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The Italian Seismologists on trial for manslaughter have been sentenced to six years in prison, multiple news agencies are reporting.The scientists were put on trial after 309 people died in an April 6, 2009 magnitude 6.3 earthquake in the town of L’Aquila, Italy.
They will also have to pay financial compensation of about $130,000 to the families of 29 people named in the lawsuit who died in the earthquake, Nature reports.
Earthquake prediction isn’t possible, but previous studies had found that about half of bigger quakes in Italy were preceded by swarms of smaller earthquakes. That sounds like a good indicator, but the truth is that there are many more of these small swarms than big earthquakes, and only 2 per cent of small swarms preceded bigger quakes.
The six scientists and Department of Civil Protection official Bernardo De Bernardinis sit on Italy’s Major Risks Committee, which is supposed to assess the risk of potential natural disasters. They were put on trial for manslaughter for failing to make the local government and citizenry fully aware of the possibility of a large quake during a March 31 meeting in L’Aquila. During that meeting one of the researchers, Enzo Boschi, called a large earthquake “unlikely,” but warned that the possibility could not be excluded.
Bernardinis took the scientists’ information and in a press conference told the town that there was “no danger,” of a possible larger earthquake. Prosecutors were asking for a sentence of four years, though it seems Judge Marco Billi thought that sentence was too light.
The scientists sentenced today include Boschi, who is the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology; Claudio Eva, an earth scientist at the University of Genoa; Giulio Selvaggi, director of the National Earthquake centre; Franco Barberi, a volcanologist at the University of Rome; Mauro Dolce, head of the seismic risk office of the Civil Protection; Gian Michele Calvi, director of the European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering.
Government official De Bernardinis, who is the President of the Institute for Environmental Research and Protection, was also included in the sentence.
The judge said that the information these scientists provided to the committee was “inexact, incomplete and contradictory,” the Italian media are reporting.
5,000 members of the American Association For the Advancement of Science sent a letter to the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, stating:
“The basis for those indictments appears to be that the scientists failed to alert the population of L’Aquila of an impending earthquake. However, there is no way they could have done that credibly … There is no accepted scientific method for earthquake prediction that can be reliably used to warn citizens of an impending disaster.”
We’ll add more info here on the sentence as we learn more details. No news yet as to whether the committee is planning to appeal the conviction. For more information, here’s a great background article on the case from Nature News.
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