News / Europe

Italian Scientists Convicted of Not Warning of Earthquake

Collapsed church building from 2009 earthquake in central Italy
Collapsed church building from 2009 earthquake in central Italy
VOA News
An Italian court on Monday convicted seven scientists and experts of manslaughter for underestimating the risks of a killer earthquake and failing to adequately warn citizens before it struck the central Italian town of L'Aquila in 2009.

More than 300 people were killed, tens of thousands were left homeless, and the town's historic center and medieval churches were destroyed in the 6.3-magnitude quake.

Prosecutors argued that the defendants - members of a national panel that assesses major risks - offered "incomplete, imprecise and contradictory information" to residents. The international scientific community denounced the trial, noting that predicting earthquakes is impossible. Even early warning systems, which rely on a network of sensors to detect surface seismic waves that precede larger quakes, can provide residents only 10 to 60 seconds advance notice, and then, only in areas where those sensors are in place.

After the April quake, seismologists and other experts blamed lax building codes for the deaths and damage. In many earthquake-prone parts of the world, shoddy construction practices lead to many more deaths than would occur if homes and other buildings were more structurally sound.

The trial opened last September and was adjourned for more than a year, until resuming this month. The defendants have been sentenced to six years in prison, but they are unlikely to face jail while their legal appeals are pending.

Some observers have expressed concern that the convictions will make other experts and public officials reluctant to share their expertise, to avoid any legal repercussions.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Sawaki no Oyabun from: Japan
October 27, 2012 7:36 PM
I do not understand why these scientists should be blamed.
This case shows that Italian people have no ability to understand science and technology. They move only by passion.

by: Patty from: Germany
October 25, 2012 3:11 AM
In fact we do not agree with the sentence, if you check Italian earthquake history you will notice that in this part of Italy not felt tremors are almost daily. There was no way to predict this earthquake.
Scientists all over the world share the opinion that a sure way to predict a major quake is not known and maybe because of this verdict will never be! Which scientist will invest time in this subject if he can be sentenced to jail ?

Therefore we started a Facebook site and try to build up a lobby for the scientist we still need a lot of voices to be heard, and above all we need international support. So if you are interested in supporting us please join us on:
Many thanks for your support!

by: kafantaris from: USA, Ohio
October 23, 2012 4:43 AM
Italy will next find its meteorologists guilty for getting the weather wrong.

by: Looneytoonsindville from: Dville, USA
October 23, 2012 12:00 AM
The global warming crowd had better be paying attention! Global warming stopped 16 years ago!

by: Chris Tromley from: USA
October 22, 2012 8:51 PM
My heart weeps for all the educated Italians who must now feel like exiles in their own country. Perhaps it would help if all the people at Finmeccanica, Olivetti, Beretta, Italcantieri, Laverda, Acca, Pirelli, Serono, and all the other Italian tech firms rose up in outrage at their own judicial system relegating them to the dark ages. What a colossal embarrassment.

by: J. J. Smith from: USA
October 22, 2012 8:37 PM
I think this is a sad commentary on justice. The scientist could no way have predicted the earthquake. The court was just looking for scapegoats. Sort of like blaming God.

by: Aaron from: USA
October 22, 2012 8:05 PM
Italy: proving yet again that an ancient lineage is no guarantee of intelligence.

by: Jeff Vachon from: Ventura, CA
October 22, 2012 8:04 PM
This is insanity! I live in California where the threat of an earthquake is constant. If I or my loved ones are killed in a quake I'm certainly not going to blame the seismologists!

by: Riley Carson from: Canberra
October 22, 2012 7:56 PM
Well let's hope that this legal decision will smarten up some of the other 'predictive' professions. The weather is a prime example which as an igniter and precipitator is responsible for fires and floods.

On the other hand the trial could boost the stocks of the God bothering groups in the hope that more earnest prayer may avoid these natural calamities.

I smell the pervasive influence of insurance interests permeating this trial.

by: newsreader from: Canada
October 22, 2012 7:53 PM
Your article is misleading. The scientists were not blamed for “not warning” or “failing to adequately warn citizens.” They were blamed for telling people who were camping out on the streets after a few tremors that they should go back into their homes overnight, because it is safe. And so they did, and the major earthquake hit, causing hundreds of deaths.
In Response

by: MikeSDelware from: East Coast USA
October 23, 2012 6:39 PM
From the information they had, there was nothing to indicate an immediate problem. They were asked if it was safe and as far as they, or anyone, could tell it was. A taxi driver can tell you which is the best route to take to save time, but he can't predict an accident two cars ahead that leaves you stuck in traffic. Yet they expected these people to not just predict, but to be 100% accurate about things far more complex than traffic. The architects that designed the buildings, and the contractors that built them are far more immediately responsible than those scientists for those deaths.
In Response

by: Darrow...for the Prosecut from: Atlanta, GA
October 22, 2012 11:49 PM
Thanks for telling the REST of the story.

Darrow...for the Prosecution
In Response

by: Rebecca J from: USA
October 22, 2012 11:17 PM
Should we convict the weather person who predicts rain by percentage & turns out to be wrong?
In Response

by: Rebecca J from: USA
October 22, 2012 11:14 PM
Tomato; tomaaaaato. They are not psychics, 'GOD' did it!!
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