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.

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Christoph Grützner

Christoph Grützner

works at the Institute of Geological Sciences, Jena University. He likes Central Asia and the Mediterranean and looks for ancient earthquakes.

See all posts Christoph Grützner


  • Andrew Planet | 2012-10-22|17:21 (UTC)

    It should not be expected that scientists are able to precisely decide with certitude matters outside the calculable reach of extant technology. Its as if scientists were made to blame for technology not yet existing. A virtual, erroneous and opinionated, magic crystal ball.

    The specialists of our species will only be able to more accurately determine the occurrence of earthquakes when we evolve better technology. A balance should be struck between instilling unbridled panic which might incur danger, and organised reallocation of a population to safe grounds. In the case of official uncertainty, without it having to be terminal in options, an individual ought to be able to decide for itself which coarse of action to take.

    Laws enacted to allow citizens individual choice relative to the possibility of looming impending doom is free from legal responsibility to any other, as long as effected in a coordinated fashion . Nature on the geologically larger scale is more powerful than our species to deal with when a stable state destabilises.

  • Martin Doerr | 2012-10-22|20:29 (UTC)

    I believe that two things are completely at odds here: Firstly the primary guilties are politicians and a legal system that would normally accuse a scientist for a “false alarm” as being responsible for the subsequent financial losses. Secondly, it is (socially enforced) nonsense to ask a yes or no question in scientific prediction. The scientist can only publish a method and a likelihood obtained by that method. This is what scientist should be allowed and obliged to publish, without any legal consequences as long as they do. There is no absolute prediction in natural sciences and not even absolute truth in methods. The same holds for instance for the question if nuclear power is “safe”. It is to the politicians and the public to decide to which likelihoods of imminent danger they want to react.
    Dr. Martin Doerr, Physicist

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