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Manslaughter trial begins for Italian earthquake scientists

A manslaughter trial will begin today for seven Italian geologists, scientists and public officials charged over their lack of warnings regarding the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila that killed 309 people.

The defendants are charged with manslaughter after failing to provide adequate warnings prior to the magnitude 6.2 earthquake which struck the town of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009, killing 309, according to media reports, injuring over 1,500 and displacing 17,000. L’Aquila’s Prosecutor’s Office said it believes the quake should have been predicted by Italy’s Commissione Grande Rischi (Commission of Major Risks).

However, the Italian scientific community has spoken out in support of the seven individuals on trial. An open letter by the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology) said the allegations were unfounded and amounted to “prosecuting scientists for failing to do something they cannot do yet — predict earthquakes”. “There is currently no scientifically accepted method for short term earthquake prediction that can reliably be used by Civil Protection authorities for rapid and effective emergency actions,” the letter said.

American scientific support

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) last summer wrote to Italian president Giorgio Napolitano protesting the charges, which it said were “manifestly unfair”.

“The basis for [the] indictments appears to be that the scientists failed to alert the population of L’Aquila of an impending earthquake,” the AAAS wrote. “However, there is no way they could have done that credibly.” The letter warned that a prosecution in this case could have a “chilling effect” on researchers and discourage scientific progress.

The AAAS letter can be read here.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I think your reporting is out of date. The BBC and Nature are now reporting that it is alleged poor communication of the risks, inappropriate reassurance of the local population and inadequate hazard assessment that are on trial. The prosecutor apparently is not claiming the earthquake should have been predicted, contrary to this and many other reports.

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