Target: Italian Government
Goal: Demand retrial for scientists convicted of manslaughter in an earthquake that was impossible to predict
Science has no real reliable way of predicting earthquakes; yet six scientists and one government official were convicted of manslaughter for just that, not reliably predicting an earthquake. Both the scientists and the government official convicted were all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, a committee developed by the Italian Government to discuss potential earthquake occurrences.
The 6.3 magnitude earthquake happened a couple of years ago, killing over 300 people, injuring at least 1,500, and leaving thousands more homeless. The city still sits in ruins to this day, many people having moved on. One of the deciding factors in the manslaughter conviction, was the numerous smaller tremors in the months before the earthquake. The court system believes that the scientists played down the real dangers of a big earthquake hitting, calming the public’s nerves by telling them there was nothing to worry about.
They were accused in the indictment of giving “inexact, incomplete, and contradictory information,” stating they should have provided warnings up to six days before the earthquake struck. As impossible as it is to be certain an earthquake will occur, the further in advance the predictions take place, the less accurate they become. It is nearly inconceivable to predict an earthquake six days in advance.
If the convictions hold up, it will fundamentally change the world of science, especially in earthquake predictions. This conviction can only result in scientists fearing jail time if they share their opinions with the public and turn out wrong; some scientists have already begun to resign from their positions. Predicting disasters of any kind is never a certainty, it is only about the probabilities.
In an attempt to curtail the trial, more than 5,000 scientists signed a letter objecting to the charges, but ultimately the trial proceeded. In Italy, convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeals. Please sign the petition to ensure the Italian legal system does not fail again and these prominent figures in science do not end up in jail for doing their job.
Dear Italian Government,
Despite advances in science, it is still impossible to entirely predict an earthquake. Regardless of smaller tremors in the months leading up to the big earthquake, there is not a foolproof method to foresee what the future holds, especially almost a week in advance. With the backing of an abundance of people from the science community, your convictions will only hurt the future of earthquake predictions and potentially have unforeseen effects on other areas of science.
These scientists were doing their job as best they knew how. The earthquake was a tragedy, but it seems enough people have been affected by this disaster. Please enforce better policies in your court systems that will ultimately allow justice to prevail.
[Your Name Here]
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