Scientific Illiteracy: Why The Italian Earthquake Verdict is Even Worse Than it Seems

The wrongful conviction of Italian seismologists is one more result of a failure to understand the fundamentals of science

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Guardia Forestale Handout / AP

An aerial view of the destruction in the city of L'Aquila, central Italy, April 6, 2009.

Yesterday was a very good day for stupid — better than any it’s had in a while. Stupid gets fewer good days in the 21st century than it used to get, but it enjoyed a great ride for a long time — back in the day when there were witches to burn and demons to exorcise and astronomers to put on trial for saying that the Earth orbits around the sun.

But yesterday was a reminder of stupid’s golden era, when an Italian court sentenced six scientists and a government official to six years in prison on manslaughter charges, for failing to predict a 2009 earthquake that killed 300 people in the town of l’Aquila. The defendants are also required to pay €7.8 million ($10 million) in damages. “I’m dejected, despairing,” said one of the scientists, Enzo Boschi, in a statement to Italian media. “I still don’t understand what I’m accused of.”

As well he shouldn’t. The official charge brought against the researchers, who were members of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), was based on a meeting they had in the week leading up to the quake, at which they discussed the possible significance of recent seismic rumblings that had been detected  in the vicinity of l’Aquila. They concluded that it was “unlikely,” though not impossible, that a serious quake would occur there and thus did not order the evacuation of the town. This was both sound science and smart policy.

(More: Earthquake Damage: Are Bad Maps to Blame?)

The earthquake division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the world is shaken by several million earthquakes each year, most of which escape notice either because they are too small or are in remote areas that are poorly monitored. An average of 50 earthquakes do manage to register on global seismographs every day, or about 18,000 annually. The overwhelming majority do not lead to major quakes and the technology does not exist to determine which ones will. The best earthquake forecasters can do is apply their knowledge and experience to each case, knowing that you can’t evacuate 50 towns or cities every day — and knowing too that sometimes you will unavoidably, even tragically, be wrong.

“If scientists can be held personally and legally responsible for situations where predictions don’t pan out, then it will be very hard to find scientists to stick their necks out in the future,” said David Oglesby, an associate professor on the earth sciences faculty of the University of California, Riverside, according to CNN.com.

The Italian seismologists are appealing their sentences and the global outcry over the wrong-headedness of the ruling will likely weigh in their favor. But whatever the outcome of their case, they’re really just the most recent victims of  the larger, ongoing problem of scientific illiteracy.

(More: Earthquake Swarm Strikes California: 300 Quakes in a Single Day)

Just the day after the ruling came down, University of Michigan researchers released the latest results from the Generation X Report, a longitudinal study funded by the National Science Foundation that has been tracking the Gen X cohort since 1986. One of the smaller but more troubling data points in the new release was the finding that only 43% of Gen Xers (53% of males and 32% of females) can correctly identify a picture of a spiral galaxy — or know that we live in one.

Certainly, it’s possible to move successfully through life without that kind of knowledge. “Knowing your cosmic address is not a necessary job skill,” concedes study author Jon D. Miller of the University of Michigan, in a release accompanying the report. But not knowing it does suggest a certain lack of familiarity with the larger themes of the physical universe — and that has implications. It’s of a piece with the people who believe humans and dinosaurs co-existed, or the 50% of Americans who do not believe that human beings evolved from apes, or the 1 on 5 who, like Galileo’s inquisitors, don’t believe the Earth revolves around the sun.

(More: Washington Monument to Remain Closed Until 2014)

More troubling than these types of individual illiteracy are the larger, population-wide ones that have a direct impact on public policy. As my colleague Bryan Walsh observed, the issue of climate change received not a single mention in all three of this year’s presidential debates, and has barely been flicked at on the campaign trail. Part of that might simply be combat fatigue; we’ve been having the climate argument for 25 years. But the fact is there shouldn’t be any argument at all. Serious scientists who doubt that climate change is a real threat are down to just a handful of wild breeding pairs. But sowing doubt about the matter has been a thriving industry of conservatives for decades — most recently in the form of a faux scientific study published by the Cato Institute, that purports to debunk climate science as fatally flawed at best or a hoax at worst. Speaking of a federally funded and Congressionally mandated report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program that responsibly reviewed the state of climate science, the Cato publication argues:

It is immediately obvious that the intent of the report is not to provide a accurate [sic] scientific assessment of the current and future impacts of climate change in the United States, but to confuse the reader with a loose handling of normal climate [italics theirs]…presented as climate change events.

Well, no, but never mind. Our willingness to believe in junk science like this exacts a very real price — in an electorate that won’t demand action from its leaders on a matter of global significance; in parents who leave their babies unvaccinated because someone sent them a blog post fraudulently linking vaccines to autism; in young gays and lesbians forced to submit to “conversion therapy” to change the unchangeable; in a team of good Italian scientists who may spend six years in jail for failing to predict the unpredictable. No one can make us get smart about things we don’t want to get smart about. But every day we fail to do so is another good day for stupid — and another very bad one for all of us.

More: Massive Fishing Dock Washes Ashore in Oregon — 15 Months After Japanese Tsunami

79 comments
PapaFoote
PapaFoote

With "Patience", But "Persistence", - We Have Only Started Our "History of Humanity" - Be "Patient", But "Persistent"!

The Old Mountain Goat

pitou
pitou

With this story of scientists convicted of failing to predict an earthquake (!) and previous mediatic and legal circuses like the Costa Concordia event, one wonders if the International Court in the Hague should not investigate the Italian justice system. The West likes to meddle in internal affairs of certain countries (China, Cuba, North Korea, etc) but seems to close its eyes on what goes on in its own backyard. Italians are at the mercy of an unjust - dare I say it - even criminal justice system whos main drive is personal attacks on citizens, scientists, politicians, etc. Fingerpointing is what ignorant people do, not knowing anything else and not being actually interested in understanding and solving problems. Scapegoating satisfies cynics and incompetent people who enjoy the fact that others are being blamed for something. People are being imprisoned unjustly by a corrupt justice system, corrupt medias and governement. When will the international community take actions against the cartoonish justice system Italy has? People are being judged on television over there!

PapaFoote
PapaFoote

Some, "Take Them Off" - Some, "Don't"!

Let's See - as I "Remember" - back when "Somebody(s) Crowed" about "Waterloo", and for several years, the Conservative Right had only one thought - too "kill" our President Obama, one way or another!

Let's See - "Blinders" from the dictionary says:

"Something that prevents someone from gaining a full understanding of a situation - they will wear their cultural blinders to the grave"!

Some, "Take Them Off" - Some, "Don't"!

The Old Mountain Goat

ElBarcino
ElBarcino

I forgot to mention that contrary to what many people believe - the modern study of earthquakes and the propagation of elastic waves through the Earth is not based on abstract statistical data but on high performance computing, supercomputing and grid computing.

Supercomputers allow for 1:1 modeling and simulation of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology is house to one of the largest - with a peak performance of 2.1 Pflops - and fastest supercomputers in Europe and still they didn't manage to use the tools available to them..

It is also known that a moth earlier another scientist had correctly predicted that the earthquake was going to happen. When he started to raise awareness he was removed from his job and referred to authorities for - as they called it - spreading fear...a court injunction was issued forbidding him to warn others....still he managed to save his family and friends....

ElBarcino
ElBarcino

On the other hand many people seem not to understand that in science, a prediction, is a very rigorous quantitative, statement, forecasting what will happen under specific conditions - based on scientific data; for example if an apple falls from a tree it will be attracted towards the center of the earth by gravity with a specified constant acceleration thus can be predicted that at some point the apple will hit the ground....

It is safe to predict that the apple will hit the ground as a logical consequence of scientific theories, repeated experiments and observational studies...

Earthquakes by themselves rarely kill people. It is usually the secondary events that they trigger such as building collapses, fire, etc. that cause the human disaster. Human casualties can be avoided by early warning and evacuation planning.

The Italian scientists were not expected to foresee the future as card readers do - they were expected to assess the situation based on collected data and current events. Unfortunately they issued the wrong diagnosis, even worst - they chose to engage in politics or public relation misleading the populations and as consequence, the city was not evacuated and many people died.

I don't see a judgment of science as a whole here. I see a clear case of negligence and professional malpractice...

rose
rose

The more I go back reading this article, the more I can't help feeling  huge disappointment at the superficiality of its fact-finding research. This is no serious journalism. Sad to take notice that what I considered a highly reliable source is in fact not so. Not in this case. Mr. Kluger, in three months the motivations of the verdict will be published. Please have somebody have a look at them. At the same time, keep an eye on the parallel process to Mr. Bertolaso. After getting enough proper information, please come back and write your unbiased opinion, whatever that will be.  Don't just join the choir, since it is singing out of tune.

monsterkingkin
monsterkingkin

The Italian verdict isn't about scientific illiteracy; it is about total logical illiteracy. Just because the scientists had mentioned it was relatively safe to return home and the risk of a major earthquake was low, it didn't directly translate that earthquake wouldn't happen at all. Seismic activity is a phenomenon that can strike anywhere and anytime in the world. Historical frequency or pattern cannot guarantee history will repeat itself, just as scientists "predicted". I just don't know how someone can be responsible for deaths and destruction when they made their hypothesis base on their best ability on an unpredictable natural phenomenon. Or Italian judges just want scientists to tell everyone to sleep outside in fault zones regardless of risk level.

davidropeik
davidropeik

Jeffrey

You call it a good day for stupid, and then...one could say stupidly...miss the reality of what l'Aquila was really about. Yes, people were angry that the seismologists didn't predict the quake...but the only reason they were able to press that anger into a ludicrous legal vendetta was the lousy way the scientists communicated.  This is clear form the indictment itself, which holds the defendants to task for the inexact, confusing and contradictory way the scientist's communicated. It is also clear from the comments of Dr Vittorino, the head of the l"Aquila citizens group that pressed the case, who said people were angry not at the 'failed' prediction but at how unduly and innacurrately reassuring the communication from the scientists was. Even more, this case teaches lessons about the importance of scientists to communicate and not abdicate that role, as the communication on trial here came not from the scientists themselves but from a civil defense bureaucrat who chaired a meeting of scientists from the national Grand Risk commission, a bureaucrat essentially under orders from the national office to calm public fears. After the meeting the scientists left, and left the talking to this one fellow, who casually said things look 'favourable' and that the scientsts thought recenty tremors meant reduced risk. which was not what they had said. Only they had left town and didn't participate in the communicating.

That is what this trial was about, and...again, forgive me...your readers are left stupid given the way you have reported it. 

DaveRoss
DaveRoss

I would briefly comment on how misleading titles about this case might lead to misleading judgements.

Disinformation contributes to the age of the stupid. If sources would have been checked by journalists (Italian ones at the forefront!), it would be clear that the fact that led those Italian scientist to be convicted is not that they ‘failed to predict the earthquake’. Rather, it emerged that the High Risks Commission has spread contradictory and incomplete information to the local population which has led some families to remain at home, contrary to what they would have done if such information were not divulged.

If that is the case (in Italian criminal law the ascertaining of the facts can be appealed with new evidence), no ‘witch-hunting’ on scientists by the Italian judiciary has taken place. More simply, scientists bestowed with important responsibilities and powers need to use them with best care, as they are not above the law.

Finally, as an Italian lawyer, it has been appalling to read in international newspaper offensive and misleading attacks vs the Italian legal system.

wallman97
wallman97

50% of Americans who don't believe humans evolved from apes?  Those 50% would be correct by according to scientists.  The science is that both humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor species NOT that we started as apes and became human.  It's a common misconception.  

What's more disturbing is that the other 50% who do believe we evolved from apes when no one (not the scientists and certainly not the creationists) is claiming that.  

VascoNapoleo
VascoNapoleo

The problem seem to be the politicians who just don't want to tell bad news. I remember the movie JAWS with the town officials downplaying the existence of a shark and it is like that in real life. Politicians just don't want to give bad news and they will always try to spin it. But this doesn't mean that I think they should be on trial, they should just shut up and make the sure the emergency services are  prepared and have the proper funding to deal with a possible event. They should also make sure also that people know how they should react in case of an earthquake.  

MartaD.
MartaD.

Dear all,

I am a former resident of the city of L'Aquila (born nearby, lived there 6 years for university and work, had just moved back home when the quake happened) so I can tell you this. In L'Aquila EVERYBODY was scared to death. No pun intended. There had been quakes for 3 months, some up to 4 on the richter scale. Many were already sleeping in cars. The problem is, you may not know this, but winters in L'Aquila are rigid to say the least. -10 is the normal temperature at night. So sleeping in cars was not really the most comfy solution. Those who had the chance went back home, say students. If only 8 people died in the students' residence was because many residents had left, since Easter was around the corner. People with a job to go to, they could not go anywhere. So they stayed. And died.The problem, in all this, is that had they been told honestly: 'Sorry folks, we cannot predict earthquakes but still you should be alert', maybe the people wuold have presided the municipality demanding that buildings were checked and secured. Because where I was born, if you are not sure if something will happen, you are not sure that something won't happen either. And remember that the people there were psychologically drained. They wanted to believe everything was ok. By reassuring the population they just complied with the politicians. There is no money to go and check everybody's home, and say we find buildings which are not at norm, what do we do? We send them to a hotel? There's not money for that either. (About that, I'd like to point out that most of the hotels which hosted the inhabitants of L'Aquila after the quake faced the sad destiny of having to close down because nobody paid them and they had no cash income from turists since all the rooms were taken...)

So I guess the point is, if you decide you want to pursue science, be a scientist and say things how they are.

See now what the problem is?

sciteacher1
sciteacher1

Will this be followed by meteorologists being fined and imprisoned for not accurately predicting hurricane landings?  Folks will die if predictions say hurricanes will not come ashore in an area but then do.  Businesses lose profits when forecasters recommend evacuations, even when the hurricanes do not come ashore.  Too many lawyers and politicians, not enough scientists!!!

MassimoFerrario
MassimoFerrario

While I think that the verdict is completey wrong, it's important to note that its also wrong so write - as the article author does - that the Italian scientists where convicted  "for failing to predict a 2009 earthquake that killed 300 people in the town of l’Aquila".

I thnk that Nicola Nosengo statement on Nature (see http://www.nature.com/news/italian-court-finds-seismologists-guilty-of-manslaughter-1.11640) gives a better description of the Italian courte sentence:  "The prosecutor thus indicted all seven members of the panel for manslaughter, reasoning that their “inadequate” risk assessment had led to scientifically incorrect messages being given to the public, which contributed to a higher death count"

VincentLovece
VincentLovece

Well, this is embarrassing for Italy. While the Church has improved since Galileo, the secular Italian state sure hasn't.

rose
rose

Mr. Kluger's comment is missing to point out a key element of this process: the link between science and politics. The scientific meeting which took place in L'Aquila was, in fact, not scientific at all. The scientists did not meet to make the point of the situation. The outcome was decided in advance by politics, as from wiretappings of Mr. Bertolaso - former Head of Italy's Civil Protection- http://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2012/10/25/news/terremoto_aquila_intercettazioni-45259736/?ref=HRER1-1 and http://inchieste.repubblica.it/it/repubblica/rep-it/2012/01/18/news/il_terremoto_negato-28369392/?ref=HRER1-1. He clearly says that the meeting sole purpose is a mediatic operation, and that the truth will not be said. 

The real debate around the world should now be about HOW INDEPENDENT SCIENCE IS? and I am wondering why instead the press is actually avoiding the discussion and MISINFORMING.

ElBarcino
ElBarcino

@Jeffrey Kluger

This is a very strange article....highly misleading to say the least.

For me what happened in Italy is a clear case of negligence - scientific negligence. Compare scientific negligence with Galileo Galilei calling illiterates those who found the so called 'scientists' liable for a wrong diagnosis that caused lost of 300 lives is what I call ignorance....

breindrein
breindrein

So the scientists should just sit back, give out a global extinction-level-event earthquake warning every day without even looking at info and be safe. I can do that job. No actual scientific work required. How about they also send the builders to jail for manslaughter because buildings collapsed? The scientists didnt kill the people, the building contractors did.

Brian.Daurelle
Brian.Daurelle

It's funny that someone, writing an article about scientific illiteracy, would include such a gem as '...that human beings evolved from apes.'  Not only is this the thing that creationists like most to point to as an example of how riduculous they think evolution is, it also happens to be flat wrong.  Apes are just as evolved as we are, just along a divergent evolutionary path.  We certainly did not evolve from apes, nor or from fish or any other modern creature.  If you're truly well-versed in evolution. you should know to say that 'humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor', or perhaps even 'ape-like ancestor'.  But to simply put out there that people should of course know that humans evolved from apes is to open the door to people like Mr. Jonathan Martin here, who thinks that Lucy is either fully human or fully ape (while she is, in fact, equally neither) and that DNA decay-dating is an accurate measuring stick for the age of the earth.  The point is, in an article lambasting other people for scientific illiteracy, take care to avoid such blatant errors that enable the truly illiterate to persist in their ignorance. 

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

"It’s of a piece with the people who believe humans and dinosaursco-existed, or the 50% of Americans who do not believe that human beingsevolved from apes" 

No, that's called knowing the other half of the story that isn't taught in school, like the fact that the "missing links" between humans and apes are actually either fully human or fully ape, or the fact that by most dating methods, including C-14, Helium diffusion, as well as rates of DNA decay in fossils, the earth is very young.

Martian_14
Martian_14

This is sloppy science at work. Those scientist must have been consultants for Prometheus, the film....

Sadly, they did something stupid, too. A guy with a PhD and years of experience can and domake mistakes...

If they were that smart they should have kept their mouth shut, and admit their inability to predict squat. They should have been honest and admit they did not know squat about predicting earthquakes. Instead they were too condescending and reassuring,  they played with statistics. But, they forgot that statistics and nature are bitches, when you least expect they bite, maim and  hurt us...

akpat
akpat

This type of science is based on the probability of something happening. If the models suggest a good probability say 95% certainty that something will not occur then these are good odds and so go home to sleep. Unfortunately sometimes the 5% happens, however one cannot go through life thinking the worst all the time otherwise you might as well just abandon the village for another more stable site.

That of course would also be wrong and put these people into the cry wolf domain.

The court in Italy has come to a particularly stupid conclusion on this.

SrihariYamanoor
SrihariYamanoor

Stupid has fewer days in the 21st century? Did you tune out the GOP or what?

sumitron_2k@hotmail.com
sumitron_2k@hotmail.com

lol talibanization of law in italy...this ruling is a pity. If this is a start to what might happen in future the weather networks would b sued, most of the results provided would be taking the worst case scenario..(So earthquake tomorow yes, typhoon in florida should we evacuate in seattle..yes, simply stupid judge and law system in italy.. they should stick to desiging  - car, fashion..law doesnt seem to be their game 

dbmoran
dbmoran

This article shows the _reporter's_ illiteracy. The scientists were not charged with failing to predict the quake. Rather they were charged with essentially predicting that there would be no quake. Furthermore, part of the evidence at the trial was a recording of the Commission meeting which indicated that the scientists saw their role as providing reassurance to the population, rather than providing the risk assessment that their job called for. When the defenders of the scientists have to so egregiously misrepresent what the charges actually were, that is a strong indication that they know the conduct was indefensible.

Because the Commission issued a statement that there was "no danger" of a quake, people who had evacuated returned to houses that collapsed killing them. Others who had been taking other precautions stopped doing so. The scientists' defense was that the official public statement was a (slight) exaggeration of what they actually said -- their recommendation contained the boiler-plate disclaimer that it wasn't a total impossibility for a quake to occur. However, not only did they fail to correct the public statement, the reporting of this issue states that they gave media interviews reinforcing  the "no danger" message.

Remember that these scientists were an official commission whose job was to provide a risk assessment to the government and the people. The defense that "earthquakes are impossible to predict" is disingenuous because it presume that there is no ground between total unpredictability and perfect predictability. At the core of science is dealing with imperfect knowledge, and many fields of science routinely deal with probabilities, confidence intervals, false positives/negatives,... that are all normal components of a risk assessment (I am a PhD in one such field). The accounts I have seen show no indication that the scientists in question made even a minimal attempt to do this. I have not seen anything to indicate that they weren't grossly negligent in performing their job.

MassimoFerrario
MassimoFerrario

@ElBarcino: as far as I know, the person who 'predicted' the earthquake was not a scientist - he is a technician and probably no scientific publications on his curriculum - but, more important, said that the earthquake could strike the city of Sulmona, which is rather far from l'Aquila. 

DaveRoss
DaveRoss

@ElBarcino I guess you are talking about Giampaolo Giuliani. On youtube there are many independent interviews about him.

DaveRoss
DaveRoss

@monsterkingkin Read the comment below by davidropeik. It kind of counters and answers your opinion already.

WalterSteveFreeman
WalterSteveFreeman

@MartaD.

It's terrible that such disasters occur in such historic and beautiful cities as L'Aquila but they do. And the memory of the loss of life is a great burden.  But we must really examine the facts of this beautiful city.  In researching this area of  Italy it was easy to determine the history and consequences of seismic activity there. Surely the residents were painfully aware that there had been hundreds of years of serious damage to the town by repeated earthquakes. Surely the residents knew that the city was
partially constructed on unstable ground that was subject to accelerated movement in a earthquake.  Surely they knew already that many of those beautiful medieval buildings were so constructed as to be easily destroyed.  Surely the residents had to know the those buildings that had not been destroyed in prior incidents, were weakened by hidden damage.  Surely they did not believe that it was possible to predict that a earthquake could NOT occur or that the government or the panel had some magic knowledge.

No, none of that knowledge was lost.  Somehow all that real knowledge was overturned.  Why was that? You have hit it when you said: "They wanted to believe that everything was OK."  and in that wanting they willingly ceded the basic responsibility for their lives and those of their children with tragic consequences.  But it is so very hard to look yourself in the mirror and say: "I did this to myself.  I am the one responsible".  

And so we seek to diffuse the guilt to others.

rose
rose

@VincentLovece 

It is pretty the opposite! The judge in L'Aquila is actually defending true and independent science. This is what should have happened in L'Aquila but unfortunately didn't. Please read my comment below. The wiretapping are unfortunately  in Italian,  but you can google-translate the writing in brackets in the articles.

Rose

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

@Brian.Daurelle If you want to split hairs, you are technically correct.  The point, however, is that during the era of the split, the creatures from which we evolved would have been classified TODAY as "apes" - hairy, non-human hominid animals whose evolutionary path would eventually lead to US.

Please don't muddy the waters by picking nits here.  The point isn't being painstakingly scientifically specific.  The point is showing how scientific literacy in America puts us at or below the level of most third world countries.

bjadter
bjadter

@JonathanMartin What I find particularly unsettling is that Kluger would lump in easily observable scientific phenomena, such as "the Earth revolves around the sun" with theories (evolution and non-coexistance) that have such incredible holes in them.  Not saying those theories can be proven wrong, but they certainly can't be proven right, unlike the spacial rotation of the planet!

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@JonathanMartin 

Im sure you can name some scientists that believe in your set of fairy tales... and all of your examples are fundamentalist christian twits to boot.

However you can name not one scientist whom is accepted by his peers and community at large as legitimate... You can blame it upon conspiracy but that isnt how science works,,, If a scientist dug up valid proof(s) of creationism science would be forced to accept that. BECAUSE THAT IS HOW SCIENCE WORKS.

If the evidence is valid science MUST accept it... your problem is that the evidence is so invalid and just plain stupid only gits like you whom are desperate to believe in ancient fairy tales can believe them.

The Universe is so damn amazing by itself that one can be in such awe of it that no Gods are required.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@JonathanMartin 

HAHAHAHAHAHA

Holy crap a young earther!

How is it that you take a 3000 year old book written by and meant for fellow goat herders and then close your eyes and wish really really hard that science favors the bible rather than debunks it so completely that one could write a book twice as thick as the bible simply stating all the evidence that goes against the bible as to shoot it full of holes left and right?

Science debunks to snot out of religion but your dirty little secret is that a world without a petty God watching you terrifies you.... and the idea that there is no after life terrifies you most of all. So you cling and cling to your silly ignorance of reality.

The only other explanation is that you suffer from a tragic condition by which your brain was replaced by butterscotch pudding.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

@JonathanMartin Once again, scientific illiteracy raises its ugly head in the form of a post from JonathanMartin...

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

@Martian_14 Yes, but should they be prosecuted for it?  Again, the point isn't that they were wrong.  The point is that they were punished for being wrong.  One doesn't NECESSARILY punish someone for being wrong.  One rewards those who are right.  In science, people are more often wrong than right, but if one punishes people for being wrong in science, they'll stop looking for answers to the questions we have about our lives.

Like Galileo and the Inquisition, although he wasn't wrong, he was punished for contradicting the "prevailing knowledge".  It didn't stop him from being right, either.  But science CAN be stopped if we take our scientists and punish them for being wrong.  Arrogance isn't actionable and even if they WERE arrogant, they were NOT wrong.  They spoke according to the prevailing level of scientific knowledge.  The level of knowledge was was inadequate to make the prediction. 

Hindsight is 20/20.  Had nothing happened, nothing would have happened. It's way too easy to condemn people in retrospect for their lack of knowledge.  Earthquake prediction is an inexact science.  It's like holding a weatherman for predicting a "light dusting of snow" and ending up with more than a foot that paralyzes a city.  Do you prosecute the weatherman for being "wrong"?

After this sentence, you could.  Holding scientists accountable before the law for being wrong on occasion would mean no weather person will tell you what the weather tomorrow will likely be.  You'll never hear about any earthquake possibilities.  You'll never be evacuated when the possibility of a volcano erupting is high, but not absolutely certain.  You'll never be evacuated when a hurricane approaches until it's too late because the exact landfall can't be determined early enough to be SURE.

So if you think this is just about arrogance, you are amazingly, SADLY, tragically mistaken.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@dbmoran Im calling you out to provide a picture of said PhD because i doubt you have a bachelors.

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@dbmoran Nice try, but one of the things that you are ignoring is that earthquakes are impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy as to time, strength and location (both latitude and longitude, as well as depth).  It also ignores the fact that every part of this planet can be struck by an earthquake at any time.  The strongest earthquake to strike continental North America within recorded history had it's epicenter in Missouri.  That's not an area that most people would feel is earthquake-prone.

The long and the sort of it is that it is impossible, given our current state of knowledge, to predict any of the particulars of an earthquake.  In fact, even the first indicators of the strength of any given temblor (the Richter scale) doesn't always give an accurate indication of the strength of that temblor.   With that in mind, how can anyone possible be held accountable, let alone criminally or even civilly liable, for the failure to predict an earthquake.

The science needed to understand this concept is pretty basic, and the fact that so many people here think otherwise, and in particular the fact that an Italian court felt otherwise, is ludicrous.

billybob2.0
billybob2.0

@dbmoran You claim that the scientists were charged with "predicting that there would be no quake." This is wrong. They were charged with manslaughter, implying that their direct actions caused those people to die. That is like you going for a drive and getting killed by a drunk driver, and me going to jail because I told you there is a statistically small chance of that happening, so you'll probably be okay. Most people would agree the driver should be the one to go to jail. Obviously you can't put an earthquake in jail, so I think this is a case of looking for someone to blame for a disaster that was outside of anyone's control.

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

There are over 700 fully credentialed scientists in the USA who are sympathetic to YEC.

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

Go ahead and try to answer just the three actually facts I posted instead of avoiding science

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

Once again scientific illiteracy raises its ugly head with hauty comments void of substance

ElBarcino
ElBarcino

@Fatesrider @Martian_14 

 Yes the sould be prosecuted for it, It's called negligenge and wrong diagnose....and if your wrong assessment leads to property damage or harm to others, chances are that you make yourself liable and be held accountable for your decisions and actions (or inaction)....In this case 300 people died.....

SmallSpeakHouse
SmallSpeakHouse

@billybob2.0 @dbmoran I can see where dbmoran was coming from here. From another article, it was stated that the scientists gave the public their assurance that a large quake was impossible, which allegedly brought people's alert levels down despite numerous small earthquakes in the area. The manslaughter charge comes from the contention that had the people not been reassured, the people would have brought it upon themselves to evacuate the area (something the people of the area were debating at the time). As such, the point of contention in the trial was not whether the scientists could have predicted the quake but whether they should or should not have downplayed the risk.

That being said, I do agree that what the scientists did should be up for discussion among experts in the field, for the sake of disaster preparedness. But to bring it to the level of the courts, I think, doesn't help anyone at all.

skyguynick
skyguynick

@JonathanMartin As a physicist, you would think Hartnett would know better.

If it was not for the tens of thousands of other scientists - from geneticists, to chemists, to particle physicists and cosmologists working both inside and outside of the United States - 700 American biblical literalists with doctorates might seem like an interesting number.

The Catholic Church embraced the Big Bang model as well as the mountains of proof gathered over the last 300 years that the Earth is not the centre of creation and nor is it it only thousands of years old.  If the Popes since Pius XII can accept it, I do not know why it is so hard for others to do so.

I do thank you, however, for getting me to peruse through the more recent biblical literalist "science" (well, things that purport to be science anyway...) materials on the Web.  I now have a sense of what it must be like to walk through the mind of someone with a Ph.D. on a bad 'acid' trip.  A surreal and wonderful place full of facts, half-truths and fantasy existing in a vast paranoid landscape.  (Relativistic time dilation effects supporting the biblical flood story?  Seriously???)

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

Actually, I was wrong. There are 700 fully accredited earth and life scientists in the USA who are sympathetic to YEC, uncluding notable John Sanford, cornell univerisity professor, as well as John Hartnett, who was announced as the winner of the 2010 W.G. Cady award byIEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control Society.The W.G. Cady Award recognizes outstanding contributions in the fields of piezoelectricor other classical frequency control, selection and measurement and resonant sensordevices.The citation reads: “for the construction of ultra-stable cryogenic sapphiredielectric resonator oscillators and promotion of their applications in the fieldsof frequency metrology and radio-astronomy.”

skyguynick
skyguynick

@JonathanMartin Sure... Why not.  I will take a spin.

Re. The Accuracy of Radiometric Dating:Dating an ancient ash layer in Canada's province of Saskatchewan. (Baadsgaard, et al., 1993)

-Potassium/argon method gave an age of 72.5 plus or minus 0.2 million years ago (mya); possible error of 0.27%; Dating range 100,000 to >4.5 billion yrs-Uranium/lead method gave an age of 72.4 plus or minus 0.4 mya; possible error of 0.55%;; Dating range 10 million to >4.5 billion yrs-Rubidium/strontium method gave an age of 72.54 plus or minus 0.18 mya; possible error of 0.25%; 10 million to >4.5 billion yrs

Three different methods produced consistent dates. In other words, radiometric dating is reliable (and so quantum mechanics does not need to be rebuilt from scratch.)

Re. Helium Diffusion:

I found it hard to find any references about it and the assertion of a young Earth outside of Biblical literalist creation Web sites. Answers in genesis... The Discovery Institute... Institute for Creation Research (ICR), et cetera. Interestingly, I found one creationist Web site (Old Earth Ministries) that did, however, the writers could not find any studies published in recognized scientific journals. If you could provide me with several links to studies or papers from recognized *non* religiously affiliated organizations I would appreciate it..

DNA mutation rates as molecular clocks:

What I found indicated that there is no universal 'standard' molecular clock. Variables such as body mass, normal temperature and the life span of a particular species affect the rates of genetic mutations. There are inconsistencies between derived dates from molecular mutation and dates derived from other dating techniques. The amounts differ by roughly 4 to 20 times, but nowhere near the three orders of magnitude necessary for a young Earth.

http://www.pnas.org/content/102/1/140.shorthttp://www.springerlink.com/content/y7j0787m21614601/

Re. DNA Decay in fossils:The results of a new paper published earlier this month indicate that DNA decays in fossils nearly 400 times more slowly that previously thought. But not surprisingly I suppose, an article posted yesterday on the ICR's Web site claims the exact opposite. i.e. DNA decays 400 time faster.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23055061http://media.murdoch.edu.au/mystery-of-dna-decay-unravelled

RevaPearlston
RevaPearlston

@ElBarcino @Fatesrider @Martian_14  And they died because, with our current knowledge base,  THERE IS NO WAY TO PREDICT AN EARTHQUAKE.

Italy is a part of what's called the "ring of fire".  It's a way to describe the earthquake-prone portions of the planet.  Every Italian knows this.  Every Italian knows that they live in a seismically-active area of the world.  That means that every Italian knows an earthquake, of any magnitude  can strike at any time.  

AKA, not only is the verdict a sham, so were the charges.  The sad thing here is that you understand this just as poorly as did the Italian jury.

dbmoran
dbmoran

@SmallSpeakHouse @billybob2.0 @dbmoran The final paragraph misses the distinction between scientific research and the application of scientific knowledge, the latter being the subject of the trial. The position taken in that paragraph is analogous to (falsely) claiming that because medical research is ongoing, no medical doctor could possibly be guilty of medical malpractice, much less manslaughter (do a web search if you want more info).  Similarly in construction--for example, my nephew is a fire protection engineer/scientist, doing both research and designing systems that lives will depend upon.