I thought it was the govt official left behind to report on the scientists findings – an official with naff all knowledge of seismology - and his poor interpretation of the risk that got them all in trouble. Ie it wasn’t their ability or otherwise to predict the earthquake it was how the group of experts in this area failed to communicate that risk to the citizens that is the issue. But as you point out this has all sorts of implications for scientists who are called in as experts to assess risk whether it be bushfires, floods or climate change. How do we communicate risk and who is responsible for doing so?
Personally, it sounds like there was some culpability on behalf of the Italian scientists, though I think 6 years jail – or jail at all – is a bit rough. A can of worms has been opened, I suspect
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Judge Marco Billi in Italy has jailed 6 scientists for 6 years each, for failing to warn residents of the central Italian town L'Aquila about a deadly earthquake.
One of the scientists, according to the SMH, advised local residents to 'relax with a glass of wine'. Six days later a 6.3-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people:
The judgement (which could equally affect scientists involved in climate change, floods, bush fires etc) raises a whole lot of issues about scientists and communication.
And it gives an interesting perspective to a symposium on disasters and science communication in Christchurch next year.
A program is about to be posted on the SCANZ website. The symposium is on 21-22 February 2013, and is jointly hosted by PCST and the Science Communicator's Assn of New Zealand. It marks the 2 year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch in 2011.
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