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Quake Prediction: Outrage in India at conviction of Italian scientists

Thursday October 25, 2012 01:53:01 PM, Quaid Najmi, IANS

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Italian scientists jailed for failing to predict earthquake

An Italian court has convicted six scientists and a government official of manslaughter for failing to give adequate warning of a deadly earthquake in 2009, the Daily Mail reported Tuesday. The city of L'Aquila was decimated by the quake, which measured more than 6.3 on the Richter scale and  »

Mumbai: The recent conviction of six Italian scientists and a government official for their failure to predict the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake is ridiculous, says a group of young Mumbai scientists who have written to the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

The Indian Astrobiological Research Centre (IARC) also plans to write to Italian President Giorgio Napoletano, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and United Progressive Alliance chief Sonia Gandhi, seeking their intervention in the matter. It will also drum up support on various online social media like Twitter and Facebook.

On April 6, 2009, 300 people were killed and 600,000 rendered homeless when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Italian city of L'Aquila.

The Italian National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks was accused of "not providing proper information about the risks posed" by the foreshocks which preceded the main earthquake. And on Oct 22, an Italian court found seven guilty of "involuntary manslaughter" after a 13-month trial.

The Italian court found the scientists guilty of providing "incomplete, imprecise and contradictory" information and for "not adequately warning" the local population of the impending earthquake.

According to IARC head Pushkar G. Vaidya: "We find it ridiculous that a handful of human beings can be held responsible for a natural disaster of this magnitude over which nobody has any control."

"It clearly shows lack of very basic understanding of science," Vaidya, who heads 20 other team members, told IANS here Wednesday.

"We have sent a letter expressing solidarity with the convicted scientists whom the scientific fraternity worldwide considers as innocent. We demand that the court revoke its judgement and also apologise for this poor and grossly misleading verdict."

As per the court ruling, the convicted scientists and the government official have been given up to six years jail term and also banned for life from public service.

They have also been ordered to shell out 7.80 million euros as compensation to families of 29 victims named in the indictment and to the city of L'Aquila - which had been earlier shattered by mega-quakes in 1349, 1461 and 1703.

Despite advances in science and technology, top scientists worldwide have failed to find any indicators that could provide tell-tale signs of an impending major earthquake like changes in the geomagnetic field signals, Vaidya explained.

Vaidya added that after decades of research on this subject, it is a well-known scientific fact that it is not possible to predict earthquakes with any reasonable amount of certainty.

"It is impossible to predict exactly where the next fault will be active. The only thing to do is to live in safe buildings. Prediction is not the key to surviving," Laura Peruzza from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Sgonico, Italy, was quoted as saying in

In June 2010, thousands of scientists wrote to the Italian president, through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), pointing out that "the charges against these scientists are both unfair and naive".

Scientists from the US and Britain have also reacted to the conviction of the seven Italians.

"To predict a large quake on the basis of a relatively commonplace sequence of small earthquakes and to advise the local population to flee would constitute both bad science and bad public policy," said David Oglesby of the University of California, Riverside.

In Italy, Luciano Maiani, physicist and head of National Commission for the Prediction and Prevention of Major Risks, resigned protesting the verdict Tuesday.

A bewildered Enzo Boschi, one of the convicted scientists said after the verdict: "I'm dejected and despairing. I still don't understand what I am accused of."

His colleague, Claudio Eva, was quoted as saying in The Guardian: "(It is) a very Italian and medieval decision - I do not feel guilty from a scientific point of view."


(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at





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