Banner
    6 Years To Scientists Guilty Of Not Predicting Earthquakes
    By Tommaso Dorigo | October 22nd 2012 12:41 PM | 47 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

    View Tommaso's Profile
    Italy is a beautiful, crazy country. Take today's verdict, which condemns seven scientists (Franco Barberi, Enzo Boschi, Mauro Dolce, Bernardo De Bernardinis, Giulio Selvaggi, Claudio Eva, and Gianmichele Calvi) to six years of prison, plus a huge fine, for allegedly reassuring the population about the unlikelihood of an earthquake on the eve of the devastating shock of April 6th, 2009, which caused 309 deaths and destroyed most of the mid-size town of L'Aquila, in central Italy.

    The seven members of the "Large risks committee" in charge in 2009 have been "proven" guilty of multiple homicide, they will have to pay a total of 7.9 million euros (about 10 million dollars). Assuming they pay a monthly amount equal to the salary I myself get for doing research in particle physics, they will have to pay for about 50 years. Except that they are also banned from working in public institutions, as per the sentence.

    The earthquake that struck L'Aquila three years ago was preceded by the warnings sent by a private citizen, Giampaolo Giuliani, who claims he can predict earthquakes using the detection of radon gas emitted from the underground. Giuliani's claims were dismissed as alarmistic -he had warned in other occasions in the past, without correlations to seismic events- but unfortunately that time he was right. That radon can be emitted in large amounts shortly before an earthquake is probably not a controversial fact, but the possibility of using them as a sure predictor of seismic events is rather dubious as of today.

    Scientists in Italy almost unanimously criticize the sentence as absurd. Enzo Boschi, formerly president of the INGV (the Italian Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology) who is one of the seven found guilty, claims he is "devastated, desperate. I was totally convinced I would be acquitted since I never reassured anybody. [...] Nobody can predict earthquakes".

    Luciano Maiani, the current president of the same committee, and a distinguished physicist known for his important contributions to theoretical particle physics (he is the "M" in the GIM mechanism which he formulated together with Glashow and Iliopoulos in the early seventies to explain the absence of strangeness-changing neutral currents), says this sentence is profoundly wrong, and explains "Non è possibile fornire allo Stato una consulenza in termini sereni, professionali e disinteressati sotto questa folle pressione giudiziaria e mediatica. Questo non accade in nessun altro Paese al mondo" (It is not possible to provide to the country a consulence in a uninterested and professional fashion under this crazy judicial and mediatic pressure. This does not happen anywhere else in the world").

    I find an amusing bit in the fact that Maiani defends his predecessor Boschi. A few years ago Boschi had unkind words for Maiani, when the latter was appointed as head of CNR, a chair Boschi had wanted. This was a followup of a long political struggle in Italy, with some amusing sidelines (a politician and ex-soubrette with zero scientific background Gabriella Carlucci, had attacked Maiani as unfit to the charge, questioning his stellar scientific career as if she understood the first thing about it, and had received a humbling reply from Glashow himself). The matter is discussed in a few posts I wrote back then, which may be amusing to you if you like the sort of craziness of Italian politics and culture.


    Italy is a beautiful country, full of peaceful people who spend their time reading horoscopes and visiting magicians, healers, and tarot readers. People convinced by homeopathy until their conditions get serious. People who vote for parties indicated by the Vatican, but go to Spain to get artificial fecundation because those parties make laws that effectively forbid the practice. A beautiful country, but not a place for scientists or people endowed with a rational mind.

    Update: For more insight in the whole story, Nature has great coverage.

    Comments

    Surprising for Italy. It is what one would expect in China.

    Actually, this reconstruction of the events is quite inaccurate and naif... The leaders of the Great Risk Commission haven't been judged guilty "of not being able to predict the earthquake" that destroyed the city of L'Aquila. This would be ridiculous. And, in fact they have been sentenced for exactly the opposite: despite all the signs that suggested something big could have happened, they reassured the citizens saying that they were absolutely sure nothing was going on and no earthquake was coming. They have been probably forced to say that by some politician concerned of the electoral effects of a false alarm and I'm sure that all the sentenced scientists acted in good faith, but the fact is, the judges didn't sentenced any scientist for not being a "psychic". They pronounced them guilty just because they stated something that nobody could state, exactly for the good reason that predicting an earthquake is as difficult as predicting its absence. Let me say it again: those guys will probably go to jail because they concealed facts and because they LIED. The rest is misinformation or disinformation.

    Hfarmer
    Wow, I had thought Chicago had a unusually strong mix of politics and religion.  Here the son of a famous reverend can loose his mind, disappear, not actually campaign, and still probably win an election by a landslide.  I wouldn't be so sure that there isn't a state in the USA which where these charges wouldn't be brought. 
    Do you think this will get reversed on appeal? 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    dorigo
    I am quite confident that the appeal with reverse the judgement, but a damage has been done already - scientists will shut their mouth the next time they are asked to provide an informed opinion on similar matters.

    Cheers,
    T.
    This is a good article regarding the *facts*. It reports what happened. Everything is reconstructed using documents and public statements. Unfortunately, it is written in italian. Try to use google translate.
    Tommaso, you too should read it very carefully:

    http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2012/10/23/sentenza-grandi-rischi-scienz...

    vongehr
    Or you could stick to the facts.
    Or you could stop being full of sh*t, Mister fiddling-in-my-laboratory-with-no-care-nor-consequence-to-the-world.

    Really, this sentence just means that any "expert evidence" to which the italian government might avail itself in the future has just gone buh-bye. Or it will come with a disclaimer larger than anything rating agencies append to their advice, which they expressedly state shall in no way be construed as actual advice.

    vongehr
    On the precise contrary - if you read the article I linkerd and the supporting comments below, I think that the verdict is going to reassure the public that scientists do no longer get away with whatever, thus making predictions more trustworthy in the future. No longer predicting whatever while having only your next grant application in mind.
    lumidek
    Vongehr, but it's the key assumption for science to remain science that scientists *must* get away with whatever prediction that follows from their research and reasoning, regardless of the sign of its societal implications and its agreement with people's beliefs, and in areas where precise predictions are impossible, they must be allowed to err.
    If we return to an age when laymen  and assholes actually restrict what scientists are allowed to predict, science as the discipline founded by Newton and Galileo will cease to exist.

    The quality of forecasting in disciplines where 100% reliable forecasting is impossible simply can't be judged based on one random event. There's no convincing evidence that these people were doing less professional advisory job on seismology than anyone else in the country could.


    vongehr
    "whatever" means that it was precisely NOT based on science! You would be correct in case they had put their prediction relative to any scientific model. However, they "predicted" on grounds of that they did not like somebody else's prediction (which was actually based on a model) and thought that it is best to say this rather than that because the stupid mob would otherwise not listen to other predictions in the future and so on, all considerations that have nothing to do with good science. Scientists should thank the court for reminding them to get back into their role as scientists (rather than becoming high priests above the law).
    lumidek
    You think that some folks with some primitive models who happen to be right about one event are doing a better job than the professional seismologists, I don't. These are difficult questions but they are *scientific* questions and a judge who is a layman has no business of deciding which of the  two sides' predictions were more rooted in science.
    If the deal is that the seismologists in similar advisory committees can never witness an earthquake they wouldn't see as likely in advance, it's obvious that no sane people would want to be employed under such conditions because the existence of an unpredicted earthquake at some point is guaranteed. Science simply cannot predict those things reliably and not even semi-reliably today and it arguably never be able.
    vongehr
    Lub - reading comprehension? Try again.
    Did you not, Lubos Motl, recently in the comments section of this very blog write that anyone who is wrong in science should be fired? If they said there is no great danger of an earthquake, and then there was one, were they not wrong? Should they not be removed from their posts? Are you not contradicting yourself?

    lumidek
    It's a matter of the "amount of error". Earthquakes can't be predicted so surely one shouldn't fire a person for being unable to predict just *one* earthquake because the seismologists would cease to exist as an occupation roughly after the third earthquake or opportunity for an earthquake....

    However, a subtle detail you must have missed is that I argued that people like the bosses of OPERA who are wrong about their most hyped experimental results should be fired. But I said fired. This is something else than arrested. Can you try to triple your humble brain capacity and spot the difference? A good reason for being fired is to show incompetence and a failure to produce good products. However, one needs to show a crime - a deliberate act that contradicts the law and that hurts someone - for the culprit to be arrested. Being wrong isn't the same thing as being a criminal. Your inability to distinguish these two things has two types of bad consequences: you are suggesting to arrest innocent people just because they have bad luck and witness a sad event that can only be predicted statistically and that is unlikely to start with; and you are suggesting that it should be impossible to fire anyone as long as he avoids crime.

    I surely don't think that experimenters in OPERA should be arrested just for spreading the wrong result about the speed of light and from the viewpoint of invalidity of claims, the example of the 2009 earthquake is exactly isomorphic to the case of OPERA. 
    What exactly is "unlikely"? 10%? 5%? 1%? 0.01%?

    there was one measurement (the earthquake). do we really know that given the previous data its probability to happen was close to 1?

    I don't.

    One might argue that the human sense of danger is better than science in such cases, or one might rationalize that a 5% chance for a major earthquake is still a risk better avoided (very reasonable). But condemning the people that did the prediction will have exactly one effect in the future: no scientist in her right mind will ever give a report like this again.

    actually - thinking about it again, it would be really great if the same strict standards would be used for the ipcc.

    I support Sascha. Scientists should no longer get away with whatever. I heard that Sascha himself is now avoiding Italy, as he has misinformed the Italian public about he speed of neutrinos traveling underneath Italian soil.

    Italy will next find its meteorologists guilty for getting the weather wrong.

    Tommaso, did u read the "great coverage" in Nature u referenced
    to?!
    It reports that the defendants were not found
    "Guilty Of Not Predicting Earthquakes"
    but for communicating to the public a
    risk assessment that was not accurate by the standards
    of professional seismology.
    In particular apparently no commission member contradicted
    the following statement about the small tremors that
    immediately preceded the large quake:
    "the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it's a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy"
    which is plain wrong according to the seismologist quoted
    in the article.
    Apparently it is a fact that many inhabitants of l'Aquila
    were lulled by this statement into a false sense of
    safety, and did not spend the night of the quake outside
    as they would have done according to local traditions.
    Apparently an accurate risk assessment, based on the
    chain of tremors and the increase in radon release
    at the Gran Sasso Lab would have been
    something like:
    "There is presently an increased risk for
    a major quake, the risk for one happening
    in the general region within the next
    two months being x %"
    I do not know the x, but the defendants were surely able to evaluate
    an estimate defensible by state-of-the-art seismology.
    It is some small, but non-negligible number, perhaps
    a few percent or even higher.

    Don't you think that a
    scientist always has to tell the public a completely accurate
    report of a his or her risk asessment?

    Perhaps the defendants had a similarly contemptuous opinion
    of their non-scientist Italian fellow citizens as you seem to have
    (judging from your posting) ,
    and thought that they had to be lied to a little bit, like children,
    rather than being told an accurate risk assessment.
    Isn't it possible that the judges (having studied the case in great detail)
    came to a justified conclusion that this was a mistake that
    led to the loss of many lifes?

    Come on, the charge was manslaugther-- for not predicting an earthquake?? Given that this is Italy, I don't think it's likely that any rational conclusion was reached. Don't forget that Amanda Knox sat in prison for years even though another man had confessed to her "crime" and was already in prison himself. I believe these scientists will eventually be aquitted in a re-trial, but only after months or years of international political pressure. In the Italian justice system, facts don't seem to matter. If the anger of the public can be placated for some politician's personal gain, that's what takes place.

    Amanda Knox spent time in jail because she was found guilty of falsely accusing another man (that Lumumba fellow) of murder. The other charges were indeed dismissed.

    Not accurate. She was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years. Upon appeal, the only charge that was not dropped was the false accusation, which was covered by time already served. The point is that she never should have been charged in the first place-- it was a corrupt Italian prosecutor trying to boost his public image.

    dorigo
    Dear Maurice,

    the problem is that citizens of L'Aquila had been subjected to the alarmism of Giampaolo Giuliani, who, with methods not accepted by the scientific community (I am not discussing here if they may have some potential for being correlated with large earthquakes or not here: this is totally not relevant, as is not relevant the ex-post observation that a strong earthquake did strike) had created a potentially dangerous situation for the town. Therefore the need to counter that alarmism was hard felt. In any case, even if the scientists had reported a somewhat "edulcorated" version of their assessment, they are certainly not guilty of homicide!

    Cheers,
    T.
    To be honest, if you rephrase " Nobody can predict earthquakes" into " Nobody can assure there will be no earthquakes", the "Large risks committee" is guilty, since, as far as I know, six days prior to the fact, they claimed the low probablity of a large heartquake in the next days.
    Essentially they misinterpreted the absence of evidence with the evidence of absence.

    dorigo
    Hi Michele,

    not at all. If they claimed the low probability of a phenomenon and the phenomenon does occur, that does not make them or their assessment wrong !!!

    Cheers,
    T.
    lumidek
    At least in some contexts, you may be sane, Tommaso. Vongehr, Michele, and others are not.
    The claim that the probability was low was perfectly valid according to the best calculations of probabilities. Today, with the extra facts measured in 2009, we may say that the probability of a major earthquake in 2009 was 100% but the probability had a different value before the earthquake. In 2009, the seismologists didn't say that the probability of a major earthquake in 2009 would have become 0.001% by 2012. Indeed, everyone could have known that the right figure in 2012 for a 2009 earthquake is either 0% or 100%.  ;-) They were talking about the probability as calculated - using the near-best methods Italy possesses - in 2009 for a future 2009 event.

    Also, their recommendation not to panic or evacuate was perfectly sensible and rational. Science - and anyone else - cannot systematically do better in the predictions of such things than serious seismology right now. Because of the intrinsic nature of the physical processes, these predictions aren't waterproof - and they will arguably never be waterproof. The people who "knew" the earthquake was coming are just broken clocks that are also accurate twice a day. To show they have a point, they would have to prove their success repeatedly - to show it wasn't just "good luck".

    The idea that these 6+1 people "killed" the victims of the earthquake is totally unbelievable. Some people like Vongehr are just stupid, they don't understand the concept of probabilities, they don't understand that bad things sometimes occur and have to occur, can't be reliably avoided, and in most cases, don't have any anthropomorphic culprit.

    Of course, I am worried about this because it's a huge pressure that will intimidate scientists into making more biased - more catastrophic - predictions on all kinds of issues. That's just bad. Scientists should be freely doing their best balanced predictions. In some disciplines, it's inevitable they err. They should err symmetrically on both sides.

    http://motls.blogspot.it/2012/10/italy-earthquake-witch-trial-6-years-in.html?m=1
    dorigo
    Glad you agree.
    Cheers,
    T.
    Well, at least Maiani and colleagues have stood up for what is reasonable.

    Gerhard Adam
    What are you people talking about?  Probabilities?  There are no probabilities if you don't know.  Those are guesses.  If you cannot predict earthquakes, then you cannot predict the probability of one occurring or not.  Even then, Russian Roulette is based on pure probabilities, but I certainly wouldn't reassure someone that it was safe to play because the odds were overwhelmingly on their side.

    The problem isn't even about science.

    The problem is about real people having to live with real consequences and scientists talking about things that they, by their own admission, cannot predict nor make any meaningful statements about [i.e. individual safety].

    They are certainly not guilty of manslaughter, and undoubtedly that has more to do with the political overtones than anything else.  However, people in a professional capacity do have personal liability for their predictions, regardless of the probabilities.  No matter how reasonable, when you are wrong, you are wrong.  If this had been some other prediction that resulted in a business losing millions of dollars, you can bet your ass, someone would be liable for it.  So to, with people's lives.

    If scientists couldn't predict, then their only reasonable and prudent course of action would be to say that they didn't know and that people should follow their normal routines and processes in the event they feel tremors.  To afford reassurance is irresponsible.

    Scientists are becoming entirely too cavalier in confusing the uncertainty of their science versus the requirements and liabilities of transforming that knowledge into public policy or public recommendations.  If the science isn't conclusive, then NOTHING useful can be said and the scientist should acknowledge as much and keep quiet regarding any public forum.
    Mundus vult decipi
    dorigo
    Dear Gerhard,

    the matter is entirely about what recommendations can be given to a 200,000 town based on a series of low-energy shocks. Can we evacuate the town every time such a condition develops ? I have no information of this strategy being pursued anywhere in the world.
    More in particular, the problem here was that a amateur endowed with a few radon detectors had been crying wolf in the previous weeks, and this had created a situation of tension in the population. It was only meaningful, on the basis of a lack of any certainty, to try and dissolve that tension. So whatever figure the scientists might have come up with - p=0.0001, p=0.001 of a large shock in the next N weeks- they had the duty to try and pass a reassuring message. The alternative was chaos.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Gerhard Adam
    I don't know the details of how the people of this town live, but my understanding is that their "tradition" is that they take fundamental precautions if they expect a quake.  This is not evacuation, but simply staying outside.  I realize that this may also be explained with the benefit of hindsight and that problems may have occurred anyway.

    However, in the absence of an actual ability to predict, it is NOT the scientists responsibility to provide reassurance, but rather to provide an honest assessment of knowledge as they currently have it.  Unfortunately they didn't have it.

    The most prudent thing to have said is that, while they expect that there is a low probability of a major event [in their opinion], they would urge people take normal prudent precautions if they experience tremors and to be on alert for something more substantive.

    Instead we get De Bernardinis essentially ridiculing the entire idea by suggesting people relax and drink some wine.  The scientists involved in such an advisory capacity should have been outraged at such a comment aimed at people living on a fault line.
    So whatever figure the scientists might have come up with - p=0.0001, p=0.001 of a large shock in the next N weeks- they had the duty to try and pass a reassuring message. The alternative was chaos.
    I strongly disagree.  The only thing the scientists could say is; "We don't know".  Let the town make of it what they will, but reassurances are not the job of scientists.
    Mundus vult decipi
    dorigo
    But Gerhard, the committee although composed by scientists was an organism put there by the government. So they did have to do the job - reassuring the population, given the fact that not doing so would have caused complete chaos.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Gerhard Adam
    So they did have to do the job - reassuring the population, given the fact that not doing so would have caused complete chaos.
    So we are agreed.  They were not practicing science, they were engaging in politics. 

    The problem here is that they couldn't avoid chaos, and yet chose to behave as if they could.  Scientifically they couldn't predict an earthquake.  Politically there would be chaos regardless of what was predicted.  If an earthquake did not occur, there might be social chaos because of fear, and if it did occur, then there would be chaos because of the damage and injuries.

    Therefore, in political terms, prudence would have argued that since chaos is unavoidable, then it is probably best to err on the side that results in the fewest possible injuries and affords the greatest possibility of managing the social situation.

    Reassurance is not science.  Scientists must understand that when they participate in politics, in whatever capacity, they can no longer claim the refuge of objectivity or neutrality. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Dear Tommaso,
    your post is certainly right in expressing shock, surprise and disgust for this sentence. But I have two questions (one genuine, the second more "polemic"). 1) If it is not possible to predict earthquakes, what were those people paid for, and why did they make statements on the subject. 2) Until now, the political side you seem to symphatize with has always said "The sentences are not to be commented, but to be respected". Have you changed side :) ?
    Best regards,
    nessuno

    dorigo
    Dear nessuno,

    those scientists were in charge of a committee which may have had insight in protecting the population from avoidable catastrophes. In 1963 if there had been such a committee it would hopefully had intervened before the disaster of the Vajont dam (which killed over 1500) -there the risk was very high and there were clear indications that the mountain was falling into the lake. No alarm was given then, and that was a real manslaughter. In 2009 the only risk that could rightly be avoided was that connected with the alarmism and the fear of the population of L'Aquila.
    If you read the transcript of the meeting of March 31st you will find a completely reasonable and meaningful assessment of the situation. Of course then the need to calm the population forced a "translation" of p-values of 0.01 or so into "compatible with zero" or similar, more reassuring and understandable, terms.

    I also hope that the respect for sentences is not connected with one political side in Italy. On this matter, however, I beg to differ. Let us call it an exception, which I motivate with the fact that the damage of the sentence is clear and big, while the sentence itself does no justice to anybody.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Dear Tommaso,
    if I remember correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), in 1963, apart from a few whistleblowers which were easily ignored by the people in power, some "experts" also from universities (i.e. the equivalent of the Comitato Grandi Rischi) had declared that Vajont was safe (and in that case a sentence against them would have been fully justified), because this is what the people in power wanted to hear. So I am not sure that the "Comitato Grandi Rischi", put in place by the people in power, would have done a better job. But, a posteriori, I disagree with you when you say "the only risk that could rightly be avoided...the alarmism and the fear...".
    What I remember, like in most of these situation, was those people interviewed in the TV News and saying "the situation is under control", when they should have simply said "we don't know", because, as you also said, on this subject it is simply not possible to predict with accuracy.

    On the second point, which was a provocation, I simply notice that, with ideas different from mine, you also use the brain to form your opinion if a sentence is right or wrong. Because our ideas are different, our conclusions also may be different. So I remark with pleasure that you do not subscribe to official "karma" of one political side, which acritically states what I mention in my previous comment (in particular when they like the sentence)

    Best regards,
    n.

    Funnily enough, the transcript of the meeting of March 31st that you refer to was written only AFTER the earthquake. All that came out of the meeting that day were reassuring declarations to the press and the local TV. Indeed, the meeting itself was arranged by Bertolaso as a "media operation" (his words) to reassure the public that there was no danger. Apparently, the experts (at least one of whom - as you remark - has a proven record as ass-kisser of the powerful) were all too eager to comply, and they did not object to the way their position was misrepresented (e.g., when somebody told the press that a swarm of low-intensity episodes reduces the odds of a big one). Whether or not this configures the crime of manslaughter (not homicide - words are important!) and whether six years is adequate punishment for it I can't say - it depends on the mandate of the "Commissione Grandi Rischi" and on the details of the law. It would indeed be useful to read the text of the ruling before commenting.

    Your post, on the other hand, propagates the sort of simplification and half-truths that we can already find all over the lazy media ("Scientists Guilty Of Not Predicting Earthquakes", blah blah "Galileo" blah blah) - it looks like you didn't even read the good article from Nature that you link at the end. And BTW, Giampaolo Giuliani was NOT right that time. He had "predicted" an earthquake in Sulmona, not L'Aquila. Perhaps if they had paid attention to his crackpottery they would have evacuated people from Sulmona to L'Aquila, and there would have been even more victims...

    dorigo
    Hi Ptrslv,

    the point is that I think that the need to reassure the population was there. I like even less than you the political aspects of this story, but here I see nobody capable of factoring out the fact that an earthquake did strike. Can you try and sit in one of the 10,000 or so parallel universes where no big one struck, and tell me that reassuring the population after a crackpot has created panic is wrong ?

    Cheers,
    T.
    If the scientific consensus is that it is impossible to predict whether or not a big earthquake will strike, then this is all you should tell the public. You can certainly point out the crackpottery of the crackpot without implying that there is no risk. Plus, as mentioned by somebody in the Nature article, you could remind the public about the usual safety drills, i.e. leave your house if it shakes, hide under a table if you can leave, and so on. Whether or not the public will be "reassured" by this should not be the scientists' concern. The problem here is that the public officials had decided in advance to dismiss the risks, and it looks like the scientists went happily along with the plan. Indeed, the statements to the press given by De Bernardinis after the meeting overlap fully with those in Bertolaso's wiretap from the day before.

    Lubos, I don't agree that modern seismology necessarily offers the best option to the people of L'Aquila. It seems that locals had a strategy of staying outdoors after a tremor in anticipation of a larger quake. I suspect that this tradition is not based purely on superstition, but has been informed by thousands of years of experience living with the local seismology.

    In other words, this local knowledge has much better statistics than a century or so of seismological studies.

    lumidek
    Hi Hamish, everyone has the freedom to leave the town and ultimately behave according to his own decisions. But is it a good thing for him? Maybe they have developed some methods that work better than the "seismology as known to normal trained Italian seismologists" but it's very unlikely in the statistical ensemble of many similar science-dependent concerns. Ordinary people usually forget events way too easily and quickly reshape their beliefs to fit their prejudices rather than the cold hard data.
    If your belief were applied more generally, we would also replace medicine by alternative medicine and various shamans, we would replace unsafe cars by horses again, and we would undo centuries of progress in general. You are just urging people to abandon the scientific attitude to similar questions. 

    It's plausible that in some particular questions, an untrained person building on traditions has a better idea than an expert, a scientist. And of course that I have some opinion what some of these questions are. But your way of arguing that it's the case is exactly the type of arguing that exposes why the non-scientific reasoning is so inferior to science in general. You are cherry-picking one event in which the "alternative" methods had a better score because you find it convenient but you forget lots of things in which seismology has something right to say that is completely inaccessible to the "alternative" methods.

    UvaE
    Although the sentence is too harsh, it's not entirely based on the geologists' dismissal of the technician's(Giuliani) radon measurement and subsequent forecast.

    http://www.yerkir.am/en/news/33876.htm

    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.”
    dorigo
    So you are implying that it is wrong to call a major earthquake unlikely (I give you whatever historical series to precede it as a basis) ?
    T.
    UvaE
    Well, if someone is making an announcement for "people who spend their time reading horoscopes and visiting magicians, healers, and tarot readers", "unlikely" will be interpreted as "won't happen, go back to your houses.". 

    written later....But I just saw something interesting in Nature since I wrote this comment which sheds new light on the matter
    In a television interview recorded shortly before the meeting, Bernardo De Bernardinis, then deputy director of the Civil Protection Department, said, “the scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy”. Most seismologists, including several of the indicted, consider this statement to be scientifically incorrect.  


    dorigo
    Enrico, scientists cannot be held accountable for the ignorance of the population.

    About the quote: I am sure you realize that the conviction does not have to do with interviews that these people gave, but with official acts (of which there is a recording). In the recording, the matter is discussed, and it is said that one cannot conclude anything concrete about the increased likelihood or decreased likelihood of a strong earthquake after a series of short shocks.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Dear Tommaso,

    You have a point with the worry about panic in l'Aquila.
    But I think you will agree that risk management was not optimal in this case.
    What went wrong?

    I suspect the seismologists felt under pressure to furnish arguments to calm the public because
    otherwise panic might have been broken out. The justified worry about panic in l'Aquila
    (and maybe also other consequences, like them not being called into the commission again etc.)
    influenced their judgement.

    They should not have been in such a situation. Rather, professional risk management
    should have made clear, that one expects from them a judgement to the civil protection officer, purely
    about the seismological situation, that they are responsible only for the accurateness of this
    judgement with respect to the current state of the art in seismology.

    Then, in a second step, the civil protection officer should have had to make
    the diffcult decision of how much he tells the public about the seismologists' judgement.
    Is it justified to translate a risk probability P=0.01 into "P compatible with 0" when the risk
    is the death of hundreds of people? Would explaining that P=0.01 lead to a panic?
    He alone (or some body independent of the seismologists) is responsible for
    the answers to these questions.

    This separation of responsibilities is important for 2 reasons:
    1. the science is treated by scientists and the civil protection is treated by specialists for civil protection.
    2. legal responsibilites are clearly defined

    In the l'Aquila case responsibilities were apparently not cleanly separated.
    This led to suboptimal and even scientifically
    inaccurate information to the population and a situation where justice is nearly impossible to find:
    The defendants think: shared responsibility means that nobody is responsible.
    The judge thinks: shared responsibility means that everybody is responsible.

    Things went tragically wrong and I agree with you that
    6 years seems a much too severe sentence.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I think that its interesting that the day before this guilty verdict was announced in Italy, according to this ScienceNews article another group of scientists reported online in Nature Geoscience that 'farmers and other residents pumping groundwater from the Earth’s crust probably triggered an earthquake that killed nine people last year in southeastern Spain'. 
    Sucking up water for decades would have unloaded stresses within the ground and hastened a quake that was likely to happen anyway, says Pablo González, a geologist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. “Even without the groundwater extraction, the earthquake was overdue,” he says. But human activities provided “a kind of triggering or controlling.”
    Scientists know that people can change the rate of earthquakes by piling up water within the crust, such as behind a dam. Some researchers argue — though it is not entirely accepted — that filling a nearby reservoir may have set off the magnitude 7.9 quake that killed some 80,000 people in Sichuan, China, in 2008. Injecting water into the crust, such as during hydraulic fracturing or other drilling, can also trigger quakes; geothermal drilling operations in Basel, Switzerland, set off a small earthquake there in 2006.

    Is there now suddenly going to be a lot more transparency about what scientists can and cannot claim and do and do not understand about what triggers earthquakes as a result of this court case I wonder? 

    I've always thought it a concern that the T2K particle collider, neutrino experiment was operating deep in a tin mine quite close to the epicentre of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Radon gas was also seen to have been released in large quantities prior to this Japanese earthquake and tsunami along with electron clouds which were detected in the atmosphere and which are a known by product of collider experiments. Can we be sure that there is no connection between the unexplained heating up of the atmosphere above the earthquake epicentre for 3 days prior to the East Japan Great Earthquake, and the relatively close proximity of the J-PARC and T2K nuclear particle collidor experiments and the direction of those oscillating neutrino beams, which coincidentally were operating at the time of the earthquake? 

    Oscillating neutrinos and any other as yet unidentified by products of these scientific experiments were being created and beamed through hundreds of kilometres of underground rock relatively nearby, as LINAC was doing nuclear particle collisions and beaming neutrinos at the exact time of the earthquake. The earthquake caused it to do an automatic shutdown and also damaged a lot of its equipment and devices, fortunately though no one was hurt and there were no radiation leaks according to J-PARC see http://j-parc.jp/index-e.html Can scientists now categorically and retrospectively state that there was no way that the T2K experiments and any of its accidental byproducts could have somehow helped to trigger this earthquake, which caused over 15,000 deaths and many more casualties?


    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine