Monday, October 22, 2012

Italy earthquake witch trial: 6 years in prison

A few moments ago, I randomly made a Google News search about the Italian earthquake trial that I discussed in June 2011 and September 2011. And holy cow, the verdict is just out:
L'Aquila quake: Italy scientists guilty of manslaughter (BBC)
That's incredible. Even a year ago when I talked about it, I still thought that the final verdict would be "innocent" – and the very fact that such a trial could have started in Italy at all looked unbelievably humiliating for the country known as Italy. Well, the verdict is "guilty".

Italy has officially become a banana republic controlled by savages who would happily condemn Galileo for his claims that the Earth revolves around the Sun again. It's still the same country and its institutions have made no intellectual progress in the last 300 years.

Six seismologists and an official were sent to prison for 6 years (plus they have to pay court expenses and damages) for telling people before the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake that there wasn't a reason to panic because a large earthquake was improbable.

What these people did was totally fine: they shared their prediction about (i.e. estimated probability of) the earthquake based on their best knowledge of seismology in which they're among the top Italian experts. A large, magnitude 6.3 earthquake did take place and killed 309 people but it's not these people's fault and earthquakes can always arrive unpredictably. The large earthquake can't even be shown to have been "caused" or "predicted" by the smaller tremors that preceded it. It could have been independent of them, too. As far as demonstrable evidence goes, the people are being convicted for a random unexpected and unpredictable natural catastrophe.

It's not possible to reliably or semi-reliably predict earthquakes and strong arguments exist that it will always be impossible. So it will always be unreasonable – crazy – to expect a 0% error rate in similar predictions; you will only be able to evaluate how good a forecaster is by looking at many predictions he has made. This fact isn't the seven people's fault. It's not even a fault of the community of seismologists as a whole. These things just can't be predicted because of the intrinsically stochastic nature of the underlying physical processes so chance will always play a major role when it comes to earthquakes.

The judge ignored a petition signed by 5,000 scientists that demanded the witch hunt to be stopped. The media are silent. When genuine scientists *really* want to protect human lives by offering their expertise as weapons against pseudoscientific misconceptions, they are no longer heroes among the journalists. The dirty journalists only celebrate crackpots who actually spread hysteria that helps to sell the newspapers, for example the global warming crackpots.

I am totally amazed by the word "manslaughter" because it means that the judge believes that the seismologists, and not Mother Nature, actually killed the 309 victims.

The verdict de facto lionizes crackpots who were screaming that there had to be a large earthquake and they just happened to be right in that case – while isomorphic and sometimes the very same crackpots are wrong in 99.9% of other cases in which they cry wolf – and it condemns the scientific method. They are wrong in 99.9% of cases because their predictive framework has nothing to do with science – it's all about a psychopathological paranoia – but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The lesson for the scientists is clear: If you are a scientist who is qualified in a discipline that has implications for the safety of people, you must always recommend precautionary measures to be taken even if you conclude that the probability that something bad will happen is tiny. Italy may expect much more hysteria in various similar science-related situations than it has had so far because a court has declared a war on everyone who is honest and balanced.

Can you imagine that this sick logic would be applied e.g. to surgeons? Surgeons and perhaps other physicians could spend 6 years in prison after every death of a patient whom they or others were optimistic about. It's just insane. People sometimes die, natural catastrophes sometimes occur, and it's just impossible to identify a human culprit in most cases. Only if a professional makes a mistake in which he or she has demonstrably violated some established and functional rules to reduce the risk – and whether or not this was the case may only be determined by another expert – he or she could be considered co-responsible for the deaths. Nothing of the sort has taken place in this case.

If someone is made responsible for deaths of casualties of a natural catastrophe that can't be predicted according to any protocol that actually exists, it's just nothing else than a condemnation of a witch. I often thought that the witch trials were insane and we live in a very different world than Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. But we're not living in such a different world. We are still controlled by evil loons such as the Italian judge who don't want to hear anything about the actual abilities and limitations of the current science. They prefer to look for scapegoats and sacrifice them.

In fact, the current verdict is even more cruel and irrational than the 1692 verdicts in Salem because the convicted girls in 1692 were at least doing "something mysterious" that could have been called witchcraft so they were witches. The convicted folks in 2012 are scientists.


  1. "I randomly made a Google News search about the Italian earthquake trial that I discussed in June 2011 and September 2011. And holy cow, the verdict is just out:"
    that is a typical description of a synchronicity that Jung and Pauli were investigating together

  2. Ah, it has to be a series.

  3. Will this set something of a precedent for predictive failures involving serious harm to people and goods? Hm.

  4. Wow, tough sentence from the Italian court. I guess it is their behavior as citizens that is punished, not the Science.

  5. Sad for Italy really. Comes across as beneath retarded. Even in Turkey they prosecute the builders who didn't build safe enough buildings.

    I guess a sub-iq government mininster (or three) are trying to divert blame - Italy is a joke of a country politically, even Mussolini was more comical than scary.

  6. amazing stupid people in Europe these days. I just could not believe these news. this is the same Italy that does little to finish mafia.

  7. Poor scientists !

    It is really unbelievable that in a European country such irrational crackpots with IQs below the freezing point can bribe themselfs into powerful postitions (at court for example ...) where they are allowed to decide about the fate and destroy the lives of people who are much smarter than them ... :-(0) !

    ... gonna watch the Witten video now to calm down ...

  8. Regarding unsafe buildings the problem is that in some countries, including Italy, many buildings are built using sub-standard material so that the company can skip off any profits. Said company in may cases are controlled by the mafia.

  9. It is not a scientific world! :(

  10. Some of the events at the time of the Salem witch trials, and subsequent to them, are interesting and counter-intuitive. Cotton Mather (of all people!) and his brother Increase asked the court to disregard "spectral evidence," but they were ignored. Some sort of partial apology for the convictions was made within about 10 years, and they were overturned within about 15.

    Off-topic but comical: Cotton Mather once performed an experimental exorcism using Indian incantations in the Massachusetts language. It didn't work, and he concluded that either Indian incantations didn't work at all, or they didn't work against the kind of devils Jesus was talking about.

  11. Seems to me they're just setting the table, getting the precedence in order, so that they can start coming after us. After some stray tornado rips up a trailer park it'll be "Global warming deniers tried for manslaughter".

    When I say us I really mean Lubos rather than us.

  12. Aquila is a medieval city. Medieval buildings are not built to resist earthquakes.

    In Greece, where we have many earth quakes, it is the 100 year old and older structures that often turn to rubble and kill the sleeping inhabitants. All new buildings have strict building codes, and it works.

  13. Having lived through two major quakes in Athens I can tell you the following:

    People panic in a visceral fashion when the earth starts to move. I believe it is because all of us living in these regions are evolutionary survivors of people who jumped out of the building at the first tremor. When in Athens I live in an apartment house, third floor. The higher the floor the more the quake is felt. The first time, 1981, it was midnight and I was with the two children in the apartment. I kept my cool after the quaking stopped and did not go out of the building because I saw that it held well under the quake. The rest of the inhabitants were higglety pigglety running out in the yard. My impulse was also to run, and I said: next time I will go out and run around the block to dissipate the adrenalin. Logic cannot do that. Thousands of people did not enter their houses and some did not sleep in their houses/ apatments for six months!. They slept in cars, tents, caravans..
    Nothing soothing from anybody in government could affect their feelings. As I said, it was visceral.

    Even if these unfortunate scientists had said: there is a 20% probability of a large quake, could the city do anything? Can one have hundreds of thousands on the alert ? And what could they have done? Slept in cars and tents for months? Then if nothing happened what would their reaction be? Sue the same unfortunate scientists?

    It is rule of the thumb wisdom that if a lot of small quakes happen, as was with the time preceding the large Aquila one, it is a good thing, because the stresses dissipate non destructively.

    Before the 6.7 richter of 1981 close to Cortinth the region was quiet. I had been staying a few kilometers from the epicenter for summers and weekends for ten years and there was not a whisper of a quake. The the big one hit all of a sudden.

    The cottage has a small crack going through it and wandering in the fields. I measured the depth ( at the field) with a fishing line, and it stopped at 40meters, no more line.

    Since then we have continuously small quakes every year and the crack in the house has opened from a few mm to 5 cms. I consider it good, the energy is being slowly and without great destruction dissipated.
    I am quite happy. I will start to worry if the seismographs grow quiet.

    So the soothing comments of the seismologists were within the framework of what is known. Unfortunately for them it is evident that this was the exception to the rule.

  14. Good precedent. Now Italians can hold cops responsible for their failure
    to stop crime. Politicians can be jailed for failure to keep the
    country prosperous. The international symbol for Italian courts is the Kangaroo.

  15. Surely these sentences will be appealed?

  16. Cynthia, indeed maybe politicians can be jailed for failure etc... but then one has to sue them first.


  17. Wow,shades of Galileo! Were they forced to recant and deny
    their discipline?

    Really, if anyone should go to jail it should be James Hansen and Al Gore.
    Heck, why not jail Steve and socold from the SolarCycle message board; they are
    warmist apologists and warped students of Al and Jim. Guilty as charged.
    I love visiting Italy, but this action is uncivilized.

    Russell Johnson

    Chattanooga, TN

  18. I think you have your facts wrong. This is more similar to arresting climate scientists for making public statements that are at odds with reality just to keep their privileged position as the arbiters.

  19. Dear sir. You are harshly commenting facts you don't properly. Instead to come back to Galileo, it would be better if you inform yourself more deeply on what was judged in that trial.

    1) The Commissione Grandi Rischi, the public body made by scientists and civil defence members, met few days before the quake. His purpose, no matter what the scientists tought and said, was already decided the day before the meeting, by politicians: it had to be a "very mediatic event", designed to calm a very worried population.

    2) The commission meeting lasted only 45 minutes and ended without a record. After that short meeting, in a press conference, the vice president of the Civil Defence released a very relaxing message, basically saying that there was not dangers and that the lessr shakes were "dissipating" the energy, so people could return to their home with no worries. No scientists contraddicted that dangerous statement

    3) The message arrived to the L'Aquila's people, and many of them stopped to take precautions, returning to sleep in dangerous building. At least 20 persons died because this misleading message, as stated by survivors that testified during the trial (this is the manslaughtering, that sursprised you so much).

    4) A fake (and more reasonable in its conclusions and tones) proceeding of that infamous meeting, was written AFTER the earthquake and signed by the commission members. This means that the components of the Commissione, understood their mistakes and goofly tried to erase the evidences. On that fake proceeding, and on propaganda released by the defence lawyers of the scientists involved in this shameful story, you based over your harsh, baseless judgments.

    5) There is not contrast between this sentence and the prosecutions of the builders of the building that collapsed in the town. The first of the many in trial, is been just condemned few weeks ago.

    In conclusion nobody is persecuting science here: what is at the stake is the dangerous mixing between science and unethical politic that used scientists for its purpose. One of the many sides of the main basical problem, bad politic, that risked to sink Italy in these last years.

  20. Dear Lubos,
    as Italian and as scientist I feel ashamed about the decision of this court.
    However let me tell you some facts as insider that perhaps can give you a different perspective or at least more information.

    Almost everybody in Italy is shocked about this decision, even our not-so-respectable politicians disagreed. The general director of the
    council that should analyze risks and hazard and all the board have just resigned as sign of protest. He is actually a former general director of CERN and a respectable physicist (L.Maiani).
    Everybody agree that this decision is just WRONG. So it is not true that in Italy we live in a pseudo-religious and superstitious world, even if in some isolated cases it might be true.

    There is another fact. The court did not accuse the geologists for not having foreseen the earthquake. In the final statement they recognize that according to the current knowledge in geology there is no way to predict an earthquake with reasonable confidence.
    The court told instead that the geologists under estimated the signals of an upcoming earthquake and publicly told the citizens that there was NO risk at all. That's the point. Looking from a different perspective one could say that they have been condamned for not having behaved as scientists.

    I personally disagree about this decision, of course! The responsibles of such disaster are the house builders that did not use the proper material to build up the houses. Again I believe that it is impossible to prevent the effect of a quite strong earthquake in a 1000years old town.

  21. Excuse me, I forgot:
    "Six seismologists and an official were sent to prison for 6 years"

    Nobody is been sent to prison. To go in prison in Italy you must be very poor and/or very guilty (I mean to be taken with a dripping blood knife...).

    These person may be will go in jail after a second and third appeal, that is 3-5 years of more trials, but, very likely, they never will see a cell, because the sentence will be reduced, if not cancelled, in the next appeals.

  22. They just made a prediction that was perfectly sensible, at least at some level of seismology. and the prediction turned out to be wrong which is nothing shocking for a field such as seismology where similar events are notoriously unpredictable.

    To determine whether those and other people and their theories are doing a good job in similar predictions, one would surely need to evaluate a greater ensemble of similar situations statistically.

  23. These are conceivable speculations but

    1) if the decision was scientifically unjustified and predetermined by some politicians, then it should clearly be the politicians who are the main culprits here. Why are the scientists the main or only convicted ones here?

    2) it is a loaded interpretation to call the calming prediction "dangerous". One may only know it's dangerous now, after the earthquake, but people have to do make lots of similar "dangerous" decisions all the time, otherwise life would be impossible. For example, passengers boarded various flights on 9/11/2001 which was also dangerous - according to the current information, but not the information at that time.

    3) again, indeed, it was the purpose of this scientific decision to determine whether the town should be evacuated and the decision was No. You and anyone else has presented zero evidence that there was anything wrong about the recommendation based on the information available at that time.

    4) they didn't understand their *mistakes*. They just understood that an event previously classified as unlikely did occur. This doesn't mean that anyone has made any mistake. They said that the event was very unlikely but very unlikely things sometimes occur, too, and you can't find anthropomorphic "culprits" of most of the very rare events, not even the sad ones

    5) I would personally. refuse any sentence for the builders - that is primarily dependent on the existence of the 2009 earthquake - because it was not their fault, either. Builders may only be convicted for (seriously enough) violating particular safety laws or contracts when the violation was clear at the moment of the construction/planning. When it only becomes obvious *after* some natural catastrophe, it seems totally unacceptable to legally harass these folks, too.

    You have presented no evidence that the scientists were acting unethically or in a "mixed way with politics". They just did a prediction of a notoriously unpredictable thing and the prediction turned out to be invalid - it happens many times. The judges are just trying to politicize this particular scientific discipline and activity *because* it has some societal implications but this is unacceptable. Scientists must be free to reveal their testimonies and expert opinions whether or not the questions addressed by their science are interesting for the laymen.

  24. Admirations to Maiani - but the composition of the comments by Italian readers in similar articles, while not reliably representative of the Italian society, *does* indicate that most of the Italian nation endorses this insane verdict.

    The court told instead that the geologists under estimated the signals of an upcoming earthquake and publicly told the citizens that there was NO risk at all. That's the point. Looking from a different perspective one could say that they have been condamned for not having behaved as scientists.

    No, they said it was extremely unlikely that a major earthquake would take place. You have presented no evidence that it was a scientifically indefensible position at that time. No one else has brought similar evidence, either. Whether or not the smaller tremors could be viewed as Cassandras of a coming larger earthquake - or, on the contrary, events that "relieve" the tension and that reduce the probability of a larger earthquake, or something in between - is a difficult expert question and it seems unacceptable to me when the laymen, based on the knowledge of the existence of one particular earthquake and nothing else, try to "codify" their layman science about which way the answer goes.

  25. The judge did send them to prison for 6 years. If the victims appeal and there's another trial that changes the verdict, I will update my blog entry, too. But so far, what I wrote is true, I won't change it, and your comment about the future innocence verdict is just a pure speculation.

  26. Well, your 5 is overly defensive. There are strict building codes that engineers and builders have to follow since the beginning of the twentieth century when reinforced cement started to be used. The number and size of iron reinforcements in pillars and floors are determined and prescribed. If these are found not in accord then there are penal responsibilities.

    Also if the destroyed buildings are altered without reinforcements and the calculations necessary then again there is responsibility.

  27. Ok, I see that it is useless to present you how the real story was, you already decided the Italian are a bunch of superstitious people, that, confusing science and magic, have sentenced innocent scientists to jail because they were incapable to predict an earthquake.

    I must be contented that you didn't say that scientists are been condemned to be burned at stake, by people stuck to Galileo's times ..

    I naively believed that scientists like you, when presented new facts and evidences, changed their mind or, at least, adjusted their opinions , but evidentely I was wrong...Galileo would be not happy of your behaviour, too...

  28. OK, I don't think that the judge may have some "secret information" that couldn't be revealed and that could convince me or other critics of the verdict that the verdict is acceptable. It is not acceptable.

    1) this comment of yours is another even stronger reason to think that the scientists are at most victims and scapegoats, surely not perpetrators of a crime

    2) your vague methods how to predict the chance of the earthquakes are just layman's rubbish – showing that everyone is a general after the battle. I allow you to post this rubbish in my comment section but it is horrible if similar rubbish affects decisions of judges in Italy. Also, the U.S. intelligence is the best intelligence community that could have a chance to predict 9/11. On the other hand, no one can predict large earthquakes – not even their elevated chance – in advance.

    3) there may be something in between but it's still something in between doing unnecessary and wasteful things on one side, and doing things that are recommended by a science judgement on the other side. If the hassle connected with your "in between" policies weren't comparable to the evacuation, most of the people would die, anyway. They decided to recommend not to organize any such maneuvers and they had a clear right to do so. At the same moment, everyone had the freedom to leave the town, too.

    4) I don't have any independent confirmation of the accusations on the documents so I won't comment on it. I only commented on what it looks like to me and the media – and it looks like that the scientists were convicted for the very recommendations they gave.

    5) I don't think that your remark about the sloppy engineer has reduced my worries that the Italians are mostly lawless, stupid, wild people. ;-) The engineer was stupid, wild, and lawless, but there are tons of similar engineers everywhere in Italy and not only Italy. He was just unlucky, primarily because his daughter died and because his work was being retro-inspected after a natural tragedy. Tons of other engineers do a similar sloppy job simply because the mankind isn't a community of infallible perfectly responsible gods. I have doubts whether someone should be arrested for doing the same thing as most of his colleagues and for being unlucky.

    I do get the point about what the scientists did at the meeting but I can't understand how someone could possibly think it was a criminal behavior - or even manslaughter. It's insane. They had an indisputable right to do what they did and such things will happen millions of times again unless you introduce some Inquisition that really bans a normal scientific process and scientific policymaking that simply looks like this.

    "We really don't know when and how this seismic sequence will end, so better continue to take the following precautions...."

    They couldn't and shouldn't have said something like that simpl because it didn't result from their expert assessment of the situation. If similar people had to make similar unjustified recommendations in all similar situations, most of Italy would live in the state of near-permanent near-evacuation. It's just impossible. They were unlucky that the earthquake did occur – the casualties were more unlucky and many such earthquakes have occurred in the history of the mankind – but aside from bad luck, you haven't found anything wrong about their behavior in 2009. You're just spreading fog and libels.

  29. I don't understand what you mean by the "real story". The real story was that there was an earthquake in 2009 that wasn't predicted by any repeatable method - so the scientists predicted that it wouldn't happen and they were wrong. They were convicted as scapegoats and most Italians clearly endorse this treatment of the seismologists. This is the real story. Everything else are details or attempts to spin the real story.

  30. Perhaps I have my facts wrong. But it appears to me they were analogous to climate scientists who say the skeptics should be ignored, we are certain.

  31. They didn't say they were certain - they said that it was unlikely and they had some sensible reasons. At any rate, even if your analogy were right, the very claim that "one is certain" isn't a crime.

  32. Meanwhile, a recorded telephone conversation made public halfway through
    the trial has suggested that the commission was convened with the
    explicit goal of reassuring the public and raised the question of
    whether the scientists were used—or allowed themselves to be used—to
    bring calm to a jittery town.

  33. From Roger Pielke Jr.

    A second factor was the prediction of a pending large earthquake issued
    by Gioacchino Giuliani, who was not a seismologist and worked as a
    technician at Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics.

    The deputy chief and scientists held a short one-hour meeting and then a
    press conference, during which they downplayed the possibility of an
    earthquake. ...

    . . . in L’Aquila, the government and its scientists seemed to be
    sending a different message to the public than the one that was
    received. Media reports of the Major Risk Committee meeting and the
    subsequent press conference seem to focus on countering the views
    offered by Mr. Giuliani, whom they viewed as unscientific and had been
    battling in preceding months. Thus, one interpretation of the Major
    Risks Committee’s statements is that they were not specifically about
    earthquakes at all, but instead were about which individuals the public
    should view as legitimate and authoritative and which they should not.

    If officials were expressing a view about authority rather than a
    careful assessment of actual earthquake risks, this would help to
    explain their sloppy treatment of uncertainties.

  34. These incompetent if not even intentionally malicious judges should get fired immediately and put themselfs into prison !
    they have done is an unbelievable and abominable attack on the
    scientific principle and an affront and insult to the whole international scientific community.
    By letting such a thing happen, Italy has just put itself beside other banana republics who are stuck in the Middle Ages, such as Argentina for example who imprison innocent scientists and cosmology professors for no good reason too.
    Defending these judges makes you look very bad too ...
    (BTW Lumo, are there some news about Prof. Frampton, how is he :-/?)

  35. Why do the governments allow people to live in unsafe old buildings in earthquake prone areas?

  36. Dear Mike, the
    "Giancarlo Giuliani" factor was surely a very important one, in the hurried release of a dangerously reassuring statement by the Commission. He was trying to convince
    people that a big earthquake was imminent, on "evidences" he obtained
    by radon measures (the radon measure is a scientifically recognised way to have
    information on a possible earthquake, but is normally considered too unreliable
    to be used in practice). Then the earthquake arrived, but not in Sulmona, the
    town that Giuliani had indicated as epicentre, instead in the 50 km distant
    L'Aquila. Giuliani became an “instant
    expert” of earthquake predictions, against the “official science”, but spoiled quickly
    his new career, starting to associate earthquakes to planetary alignment and making new and completely wrong earthquake predictions. By the way, new telephone recording released
    today (they come from the inquiry for corruption involving Guido Bertolaso, the chief
    of civil defense), revealed that after the earthquake Enzo Boschi, one of the scientist
    of the CGR, and one of the 7 condemned in the trial, asked him what they could reveal
    about the risks of new, dangerous shakes, and Bertolaso ordered him to “hid the
    truth”, and Boschi far from object, replied “don’t worry, you know that we (the scientists in the Commission) are always
    collaborative”. This give an idea about the "indipendence of judgment" of these scientists from politic.

  37. The real story is that they are not been condemned because "failed to predict an earthquake", but for the reasons I tried, in vain, to explain before.
    As we in Italy say "There is not a worst deaf, that a person that doesn't want to listen"...By the way, here is a reasonable, balanced opinion from an Italian scientist
    May be you'll listen to him, that is not a untermensch "layman" like me, but a superior mind like you, and doesn't write "rubbish" as I do.

  38. The Vatican must have a hand in this, Shannon. This is their revenge, because
    they're still pissed about Galileo being right that the earth wasn't the
    center of the solar system.

  39. I'd say that the Italian people take Scientists for Gods... They must think they are able to predict the future ;-) maybe some of the scientists enjoyed this blunder at the time too...
    I find the sentence of 6 years in prison totally ridiculous...No prison and a warning to be careful what they say to the public next time would have been more than enough imo.

  40. your url is mangled (you need a space after the word 'scientist')

    I think you mean this

  41. Unfortunately, that blog seems to be written by the world's most stupid scientist. He suggests scaring the wits out of people by emphasizing tiny probabilities of death occuring for all sorts of reasons. He shouldn't really be urging people to use the internet even as electrical devices are inherently risky.

    This isn't helping to dispel the image that Italians are slightly primitive, although I had thought that was only applicable to your politicians.

  42. Dear Lubos, allow me to disagree on one particular point, please.
    Tons of other engineers do a similar sloppy job simply because the
    mankind isn't a community of infallible perfectly responsible gods.
    As anna v has noted, there is very little that is mysterious or difficult about using reinforced concrete in construction.

    Rescuers in L'Acquila reported that required connections between the rebar in the floors and in the columns were missing and that columns had crumbled due to containing too much sand. Both are not indications of human fallibility (of course, engineers are no more immune to making a mistake than the rest of us) but of criminal corner-cutting.

  43. Haha, our friend Alexander is a commenter there :)

    Alexander, I have an old hardhat that I am not using anymore, should I send it to you? Just in case the sky is falling.

  44. Hi, I don't care where Mr Giuliani is employed but I do care about his method of prediction which is based on detecting radon gas as a precursor. It's clear that there are others who believe this "methodology", too. I am not among them. But whether this way of prediction is considered scientifically plausible is a scientific question, a highly controversial one, which may only be settled by each scientist. Those in the committee clearly didn't believe this method, much like I don't believe it, and they have the right not to believe it. The evidence in favor of such a conjecture is that one guy was "predicting" an earthquake in one particular case. But this is an extremely weak evidence that ignores how many times similar people cried wolf.

    But this changes nothing about the essence. The advisers could have been people using radon instead of other methodologies and they would clearly sometimes also fail to predict an earthquake in advance. The controversy with the courts would be exactly the same. Sometimes a seismologist with another method could make another prediction and he could be right, by chance or not. This verdict wasn't and couldn't be about the validity of particular methodologies that the judges clearly have no clue about. It's about their misunderstanding of the stochastic character of the seismological predictions and the difference between a guaranteed predicted event and a random unlikely one.

  45. OK, sorry, but given the data that were available at that moment, calming the panicking town was an appropriate thing. It only looks tainted with the knowledge we have today - and the sad event could have been just immensely bad luck. However, there are many other situations in which the panic turns out to be unjustified and indeed, calming the public remains a good thing even after the possible tragedy that hasn't occurred.

  46. If what alsarago58 above says about Boschi and Bertolaso conspiring to lie is true then that's a bit of a clincher. It sounds like the scientists are corrupt, not necessarily as scientists as such but as men in themselves. So fcuk 'em. Let 'em rot. Of course, the prosecuting authorities should go after the whole bunch involved and nail those bastards too. Given that people's lives are at risk, 6 years incarceration seems mild to me. I'd be inclined to hang them for that kind of corruption.

    On first reading about this I was quite prepared to jump in and bash the judge and his court but I did wonder what hats these scientists were wearing when they gave their advice and whether that advice was disinterested.

    It's one thing for a seismologist, wearing his scientist hat, to give his disinterested scientific estimate of the probability and severity of potential future earthquakes. Of course, whatever distributions he gives for either of these (unless they involve p=0 or p=1 say), no SINGLE subsequent event can prove him wrong. So there can be no case against him, unless he lies about those estimates.

    But it's an entirely different matter if he puts on some policy hat and makes a JUDGEMENT about what action he deems is necessary. It's the latter that needs focusing on here, not the former, or so it seems to me. Did they have that official capacity, or was this one of those typical authoritarian continental fudges where roles are blurred and bozo 'big-minds' rule to satisfy prancing prissy macho desire to strut? You know, the "wise men" shit so beloved of the type that supports the nation-destroying EU.

    But it's not even clear to me that this distinction in the two kinds of roles has been made. To the extent they took on the latter and, additionally, were corrupt in that capacity then they fully deserve a thrashing. Otherwise it's the judge and his court who should be skinned for what THEY have done.

    I rest my case. It's semtex-free.

  47. Lumo, did you read? There are good news! Italian Court of Appeals has overturned the first instance verdict.

  48. Yes, nice news! I read it almost 2 weeks ago: