Field of Science

Scapegoating Seismologists

Also this is part of Geohistory, how a society chooses to react to geological hazards, Italy take the simple way:

"Because they ignored the signals of danger before the earthquake in L'Aquila (06.04.2009), the judicial authorities have initiated a legal investigation against seven people, including officials of the civil defence agency and seismologists. The charge is homicide following negligence.
The article of accusation includes the affirmation that the indicated people have ignored a long series of small earthquake, registered weeks before the earthquake, and neglected the growing worries of residents and the population of L´Aquila. The suspects include the President of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology Enzo Boschi, the ex-civil defence Chief Franco Barberi, and the number two of the civil defence agency, Bernardino De Bernardis. The investigation by the prosecutor of L'Aquila was started after 30 citizens initiated a lawsuit."

News released on 04.06.2010

According to the website of the “Reppublica”, one of the largest newspapers in Italy, the Public Prosecutor Alfredo Rossini declared "This is not absence of alarming signals; the alarm had already come from earthquakes. It is the absence of warning people that they must leave their homes."

Unfortunately, the responsible persons don’t consider the scientific facts: there were minor tremors months before the three larger shakes on 30. March and 03. April, but no seismologist will based only on these observations predispose an evacuation. Also an effective prediction of earthquakes, with exact time and exact locality for an effective evacuation, is still wishful thinking.

I can only cite what the geographer Grove Karl Gilbert resumed during a meeting of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) in 1909, about the predictability of earthquakes: “Common people would be satisfied to know if we reached the point where a scientific predictability for an imminent earthquake is possible.”
But Gilbert criticised the believe that earthquakes occur in cycles or after long periods of quiescence, and would so be predictable if we consider historical records or annual measurements.
“Considering the complexity of conditions and the chaotic interrelationships between underground tensions, it can not be assumed that the particular conditions of every epoch will repeat always at the same manner.”
Gilbert, who had studied extensively the earthquake in San Francisco of 1906 enforced the view not to predict single events, but to prepare for the general hazard: "[seismologists should not]…try to enforce control on the course of nature, but with the support of science, predict the imminent changes, so to enable the people to be warned and to be prepared…[]. The determination of the instant of seismic hazard belongs to an indefinite future. It is still a realm of try and hope."

Some other geobloggers are commenting the case:
Ontario-geofish (16.06.2010): Stupid Particular People Who Live on a Southern European Peninsula.
About geology (17.06.2010): Killer Seismologists?

Fig.1. The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt, 1854. Hunt had this framed in a picture with the quotations "Surely he hath borne our Griefs and carried our Sorrows; Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4) and "And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited." (Leviticus 16:22).


PIOMBINO, A. (2010): Ulteriori riflessioni sulla vicenda Boschi - L'Aquila. scienzeedintorni (Acessed 06.06.2010)

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