Conviction of Italian quake scientists shocks Utah geologists

Oct 23, 2012 Full story: KSL-TV

A court battle over an Italian earthquake has sent shock waves rippling through scientific circles around the world, even rattling geologists in Utah.

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Born to be Free

Santa Rosa, Philippines

#1 Oct 29, 2012
As absurd as this case is, it sets no precedent outside of Italy and Italy, well, their court system is no worse now than it was 2000 years ago... Do people in places like Utah really thing that Google execs there will face prison time for users uploading videos you'd see on the average nightly news cast or that all proof would be thrown out the window to convict a girl from another country of a murder simply because Italy did these things so flagrantly? Face it, visit Italy at your own risk, live in Italy if you're nuts, work for Italy if you're a masochist.
SpaceBlues

Pasadena, TX

#2 Oct 30, 2012
You forgot Julian Assage.
Silica

Thailand

#3 Nov 4, 2012
Julian Bulman responded to this in Nature a couple of days ago, I have asked him for permission to post this elsewhere and he has agreed. I have to split this post due to its size.

Six scientists and one government official have been sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter, for making "falsely reassuring" comments before the 2009 L'Aquila, Italy earthquake.

Let that just sink in for a moment to reflect on the various repercussions this absolutely ridiculous, illogical and obnoxious ruling has on factual studies. Also view this ruling in context of knowing that the L’Aquila region of the Apennines is prone to many earthquakes as can be seen by Item 4 on this list.

As discussed throughout these lists, periodicity of earthquakes is a major branch of earthquake science and is used to offer an element of predicting when and where an earthquake may take place, but at no point does it offer to do this with any amount of precision or certainty.

Because of these historic studies and understanding the plate movements with ever greater detail we can to some extent say when an earthquake will likely hit and within what sort of time period. As an example with the Red Sea Rift under Jericho (see bonus item on the first list), we can say that there is a large earthquake on that rift every 100 years or so. So as time and therefore the build up of fault stress increases away from the last event the risk of another event occurring is increasing.

However what should be noted here is that these are 100 year events, so therefore the risk of an event and therefore the predictability of an event is 1 in 100 years.

In L’Aquila, itself on a periodicity of 100 years or so for major quakes, the area was hit by a small seismic swarm of various intensities and magnitudes (see the 1703 AD Apennine Earthquakes on this list), which while these swarms do sometimes show a large event may take place, they are more likely to show that an area calms back down and are not really warnings of a major earthquake. What one might ascertain from a swarm is that the risk of an event is getting higher to say 1/99 years, however even that is an extremely unlikely risk scenario as earthquake swarms show that a major quake or event is coming in perhaps less than 1 out of 100 swarms.

In L’Aquila this was explained to the general populace as the area has had several swarms over the last 50 years or so, usually in these swarms residents have slept in their cars or outside of their buildings, however because the media reported what the scientists and local government officials had stated, thus providing a “calming” effect, and in our era of receiving news from every possible source, many people chose to stay in their homes and of course a major quake struck and demolished those buildings already weakened by the preceding swarm leading to a loss of life.

Let’s make this absolutely clear this court case has not been about scientific ability to predict an earthquake it has been about their statements communicating the risk of an earthquake and apparently falsely reassuring the populace at large. You can lead a horse to water..........

That is what makes this case so obnoxious and ignorant; the risk is still 1 major quake every 100 years and none of the scientists convicted has said any different at any time yet they have been convicted of increasing the death toll of an entirely natural event by reassuring the public. The risk in living in these areas is every single persons who live there, they are aware of earthquakes, they were party to the swarms, they were party to the scientific analysis, therefore reasonably under logic it is your own risk to live in those areas.
Silica

Thailand

#4 Nov 4, 2012
Julian Bulman responded to this in Nature a couple of days ago, I have asked him for permission to post this elsewhere and he has agreed. I have to split this post due to its size.

Six scientists and one government official have been sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter, for making "falsely reassuring" comments before the 2009 L'Aquila, Italy earthquake.

Let that just sink in for a moment to reflect on the various repercussions this absolutely ridiculous, illogical and obnoxious ruling has on factual studies. Also view this ruling in context of knowing that the L’Aquila region of the Apennines is prone to many earthquakes as can be seen by Item 4 on this list.

As discussed throughout these lists, periodicity of earthquakes is a major branch of earthquake science and is used to offer an element of predicting when and where an earthquake may take place, but at no point does it offer to do this with any amount of precision or certainty.

Because of these historic studies and understanding the plate movements with ever greater detail we can to some extent say when an earthquake will likely hit and within what sort of time period. As an example with the Red Sea Rift under Jericho (see bonus item on the first list), we can say that there is a large earthquake on that rift every 100 years or so. So as time and therefore the build up of fault stress increases away from the last event the risk of another event occurring is increasing.

However what should be noted here is that these are 100 year events, so therefore the risk of an event and therefore the predictability of an event is 1 in 100 years.

In L’Aquila, itself on a periodicity of 100 years or so for major quakes, the area was hit by a small seismic swarm of various intensities and magnitudes (see the 1703 AD Apennine Earthquakes on this list), which while these swarms do sometimes show a large event may take place, they are more likely to show that an area calms back down and are not really warnings of a major earthquake. What one might ascertain from a swarm is that the risk of an event is getting higher to say 1/99 years, however even that is an extremely unlikely risk scenario as earthquake swarms show that a major quake or event is coming in perhaps less than 1 out of 100 swarms.

In L’Aquila this was explained to the general populace as the area has had several swarms over the last 50 years or so, usually in these swarms residents have slept in their cars or outside of their buildings, however because the media reported what the scientists and local government officials had stated, thus providing a “calming” effect, and in our era of receiving news from every possible source, many people chose to stay in their homes and of course a major quake struck and demolished those buildings already weakened by the preceding swarm leading to a loss of life.

Let’s make this absolutely clear this court case has not been about scientific ability to predict an earthquake it has been about their statements communicating the risk of an earthquake and apparently falsely reassuring the populace at large. You can lead a horse to water..........

That is what makes this case so obnoxious and ignorant; the risk is still 1 major quake every 100 years and none of the scientists convicted has said any different at any time yet they have been convicted of increasing the death toll of an entirely natural event by reassuring the public. The risk in living in these areas is every single persons who live there, they are aware of earthquakes, they were party to the swarms, they were party to the scientific analysis, therefore reasonably under logic it is your own risk to live in those areas.
Silica cont

Thailand

#5 Nov 4, 2012
What actually happened is the scientists would have met to assess the risk of the swarm generating a larger event, they would have concluded that the risk was higher but would not have had any confidence in predicting a major event occurring (this is fully borne out by the scientific reports undertaken).
Who is to blame here? The scientists for doing their job, the government for warning people (although admittedly the government officer in charge did say some rather stupid and unscientific things, however his job is to report and look at the evidence before him and try to reassure the local populace) or the people themselves who were seemingly coaxed in to their homes by calming media reports? The simple answer is no-one as this is a geologic process that no-one can predict with any amount of accuracy to the time, date or even year with any certainty. There are clues of course such as swarms but even these only increase risk by a factor of 1 in 100.
To put actual figures to this quake to give you some example of how little risk there is on a day to day basis; the risk as stated above is of 1 major quake every 100 years or so (that in itself will have a plus or minus figure attached to it but let’s try and keep it simple), that is the risk of a quake on any given day is therefore 1 in 36,500, that is then a risk of 1 in 876,000 hours. Most quakes rarely last longer than one minute so the actual prediction is 1 in 52,560,000 minutes, which then lowers accordingly as time passes since the last major quake occurred.
One must accept that risk should be communicated to areas prone to hazards; however a ruling of this nature will mean that scientists may not willingly offer independent risk advice for fear of being accused of manslaughter. The risk here is that scientists are forced to reduce their own exposure due to lack of indemnity and will only offer the most basic and bland explanations, thus not only contributing to a downward spiral of reporting and educating the public but being afraid to consider different ways of prediction in case they are wrong, setting back scientific discovery and actually, at worst increasing, or at best, maintaining current death tolls.
What next? Do we now prosecute our priests and churches also as our prayers have not been answered and therefore we have been offered false hopes and reassurances by our religious leaders? There are not just scientific repercussions in a ruling of this nature. While I have no love for religion and its various doctrines, as is apparent from my writings, in this case offering a prayer to a deity is exactly the same false reassurances that has been prosecuted here; does any religious person not see that prosecuting “false reassurance” should lead directly to the banning of religious hope and faith which is exactly the same thing?
This being Italy and the home of the Catholic Church, I have no doubt that there is a religious and/or political motivation or business influence/corruption underlying this frivolous prosecution, however this logic seems to have bypassed the prosecution as now under the law even prayers and religious ceremonies are surely deemed to give “false reassurance”.
Personally I would like to see any Italian scientists (or atheists, or both) take this on by issuing a frivolous court case against the Catholic Church under the L’Aquila ruling for providing constant false reassurance by the issuance of prayer and other religious ceremonies which are, by design, aimed at providing the same level of personal comfort and reassurance and which cannot be held up to providing evidence of being answered. This would either take a group with cash to burn or, even better, lets all chip in to a kickstarter account to pay the legal costs, I for one would support and donate.
Again I will restate opinions are not facts and cannot be held up as such.

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