A court in Italy has convicted six Italian scientists of criminal manslaughter. The trial, however, is NOT about failing to predict the unpredictable, as most of the newspapers all over the world are suggesting.

Nobody can predict earthquakes. But rather, is about the fact that these “scientists”, who were members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, reassured the population that there was going to be NO big earthquake. And whilst we can’t predict earthquakes we can predict its risks.

The meeting of the members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks was evoked by the head of Italy’s Protection Society, Guido Bertolaso seven days before the ‘big’ quake in April 2009.

And, to say it à la Bertolaso it was just a ‘media operation’. The scientists were not asked to express a scientific opinion but to reassure people on false assumptions that the ‘big’ quake was not going to happen.

These are extracts of Bertolaso’s phone conversation with Daniela Stati prior to the meeting where he tells her why he wants the meeting to be held and what he wants the top scientists to say:

Guido Bertolaso: “… You decide, I don’t give a shit .. let it be more of a media operation, do you get it? So that it’s them, the top seismologists who will say:’s normal… its a normal phenomenon .. one hundred quakes on 4 Richter scale are better than silence .. we need quakes to release energy and there will never be the big earthquake.. the one that will hurt… Do you get it? (..) You speak with De Bernardinis and decide where you will have this meeting tomorrow, then let the press know about the meeting. And that its not, that we are scared and worried, is that we want to reassure people .. and instead of us doing the talking .. we make the top scientist in the field of seismology speak.”

Daniela Stati: “Perfect..”

Here you can listen to the phone tap

The trial indictment reads: “They provided inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory informations on the dangerousness of the seismic activity, defeating the population protection activities”. And it goes on: “They missed their duties of risk assessment related to their function” also in terms of information. These reassuring news “have caused the victims to remain in their houses”.

One of the condemned, Enzo Boschi, said: “I challenge anyone to find written, told, voice on TV or anywhere else my reassurance on the L’Aquila earthquake”. Yet the Commission report from 31 march 2009 reads: “The strong earthquakes in Abruzzo have long return periods. Unlikely that there is soon a seismic event like that of 1703, although it can not be excluded absolutely.”

Yet, some journalists are capable of an headline like this: “Condemned for not being magicians” (Il Giornale, 23 october).

[parts of this article are from: Science without Morals L’Aquila 2012]