| I read in the news recently that six scientists and a government official in Italy were sentenced to 6 years in prison on a manslaughter charge because they didn't accurately predict the the devastation of an earthquake in 2009. I must have looked as gobsmacked as I felt when I read it because my son said my eyes bugged out and my jaw dropped so far I must have looked like a startled blowfish.
Apparently, the earthquake was pretty bad, 6.3, destroyed a lot of property, and killed 300 people. A very tragic event to be sure, but manslaughter, really? The scientists were all seismologists and geological experts who are going to spend 6 years incarcerated because they didn't accurately predict what is inherently unpredictable? I doubt if there is a seismologist anywhere on earth who would claim to be able to predict with any accuracy whatsoever when an earthquake will occur or how violent it will be. I'm pretty sure they won't even want to try given this insane verdict, certainly not in Italy anyway.
This case is one of those events in human history that totally blow my mind, primarily because they make so little sense that I have trouble even wrapping my brain around them. It is positively Medieval. I'm surprised that they didn't suggest burning them all at the stake for witchcraft or sorcery or something equally bizarre. What's next? Should we prosecute scientists for not predicting tsunamis and volcanic eruptions correctly? Perhaps we should kill the weatherman when he doesn't get the inches of expected rainfall right. Maybe we should just go whole hog and go back to sacrificing people when there is a drought or the crops fail.
The really ironic thing about all this is that people often don't want to have to listen to scientists at all about most things, particularly anything apocalyptic. How many people blow off predictions during a hurricane and insist on staying in their homes only to end up having to be rescued later? For years when scientists all over the world were raising the alarm concerning climate change most of the population and nearly all the people in charge were talking about them as if they were overwrought, hysterical nut jobs who were in cahoots with the tree hugging hippies who wanted to destroy the rich and powerful fossil fuel energy corporations and ruin our way of life. No matter how much evidence to the contrary they produced, they were characterized as alarmists with an agenda. No one wants to hear this stuff, much less acknowledge it as real. Not long ago I saw a lecture by a couple of geologists who described a giant volcanic caldera under Yellowstone Park that could blow at any time, taking out most of the west and creating a nuclear winter scenario over all of North America. The general response to their revelations was that they were a pair of lunatic crack pots. Naturally, no one wants to contemplate such a huge natural disaster, but come on, it is what it is. There isn't a thing anyone can do to prevent it happening if it does, so there isn't a lot of point in worrying about it, but pretending it isn't real is just kind of stupid.
I wonder what would have happened if those Italian scientists had all been running around like Chicken Little predicting an imminent sky falling event and then nothing much happened? I wonder if they would have faced some trumped up charge of creating riots or hysteria or something? Probably not. That makes me wonder why any scientist would bother saying anything at all or if they should all start claiming the end of days has arrived every time the earth quivers a little just to avoid being thrown in the hoosegow later if things go south. If I were a scientist I would just warn everyone that the end of the world was coming every time and then act all grateful and relieved when we dodged the bullet. Actually, given the fact that 6 respected seismologists are about to spend 6 years locked up with criminals and murderers, I don't think I'd be one at all. At least not in Italy, anyway.
Humans are so predictable. Back in the day all this mayhem could be blamed on a pantheon of gods, who controlled this kind of thing and were cruel and unpredictable, just as life could be cruel and unpredictable, and still is. You could always just say, “Darn that Poseidon for causing that utterly senseless, devastating earthquake,” go sacrifice a couple of goats and move on. Now we know that earthquakes aren't caused by some big half fish guy with a trident so we blame it on the scientists because they didn't look in the right crystal ball or read the entrails of some sheep correctly, and then give the populace appropriately dire warnings, which all goes to prove a couple of things: we still want magic to predict or prevent stuff for us and we still want someone to blame when it doesn't. And obviously, most of us don't understand what causes earthquakes or any other act of nature any better than we did 3,000 years ago.