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Earth Science

Scientist Forced To Remove Earthquake Prediction 485

Hugh Pickens writes to mention that 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.'"
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Scientist Forced To Remove Earthquake Prediction

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  • Bad Science (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:16PM (#27480497)
    The research put forward by Giuliani is from the 1980s and 1990s and was found to be completely unusable as a predictor. People make predictions of quakes all the time and some of those will be correct just by chance, which is likely the case here. Furthermore, finding correlation with radon does not mean it can be used as a predictor. You cannot evacuate cities for long periods just to find out that it was a false alarm.
  • You can't (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FST777 ( 913657 ) <> on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:16PM (#27480499) Homepage
    That is heard quite often: "even with science, you can't..."

    You know, some day we just might. Maybe not today, maybe never, but please, when someone who knows more than you about a certain topic warns you, listen!
  • by 0WaitState ( 231806 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:18PM (#27480533)
    This is almost as ironic as when Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana and one-time preznitial hopeful) mocked funds for volcano monitoring in the federal budget [], and a week later an Alaskan (monitored) volcano blew up, with an orderly response since the eruption had been predicted for some time. Attention politicians: science is not negotiable. It's part of that reality thing not on your side.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:19PM (#27480545)

    It is quite easy to predict that an earthquake will happen. However, what is the accuracy to the where, when, and intensity? If you do not have enough accuracy then you just create panic. The article says that Giuliani was partially right! So what? A broken watch is right twice a day, that does not make it a scientist.

  • the way it goes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Composite_Armor ( 1203112 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:21PM (#27480587)

    you cant be right once and be believed,
    you have to be right twice.

    i look forward to any future seismic prediction technology.
    complete with references.
    of which this event will most likely be a hard data point.

  • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:24PM (#27480651) Journal

    This is almost as ironic as when Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana and one-time preznitial hopeful) mocked funds for volcano monitoring in the federal budget [], and a week later an Alaskan (monitored) volcano blew up, with an orderly response since the eruption had been predicted for some time. Attention politicians: science is not negotiable. It's part of that reality thing not on your side.

    Jindal was against spending "job stimulus" money for a program that did very little to actually stimulate jobs.


    It appears that Jindal was right. You stated yourself that the program is working just fine without additional funding.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:25PM (#27480655)

    Ok, let's just be clear here, Bobby Jindal didn't mock spending money on volcano monitoring, he mocked having money earmarked for volcano monitoring in what was supposed to be an economic stimulus bill. I'm a freaking die hard democrat and even I can admit that there is a huge difference between those two things. One is politicians meddling in things they shouldn't be, the other is a legitimate complaint about the way our laws are written up.

  • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:29PM (#27480717) Homepage Journal

    Has anyone recorded earthquake prediction measurements and compared them? I would be curious to know which ones have been closest to the mark and on what frequency? I suspect different measurements are likely to be right some of the time, but not all the time, because the seismic triggers may vary from region to region.

  • Giuliani Smash! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:31PM (#27480745)
    Giuliani Mad!!!
  • Empire Earth (Score:2, Interesting)

    by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:36PM (#27480791) Homepage

    Remember the Prophet units in the Empire Earth games? In ancient times they started out as religious shamans. But once you played up to modern times they were nutjobs wearing "The End Is Near!" sandwich boards. They could cause earthquakes [].

  • by PM Guy ( 944790 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:46PM (#27480941) Homepage
    "Italy earthquake leaves 130 dead and scores more trapped under rubble" [] I'd say being off by a week or so in this case isn't bad science at all.
  • by orclevegam ( 940336 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:49PM (#27480989) Journal

    Yes, but he said "the earthquake is going to happen in 6 to 24 hours".

    And he was right, just not about the magnitude. According to another comment after the smaller quake he re-ran the numbers and predicted the larger one that hit a week later but was barred from telling anyone about it.

  • Re:Forced? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FroBugg ( 24957 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @04:54PM (#27481049) Homepage

    Nonsense. He made the prediction using methods which have been proven to be unreliable. All the current research is against him, and there was no substantive reason to believe his claims had any merit.

    Besides, he predicted an earthquake a full week ahead of the one that actually struck. What if he had been listened to and people evacuated? They'd have watched his day pass and started to wonder. They'd be sitting in hotel rooms, or with family members or friends, and thinking about the food rotting in their fridges and the money they're losing by not being at work. A huge number of them would certainly have returned to town by the time the actual quake struck, and the death toll would have been similar.

    The problem here is not that someone here using poor science happened to be sort of right, the problem is that Italy is a country with high risks of earthquakes and exceedingly poor construction and preparation.

  • Re:Bad Science (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:08PM (#27481229)

    It was in fact chance. I'm italian and saw the interview in which he alledgedly predicted the earthquake, he didn't, he said something very inconclusive that now is interpreted as a prediction.

    That person is in fact predicting an earthquake every week. Abruzzo is a very active seismic area in Italy, and just by chance he was dramatically right this time.

    In fact this person is insulting the people who lost everything in that earthquake, because he's riding the wave of his alledged prediction.

    I'm disgusted by this kind of charlatans.

  • Re:cry wolf (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doti ( 966971 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:16PM (#27481335) Homepage

    Building structures that won't collapse and crush everybody inside isn't trivial; but it is doable now

    It was doable 600 years ago.
    Just go visit Machu Picchu, and you'll see.
    It lays abandoned for half a millennium in a land of frequent earthquakes, and it's walls are still intact. []

  • Re:Over predicting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:30PM (#27481523)

    It might be just my imagination, but whenever there is a large earthquake in one region of the Earth, there always seem to be two other earthquakes in longitudes +/-120 degrees from the original earthquake within a month. Does the shifting of the crust have any effect on the centre of gravity of rotation?

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:39PM (#27481637)

    If he was sure there was going to be an earthquake, then he'd put out the warning, get arrested, and be vindicated when the earthquake hit as he predicted.

    Depends on how earthquake-safe he thought the jail was.

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @05:58PM (#27481859) Homepage Journal

    let me tell you as a citizen, i would go to kick that mayor in the face.

  • Re:Bad Science (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:05PM (#27481933)

    One thing needs to be specified, the man in question is NOT a scientist, but a Lab Technician. This may not seem like a big difference on the surface, seen as now many people claim he had "predicted" the earthquake.

    It's obviously an easy sensationalist piece of news to jump on, however there isn't much blame to be placed here... all predicitons, once realised, were "good". unfortunatelly when only a small fraction of these predictions actually become reality, and even less provide any temporal or spatial accuracy, it is impossible and unwise to rely on them.

    In reality his prediction was not only off by over a week, but it even had the epicentre wrong. this inprecision unfortunately makes any prediction void, as no sensible precaution could have been taken.

    Perhaps the only thing that could have been done, even though in most cases we are talking of buildings built between the 14th and the 20th centuries, would have been that of constructing sturdier buildings with better anti-seismic characteristics.

  • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @06:26PM (#27482181)
    even so, 50BB/yr could fund a lot of projects and spur a whole lot of advancement. Moreso that BS military-industrial crap.
  • Re:cry wolf (Score:3, Interesting)

    by samuX ( 623423 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @07:13PM (#27482637)
    let me add according to [] it's since december that small earthquake are occurring in that zone, and they are still going, so it wasn't a single strike but rather the big one . giuliani predicted a devastating earthquake on 29 th of march in sulmona. the earthquake was yesterday in l'aquila, so one week later and 70 km far away from where giuliani predicted. Also he's not a scientist but a guy who work for infn which is nuclear physic and he's not even graduated. Civil Protection Agency looked to their data and with a pool of geophysics decided that there was not enough evidence to know if a big earthquake would strike and where would strike. they can't evacuate people just on assumptions of someone who already failed to predict that earthquake. however they were on "defcon 1" so when the earthquake striked they were ready to go for help as soon as possible. Yes building were inadequate because people tends to ignore that they live over seismic terrain and they prefer to look for a cheaper house without antiseismic structure so they have some money to enjoy their favourite soccer team on a big plasma screen. guess what they are enjoying now ... but this is their faul or rather a big darwing award for the whole zone.
  • Re:cry wolf (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday April 06, 2009 @09:21PM (#27483605)
    In Rabaul it was a similar situation, the evacuation order came a week or so before the sky over the city was full of big heavy rocks. I think the difference is that at least after it had all happened people where happy that they were out of the place and didn't mind losing a week.

    Towns and even major city streets get shut down just to shoot a movie let alone risk of a catastrophe.

  • Re:Bad Science (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Workaphobia ( 931620 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:28AM (#27486049) Journal

    This summary reads like something out of The Day After Tomorrow, or perhaps Star Trek: Voyager. Not-so-modest scientist-type locks himself in his lab for weeks, and when he emerges, he declares imminent danger with precise details. "You gotta believe me" drama builds up, and rather than reason about the merits and risks of an evacuation like competent professionals, the powers that be stifle free expression and rational discussion. The establishment declares the lone scientist a heretic or sadist or narcissist, while he calls the leaders fascists or ignorami or wicked. And so on, and so on.

    So at what point does Captain Janeway come in to offer her assistance, in the form of a deus ex machina technobabble fix? And which city official goes mad and tries to kill everyone before sealing his own destruction, serving as a warning to everyone left alive?

Heuristics are bug ridden by definition. If they didn't have bugs, then they'd be algorithms.