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Trial Begins for 7 Italian Scientists Charged With Manslaughter for Failing to Warn of 2009 Earthquake

It seemed like something had to have been lost in translation when I first read this, but no -- in Italy, the trial of seven scientists is now underway on criminal manslaughter charges because they allegedly failed to predict and warn citizens of the possibility of a significant earthquake that hit the Italian city of L'Aquila on April 6, 2009.

Prosecutors allege that the defendant scientists gave "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" regarding some tremors that led up the earthquake. Digital Journal reports that prosecutors have indicted the scientists "because of their failure to say that a 'significant quake was possible,' preventing the area's population from taking preventive measures." The families of people who died in the earthquake are separately seeking $68.2 million dollars in damages from the defendants.

The seismological community has rallied in support of the accused scientists. Digital Journal reports that more than 5,200 international "researchers, professors, postdocs, [and] seismologists" have signed a petition supporting the seven defendants and the Seismological Society of America has denounced the charges as an "unprecedented legal action against members of the seismological community." Seismologists also warn that it is dangerous to allow prosecutions like this one because the fear of legal retaliation will discourage seismologists from issuing any advice at all in the future.

Prosecutors and relatives of victims deny that science is on trial here, however, and acknowledge that earthquakes cannot be predicted. They focus on the fact that scientists failed to warn that a significant quake could be possible, despite mounting concerns by some seismologists about seismic activity in the region. The Associated Press states that a report issued a week before the earthquake concluded that a major quake was possible but "improbable."

Prosecutors also point to an unfortunate pre-earthquake interview in which Bernardo De Bernardinis, then-vice chief of the technical department of Italy's civil protection agency, was asked whether residents should just sit back and relax with a glass of wine. "Absolutely, absolutely a Montepulciano doc," he responded, referring to a high-end red. "This seems important."

The defendants face up to 15 years in prison if they are found guilty.

Posted by Bruce Carton on September 28, 2011 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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