Italy scientists sentenced to jail in quake trial (Update 2)

Oct 22, 2012 by Ella Ide

Six Italian scientists and a government official were sentenced to six years in jail on Monday for multiple manslaughter in a watershed ruling that found them guilty of underestimating the risks of a killer earthquake in 2009.

They were also ordered to paymore than nine million euros (almost $12 million) in damages to survivors in the devastated medieval town of L'Aquila in a case that has sparked outrage in the international science community.

Seismologists in Italy and beyond were horrified by the unprecedented sentence and argued that all science was being put on trial.

Under the Italian justice system, the seven remain free until they have exhausted two chances to appeal the verdict.

Prosecutor Fabio Picuti had asked for jail sentences of four years for each defendant for failing to alert the population of the walled medieval town to the risks, days before the 6.3-magnitude quake that killed 309 people.

"I am crestfallen, desperate. I thought I would be acquitted. I still don't understand what I'm accused of," said Enzo Boschi, who was the head of Italy's national geophysics institute (INGV) at the time.

All seven defendants were members of the Major Risks Committee which met in L'Aquila on March 31, 2009—six days before the quake devastated the region, tearing down houses and churches and leaving thousands of people homeless.

Picuti had slammed the experts for providing "an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken" analysis, which reassured locals and led many to stay indoors when the first tremors hit.

"This is a historic sentence, above all for the victims," said lawyer Wania della Vigna, who represents 11 plaintiffs, including the family of an Israeli student who died when a student residence collapsed on top of him.

"It also marks a step forward for the justice system and I hope it will lead to change, not only in Italy but across the world," she said.

The bright blue classroom-sized temporary tribunal in L'Aquila—built on an industrial estate after the town's historic court was flattened in the quake—was packed with lawyers, advisors and international media for the verdict.

Four of the defendants were in court, as well as a small group of survivors.

Aldo Scimia, whose mother was killed, welled up as the verdict was read out.

"We cannot call this a victory. It's a tragedy, whatever way you look at it, it won't bring our loved ones back," he said.

"I continue to call this a massacre at the hand of the state, but at least now we hope that our children may live safer lives."

— A historic legal precedent—

Some commentators had warned that any convictions would dissuade other experts from sharing their expertise for fear of legal retribution.

"We are deeply concerned. It's not just seismology which has been put on trial but all science," Charlotte Krawczyk, president of the seismology division at the European Geosciences Union (EGU), told AFP.

"All scientists are really shocked by this," said Krawczyk. "We are trying to organise ourselves and come up with a strong statement that could help so that the scientists do not have to go to jail."

The current INGV head Stefano Gresta also said the trial had set a legal precedent which would have serious repercussions across the science world.

"What scientist will want to express his opinion knowing that he could finish in prison?" he asked.

Filippo Dinacci, lawyer for the-then deputy director of the Civil Protection agency Bernardo De Bernardinis and its seismic risk office chief Mauro Dolce, said it was "difficult to understand" the verdict—after criticising the charges last week as something out of "medieval criminal law".

The government committee met after a series of small tremors in the preceding weeks had sown panic among local inhabitants—particularly after a resident began making worrying unofficial earthquake predictions.

Italy's top seismologists were called to evaluate the situation and De Bernardinis gave press interviews saying the seismic activity in L'Aquila posed "no danger".

"The ruling in my opinion is not fair. We will certainly be appealing," said Alessandra Stefano, lawyer for the head of the European centre of earthquake engineering Gian Michele Calvi.

Over 5,000 members of the scientific community sent an open letter to President Giorgio Napolitano denouncing the trial against colleagues for failing to predict a quake—a feat widely acknowledged to be impossible.

"Seismologists are more or less reconciled to the fact that the chances of predicting when a large earthquake is going to strike are somewhat more remote than finding the Holy Grail," said Roger Musson at the British Geological Survey, calling the verdict "unbelievable".

The other defendants are Giulio Selvaggi, head of the INGV's national earthquake centre in Rome; Franco Barberi from Rome's University Three and Claudio Eva from the University of Genoa.

About 120,000 people were affected by the quake, which destroyed the city's historic centre and medieval churches as well as surrounding villages.

L'Aquila resident Ortense, whose sister was killed in the quake, said: "We didn't come here to get revenge, these men are all family men. But it does bring some comfort to know that someone will pay the price for misleading us."

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Squirrel
4.1 / 5 (13) Oct 22, 2012
I feel sorry for those that will now unnecessarily die in Italy in the next few decades due Italian geophysicists saying nothing, seeking work in other countries or jobs in other safer occupations.
sstritt
3.4 / 5 (10) Oct 22, 2012
A seismic mistake!
cantdrive85
2.3 / 5 (9) Oct 22, 2012
There were several prominences and a large coronal hole (after a long inactive period) on the Sun occurred in the days leading up to the quake, I wonder if they should be convicted for that too?
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 22, 2012
I feel sorry for those that will now unnecessarily die in Italy in the next few decades due Italian geophysicists saying nothing, seeking work in other countries or jobs in other safer occupations.

Agreed. This is just the most stupid verdict. getting the bureaucrat for criminla negligence - OK. But the scientists? They've got to be kidding.
rubberman
4 / 5 (12) Oct 22, 2012
I feel sorry for those that will now unnecessarily die in Italy in the next few decades due Italian geophysicists saying nothing, seeking work in other countries or jobs in other safer occupations.


Did they just make it illegal for scientists to be wrong? If a doctor tells someone who is terminally ill that he may be able to save them and they die on the OR table, will the doctor be charged with manslaughter even though the patient was going to die anyways? What if someone gets hit by lightning when there was no rain in the forcast? Should this ruling stand, it sets a very dangerous precident.

This reminds me of a country where you can trip over a parking block while intoxicated and sue the people who served you the alcohol and put the parking block there.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.8 / 5 (20) Oct 22, 2012
So I guess they should be able to prosecute many more scientists and engineers in the fukushima area to recover some of the costs for damage done and hardship suffered there due to low seawalls and such? I predict with great accuracy that lawyers would reap a tsunami of profits.
Thrasymachus
3.3 / 5 (7) Oct 22, 2012
It would be enlightening to know the material facts of this case, specifically with regard to the evidence these scientists used to construct their opinions about the geologic stability of the area, more specifically, their methods of collecting evidence, weighting it, and using it in constructing their opinions. From the account in the article, it remains possible that these scientists did not really use "sound science" in their construction in ways that did constitute negligence. In that case, this ruling establishes a precedent for prosecuting the promotion of a negligently or maliciously unscientific opinion as a scientific one where the use of that opinion results in the otherwise avoidable deaths of others. I can not help but approve of such a precedent, but I would be concerned that it should be applied very narrowly, with a very high bar for establishing each element of such a case.
ValeriaT
1.4 / 5 (8) Oct 22, 2012
Italian seismologis ignored many warnings, which are routinely used for predictions of eartquakes in Japan and another places of the world (radon gas emissions, water level in wells, etc). These guys use no monitoring network, only seismographs - but they're still very authoritative in dismissals of all risks.

I can accept, that the earthquakes cannot be predicted reliably, but after then the seismologists should stop to take money for it. They shouldn't participate and sign any document, which estimates the risk and take salary for it. Or they're effectively participating on pseudoscience if not scientific fraud.
AT210
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 22, 2012
I can accept, that the earthquakes cannot be predicted reliably, but after then the seismologists should stop to take money for it. They shouldn't participate and sign any document, which estimates the risk and take salary for it. Or they're effectively participating on pseudoscience if not scientific fraud.


ValeriaT, you're literally too intellectually incompetent to present your opinion. Seriously.
ValeriaT
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2012
According to Nature News prosecutors insist that the TRIAL IS NOT ABOUT PREDICTING THE UNPREDICTABLE. At the controversial March 31 meeting in L'Aquila, earth scientist Enzo Boschi, a defendant in the case, acknowledged the uncertainty, calling a large earthquake "unlikely," but saying that the possibility could not be excluded. In a post-meeting press conference, however, Department of Civil Protection official Bernardo De Bernardinis, also a defendant, told citizens there was "no danger." and scientists involved didn't oppose this proclamation. During closing arguments, the prosecution assistant told the courtroom that instead, the scientists and officials had inadequately assessed the risk of a quake and given deceptive information to the public.
italba
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2012
Agree with ValeriaT. The jail sentence was not for not having predicted the quake, but for having, pushed by politics, spread fake, unscientific statements about the improbability of a major quake. One of those "scientists" said "don't worry about it and have a glass of wine for better sleep"!
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2012
The jailenstence is preposterous.

What will be next? Meteorologist put in jail because they didn't warn people enough during tornado season? Scientist incarcerated because they did not exactly predict where wildfires would start that cost some people their lives?
And that stuff is a lot more predictable than earthquakes (while still being very high on the unpredictable scale)
italba
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2012
You can be jailed for shouting "Fire!" in a theatre when there is no danger, but also when you say "don't worry" when the ship is sinking. The seismologists in L'Aquila should only have said: "We cannot know if there will be a major quake or not, but here we had a quake every century and the last one was in 1915, so take care!"
rubberman
2 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2012
Italba, regardless of how neglegent the scientists were with their predictions, they did nothing illegal, the base truth of the situation is that they were found guilty of "being wrong" and are being held accountable for what amounts to a geological process that cannot be controlled. I feel for the families of the injured and the dead and if the warning signs were clear that a quake was immenent, then they should be stripped of their credentials and get jobs setting pins at a bowling alley. Sending anyone to jail when they have not committed a crime is clearly wrong.
Deathclock
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2012
Negligence that results in death or injury of others entrusted to your care is actually a crime... it's called manslaughter, which is what the scientists were accused of.

I don't know the facts of the case, but I can envision a scenario in which individuals who were entrusted with the public well being were criminally negligence in their duties leading to catastrophe. Intent is the key here, did they intentionally neglect their duties and/or intentionally mislead the public? If yes, then they are guilty of a crime, if no then they simply made a mistake.

I don't have the facts/evidence of the case and it is not my job to pass judgement, and you'd better believe I am glad that it's not.

I do think that they need to make it DAMN clear that they are not being convicted of making a mistake, but of willful criminal negligence.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 23, 2012
Too bad we can't do this to the AGWites who make false predictions or flat out lie to push an agenda.
The secular state conviction of scientists may be wrong, but it should be a humbling lesson for those who must deal with uncertainty. Be very clear regarding what you DO know and what you do not. Some day you may be held accountable.
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 23, 2012
f no then they simply made a mistake.

In a regulatory state with all sorts of 'scientists' in positions regulatory power, how are they to be held to account for failure? Whether they intended to lie is immaterial. With great power comes great responsibility. (Ben Parker).
In the US Navy, the captain of a ship that runs aground or collides with another ship is fired regardless if he was directly at fault.
When scientists accept positions of power they are no longer 'just' scientists and must be held accountable.

rubberman
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2012
Too bad we can't do this to the AGWites who make false predictions or flat out lie to push an agenda.
The secular state conviction of scientists may be wrong, but it should be a humbling lesson for those who must deal with uncertainty. Be very clear regarding what you DO know and what you do not. Some day you may be held accountable.


OK. The other side of the coin is that every government, corporation and country that failed to heed the very public warnings regarding AGW will be held accountable to everyone who ends up negatively affected by it. Every climate scientist who had to deal with idiotic disparaging remarks from people who, because of the economic consequences of the actions required, decided it would be easier to attempt to say they are lying or unable to substantiate the claims they have made, will be able to seek compensation. Rygg, if you managed to convince 1 person AGW isn't happening, and it is found that it is, they can hold you accountable for their losses
Deathclock
3 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2012
Whether they intended to lie is immaterial.


No it is not, in law intent matters a great deal, so much so that there are entirely different classes of crimes based solely on differences in intent.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (7) Oct 23, 2012
The other side of the coin is that every government, corporation and country that failed to heed the very public warnings regarding AGW will be held accountable


And they will be held accountable be established means both political and economic.
How are the 'Chicken Little' scientists to be held accountable when wrong?
Ehrlich, the scientist, lost a bet with an economist about his predictions. Had Ehrlich been a dictator and could enforce his opinions, how would have have been held accountable?
That is what too many scientists want to be, unaccountable dictators to enforce their world view. We see it every day on this site.
It's good when scientists are held accountable to the real world, not just with their 'peers'.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2012
Whether they intended to lie is immaterial.


No it is not, in law intent matters a great deal, so much so that there are entirely different classes of crimes based solely on differences in intent.


How many people are in jail for unintentionally causing the death of someone in an accident?
italba
3 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2012
This article is just wrong, as many others are on today's papers in Italy. This was no trial to the science, as there was nothing scientific in L'Aquila seismologists' statements. They simply obeyed to a political will to hide out the quake danger, and to calm down L'Aquila citizens. We'll have to wait some days to read the complete trial results, but you can be sure nobody was jailed for not having predicted the quake. By the way, you can bet they will never be really jailed. In Italy after a first trial you can call for a second, and if you don't like the second judgement call for an high court trial on it, and so on...
rubberman
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 23, 2012
"They simply obeyed to a political will to hide out the quake danger..."

Then apparently the wrong people were on trial.

"And they will be held accountable be established means both political and economic."

LMAO. really??? How do you hold a current government responsible for the actions of all of the previous ones? How do you file a class action suit against a country that has polluted the world the longest, or the most by volume. If the world told the US and China that they owe Bangledesh and indonesia 500 billion for losd GDP due to AGW, would they pay?

"How are the 'Chicken Little' scientists to be held accountable when wrong?"

How do we penalize politicians who make campaign promises that they never honor? How do i penalize the cab driver for taking a turn onto a gridlocked street that makes me late for an important meeting and lands me in hot water with my superiors. Who do I sue because of my hangover? This list is endless....
Deathclock
3 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2012
Whether they intended to lie is immaterial.


No it is not, in law intent matters a great deal, so much so that there are entirely different classes of crimes based solely on differences in intent.


How many people are in jail for unintentionally causing the death of someone in an accident?


You don't get it... the case is about whether or not they intentionally neglected their duties or deceived the public. It is NOT about whether they made an innocent mistake.
italba
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2012
Rubberman, you should be either very young or very gullible. A politician doesn't need to order or ask for something. It is perfectly clear what he want you to say. So those seismologists, willing to please the government who gives them money and honours, said not the scientific truth, but what was more convenient for the government. That's why they where sentenced.
rubberman
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2012
You don't get it... the case is about whether or not they intentionally neglected their duties or deceived the public. It is NOT about whether they made an innocent mistake.


Actually DC it's about proving which of the 2 options you list above is accurate. Clearly the court felt it was option 1.

Italba, since I am not Italian and only know of Italy's politcal and justice systems through what i have heard and read, my impression is that if someone with enough influence wants someone else to be guilty....they are. The reality of what happened regardless of intent or inferences is that scientists were sentenced for a crime because they innaccurately predicted the future. If a panel of 10 seismologists, each questioned individually based on the evidence, would have called for evacuation of the town without a single one saying "not necessary", then a case can be made. Trial transcripts are the only way the world will know exactly what happened.
Deathclock
1 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2012
You don't get it... the case is about whether or not they intentionally neglected their duties or deceived the public. It is NOT about whether they made an innocent mistake.


Actually DC it's about proving which of the 2 options you list above is accurate. Clearly the court felt it was option 1.


Yeah that's what I said... if you aren't guilty then you are innocent, obviously the case is about determining guilt or innocence.
italba
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2012
...The reality of what happened regardless of intent or inferences is that scientists were sentenced for a crime because they innaccurately predicted the future...

This is NOT TRUE, I wrote about it before. For instance mr.Boschi (one of the seismologists) wrote in 1995 a study where he "very likely" predicted, in 20 years, a strong quake in L'Aquila. In the right moment he said nothing about his own study, just followed his colleagues on saying "we don't predict strong quakes"!
rubberman
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2012
OK, this must be a language barrier that we cant breach. In order for the scientists to BE guilty, they would have to have KNOWN THE FUTURE and behaved as it has been claimed that they did (negligent and wilfully deceiptful). IF you can find me one human being on earth that KNOWS the future please provide the example. This is why I said in my previous post:

"If a panel of 10 seismologists, each questioned individually based on the evidence, would have called for evacuation of the town without a single one saying "not necessary", then a case can be made."

Regardless of everything that is or isn't said at this trial, the FACT of the matter is that scientists were asked to foresee FUTURE events, did so very incorrectly (not the first time) and are going to jail because of circumstances resultant from the mistake.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (6) Oct 23, 2012
Regardless of everything that is or isn't said at this trial, the FACT of the matter is that scientists were asked to foresee FUTURE events, did so very incorrectly (not the first time) and are going to jail because of circumstances resultant from the mistake.
IF you can find me one human being on earth that KNOWS the future please provide the example.


How do govt scientists like Jim Hansen categorically claim what will happen if he can't control CO2?

Scientists like Ehrlich made extraordinary claims about the future, and were wrong.

So rubber now agrees AGWites should not be taken seriously.

f you aren't guilty then you are innocent,


No, you are NOT guilty.
Deathclock
2 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2012
In order for the scientists to BE guilty, they would have to have KNOWN THE FUTURE and behaved as it has been claimed that they did (negligent and wilfully deceiptful). IF you can find me one human being on earth that KNOWS the future please provide the example. This is why I said in my previous post:


Do you know what negligence means? It's entirely possible that they didn't even look at the data, that they didn't collect the data as they knew they should have, that they didn't treat the data correctly due to laziness or ulterior motive, or that they did something else intentionally deceitful, apathetic, lazy, or corrupt in regard to their investigation of the risk... THAT is what they are on trial for, NOT because "they were wrong", but because they either didn't even TRY or LIED about their findings.

Why is this so hard for people to understand?
Deathclock
2 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2012
Why are you all assuming that these guys are honest scientists who did their best but made a mistake? Don't you understand that it's possible that they didn't even do the work, that they took their pay and spent all their time in the local whore house or getting trashed at the bar or playing golf or whatever Italians like to do? Do any of you know the facts of the case?

If it were my job to determine the Earthquake risk of a city and I spent my time their having fun and didn't even do the work but claimed they were at low risk and then a big Earthquake happens and lots of people die I would be guilty of criminal negligence...

It could be as blatant as this example or much more subtle, and I am not saying this happened in THIS case, but I don't know why people are dismissing the possibility out of hand...
rubberman
1 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2012
Hence why I said what I did about the 10 independent seismologists DC, and about the trial transcripts. But right now we only have circumstances and a verdict, with nothing about how the verdict was arrived at other than what is in the physorg article. The only quote in the article from the prosecution is:

"Picuti had slammed the experts for providing "an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken" analysis, which reassured locals and led many to stay indoors when the first tremors hit."

Therefore they are all guilty of manslaughter? Without a description of how the inept and criminally mistaken analysis was arrived at we shouldn't even be debating this one....but it still sets a dangerous precedent.

Rygg, when the article is about climate you want to talk politics and economics, when it's about politics or economics you want to talk AGW. I have heard Aderal can help children focus who have ADD, you need cases of the stuff.
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 23, 2012
Rygg, when the article is about climate you want to talk politics and economics, when it's about politics or economics you want to talk AGW.


I didn't create the link, AGWites did with the IPCC, a political organization.
I have stated many times, once the scientists decides to jump into the political pigpen, he will get very dirty, and deservedly so.
Deathclock
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2012
Therefore they are all guilty of manslaughter? Without a description of how the inept and criminally mistaken analysis was arrived at we shouldn't even be debating this one...


I agree and I said that in my first post here, that I am not in a position to judge them, but that the outrage over the verdict is unjustified from people who are obviously also not in a position to judge them either because we don't know the details of the case. My only point is that criminal negligence is a real thing and the fact that they were tried for manslaughter suggests that this is what they were on trial for, not for making a mistake in their scientific analysis as so many people claim.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (6) Oct 24, 2012
"I can see at least two effects:

1. Scientists and others might become less willing to predict the future — which, given our skill at prediction, might not be a terrible thing but which, given the fact that future-gazing is often an excuse for useful research, might be a terrible thing.
2. A message has been sent that it is better to predict a calamity than to fail to predict a calamity. If you fail to predict a calamity, as anomalous as it may be, you risk being sent to jail and fined. So the incentive to predict a calamity has just been significantly increased.
"
http://www.freako...ictions/

Note that Michael hokey stick Mann is filing suit for be lumped into with the quality of the Penn State investigation of Sandusky.
This is a great turn of events because Mann will have to release all documentation in discovery requested by the defendants.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2012
I agree and I said that in my first post here, that I am not in a position to judge them, but that the outrage over the verdict is unjustified from people


If you go by this:
http://www.scient...ist-test

Then the scientists used the state of the art analysis to come to their conclusion (it also sheds some doubt on whether any kind of warning from scientists would have been passed on at all)

And yes: the scientists quoted inthe article disagrees with this state of the art analysis method. But there is really no method that is capable of putting probabilities on exceptional events. Alwas predicting the 'largest possible event' and acting on that may be ultimately safe - but it also leads to a lot of overreaction in other cases. There has to be a tradeoff in this.

Again: I find it pretty horrifying to fault people for using the state of the art methods and getting it wrong. State of the art does not equate to perfect.
obama_socks
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 26, 2012
The only crime committed by the scientists and the official was that by their words, they lulled the people into a false sense of security that probably led them to believe that it was unlikely that they were in danger. After all, these are scientists and the official is a symbol of authority....and because of their education and training, the people probably felt that scientists are so much more understanding of the world than the people of that region. They put their "faith" and "belief" in science and the authority of the state like children who "know" that their parents wouldn't do or say anything to harm them.

They "trusted" the word of science instead of thinking for themselves and taking proper precautions...and they died. And that goes to prove that scientists shouldn't be overly confident and insist that others always prepare for the worst....especially as it applies to earthquakes.
Seismologists understand that the Earth is unpredictable. They put their foot in their mouth
Maggnus
not rated yet Oct 27, 2012
The only crime committed by the scientists and the official was that by their words, they lulled the people into a false sense of security that probably led them to believe that it was unlikely that they were in danger.


I'm not sure that's correct. From everything I can glean it appears the scientists may have been brow-beaten by politicians to agree to a statement that everything was ok, when they should have taken the position that they either didn't know, or possibly even that there was a risk, albeit unquantifiable.

I believe the issue is beyond negligence, which is a civil responsibility, and more about a deliberate obfuscation leading to criminal negligence causing death.

Which is not to say I agree with the prosecution of the scientists. Frankly if they didn't have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and speak against being told what to say, maybe they deserve censor - although being charged with manslaughter seems a tad extreme.
lengould100
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 28, 2012
Italy's top seismologists were called to evaluate the situation and De Bernardinis gave press interviews saying the seismic activity in L'Aquila posed "no danger".
If that statement from the article is true, without mitigating facts, then there exists a possibility that the scientists were complicit in a criminal act.

Scientists must take responsibility for the effects and uses of their output. And to rygsoon, I'm sure that climate scientists including Mann are willing to do so and take little risk in that.