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Keywords:

  • volcanic risk;
  • scientific advice;
  • L'Aquila

We discuss the current challenges facing volcanologists and seismologists in the risk society, recently highlighted by the trial and conviction of six scientists and a public official in Italy. We argue that the nature of the uncertainty surrounding natural hazards, particularly earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, coupled with their relative rarity, creates a major challenge for scientists that is as much socially and culturally derived as it is scientific. Scientists have responsibility for giving advice in many circumstances, but in this context they are particularly vulnerable to criticism because the stakes are very high and the decisionmakers are very dependent on their advice and may use it for political ends or with more corrupt motives. We discuss some of the implications of this for scientists, officials and publics, arguing that scientific advice regarding geophysical hazards should be a dialogical process with legal protection and social scientific support.