Sending out the wrong message... By Masood
01 November, 2012
A court decision in Italy has surprised many in the scientific community. The court found six local scientists guilty of misguiding the public about a major earthquake by saying that it would not hit the city of L'Aquila before a 6.3 magnitude tremor killed 309 people on April 6, 2009. Due to this declaration by the scientists, a city official gave the 'out of danger' signal to the general public. The court convicted all seven (six scientists and one city official) of manslaughter, slapped a six-year jail term on them and fined them € 7.8 million.
Unfortunately, the court has chosen the wrong party to punish for the shortcomings of others; city officials and elected representatives were not touched after having failed to get the stringent building codes implemented in this Apennines region with numerous fault lines. If such a blame-shifting verdict is upheld in subsequent appeals in the superior courts, the Italian court will be sending out the wrong message to its scientific community: do not make any predictions because you could land in jail with a charge of manslaughter. To save one's skin, this attitude may not be limited to earthquakes only. It may impact other environmental forecasts, and virus and disease spread predictions as well.
Jubail, Saudi Arabia