Scientists jailed for not predicting earthquake that killed 309

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

We can think of a lot of things that might send someone to jail, but guessing wrong about an earthquake has never been one of them. Six scientists in Italy were probably thinking the same thing until today, when a judge put them in prison for six years.

Back in the spring of 2009, a series of tremors rocked the Italian town of L'Aquila, sparking concerns that a full-blown earthquake could be on the way. To address the concerns, government officials met with a group of earth scientists to discuss the likelihood of a quake hitting the town.

The meeting took place on March 31, 2009. Scientist Enzo Boschi said at the time that a major quake was "unlikely," but also reportedly acknowledged that it was still possible. Following the meeting, Bernardo De Bernardinis, an official with the Department of Civil Protection, publicly said there was "no danger" of a major quake.

On April 6, a magnitude 6.3 quake struck the town, collapsing weak medieval buildings and killing 309 people.

In September 2011 Boschi, De Bernardinis and five of their colleagues were put on trial for their alleged involvement in the L'Aquila deaths, sparking international outrage in the scientific community.

"Our ability to predict earthquake hazards is, frankly, lousy," Seth Stein, a professor of Earth sciences at Northwestern University in Illinois, told LiveScience last year. "Criminalizing something would only make sense if we really knew how to do this and someone did it wrong."

Despite the outcry, the trial continued, and on Monday Judge Marco Billi found the six scientists and De Bernardinis guilty of multiple manslaughter. They were sentenced to six years each, sparking more public outrage.

"I hope the Italians realize how backwards they are in this L'Aquila trial and its verdict," said Erik Klemetti, an assistant professor of geosciences at Denison University in Ohio. Klemetti also said the verdict sets a "terrible precedent."

So remember, if you're a scientist and you decide to speak publicly about a possible natural disaster, the Italians might want to throw you in jail for it later.

(Via CBS News)

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