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7 experts to be tried over failing to predict 2009 Italy quake
Posted: 25 May 2011 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]
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My first thought was…. What??!! mad

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Seven scientists and other experts were indicted on manslaughter charges Wednesday for allegedly failing to sufficiently warn residents before a devastating earthquake that killed more than 300 people in central Italy in 2009.

Defense lawyers condemned the charges, saying it’s impossible to predict earthquakes. Seismologists have long concurred, saying the technology doesn’t exist to predict a quake and that no major temblor has ever been foretold.

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella ordered the members of the national government’s Great Risks commission, which evaluates potential for natural disasters, to go on trial in L’Aquila on Sept. 20.

Italian media quoted the judge as saying the defendants “gave inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether smaller tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the six months before the April 6, 2009 quake should have constituted grounds for a quake warning.

Specifically, prosecutors focused on a memo issued after a March 31, 2009 meeting of the Great Risks commission which was called because of mounting concerns about the months of seismic activity in the region.

According to the commission’s memo _ issued one week before the big quake _ the experts concluded that it was “improbable” that there would be a major quake though it added that one couldn’t be excluded.

Afterward, members of the commission gave reassuring interviews to local media stressing the impossibility of predicting quakes and that even six months worth of low-magnitude temblors was not unusual in the highly seismic region and didn’t mean a big one was coming.

In one now-infamous interview included in the prosecutors’ case, commission member Bernardo De Bernardis of the national civil protection department responded to a question about 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.”

Such a reassuring verdict by commission members “persuaded the victims to stay at home,” La Repubblica newspaper quoted the indictment as saying.

The 6.3-magnitude quake killed 308 people in and around the medieval town, which was largely reduced to rubble. Thousands of survivors lived in tent camps or temporary housing for months.

Defense lawyers contend that since quakes can’t be predicted, the accusations that the scientists and civil protection experts on the commission should have sounded an alarm that a big quake was coming make no sense.

“As we all know, quakes aren’t predictable,” said Marcello Melandri, defense lawyer for defendant Enzo Boschi, a scientist who heads the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. In any case, Melandri contended, the panel “never said, ‘stay calm, there is no risk.’”

Although earthquakes can’t be predicted, experts said after Japan’s recent devastating quake that an early warning system in place there to detect the Earth’s rumblings before they can be felt helped save countless lives in that country.

But, as recently as this month, Italy’s national geophysics institute went to great lengths to insist that earthquakes can’t be predicted in a bid to dispel a widely reported prediction of a huge temblor that was due to strike Rome on May 11. No such quake occurred.

The U.S. Geological Survey takes pains to insist the technology doesn’t exist to predict quakes _ and won’t exist for a long time _ but that seismologists can calculate probabilities of future quakes. Rather than focusing on predictions, the USGS like the Italian geophysics institute focuses on raising awareness to improve construction standards in quake zones.

Boschi could not immediately be reached for comment, but Italian media reports quoted him as saying he had properly carried out his duties.

Many of the structures that collapsed in the 2009 quake were not properly built to standards for a quake-prone area like the central Apennine region of Abruzzo. Among the buildings which cracked and crumbled was L’Aquila’s hospital, just as it was struggling to treat about 1,500 injured.

Nobody inside the hospital, which was built in the 1970s, was killed or injured in the quake.

Manslaughter charges are not unusual in Italy for natural disasters such as quakes, but they have previously focused on violations of building codes in seismic regions.

In 2009, for example, an appeals court convicted five people in the 2002 quake-triggered collapse of a school in southern San Giuliano di Puglia that killed 27 children _ including the town’s entire first-grade class _ and a teacher. Prosecutors had alleged that shoddy construction contributed to the collapse of the school.

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Posted: 25 May 2011 08:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yeah, that will be a terrific precedent to set.  Next they can start arresting meteorologists for manslaughter every time lightning hits somebody without the person being warned by them beforehand.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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well, to be fair, they were saying ‘No, there’s not gonna be an earthquake’. It’s less ‘failing to predict’ and more ‘predicting there won’t be’.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 06:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Why not sue the churches of almost all faiths, since they always say it is a punishment of god.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I guess from now on the story in Italy is that there is going to be a big quake soon and when it doesn’t happen everyone will laugh but when it does happen no one will be able to say they weren’t warned.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 08:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Robin Bobcat - 26 May 2011 07:25 AM

well, to be fair, they were saying ‘No, there’s not gonna be an earthquake’. It’s less ‘failing to predict’ and more ‘predicting there won’t be’.

That’s the thing:  they weren’t saying, “No, there’s not gonna be an earthquake”.  They were saying, “We don’t know”.  The closest they get to saying anything definite is the one guy telling people not to panic.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 09:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Okay, I just spent a bit looking through Italian news articles and suchlike.  This seems to be the basic story:

L’Aquila is a town that has earthquakes frequently.  Normally, though, they’re only minor ones.  The last big one was in the start of the 1700’s.  For the six months preceding the latest big quake there, there had been many hundreds of small quakes.  On March 31, 2009, the Great Risks Commission met in L’Aquila to see if they could figure out anything about the earthquake situation.  In the end, they decided that there wasn’t any information saying that there would be a big earthquake any time soon. . .but that it’s impossible to really know.

On April 6th, the big earthquake hit.

And so now the commission members have been taken to court and arraigned by the judge for failing in their job to predict and prevent earthquake risk (that’s actually what the court said, but in Italian:  “prevenzione e previsione del rischio sismico”).  The prosecutor states that their report from March 31st was rough and generic and ineffective.  They’re also being accused of failing in their duty regarding giving out information and putting up signs between the time of the meeting and the time of the earthquake.

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Posted: 27 May 2011 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Whew!  That’s both an education genre AND employment area to avoid! 

So far I’m not aware that any science research or working platform in this area is or can be accurate so far as pinpointing an exact time and depth of such events.  But, it DOES seem that folks in this area of Italy, having lived with historical occurrences that continue to repeat, just like specific areas in Louisiana and areas of the Mississippi will likely flood, and areas of Africa will likely be desert with little to no water, and areas of Siberia will likely be inhumanly cold, should be keenly aware of the perils of living in such locations.  To condemn or even bring a few humans to trial over natural conditions is ludicrous and even irresponsible.

Those who bring such charges need to be flogged.  And the message LIVE HERE AT YOUR OWN RISK be placed as permanent markers along all roads leading into this area of Italy.

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Posted: 20 September 2011 03:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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And the trial has opened.

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Posted: 21 September 2011 01:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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This could set a dangerous precedent if the experts are found guilty. I could see it leading to a further attack on science.

Really, if people are silly enough to live near fault lines or volcanoes…................

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Posted: 21 September 2011 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Italy is a banana Republic. Just look at Berlusconi’s antics and the ways he escapes trial.

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Posted: 21 September 2011 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I can actually see the point behind the trial regarding the “gave false assurances” part of it, if they really did that.  If they told people, “No, an earthquake definitely will not happen” instead of, “Well, we really can’t tell one way or the other, so just take whatever precautions you feel necessary”, then the scientists are indeed partly at fault.  However, the complaining that they gave vague and generic information about the possibility of earthquakes is totally idiotic.  Might as well demand that a meteorologist predict well ahead of time exactly where and when lightning will strike, or a marine biologist tell you a week in advance where the next shark attack will occur.

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