Scientists As Gods

The culture of scientist worship comes at a very high price.

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L’Aquila.

A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.

Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes.

The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people.

Many smaller tremors had rattled the area in the months before the quake that destroyed much of the historic centre.

It took Judge Marco Billi slightly more than four hours to reach the verdict in the trial, which had begun in September 2011.

Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence. As convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeal in Italy, it is unlikely any of the defendants will immediately face prison.

BBC News – L’Aquila quake: Italy scientists guilty of manslaughter

Demagogues like James Hansen and Michael Mann, who consistently and wildly overstate their understanding of science, cause many people to believe that scientists actually know what they are talking about.

No one can predict specific earthquakes, just as no one can predict the climate. Mankind is returning to the dark ages in believing that humans control natural events much larger than us.

h/t to Lance

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19 Responses to Scientists As Gods

  1. kbray in california says:

    21st century witch trials.

  2. tckev says:

    Could we lobby for the next IPCC meeting to be held in Italy?

  3. I looked into this issue a while ago and I have mixed feelings about this. However, it’s not unreasonable to expect a scientist to be held to the same standard as a business person, engineer or professional advisor in finance or any other field. Looking at the original statements they made, it seemed to me that they should not have claimed certainty that they did not possess. It’s not as if earth quake prediction is something that can actually be done with any degree of reasonable accuracy. (Or for that matter, any degree of accuracy.)

    • If a geologist warned of high earthquake danger and an earthquake didn’t happen, they would also suffer serious consequences. Either way they are screwed.

      Prosecuting them is a sure way to make sure no one goes into science.

      • No it’s not that bad. You cover your arse by admitting you don’t know/can’t be sure. The problem with that approach is that you loose your status as an ‘oracle’ of the science… You also risk funding if you’re no longer held in the high level of esteem you wish to be held in. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to admit uncertainty if lives, property, etc., are at risk.

      • tckev says:

        Apparently (in later BBC reports) the information given to the Italian public was not from only the scientist but from their quasi-government functionary acting as a spokesperson who was trying to calm pubic alarm after the earlier minor quakes. All were accused of having provided “inexact, incomplete and contradictory” information about the danger of the tremors felt ahead of 6 April 2009 quake, Italian media report.
        So it seems that scientist, that let their spokesperson mis-explain to the public, will get locked up. Now that’s an even more interesting idea.
        and the links therein.

      • I think there is more to it than that. At least one of the researchers made some statements he definitely shouldn’t have made about there being nothing to worry about. The speculation is that one group of researchers got into a pissing contest with Gioacchino Giuliani, who predicted a large quake. The group of authorities that got themselves into trouble may have been trying to discredit Giuliani’s forecast because they felt *they* were the experts on this and he wasn’t.

      • Steve, lots of groups in our Western societies get special dispensation for their actions; such as politicians, climate scientists, certain minority groups, software developers…

  4. “When we asked officials why this information was not released with the forecast, they told us they were worried that if information about uncertainties was known then the public would lose confidence in the forecasts.”

    – In response to the North Dakota flood devastation, when asked about the accuracy of their forecasting techniques.

    Click to access 2011.36.pdf

    • I agree, Will. The local population’s habitual response to a sequence of minor tremors has always been to vacate the old buildings as a precaution. It was the totally negligent statements of the scientists, telling them there was absolutely nothing to worry about, that induced them to act otherwise. This is a totally different context to a generalised discussion as to whether a sequence of small tremors may, or may not, lead to a larger quake.

      They made their statements with a clear intention that the villagers should act on their advice. In this case the action they called for was to take no action, which, in law, is the same thing. The science community has been acting entirely outside community standards of responsibility for way too long and this is a very welcome development for the long term health of science itself.

  5. Edward. says:

    Who said Italy had come out of the mediaeval?

    Anyone, with even a rudimentary understanding of seismology and geology, would know – you can’t predict earthquakes.
    This is pure and simple scapegoating, Italian authorities trawling around had to blame someone – this is the trend not only in Italy – it is prevalent around the EU.
    Global warming, has little or no empirical basis in science – we can point out that; CAGW is a fiction created by politicians, corporate multinationals, profiteering bankers, Greenpeace eco-loons etc with an agenda.
    A massive ponzi scam, whether it be to kill off; coal mining and with it the fossil fuel industry, a north to south redistribution of wealth or just to impoverish the ‘evil’ West. Indeed, anyone who calls out this fraud is smeared as a denier, or, a flat-earther and likened to worse – and now it even courts the attention of the Witch Finder Generals in the EU politburo – the authorities in Italy are just obeying orders.

  6. jabali316 says:

    This is outrageous. Apparently the judge is not familiar with the quaint concept of innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

    If the verdicts are upheld on appeal, then the future members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks will be making lots of Type 2 errors. Whenever a minor temblor makes someone’s coffee cup rattle, they’ll issue a warning for a major earthquake.

    At first, people will be PO’d about all of the false alarms. Then they’ll ignore them completely. And that will be equivalent to having no Commission at all.

    Where did this judge get his law degree: In a Crackerjack box?

    Larry Fields

  7. leftinbrooklyn says:

    But these scientists are merely accomplices. God the real criminal here. Charges must be brought against him.

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