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.