Catch 22

In the wake of the verdict in the L’Aquila earthquake trial big words were not spared. Is this a “battle between science and politics”? Is the decision taken “more reminiscent of Dark Ages magical thinking than modern scientific understanding”? Is this trial “likened to persecution of Galileo”? In reaction to the verdict, a common tendency in the earth science and risk community seems to move towards a ‘withdrawal’ from our commitment to society. But is this the right thing to do?

This short-sighted verdict may indeed very well alienate society’s strongest ally when it comes to safeguarding society against potential dramatic consequences of earthquakes. But is society helped when scientists systematically overexaggerate the potential hazard to cover themselves against possible legal consequences? Such attitude would completely erode the credibility of science. And when a hazard becomes really serious, society will turn a deaf ear to the advice of the scientists. Society isn’t helped either when scientists withdraw in their academic ‘ivory towers’ and completely ignore their societal role. This would only give ‘charlatans’ carte blanche to preach doom.

Eventually, scientists do not have a choice! Scientists have to stick to their responsibility towards society. In risk communication they will have to be as clear and honest as possible, but without devaluing the nuance inherent to science. Scientists have to keep confronting authorities that run away from their responsibilities. And scientists will have to keep investing in an ‘informed citizenry’, to provide them all necessary tools to become aware and resilient with respect to the inevitable earthquake. But at the end, scientists should be able to say and write freely and unconditionally wherever their science leads them!


What’s up? The Friday links (46)

For me the most important geo news this week was the court decision on the L’Aquila trial on Monday. A local court sentenced six scientists and one official for manslaughter to six years in prison – 2 years more than claimed by the prosecutor. Even though the scientists may not have found the best words to describe the earthquake hazard in L’Aquila, the decision is ridiculous in my opinion and caused an outcry throughout the scientific community. Especially the consequences for any risk assessment and public information might be fatal. I am really concerned. In the following I link to some blog posts that I found particularly interesting:

Continue reading “What’s up? The Friday links (46)”

L’Aquila trial: Italian scientists guilty of manslaughter – up to six years in prison

Breaking news are sad ones for the earthquake community. A court in Italy found seven scientists guilty of manslaughter in multiple cases and sentenced them to prison. The scientists had to give a statement about the likelyhood of a major quake after a series of tremors occurred in L’Aquila. They stated that there was no higher risk for a forthcoming major event; few days later a M6.3 earthquake devastated the historical city and more than 300 people died.

The scientific community tried to support the italian scientists by clarifying that earthquake prediction is still impossible. Also, more than 5000 scientists signed an open letter in support of the Italian colleagues. This is surely a sad day for earthquake geology and I am sure it will change the way we communicate our findings to the public and to officials.