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Geologists Might Be Charged For Not Predicting Quake 375

Posted by timothy
from the google-will-no-doubt-be-found-at-fault dept.
mmmscience writes "In 2009, a series of small earthquakes shook the region of L'Aquila, Italy. Seismologists investigated the tremors, but concluded that there was no direct indication of a big quake on the horizon. Less than a month later, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake killed more than 300 people. Now, the chief prosecutor of L'Aquila is looking to charge the scientists with gross negligent manslaughter for not predicting the quake."
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Geologists Might Be Charged For Not Predicting Quake

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  • way to drive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:07PM (#32595166) Homepage Journal

    science out of your country.

    No indications means they didn't detect any indication. That could be due to poor technology, or perhaps because there were no indications.

    • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:12PM (#32595262)
      "But, but, I'm so so sorry boss. I couldn't predict the big quake because my crystal ball fell off the work bench when the little tremors hit."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by BlueKitties (1541613)
      I think that this is another case of Corporate Greed. But personally I blame the Obama Administration.
    • Or that there are indications all the time, but 99.99% of them are false alarms.

      • Re:way to drive (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mea37 (1201159) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:23PM (#32595402)

        If an event is present "all the time", and "99.99%" of the time it is a "false alarm", then it isn't an indicator at all.

        • Re:way to drive (Score:5, Interesting)

          by hazem (472289) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @05:13PM (#32596108) Journal

          Winston P. Graves liked consistency in his life. He sat down at the table in his breakfast nook and carefully opened the paper with one hand while pouring cereal into a bowl with the other. He scanned the headlines and noted the "9.0 Earthquake Predicted Today: Mass Devastation!" and calmly looked toward his bowl while he poured the milk. He took comfort in the headline knowing there was no cause for concern. It was the same headline that had been there yesterday. And the day before. And every day before that since the big quake 18 years ago that actually did devastate the city and had killed more than 20,000 people. Following the quake, the attorney general, known for his flair in front of juries, won convictions, and death penalties, for the government geologists who had failed to predict the quake, and for the newspaper editors who had failed to act on the finally accurate prediction of the quake by a local astrologer. Since then, the new government geologists and newspaper editors following the example of that astrologer and published formal predictions of deadly earthquakes every day. Of course there had not been any notable earthquakes since then, but neither had there been executions.

          • by mangu (126918) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @05:56PM (#32596540)

            That's exactly what happened to healthcare in the USA in the last 30 years.

            When any doctor can be sued for not detecting a disease you can bet there will be plenty of unneeded medical tests prescribed for everyone and costs will skyrocket.

            • by coaxial (28297) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @09:31PM (#32598070) Homepage

              Corollary 1:
              When any doctor can pad his wallet by ordering tests, you can bet there will be plenty of unneeded medical tests prescribed for everyone and costs will skyrocket.

              Corollary 2:
              When any patient can request test at no cost to them, you can bet there will be plenty of unneeded medical tests prescribed for everyone and costs will skyrocket.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by mcgrew (92797) *

              I don't think that's how malpractice works, perhaps a lawyer here can chime in? The way I (a layman) understand it, you can sue for anything but that doesn't mean you'll win. To win you need to prove that the doctor didn't follow accepted practices.

              If you go to the doctor with chest pains and the doc gives you an EKG, the EKG says no heart disease, so he says "you're ok, it's just heartburn" and a year later you discover you have breast cancer that could have been cured had it been detected, don't you think

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by gruntspeak (1835180)
            It's absurd to think that after 20 years someone would continue to notice the same headline every morning. What's needed is a more effective method of communicating the impending doom. Maybe....I don't know, maybe through some sort of color-coded chart.
    • Re:way to drive (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:25PM (#32595448)

      Way to drive FALSE PREDICTIONS INTO your country.

      "Uh... to avoid being charged with manslaughter... er... i mean... the data shows that.... there will be an earthquake today... and every other day this year too. Be ready for an earthquake at any moment, because our uhm... data... shows that it could happen!"

      • Re:way to drive (Score:4, Informative)

        by couchslug (175151) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @05:34PM (#32596348)

        Fuck 'em. I wouldn't "predict" a damn thing, but would seek ways to enrich myself from predicted outcomes.

        If people will fuck you for trying to do good, abandon that and fuck THEM instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DigiShaman (671371)

        They would then be sued for causing false alarm, loss productivity of a city, looting, and perhaps increase in homicide rate during the evacuation period. As a geologist, you would be setup to fail regardless.

    • Re:way to drive (Score:5, Insightful)

      by History's Coming To (1059484) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:28PM (#32595504) Journal
      I hope they'll also be suing the mathematicians who developed the statistical analysis tools the geologist used. And the engineers who helped develop the equipment. And me. I did absolutely nothing to help, and am therefore either more to blame than the geologists, or maybe less. It's difficult to tell when it's a bunch of lawyers trying to line their pockets from the deaths of innocents.
      • Re:way to drive (Score:5, Insightful)

        by horatio (127595) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @05:06PM (#32595984)
        We should hold responsible this prosecutor for every criminal he didn't successfully convict or even bother to charge for lack of evidence - especially any who went on to later kill someone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rm999 (775449)

      What if it was due to incompetence? What if it was their job to save lives and instead they were slacking off? From a linked article:
      "L'Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente recalled his frustration at receiving no clear reply to his repeated questions and the apparent lack of concern on the part of some present."

      As a person of science I think it's great you are giving benefit of the doubt to the scientists, but maybe the prosecutors deserve some too. My intuition is to believe the committee when they say they coul

    • Re:way to drive (Score:5, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @06:30PM (#32596836)

      And as TFA points out, this is after the government shut up a scientist saying there WAS going to be a quake.

      Predict a quake before one happens and you're in trouble. Don't predict one before it happens and you're in trouble.

      One of these days, we scientists need to drive politicians out of our country. And off the planet entirely.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by joocemann (1273720)

      science out of your country.

      No indications means they didn't detect any indication. That could be due to poor technology, or perhaps because there were no indications.

      You know what is funny?

      I recall a couple articles on slashdot around the time it all happened... You know what happened? Look up the links on slashdot if you like.

      An italian seismologist/geologist actually *DID* predict the earthquakes and told everyone to grab their socks and look out. He warned about a week early and was reemed for it and was actually being tried by an italian court for something akin to yelling fire in a theater, etc. Then after the quake happened a little later, I think he got the ch

  • Vice Versa (Score:5, Insightful)

    by broggyr (924379) <broggyr@gmailCHICAGO.com minus city> on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:08PM (#32595186)
    Of course if the scientist predicted a huge quake and none occurred, then he would be targeted for that as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      Quite, they never seem to be able to make their minds up. The slightest bit of evidence and it's all change. One moment it's Newtonian mechanics, and then Einstein comes along and it's all wrong.

      P.S. 6,000 years.

       

    • by Kreigaffe (765218)

      I'm not sure what to search for to find it, but that actually already happened. Fairly certain it was in Italy, too. Dude predicts a quake on a certain day, it doesn't come to pass, the city sued him or some shit? Then the quake hit a few days later? I think this happened last year. Sketchy details, yes, but it's out there waiting for someone to dig up who recalls a few more details than I do.

      Long story short: Italian bureaucracy is on par with French hygiene and English cuisine.. these are stereotyp

  • by ATestR (1060586) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:09PM (#32595212) Homepage

    I'll go along with that argument, as long as we can throw politicians in jail any time there is some economic disturbance that impacts the population. After all, they should be able to accurately predict and prevent such things.

    • by kg8484 (1755554) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:26PM (#32595460)
      More to the point, throw prosecutors in jail any time they convict someone who is later exonerated.
    • by stevew (4845)

      You weren't expecting anyone to argue with you here where you???

      This reminds me of one of the best lines in all of movie making.... "They killed Congress" followed by a menacing laugh ;-) Gotta Love Mars Attacks!

  • Italy? (Score:5, Funny)

    by LoverOfJoy (820058) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:09PM (#32595222) Homepage
    I thought the USA was the sue-happy country. Don't we have a patent on it or something? Italy better start preparing for a lawsuit from the U.S.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      "ue-happy country"

      A myth spread by insurance companies.

      While there are issues, and always will be, it's a reasonable system overall.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by painandgreed (692585)

      I thought the USA was the sue-happy country. Don't we have a patent on it or something? Italy better start preparing for a lawsuit from the U.S.

      Dude, Rome had the entire lawyer thing down well before the Republic fell. IIRC, there is writing of Caesar discussing the sue happy nature of Rome much like it is discussed in the USA today and for a time he even was a lawyer.

  • That way you can never be charged for failing to predict it. Of course everyone will start ignoring your predictions, even if you really do have evidence a big quake is about to hit, and lots of people may die, but your ass will be covered.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by takev (214836)
      Actually Italy already has a history of suing scientist who predicted an earth quake which didn't happen (well not on that day, it happened a few days later).
      In any case, I predict there won't be any geologist in Italy in the near future.
  • Given their stellar investigation and handling of the Knox trial- I'd expect a conviction with a 20-30 year sentence.

  • I worked this one job where the boss would routinely ignore my planning advice, get some outside incompetent guy to do things, get me to clean it up when things went horribly wrong, and then complain to me that I wasn't getting enough progress on my own initiatives. What I'm getting at here is that I would *love* to be able to hold people accountable for ignoring good, substantiated advice and planning.

  • It was predicted! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tobiah (308208) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:15PM (#32595298)

    I forget the specifics, but a local technically minded person had predicted this earthquake, largely based on gas venting. He gave a date and it didn't happen, so the local politicians went about prosecuting him for the equivalent of yelling "fire!". But then the earthquake hit the next day. I assume this is a continuing effort on the part of the local politicians and prosecutor to lay the blame anywhere but on themselves.

    • Re:It was predicted! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lakitu (136170) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:24PM (#32595420)

      Article on slashdot about this is found here:

      http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/04/06/1935246 [slashdot.org]

      Italian scientist Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Physical Laboratory of Gran Sasso, recently gave warning about an earthquake that was to happen on March 29th of this year near L'Aquilla. Based on radon gas emissions and a series of observed tremors he tried to convince residents to evacuate, drawing much criticism from the city's mayor and others. Giuliani was forced to take down warnings he had posted on the internet. The researcher had said that a 'disastrous' earthquake would strike on March 29, but when it didn't, Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, last week officially denounced Giuliani in court for false alarm. 'These imbeciles enjoy spreading false news,' Bertalaso was quoted as saying. 'Everyone knows that you can't predict earthquakes.' Giuliani, it turns out, was partially right. A much smaller seismic shift struck on the day he said it would, with the truly disastrous one arriving just one week later. 'Someone owes me an apology,' said Giuliani, who is also a resident of L'Aquila. 'The situation here is dramatic. I am devastated, but also angry.'"

      Oh, Italy, please don't ever change.

    • Hard to believe.. but true!

      http://politifi.com/news/Can-radon-gas-leaks-predict-earthquakes--416169.html [politifi.com]

      Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at Italy's Gran Sasso laboratory, alerted authorities in the region of Abruzzo that a quake was imminent " and was condemned for raising a false...

  • Science to English (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RichMan (8097) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:17PM (#32595316)

    It appears the statement that the precursor data did not indicate a following quake was taken to mean that there would be no following quake.

    This appears to be a science to english translation problem on the nature of causality and dependency.

    • by shermo (1284310)

      Well, probably Italian, but good point.

    • This appears to be a science to english translation problem

      oh, no wonder then - should have translated to Italian!

      In 2009, a series of small earthquakes shook the region of L'Aquila, Italy

  • the world has gone insane and has been for a good long while. But to even consider the notion to file legal charges against the fellas for failing to predict an "Act of ", well that about tops it all.
  • by nalidog (1682910) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:23PM (#32595408)
    Does this mean that we can send meteorologists to jail for getting the 5-day forecast wrong?
  • Science is generally in a much more nascent stage than most scientists are willing to admit. Perhaps with very real repercussions from providing analyses that cannot reveal useful predictions they may alter their conclusions to reflect the true state of their knowledge.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spidercoz (947220)

      Human intelligence is generally in a much more nascent stage than most people are willing to admit.

      FTFY

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Science is generally in a much more nascent stage than most scientists are willing to admit

      If you actually bother to talk to any scientists, they will freely and enthusiastically discuss the limits of their field of study. Knowing what you don't know is the most important part of being a scientist.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      WTF does that even mean? Science is moving along quite nicely. Of course it's just a method for determining events in nature. A pretty good one at that.
      IS there a lot of stuff we don't know? sure. Every scientist know that and doesn't say otherwise. There are also specific fields that we know a lot about because of the use of science.

      Your post is gibbering nonsense that can only lead me to assume you have no idea what science actually is.

      There is more to know, and the unknown isn't unknowable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      Science is generally in a much more nascent stage than most scientists are willing to admit. Perhaps with very real repercussions from providing analyses that cannot reveal useful predictions they may alter their conclusions to reflect the true state of their knowledge.

      You know, most scientists will actually give you a pretty clear idea of where their knowledge ends and where guesswork begins. The good ones will refuse to give solid predictions based on the fact that they can't, and they'll tell you as muc

  • Even if the scientists correctly predicted a quake, what were they planning on doing about it?

  • Old kind of strategy (Score:3, Informative)

    by RobVB (1566105) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:30PM (#32595534)

    The Chinese did this thousands of years ago with their astronomers. If they failed to predict a solar or lunar eclipse, they'd be executed.

    Citation [cwru.edu]

  • Do they sue the weatherman?

  • Good to see the chief prosecuter's extensive geological research has established earthquake prediction to such a finely tuned science that not acting on it is tantamount to murder.

    Next up, doctors will be arrested for not predicting your cancer.

  • by tHeNeXuS (1835132) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @04:41PM (#32595708)

    Ok, maybe you need to know something about the Italian judiciary system. In Italy there is something called "obligatory penal action", which means that if there is even the simple suspect of a crime being committed, then an investigation must be started.

    In the quake case, the investigation started because the people responsible for monitoring the situation explicitly reassured the population by telling them that there would be no big quake. Any responsible scientist, given the continuous small shakes that were ongoing, would have at least said something on the line "We believe there will be no major quake, but please do not lower your guard".

    And that is why there was an investigation that ended with them being charged for negligence.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dominious (1077089)

      "We believe there will be no major quake, but please do not lower your guard".

      Do you know how the people would interpret the second part of the sentence?

      something along "ZOMG we're all gonna dieee!@#"

      When people are afraid and worried you just talk to them like you talk to a child, as "don't worry nothing bad is going to happen"

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @05:42PM (#32596400)

      In the quake case, the investigation started because the people responsible for monitoring the situation explicitly reassured the population by telling them that there would be no big quake. Any responsible scientist, given the continuous small shakes that were ongoing, would have at least said something on the line "We believe there will be no major quake, but please do not lower your guard".

      Except for the guy who warned them about it, of course.

      http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L6566682.htm [alertnet.org]

      He was muzzled for attempting to incite a panic after predicting the very same quake these other seismologists said there was no evidence for. In other words, damned if you do, damned if you don't. There was no evidence, really, not anything definitive. It was just an educated guess that happened to be correct.

      What's really disgusting is the only reason the scientists said anything at all was because the government set up a panel specifically to reassure the population that there would not be an earthquake. So the scientists told the truth: there was nothing abnormal about the tremors, and there was no evidence for an impending quake. They also said that did not mean there would not be a quake, just that there was nothing to suggest there would be one. Italians obviously missed that part.

      The people who should be on trial are the politicians/bureaucrats who set up the panel to begin with, not the scientists who told them exactly what they asked for (and truthfully).

      At this point, if you're an Italian seismologist and the government asks you if there is going to be an earthquake, my advice is to respond with "Fuck if I know."

  • Must be Italy. Sounds like something Caligula would have done.

  • The scientists' counter argument should be that the prosecutor is responsible for the earthquake because he did not walk around with a banana in his ear [youtube.com]. It's just as sound as the argument being used against them; he failed to keep the earthquakes away.
  • Act of God (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @05:58PM (#32596558) Homepage

    When dealing with insurance companies or other situations where the environment is taken into account where damage and loss of life are concerned, the words "act of God" are used to describe that which is outside of human control and predictability. An earthquake falls neatly within that scope of definition. And with this happening in Italy of all places, I find it shocking that they do not appreciate the notion of such events being an act of God.

    This is not simply shocking, I see it as a government assault on scientists, scientific research and science in general. They are essentially charging scientists for not knowing everything about everything.

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