I know worse things happen in the world, but I feel very angry about the six Italian seismologists who’ve just been sentenced to six years in jail for manslaughter, for failing to predict the L’Aquila Earthquake. Six years. My father was a scientist. Such a thing would have utterly broken him.
(a) There was obviously no malicious intent on their part (what possible motive could they have for failing to warn of an earthquake if they thought it was going to happen?)
(b) Seismologists around the world confirm that earthquakes are impossible to predict. (Yes, you can identify areas where they are likely to happen, no, you can’t say when.) According to this article here, one of the six did say something that wasn’t accurate, which is bad, but this doesn’t mean that he would have predicted the earthquake if he’d got that particular fact right.
What this story seems to me to highlight is the deeply immature attitude – adolescent even – that our society has towards science. These men are criminalised for failing to warn about a danger that they judged, not to be impossible, but pretty unlikely. But when climate scientists warn about a danger that they judge to be not absolutely certain, but very likely, they are dismissed as alarmists and asked to present incontrovertible proof.
It surely isn’t that hard to grasp that many things in life cannot be predicted with absolute certainty, but may still be more or less likely.