Italian Court Acquits Scientists Of Manslaughter Charges Incurred After Failing To Predict Deadly Earthquake
from the pitchforks-and-courtrooms dept
It seemed like something from The Onion… or Monty Python: scientists jailed for not predicting the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy. Because their risk assessment delivered six days before the quake “failed” to prevent the earthquake from occurring, Judge Marco Billi decided all six scientists were guilty of manslaughter due to their “superficial, approximate and generic” analysis. They weren’t held responsible for all 300+ deaths, but specifically for the 29 deaths of people who stayed in their homes (rather than venturing out) because they believed there was “no risk” of an earthquake.
Some sanity has finally prevailed, over three years since the post-earthquake insanity struck. [h/t to Techdirt reader wereisjessicahyde]
Six seismologists accused of misleading the public about the risk of an earthquake in Italy were cleared of manslaughter on 10 November. An appeals court overturned their six-year prison sentences and reduced to two years the sentence for a government official who had been convicted with them.
We’ll get back to that last sentence in a moment, but let us first note that sanity hasn’t completely prevailed.
The finding by a three-judge appeals court prompted many L’Aquila citizens who were waiting outside the courtroom to react with rage, shouting “shame” and saying that the Italian state had just acquitted itself, local media reported.
Sure, this could have the appearance of a government body (the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks) getting an assist from another government body (the court system — the same court system, mind you, that two years earlier convicted these
witches scientists of manslaughter), but it isn’t. It’s the return to a better, simpler time when scientists weren’t charged with criminal activities simply for providing risk analysis.
Now, back to the sentence that wasn’t overturned.
The government official still doing hard time is Bernardo De Bernardinis, (then) deputy director of the Italian Civil Protection Dept. Apparently, the panel of judges considered his interpretation of the scientists’ risk analysis to carry a bit more culpability. This could be because his interpretation of the scientists’ assessment (“We showed a map where L’Aquila is purple, which means the highest hazard”) was inexplicably much, much cheerier (“The scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy”). As it stands now, De Bernardinis has had 16 charges of manslaughter dismissed, but is still working off the other 13.
Nature notes that, because it might take up to three months for the verdict to be published, we don’t really know the rationale behind the acquittals. One would hope the reasoning runs along the lines of “to allow these convictions to stand would be batshit crazy, not to mention a latent threat to scientists all over our country.” One of the scientists acquitted noted that it appeared the panel of judges agreed no crime had actually been committed — which is basically the same thing as above, presumably with more legalese.
And, of course, this is a judicial system so it must be noted that these acquittals can be appealed and Italy may find itself locking up scientists again, much to the general aghastness of everyone.