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:
Gian Michele Calvi
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.