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L’Aquila Court Case Seen As Threat To Disaster Warnings …

  • October 29th, 2012
  • Posted by 7thmin

laquila.JPGSome consternation in the global scientific community follows the conviction (22.10.12), and sentencing to six years gaol, of six seismic scientists, for giving false reassurances before the L’Aquila earthquake .


laquila-damage.jpgMembers of the Italian Major Risks Commission in 2009, they were called on to assess a chain of earth tremors in the region, in central Italy, 100-kilometres east-north-east of Rome.

They’d generally pointed out that earthquakes could not be exactly predicted, that a run of tremors did not mean an earthquake was coming, and that tremors had been experienced many times around  L’Aquila – as well as devastating earthquakes over the centuries.

As with the case of the erstwhile Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, also facing possible time in gaol  – four years for tax fraud, see EUAustralia Online 28.1012, “Berlusconi facing gaol …” -  the convicted men were indignant, though also philosophical about it.

As with Berlusconi, they indicated appeals against their convictions, for manslaughter, were definitely likely.

One of the group, Claudio Eva, told the Guardian he had received many messages of support from colleagues around the world, against what he called a “very Italian and mediaeval decision”.

“The judge was local, the prosecutor was local and the public were local …”, he said.


galileo.jpgAnother said he’d been made to feel like Galileo Galilei (picture) when he ran foul of the Papal authorities for finding out that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

In the tragedy at L’Aquila, population 73000, 309 people died when the earthquake struck, destroying treasured buildings from the Medaieval period as well as new homes and other structures – early on Monday 6.4.09.

Many complained that they had not followed a more usual practice of sleeping out of doors,  when there were earth tremors, as they had not received clear warnings.


The court case has raised a dilemma about such warnings, as it could impose pressure on authorities of all kinds to hold back on information generally, let alone trying to give out clear and unequivocal information.

“Obviously seismologists are going to be very careful about what they say in public, as they have been happening in places like Christchurch and  Tohoku Japan, where these things happened; seismologists are going to be thinking about keeping quiet, or talking to lawyers or something like that, and I think that is really unfortunate”, said the geophysicist, Professor Paul Somerville (picture) on Australia radio.

somerville-paul.jpgThe Deputy Director of Risk Frontiers, the natural hazards research centre at Macquarie University in Sydney, he said that was the case, despite shortcomings in the way the reporting was done at L’Aquila.

“Science is all about the predictive power of theories and if they are not allowed to test the predictive e power of theories it may inhibit what scientists are able to say about things that might occur in the future”, he said.

Brigades of researchers were lining up to agree.

COMMENT: Short of outright negligence, folks asleep on the job; if we intimidate, and so shut down warning services based on technology, we get back to how they might have handled it with those Middle Ages earthquakes, and slightly later  in L’Aquila: as the universe rotates around the Earth, slaughter a chook and burn the feathers; see if the rats are running away, dogs barking, skies looking a bit sinister, the trees losing their leaves …

See also, EUAustralia Online: “L’Aquila: searches and burials”, 12.4.09; “Tragedy and bespoiled beauty – l’Aquila”, 7.4.12.


ABC Science Show, Sydney, Robin Williams (editor), Paul Somerville, “Scientists jailed for six years for underestimating earthquake”, 27.10.12., (29.10.12).

Tom Kington, “Italian scientist convicted over L’Aquila earthquake condemns ‘medieval’ court”, The Guardian, Manchester, 23.10.12., (29.10.12).

Alberto Sisto, “Italian scientists convicted over earthquake warning”, Reuters, London, 22.10.12., (29.10.12).