“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE HAVE LANDED IN ROME. LOCAL TIME IS OCTOBER 22, 1487”
Sometimes something is so sublimely idiotic that it needs no comment. No introduction is necessary, no closing remarks called for. While the actions reported on in the following article are an exquisite example of that type of event, yet I can’t help but comment just a little. L’Aquila, Italy is 107 miles (as the tumbrel rolls) from Perugia where Amanda Knox was branded a witch in the year 2011 (A.D.) So, under the heading of, “You can’t make this stuff up, folks,” I submit the following:
7 experts convicted of manslaughter in Italy for failing to adequately warn about deadly quake
Published October 22, 2012
L'AQUILA, Italy – In a verdict that sent shock waves through the scientific community, an Italian court convicted seven experts of manslaughter on Monday for failing to adequately warn residents of the risk before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.
The defendants, all prominent scientists or geological and disaster experts, were sentenced to six years in prison.
Earthquake experts worldwide decried the trial as ridiculous, contending there was no way of knowing that a flurry of tremors would lead to a deadly quake.
"It's a sad day for science," said seismologist Susan Hough, of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. "It's unsettling."
That fellow seismic experts in Italy were singled out in the case "hits you in the gut," she said.
In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one appeal, so it was unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.
Italian officials and experts have been prosecuted for quake-triggered damage in the past, including a 2002 school collapse in southern Italy that killed 27 children and a teacher. But that case centered on allegations of shoddy construction in quake-prone areas.
Among those convicted Monday were some of Italy's best known and most internationally respected seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
"I am dejected, desperate," Boschi said. "I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don't understand what I was convicted of."
The trial began in September 2011 in this Apennine town, whose devastated historic center is still largely deserted.
The defendants were accused of giving "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" about whether small tremors felt by L'Aquila residents in the weeks and months before the April 6, 2009, quake should have been grounds for a warning.
The 6.3-magnitude temblor killed 308 people in and around the medieval town and forced survivors to live in tent camps for months.
Many much smaller tremors had rattled the area in the previous months, causing frightened people to wonder if they should evacuate.
"I consider myself innocent before God and men," said another convicted defendant, Bernardo De Bernardinis, a former official of the national Civil Protection Agency.
Prosecutors had sought convictions and four-year sentences during the trial. They argued that the L'Aquila disaster was tantamount to "monumental negligence," and cited the devastation wrought in 2005 when levees failed to protect New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Relatives of some who perished in the 2009 quake said justice had been done. Ilaria Carosi, sister of one of the victims, told Italian state TV that public officials must be held responsible "for taking their job lightly."
The world's largest multidisciplinary science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, condemned the charges, verdict and sentencing as a complete misunderstanding about the science behind earthquake probabilities.
There are swarms of seismic activity regularly in Italy and most do not end up causing dangerous earthquakes, said geologist Brooks Hanson, deputy editor of the organization's Science magazine. He said that if seismologists had to warn of a quake with every series of tremors, there would be too many false alarms and panic.
"With earthquakes we just don't know," Hanson said Monday. "We just don't know how a swarm will proceed."
Quake scientist Maria Beatrice Magnani, who followed the trial closely and knows the defendants professionally, called the outcome "pretty shocking."
She disagreed with putting scientists on trial, and contended that the death toll would have been lower had buildings in the quake-prone area been better reinforced.
The verdict left Magnani and others in the field wondering about the way they articulate their work.
"We need to be extremely careful about what we say, and the information we provide has to be precise. We cannot allow ourselves to slip," said Magnani, an associate research professor at the University of Memphis.
Comments on Twitter about the verdict abounded, with references to Galileo, the Italian scientist who was tried as a heretic in 1633 for his contention that the Earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa as Roman Catholic Church teaching then held. In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared that the church had erred in its ruling against the astronomer.
Still, some experts argued that the trial was about communicating risk and not about whether scientists can or cannot predict earthquakes.
"This was about how they communicated" with a frightened public, said David Ropeik, a risk communications consultant who teaches at Harvard and offered advice to one defendant scientist. It was "not Galileo redux," he said.
Frances D'Emilio reported from Rome. AP science writers Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report
IN OTHER NEWS:
- In a daring pre-dawn raid, SWAT teams from Rome and Turin arrested the entire staff of the “Servizio Meteorologico” (Italian Meteorological Institute) for a 1908 snowstorm in northern Italy which killed 4 mountain climbers. While no one at the Servizion Meteorologico was actually alive in 1908, Italian authorities charged the 123 defendants as accomplices to murderer under the Italian judiciary doctrine of “six-degrees of separation”
- A court in Milan has handed down an indictment against the builders of a 30-story building which was hit by a light aircraft in 2001, killing three. The builders and architects were charged with “placing the building in air, which is where airplanes fly.” Milanese prosecutors are quoted as saying, “What’s so difficult about this? Air? Airplane? Is it not obvious?”
- The 250 year search for “The Boogie Man” continues in Sicily. Searchers have now begun to spread out on foot. Local citizens have been warned to obey their parents
- A request for extradition has been forwarded to the Irish Republic, demanding that they turn over “The Leprechaun.” He is accused of currency rigging, in that he has been proven to hoard gold near the end of the rainbow.
- Napoli, Italy: A warrant has been issued for a Neopolitan youth by the name of Pinocchio. He is wanted for perjury.
- Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) was convicted in absentia this week in Avezzano for failing to prevent the “Black Death” plague which took millions of lives in the years 1348-1350. The families of the victims have been awarded several billion euros apiece from the Pasteur family.· The origin of cancer has allegedly been traced to the CIA by an Italian prosecutor in Firenza. The entire CIA is being sought for the crime, which is believed to have occurred on or before 6,000 BC.· Ethiopia was fined €600 billion by a court in Orbetello, Italy for armed resistance to Mussolini’s invasion in 1936. Demand is made for return of lost property.· A San Salvo court today indicted Pope Benedict XVI and (posthumously) Pope John Paul II for not being Italian.· In a landmark move, the Vatican today gave absolution to God for “innumerable acts of God” (including lightning, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and avalanches) which are believed to have killed untold people. They hope that this move will remove any obstacles God feels in dealing with humankind.· A reward of €1 million was announced today for the return of Italy’s second boot. It was allegedly lost in a card game in 1912.· A poll conducted just now shows that all reasonable Americans feel a burden in their hearts for our wonderful Italian friends (and others) who live at the mercy of Italian courts.