Science & Technology Law

Italian Court Convicts Earthquake Experts for Failing to Adequately Warn of Impending Disaster

An Italian court has convicted six scientists and a government official of manslaughter for giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether a series of small tremors indicated a major earthquake was likely.

Scientists condemned the verdict issued on Monday, saying it represents a misunderstanding of science. The defendants were sentenced to six years in prison for failing to warn of the 2009 quake that killed more than 308 people. The Associated Press, the BBC and CNN have stories.

The defendants were accused of offering false reassurances that a quake was unlikely after seismic activity in the area.

Among those decrying the conviction was David Oglesby, an associate professor at the earth sciences faculty of the University of California at Riverside. “To predict a large quake on the basis of a relatively commonplace sequence of small earthquakes, and to advise the local population to flee” would constitute “both bad science and bad public policy,” he said in a statement issued to CNN.

“If scientists can be held personally and legally responsible for situations where predictions don’t pan out, then it will be very hard to find scientists to stick their necks out in the future,” Oglesby said.

In Italy, convictions aren’t definitive until the first appeal, so the convicted experts are likely to remain free for now, according to AP and the BBC.

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