Friday, September 23, 2011

Scientists facing charges after failing to predict earthquake

How would you like to be put on trial because your prediction was wrong?

Six scientists and a former government official find themselves on trial in Italy charged with manslaughter because they failed to predict an earthquake in L'Aquila in 2009. Prosecutors allege the defendants made a "falsely reassuring statement" that there was no danger of a large earthquake after a series of small tremors.

The seven individuals were members of the Serious Risks Commission that was formed after the region had been hit with hundreds of minor tremors in the months leading up to the deadly earthquake. The commission included a physicist, a geophysicist and two scientists who specialized in studying earthquakes.

The prosecution is the most absurd example I've come across of a society's need to blame someone when a tragic event occurs. No one could have predicted that the earthquake would strike when it did. With months and months of seismic activity, there was no way to make a prediction as to what day the big one would hit.
"Detailed scientific research has told us that each earthquake displays almost unique characteristics, preceded by foreshocks or small tremors, whereas others occur without warning. There simply are no rules to utilise in order to predict earthquakes." -- Dr Dan Faulkner, senior lecturer in rock mechanics at the University of Liverpool.
Early warning systems in Taiwan, Japan and Mexico may only be able to provide about 30 seconds notice of an earthquake - hardly time to do anything other than brace oneself.

It's bad enough when federal prosecutors in this country charge men and women with crimes for conduct that isn't in the least bit criminal, it's preposterous to threaten someone with jail because they were unable to predict a natural occurrence.

Does this mean the local weatherman could be sued because he failed to predict the severity of this year's drought in Texas?

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