When terrible events occur there is nearly always a human desire to blame someone/something. In the case of natural disasters there is no one to blame and, like much of life, unfortunate things can happen to people without there being any reason behind it. But this week, a group of scientists and experts were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison for failing to to predict a large earthquake, when it is not actually possible to predict such events using science.
The case revolves around a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that occurred in a town, L'Aquila in Italy, that resides upon one of many faults in the area. It has had many earthquakes in the past and is a known area of risk. In the months prior to the quake on the 6th April 2009, which killed 309 people, there were numerous small tremors in area. This led people to consider evacuation in case a larger earthquake occurred. However, smaller tremors are not predictors of a large earthquake. During my time living in L.A, whenever there were a series of small tremors that were detectable (there are small tremors in the area frequently but most are not felt) there was the same type of speculation about whether they were an advanced warning of a more significant earthquake. However, only 5% of small earthquakes are predictors of a larger one and other indicators (radon and water levels, animal movements) are equally unreliable.
Unsurprisingly, the conviction has caused outrage in scientists around the world. Firstly, the earthquake is no one's fault, the convicted scientists did not cause it. Secondly, all they did was fail to predict it and try to stop people panicking about an event for which couldn't be predicted.
Is this a new precedent being set? I find it concerning that the Judge chose to go with an irrational judgement and failed to listen to scientific evidence. It appears to be a symptom of the more widely held anti-scientific perception that occurs all too frequently at present. I hope that this will not lead to other, similar cases where innocent people are held up as scapegoats to appease the masses.
Skeptical kinkster musing on whatever takes my fancy!