous about an increase in seismic activity. They were used to tremors—after all, L’Aquila sits on a major fault line—but there was something different about what was happening, and they all knew it. The special risk commission—made up of scientists Franco Barberi, Enzo Boschi, Gianmichele Calvi, Mauro Dolce, Claudio Eva, and Giulio Selvaggi, and Bernardo De Bernardinis, the vice director of Italy’s civil protection agency, who dealt with every earthquake and volcano eruption on Italian soil in the past decade—evaluated the charts and interpreted the science. Then, despite the noted increase in both size and frequency of the tremors, they assured the citizens that they largely rejected the possibility of a major earthquake, calling it “unlikely.”
    Thank you for this quote, which basically supports my article. I did not quote too much, because there may be much lost in translations. You perhaps can help here. I find it especially crazy that they seem to not only say that it is "unlikely", which is true if based on a model that makes it unlikely, whatever that means (49%?), but they say it is "unlikely" that it even "could" occur, which is nonsense anyway I try to slice it. But perhaps it is a language issue.
    The minutes of that law is a "synthesis" of what has been really said; this means that, if they said "could be yes, but also no", a logical contradiction emerges if the synthesis is very approximate — in Italian tongue there is a concrete evidence of it, in this case. "It is unlikely, although we can not say that there will be," is the same of '"it is likely even if it isn't said that there is."

    A question cuts to the chase: the written summary in the report, according to a complaint that prof. Boschi addressed months after to the leaders of the Italian Protezione Civile was "fake". Plz, keep attention to this: prof. Boschi did not report this as an infringement to the judicial authorities, as you would do with a real "false": which means that - in this case - the meaning of the word "counterfeiting" was understood - even by prof. Boschi - as a "technical recasting", a retouching work which has changed a fine sense of scientific statements - certainly the most significant, because before the retouch the budget between "yes" and "no" was scientifically correct = neutral.

    The Italian Court of Justice has determined that all this constituted what is called a "combination of elements", that you have to judge as a "paraconsistent logic" proposition: the higher their "neutrality" was, the more they claim that "neutrality" has been violated; the more a violation of scientific neutrality is proven, the more prof. Boschi & Co. prove to be more attached to have a correct scientific impartiality in the respect to "the stochastics", than giving a judgment that stimulates interventions - in terms of protection of the population.

    So, what is being punished is the scientific neutrality, impartiality, probabilistic logic tout court, the scientific method itself, which, if a claim is not falsifiable, then do not feel to have reached any sustainable thesis, and yet it is "inconsistent" [= still would have done it even 6 months before or 6 months after, until it emerges the falsifiability].

    The consistency, however, is given surreptitiously from history, who kills concretely; from which the story overcomes "in the facts" the scientific method.

    Then, the Justice considers it ex-post; she believes to can further [and I think surreptitious] attribute a causal relationship [because of an effect] in a precise and boolean point in the sequence of the values ​​involved.

    This point, it must be said, has been chosen entirely, completely and without a doubt, and is as follows: the Scientific Method, as it was used [not violated, not bypassed in the name of the Law, nor for a jolt of humanity, or for "contract" (the Science, called to be an institution)].
    The sentence is therefore to Science - and all the sophisticated reconstructions that you read everywhere are not other then unnecessary reductionisms.

    The reason why the Justice, in my opinion, acts in surreptitious ways [ie, introducing a force that was previously "alien" to the sequence I described], is that, if the science must have some responsibilities like today we are seeing to be attributed, then it should not have only an "advisory" function, but also enforceable ones. If you do not have it, then the fault is to be found in the first link in the chain that has that function. So it is the Law, and the Law must be human-scientific, not machine-discretionary.

    Saluts. j

    If in fact the balance of evidence did suggest that it was unlikely a major earthquake would very soon follow the pattern of seismic events recorded up to the time the prediction was made, what is the problem with presenting that to the public? given say a 10,000 year return period, I would probably be happy to bet the farm against that major event happening in my lifetime right up until evidence to the contrary became overwhelming.

    Of course a catastrophic event can happen at any time, and it is only a matter of time until one does (as I well know, living in what is left of Christchurch - or as anyone living in a seismically active area would know), and if that possibility is explicitly denied, or even unduly downplayed , then yes that is a problem.

    Otherwise pretty hard to meaningfully pass judgement on the judge until all the evidence is made public.

    Gerhard Adam
    If in fact the balance of evidence did suggest that it was unlikely a major earthquake would very soon follow the pattern of seismic events recorded up to the time the prediction was made, what is the problem with presenting that to the public?
    Given that no one can predict earthquakes, then what is the scientific basis for claiming that any earthquake event is "unlikely"?  In the absence of any ability to relate specific causes to events, then no meaningful conclusion can be drawn and speculating about probabilities isn't science, it is just opinion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I sometimes wonder whether Hank's entire venture here would collapse without you constantly telling us we cannot know this and we cannot know that in every possible context, Gerhard! The average rate of earthquakes across the globe is known. The rates under different conditions is known. The conditions around L'Aquila were known. It is perfectly possible to draw meaningful conclusions from such data and say what the probability is without being able to predict specific events. Stating the best estimate of this probability is not speculation. Perhaps you are getting confused because the article is by Sascha, who, at a fundamental level, rejects randomness and intrinsic probability. Nevertheless emergent probability is as much of a "fact" as any other piece of objective science :)
    In the absence of any ability to relate specific causes to events then no meaningful conclusion can be drawn
    So if lightning is invariably followed by thunder, it is impossible to predict, next time a flash is seen, that there will soon be rumblings? I don't think so! We now know much of the mechanism but it was perfectly possible to say "lightning is followed by thunder" before electricity was understood.

    We still cannot predict the next flash. But we do know that lightening is much more frequent during a thunderstorm.

    The same applies when the events do not follow every time. Actuaries make their living - and a lot of profit for their employers - by discovering probabilities in past data. They do not have to understand why people in a given area die earlier or later than average, only that they do.
    and speculating about probabilities isn't science, it is just opinion.
    It's not speculation. It's stating the best estimate that you have.  That's not to say whether the scientists were justified in making the actual statement that they did. I tend to agree with Sascha that the statement probably went far beyond what was justified and effectively gambled people's lives.

    Nevertheless, it is up to planners to have a clue about statistics and scientific certainties, otherwise they are merely using scientific advice to cover their backsides. My suggestion is that anyone who believes "scientists" when they talk crap should be held personally responsible for the consequences...

    Gerhard Adam
    So if lightning is invariably followed by thunder, it is impossible to predict, next time a flash is seen, that there will soon be rumblings?
    Exactly my point.  So why would scientists conclude that after there is an increase in seismic activity that nothing would happen?  What is that based on? 
    The conditions around L'Aquila were known.
    Again, was data actually evaluated?  Here we  have a town that is well-known for seismic activity and that has experienced major earthquakes every few hundred years and yet these scientists concluded that there was a low probability of it occurring?  Based on what?

    The point ultimately is that this has little to do with science and everything to do with scientists expressing public policy opinions.  This wasn't a discussion about earthquake prediction, it was a risk analysis group and they failed.

    They had no business telling people to "relax" and have a glass of wine.
    Bernardo De Bernardinis famously told L’Aquila residents to relax with a glass of wine, saying earlier tremors had “discharged” seismic energy.
    Also, note that this claim of discharging seismic energy was presumptive and not based on anything that was actually known at the time.
    Mundus vult decipi
    My suggestion is that anyone who believes "scientists" when they talk crap should be held personally responsible for the consequences...
    That's easy to say when you have 1.4 times the IQ of the average citizen! (I'm not insinuating that people in Abruzzi are unintelligent. A blogger on our site got so caught up in defending the scientists that he knocked the whole country by calling it full of tarot readers and believers of magicians and healers.)

    Knowing their audience wanted simplistic "stay-go-I don't know" advice, the sensible but ego-eating option for the seismologists would have been to say that there was no certainty in the matter.

    But if you keep digging into the story it seems that there wasn't consensus among the scientists to make the announcement to the public.