Scientists Sent to Jail for Failing to Predict an Earthquake

Scott Taylor
25 October 2012

Photo from the White House flickr stream

On April 6, 2009, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck the city of L’Aquila, Italy. Extensive damage was caused to the city, which contains many fine examples of medieval architecture, and 309 people were killed. This earthquake came after a number of minor tremors had hit the region earlier in the year.

Fast forward to October 22, 2012, when an Italian judge sentenced six scientists and a government official from Italy’s National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks to six years in prison. They were found guilty of multiple counts of manslaughter because they failed to predict the earthquake (for more information, see this article).

Earth scientists around the world are worried that this case will set a bad precedent, since predicting earthquakes is far from an exact science. Although 50% of major earthquakes are preceded by tremors, only 2% of tremors are followed by a major earthquake.

What do you think: should scientists be held criminally liable for failing to predict natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis? Join the discussion below.

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor is Acting Program Manager for CurioCity at Let’s Talk Science. He grew up watching bug-eyed monsters in sci-fi B-movies and dreaming of our future in space, and remembers being a young child watching the first astronauts walk on the Moon. Passionate about the importance of science education and understanding how science and technology impacts our society, he is still a sci-fi geek.    

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Avatar  ktaylor

Bad precedent - no kidding. Do people really know what "prediction" means? It is not like reading a crystal ball and seeing into the future. What would be the point of doing science if everyone knew ahead of time what was going to happen?