After a 13-month trial, six Italian seismologists and one government official were convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to six years in prison, after failing to properly prepare citizens an earthquake that killed hundreds. In April 2009, an earthquake of 5.8 on the Richter scale hit L’Aquila, a small town in central Italy in the Abruzzo region. It was the deadliest earthquake in years. The quake rendered nearly 40,000 people homeless, and it was discovered that poorly constructed buildings magnified the disaster — hardly surprising given that L’Aquila is a 14th century city. Beyond the destruction, Gomorrah author and journalist Roberto Saviano covered the earthquake extensively and discovered the reconstruction efforts were rife with corruption and there were serious criminal ties.
Of the seismologists, prosecutors claimed that they minimized the risks of a potential quake, and gave “incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory information” to the area’s citizens, according to a report in Nature, a scientific journal. Yikes. 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, declaring that the trial is unfair and naive. “To expect more of science at this time is unreasonable.” As the Los Angeles Times points out:
It’s difficult to imagine how Italy will manage to recruit scientists to such panels in the future when being wrong once could mean heading to the slammer.
Ugh. This seems like a big step backwards for scientific advancement. Also troubling is the implications this has on justice in Italy. The seismologists will appeal the decision.