Don’t Condemn Scientists to Prison for Failing to Accurately Predict Earthquake

Target: Italy’s Judicial System, Judge Marco Billi

Goal: Urge Italy to appeal the multiple manslaughter conviction which condemns six scientists and one public official to six years in prison for failing to accurately predict the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila.

The 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, killed 309 people and destroyed the city. Calculated at 6.3 magnitude, the earthquake was preceded by smaller tremors in the months and days leading up to the earthquake on April 6, 2009. This is why the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks met and attempted to assess the possibility of the tremors turning into a full fledged earthquake. They made an executive decision, stating to the public that although an earthquake was not impossible, it was unlikely. They exercised their scientific judgement in attempting to make sense of a natural phenomena- and were sentenced to six years in prison on multiple manslaughter charges for giving a falsely reassuring statement to the public and inadequately assessing the risks involved. Urge Italy to appeal the unjust sentence for these scientists who are also victims of this tragedy.

The implications for the scientific community based on the results of this trial are huge. Are scientists to be blamed for failing to predict when and how natural disasters will evolve? Are meteorologists to be blamed for incorrectly making predictions on the weather? It is impossible to predict future events. It is only possible to make a judgement call. The scientists involved in this case are leading minds in seismology and geology and they made the best assessment that they could. It is impossible to predict when and how an earthquake will occur. Five thousand scientists wrote an open letter to Italian President Giogio Napolitano in 2010, echoing this impossibility and writing in support of the men on trial.

In addition to facing jail time, the BBC reports that the seven men involved have been banned from ever again holding public office and will be required to pay court costs and damages. In an attempt to reconcile the unpredictable and often violent force of nature, the men involved are being demonized and blamed for not being clear enough about the risks involved with an earthquake. This is beyond absurd and this conviction needs to be appealed before a precedent is set. Please sign this petition and urge Italy to appeal the manslaughter conviction.



Dear Judge Marco Billi,

The manslaughter conviction that sentences seven innocent men to jail because of the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 is a gross abuse of the judicial system and an attempt to seek blame among men for a natural disaster. It is impossible to accurately predict an earthquake and this Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks met and made a scientific assessment of the situation. They should not be blamed for the deaths involved in the earthquake.

The precedent that is sure to be set if this conviction is not appealed marks a bleak and dangerous future for scientists, a time when scientists will be persecuted for seeking an understanding of the world around them and being blamed for gaps in their understanding. Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the UK’s Royal Berkshire Hospital states in a report by the BBC, “If the scientific community is to be penalized for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavor will be restricted to certainties only and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled.” Please appeal the conviction that unjustly blames these scientists for the deaths and damages involved in the earthquake and work to eradicate any precedent that may have been set from the trial.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Alessandro Giangiulio via Flickr

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  1. Everything is prone to error and it is part of life on this earth.

  2. We are human, not machines ( even machines make errors ). I imagine these Scientists have suffered enough within themselves around the effects of the earthquake, wishing they had known more or done more at the time. Jail is an insult and in actual fact it can only be described as abusive in this case.

  3. And if somebody predicted something,ended up burned,go figure..

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