Scientists around the world today condemned an Italian court’s decision to convict six scientists on manslaughter charges for failing to predict an earthquake that devastated the city of L’Aquila in 2009.
Seismologists slammed the “ridiculous” trial as there is no reliable way to predict earthquakes.
But the court in L’Aquila jailed the scientists and a government official for six years, ruling that they didn’t accurately communicate the risk of the 2009 earthquake that killed more than 300 people.
The trial centred on a meeting a week before the 6.3-magnitude quake struck.
The experts had determined that a major quake was “unlikely” but not impossible.
Prosecutors said the defendants provided “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers” facing L’Aquila.
The court agreed, convicting the six scientists from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and a member of the Civil Protection Agency.
It also told the government to pay £6.3 million in damages.
But scientists worldwide were aghast at the decision because earthquakes are still impossible to predict with any kind of accuracy.
“To predict a large quake on the basis of a relatively commonplace sequence of small earthquakes and to advise the local population to flee” would be “both bad science and bad public policy,” said Professor David Oglesby of the earth sciences faculty at the University of California.
British Geological Survey seismic hazard chief Roger Musson agreed.
“It’s chilling that people can be jailed for giving a scientific opinion,” he said.
Among those convicted were some of Italy’s most well-known and internationally respected geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
“I’m dejected, despairing. I still don’t understand what I’m accused of,” Mr Boschi said.
But relatives of some people killed in the quake said justice had been done.
Ilaria Carosi, whose sister died, said that officials must be held responsible “for taking their job lightly.
This article originally appeared in Britain’s Morning Star newspaper.