STERN, SPIEGEL ONLINE (Germany), DIARIO CÓRDOBA (Spain), LA STAMPA (Italy), IZVESTIA/RIA NOVOSTI (Russia), CENTRAL NEWS (Japan), PEOPLE.COM (China), EPOCH TIMES (Chinese-language, U.S.)
From Chinese labs to German geology groups, the aftershocks are being felt across the global scientific community. Earlier this week, six seismologists and an official in the Italian city of L’Aquila were sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a total of 9.1 million euros for not predicting an earthquake.
Scientists around the world have reacted with incomprehension, dismay and fury, warning that the verdict will have a dire effect on the protection of populations worldwide from future risks.
The president of Italy’s risk commission and several other members resigned in protest, reports La Stampa.
The scientists had been on a committee that did a risk assessment for the municipality of L’Aquila, in the central Italian region of Abruzzo. Now they are facing prison for not warning people that a devastating earthquake was bout to hit. L’Aquila, in a seismically active region of Italy, suffered a 6.3 on the Richter scale earthquake on April 6, 2009 that killed 309 and left 80,000 homeless, reported Stern.
Six days before the tremor, the seven men, who made up a risk committee, had reported that L’Aquila was not especially likely to experience an earthquake. A Spanish expert in earthquake-resistant construction, who knows several of those found guilty, told the Diario Córdoba that the scientists, some world-renowned, had all volunteered to serve on the committee. “Now no one will want to serve on these committees.”
“It was not expected that they would predict the earthquake, but they should have warned people about the danger,” says a lawyer for the eleven victims who sued, according to Stern.
“People died because of the scientists’ words,” said the government prosecutor.
But many say the blame is being assigned in the wrong places. “It is astonishing that they are trying scientists, yet do nothing against those who allowed these buildings to be built unsafely,” a Spanish seismologist told the Diario Córdoba.
Even before the verdict, 5000 Italian scientists presented an open letter to the government, protesting against the allegations. “What were they supposed to say?” asked a Columbia University geologist. “
The Epoch Times, a Chinese-language paper based in the U.S., and the Japanese Central News were among many voices comparing the scientists to Galileo, who was persecuted for his scientific beliefs. The verdict “throws us back to medieval times,” a Russian seismologist told Izvestia, according to the Ria Novosti news service.
“I am horrified,” Martin Meschede of the German Geological Society told Spiegel Online. “I will advise my colleagues to no longer provide risk assessments. What scientist will dare to talk about the danger of a volcanic eruption now?”
The Italian state agency for civil protection, denouncing the verdict, says that the first consequence of the decision will be “the paralysis of predictive and preventive action,” reports La Stampa.
“The legal system of any nation could be affected by this precedent,” writes the Chinese news website People.com.
Politicians have begun to react as well. “There is a danger that this will establish the idea that scientists are not allowed to be uncertain,” Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini told La Stampa.