Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where have all the seismologists gone?

We see disasters all of the time--hurricanes, forest fires, floods, and earthquakes. Many of them damage community associations. But an Italian court just found 6 scientists guilty of manslaughter for failing to accurately predict the intensity of an earthquake that killed several hundred people in Italy several years ago. First of all, if I were a scientist in the business of predicting disasters--climatologists, seismologists, civil engineers--I would be tempted to make no predictions at all after this.

And what was accomplished, even setting aside the ridiculous idea that the intensity or even the date of an earthquake can be accurately predicted at all? Scientists will have to re-consider whether to leave the public without guidance of any sort, or to overstate the danger to avoid this same fate. Neither outcome benefits the public when prediction of most natural disasters is inexact at best.

It would seem that the prosecutors in Italy should have focused on the hundreds of ancient masonry buildings that crumbled and their owners who failed to properly retrofit them for earthquake safety.