L'Aquila earthquake verdict yields aftershocks



The 22 October verdict by a court in L'Aquila, Italy, convicting seven Italian earthquake experts of manslaughter for failing to provide an adequate seismic warning to residents prior to a damaging quake in the region continues to send shockwaves through the scientific community. A sampling of the scientific community's concern about the verdict, which is likely to be appealed, included a 25 October joint statement from U.S. National Academy of Sciences president Ralph Cicerone and U.K. Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse that noted “the difficult task facing scientists in dealing with risk communication and uncertainty.” The statement continued, “Much as society and governments would like science to provide simple, clear-cut answers to the problems that we face, it is not always possible. Scientists can, however, gather all the available evidence and offer an analysis of the evidence in light of what they do know. The sensible course is to turn to expert scientists who can provide evidence and advice to the best of their knowledge. They will sometimes be wrong, but we must not allow the desire for perfection to be the enemy of good. That is why we must protest the verdict in Italy. If it becomes a precedent in law, it could lead to a situation in which scientists will be afraid to give expert opinion for fear of prosecution or reprisal. Much government policy and many societal choices rely on good scientific advice and so we must cultivate an environment that allows scientists to contribute what they reasonably can, without being held responsible for forecasts or judgments that they cannot make with confidence.”