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Can We Execute Those Who Miss Their Tornado Touch Down Predictions by One Mile?

[ 54 ] October 22, 2012 |

Nothing is more likely to guarantee good science than sentencing those who allegedly missed an earthquake prediction to six years in prison.

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  1. mch says:

    Yes, this is scary, isn’t it? Just for the record, Italy produces great engineers and scientists, and long has. I don’t know much of anything about these particular people or situation (well, I know more than most probably, but that isn’t a lot), but the principle. It’s scary.

  2. Stag Party Palin says:

    In a strange way that made me feel better. Until today I would have expected that story either from the Tennessee Town Crier or The Onion.

    USA F*#@ No!

  3. McKingford says:

    I’ve actually just finished the Nate Silver book on predictions, and learned that, essentially, there IS no way to predict earthquakes.

    So this isn’t even like, say, missing a hurricane projection (the criminalization of which would be bad enough). These people are being punished even though there is no scientifically validated manner that could have predicted that quake.

  4. GFW says:

    So, I guess we can safely say that Amanda Knox was innocent. :/

    • Jon H says:

      The prosecutor thinking it was a satanic ritual killing, part of a widespread pattern of occult activity, was reason enough to say that Knox was innocent.

      • calling all toasters says:

        Not to mention that he had a history of faking evidence and arresting reporters. He is the Italian Joe Arpaio, with a little (actual, not opportunistic)psychosis thrown in.

  5. ajay says:

    Look, they’ve been failing to predict earthquakes for centuries. It’s not good enough. Time to get tough. Maybe this will be the kick in the backside that seismology needs.

    Next we’re going after the oncologists. Those guys have been failing to cure cancer for decades…

  6. herr doktor bimler says:

    The charge against the earthquake commission seems to be that they did make a specific prediction (i.e. that there was nothing to worry about, a large tremor wasn’t going to happen, everyone should stay home and keep working).

  7. blowback says:

    As always it depends on how you frame the story. The prosecution’s case was quite different to that presented in the NY Times:

    The prosecution has focused on a statement made at the press conference by accused committee member Bernardo De Bernardinis, who was then deputy technical head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency. “The scientific community tells me there is no danger,” he said at the time, “because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favourable.”

    Many seismologists — including one of the accused, Enzo Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology in Rome — have since criticized the statement as scientifically unfounded. The statement does not appear in the minutes of the committee meeting itself, and the accused seismologists say they cannot be blamed for it. De Bernardinis’s advocate insists that his client merely summarized what the scientists had told him. The prosecutor claims that because none of the other committee members immediately corrected De Bernardinis, they are all equally culpable.

    So, the crime was not failing to predict an earthquake but rather failing to correct an erroneous statement by a member of their committee. Given that Italy has quite strong “Good Samaritan” legislation, I don’t see how they could not have been found guilty. The sentences do seem unduly harsh and I suspect they will be reduced on appeal, but they do send a message to others in a similar position.

    • Informant says:

      Yes, but what would people have done differently if the other members of the committee had immediately jumped up and said, “That’s not completely accurate. There is always a risk that an earthquake could happen, but, based on our analysis, we think a major earthquake is unlikely to happen in the near future.” Realistically, nobody would have changed anything about their behavior or daily routines and the death toll would have remained exactly the same.

      • Cody says:

        That would be my thoughts on the matter. If given a choice between an earthquake happening today or not, I would always predict not. Unless we’re next to a volcano that is actively erupting or a fault line that just had an earthquake.

        Would these people have been sentenced to jail if they said there was going to be one, but there wasn’t? Because there is no scientific way to predict earthquakes other than “increased seismic activity currently means there is a greater chance of one soon”

      • thusbloggedanderson says:

        And you know that … how?

        Imagine if the NWS’s Katrina bulletin had been “no danger to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast, carry on as usual.”

      • blowback says:

        I quite agree with you but these scientists would then have a defence against the charges. By saying nothing, they didn’t allow people the chance to alter their behaviour.

    • Anonymous says:

      The sentences do seem unduly harsh and I suspect they will be reduced on appeal, but they do send a message to others in a similar position.

      Yes. That message is that all scientists and engineers in Italy should immediately cease all public service until the sentences are overturned.

      Regardless of the prosecutor’s phrasing, this is burning Jews for causing the Lisbon earthquake. The people of Italy should be denied the use of science until they learn better.

      • blowback says:

        None of them were accused of causing the earthquake, one was found guilty of making an erroneous statement and the others were found guilty for failing to correct that statement.

        • njorl says:

          All of that is just a palatable veneer for an auto da fe.

        • Snarki, child of Loki says:

          Wow, it looks like it’s a
          “Something on the internet is WRONG!”
          theory of prosecution.

          I guess the geoscientists should have tackled “deputy technical head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency” to the ground, and beaten him to a bloody pulp for saying stupid things.

          Perhaps a public stoning would have been more apropos.

      • Leeds man says:

        And what should the people of America be denied, given that their Supreme Court recently put up their government for sale to the highest bidder?

        • njorl says:

          You answered yourself. Americans will tend to get government by the highest bidder.

          • Leeds man says:

            The question was rhetorical. The message is that everyone in America should immediately cease working until the decision is overturned. The people of America should be denied voting until they learn better.

            • Njorl says:

              The people got what they asked for. Elections have consequences. One of those consequences is that supreme court appointees make the decisions expected of them.

              The situations are not analagous.

              In Italy, a judge disregarded law to make a ridiculous, emotional decision which will have cruel repercussions for an entire class of worker if they do not fight back effectively in a manner which will make society as a whole feel their pain.

    • shabadoo says:

      but they do send a message to others in a similar position.

      “If you’re a scientist, you should find a job in a different country that’s not so insane.”

      • blowback says:

        There are many very good reasons to want to live and work in Italy. The food, the wine, the landscape…..

      • JL says:

        A lot of them already do that. Several years ago as an undergrad I did a summer research internship in Switzerland with a nice Italian postdoc who wished that he could go back to Italy to live but complained that the environment there for scientists was awful. The Italian grad student in the lab complained about the same thing. In fact, the campus seemed to be full of Italian expats.

    • JL says:

      This seems like a weird application of Duty to Act (the part of Good Samaritan laws that seems relevant here). Duty to Act laws require certain categories of people to assist in an emergency, like if they witness a car crash or see a house on fire. Does Italian law really classify some idiot making inaccurate statements during a press conference as an emergency that warrants a duty to act? For whom? For anyone whose sentiment was being mischaracterized? For anyone with relevant scientific training? What if they didn’t watch the press conference?

      (I am not a lawyer, but I’m a certified EMT, so these laws have some relevance in my life.)

  8. jimintampa says:

    Good training for what’ll happen to all the climate scientists in 30 years or so. Lynched for being correct.

  9. tomk says:

    NPR, I think it was, or maybe The World, broadcast an interview with a man yesterday who had been camping outside with his family for days because of the tremors but returned to his house shortly before the earthquake on the reassurances of the scientists. He survived but lost his wife and child. The impulse to push back against false authority is understandable.

    I’m reminded of the Martinique disaster of 1902, if I remember the article I read years ago, the authorities, acting on the advise of scientists who similarly asserted that Mt Pelee was just letting of steam, blockaded the harbor to prevent the population from escaping the rumbling volcano, which then exploded killing 30,000.

  10. greylocks says:

    Italy has been notoriously lax for a long time now in reinforcing older buildings.

    But of course, nobody’s going to jail for that.

    • Steve LaBonne says:

      Which is what this is really about- scapegoating and ass-covering by the people actually responsible for the deaths. Not an unfamiliar phenomenon here in the good old USA.

  11. Charrua says:

    The sentence is surprisingly harsh, but if you are in the prediction business, you should err on the side of caution. Italy is really vulnerable, geologically speaking, also, so there’s a lot of sensitivity to the issue. A mistaken prediction there might be the difference between a major city being wiped out by a volcano or not.

    • daveNYC says:

      Kent Brockman: Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it’s time for our viewers to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?
      Professor: Yes I would, Kent.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      Are you familiar with the case? There was some guy who was just saying there WAS going to be an earthquake, but with no scientific basis. The committee was responding to this guy yelling “fire” for no reason, but he ended up being right (as a total coincidence).

    • Cody says:

      Indeed. They should appoint me to this committee. I will simply predict an earthquake ever day.

      That way I can err on the side of caution!

      • calling all toasters says:

        You’re missing the gravy train here. Just constantly predict all kinds of disaster everywhere. Then, when people sue after one of them happens, you’re an expert witness or consultant! Big bucks there.

    • shabadoo says:

      “Erring on the side of caution” for infrequent events like damaging earthquakes leads frequent false alarms, which cost serious money, bring hazards of their own, and cause people to ignore real threats to their safety.

  12. J R in WV says:

    The end of science in Italy. They will probably burn someone at the stake after the next volcanic eruption that kills tens or hundreds of thousands. Because no one is going to give up their vineyards and flee the mountain. It’s been making those noises for centuries!

    So everyone within a hundrfed miles of Napoli will get killed, and a roast of surviving geologists will be perfectly appropriate.

    After all, Darwinian science requires severe negative consequences for an improper scientific conclusion, right? Otherwise why would scientists bother to improve their ideas?

    CRAZY!!!

  13. Anon21 says:

    Saw this at NYT last night. All I can say is that the Italian state seems to be doing insane shit every time I turn around.

  14. meteorologist 2012 says:

    REALLY…… so how about if we didnt report anything then what? This is foolishness noone can predict what God will do but we try to be as accurate as possible. Now go to sleep on that!

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