A year and a half ago, we wrote about some Italian seismologists who were being tried for manslaughter
after a risk assessment they wrote up, in which they concluded that a series of small earthquakes along a faultline wasn't that serious, and the risk of a big earthquake was not that high. About a week later, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck, destroying a bunch of buildings and killing over 300 people. Admittedly, one government official exaggerated what the report said, claiming that there was no danger -- but government officials have a way of taking a nuanced claim and turning it into a crazy absolute. Either way, because of all of this, the seismologists and the government official were charged with manslaughter -- especially after it was claimed that some people stayed inside during the quake, believing the recent reporting about there being no risk.
Because of that, they've now been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in jail
. This is despite the fact that the report quite clearly said that "earthquakes were unpredictable, and that building codes in the area needed to be adjusted to provide better seismic safety."
The conviction is tremendously troubling -- and the scientific community is quite rightly up in arms about it. Even more bizarre is that the judge didn't seem to care too much about the concerns everyone was raising. From John Timer's report:
The prosecution had attracted widespread condemnation from the scientific community, with one petition on behalf of the seismologists attracting over 5,000 signatures. But, shockingly, the judge in the case took only a few hours to deliver the verdict, and handed down sentences that were two years longer than those requested by the prosecutor.
It seems like a fairly extreme theory of negligence that would lead one to decide that a "too tame" seismology report was negligent and resulted in manslaughter. And, of course, the chilling effects of such a ruling will be tremendous. Who will be willing to provide such a report in the future? And, if anyone does, won't they now err on the side of "we're all going to die!!" even if the evidence doesn't support that? It's not surprising that people want to spread blame around when there are tragic deaths, but sometimes it goes way, way too far.