There has been a lot banded round in the press recently about the L'Aquila trial and the manslaughter charges of 6 years which have been passed on to the scientists involved:

Franco Barberi
Enzo Boschi
Giulio Selvaggi
Gian Michele Calvi
Claudio Eva
Mauro Dolce
Bernado De Bernardinis

I am not going to go into the in's and out's of the trials, good summaries can be had on the BBC website and from other sources. I am not a lawyer or judge, but a scientist, therefore my knowledge of the law and how it works is very sketchy.  

I want to say a couple of things about the possible global implications of this decision. Lets take a hypothetical example from the UK, perhaps the Environmental Agency 'falsely reassures' a neighbourhood about the risk of a flood and the flood actually ends up occurring or a tv meteorologist plays down the effects of a blizzard. From the events in Italy, someone could now say, well, they were prosecuted and imprisoned in Italy, why not here?

Will this mean in the future, any event such as this will be met with a more severe warning? What if nothing happens? What if there are several warnings and nothing happens? People will start to get complacent and the job of scientists will get more difficult. 

Science is based upon the interpretation of data or information that they believe to be correct and on theories that are currently believed to be the best available. Scientists on the whole, will act to the best of their ability to try and prevent any harm coming to a population. Lets take another example: Mt. Vesuvius, a dormant volcano with the large population of Naples nearby. Volcanologists think that it may erupt so they issue advice to the authorities to evacuate. The evacuation turns out to be unnecessary, can the authorities prosecute volcanologists for damages or even imprison due to inaccurate information?

As you can see, this trial throws up several scientific dilemmas, which need to be addressed or we will see more controversial decisions such as this. Could this lead to less talented scientists in important decision making roles, or a reluctance to make a decision in fear of imprisonment?

To finish if any appeal is thrown out (or even if they are freed) the results of this trial will surely be felt globally throughout the scientific community and threatens the progress of science, particularly with respects to hazard prediction. 

I would like to finish with this message; free the seven, liberen a los siete, rilasciare il sette. 

If you feel strongly that the seven should not be charged with manslaughter please sign this petition.
 


Comments

Alex
03/11/2012 18:05

Tom, I am afraid you miss many parts of the story. It's not about "the interpretation of data or information that they believe to be correct and on theories that are currently believed to be the best available" but to second political goals putting your science in the pocket (with some fresh money). Who you name scientists accepted to meet just to give a scientific appearance to a pre-written communication set by politics for political reasons. They not even discussed the situation in the few minutes of the "meeting" and to not lose their prestigious positions in several institutions they did what scientist should never do: "Go home safe, nothing will happen". This time their superficiality costed too much, and the result of the trial will remind them in the future what they are supposed to be: scientists and not just the voice of the current power. Be sure that italian next levels of judgements will reduce their pain to just a little more than a slap in the face. There are many form of corruption and the written pages and recorded phone calls in this trial can explain very well the difference between science and what those people are, if only we spend enough time to read and hear it all.

Alex

Tom
06/11/2012 12:36

Alex,

Thanks for your interesting comment, it is clear that I don't have an entire grasp of the situation. I was trying to look at the situation from a purely scientific stand-point as that (I believe) will be the major point taken from the trial.

Tom

Kelly
06/11/2012 23:16

Yes, the scientists were in the wrong to portray a 'go home safe, nothing will happen' message and maybe they are part of currupt living, but surely to charge them for manslaughter is a harsh penalty when those deaths were caused by a natural phenomenon. I wonder how many deaths were caused by short-comings in the areas building regulations and mitigation measures for such events? Are those people responsible for constructing buildings without proper earthquake proofing also liable to manslaughter charges? What if the trialled scientists did say 'there may be the chance of an event, but there's no way to predict when and where exactly'... what could the public have done and what difference would there have been when it actually happened.. would it have saved any of the people from getting killed? I doubt it. I also, don't know the complete story, but agree with Tom and many others' opinion that this is an overreaction.

Alex
07/11/2012 00:00

@kelly to say that other also are guilty for what happened is correct and true but usually does not count on the single person responsibility in front of the law. I could find this petition an overreaction too and, i imagine, dictated by the fact to be part of the science community. Once that finally the italian justice put some bureaucrats (not scientists anymore) in front of their responsibility, moral and professional, we push to go back to the status quo of the "untouchables" or of "all guilty, nobody is guilty". I would agree with you and the petition in the general concept but not in this case, for those particular persons and in that moment of italian history.


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