Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scientists on trial

Italy is a very difficult country to understand for foreigners. A recent trial of scientists has been compared  to the trial of Gallileo in 1633. The matter is not helped by inaccurate reporting.

Here are the headlines of two blogs by Italian scientists:

Piergiorgio Odifreddi in the Repubblica ( : Scienza o onniscienza?
Il tribunale dell’Aquila ha condannato a sei anni sette componenti della Commissione Grandi Rischi, rei di non aver previsto e annunciato il terremoto dell’Aquila.

Tommaso Dorigo in his blog 6 Years To Scientists Guilty Of Not Predicting Earthquakes.

Further,  the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued an open letter to Napolitano saying it was "unfair and naive" of local prosecutors to charge the scientists for failing "to alert the population of L'Aquila of an impending earthquake".

The problem with these quotes is that the scientists were not condemned for failing to predict an earthquake.

A much more accurate description of the affair is available in English in Nature at

Two quotes from that article:

After the scientific commission meeting
" Two members of the commission, Barberi and De Bernardinis, along with mayor Cialente and an official from Abruzzo's civil-protection department, held a press conference to discuss the findings of the meeting. In press interviews before and after the meeting that were broadcast on Italian television, immortalized on YouTube and form detailed parts of the prosecution case, De Bernardinis said that the seismic situation in L'Aquila was "certainly normal" and posed "no danger", adding that "the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it's a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy". When prompted by a journalist who said, "So we should have a nice glass of wine," De Bernardinis replied "Absolutely", and urged locals to have a glass of Montepulciano."

A quote by a local resident
"That night, all the old people in L'Aquila, after the first shock, went outside and stayed outside for the rest of the night," Vittorini says. "Those of us who are used to using the Internet, television, science — we stayed inside."

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