An Italian court convicted seven scientists of manslaughter for failing to give sufficient warning of a fatal earthquake that hit in 2009, killing more than 300 people.
The convicted scientists were given a sentence of six years in prison and to pay compensation and legal fees.The verdict comes after a year-long trial in the Central Italian town of L'Aquila. Scientists worldwide had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no way to predict quakes.
The prosecution case had centered on a meeting the seven accused, members of a a risk-assessment committee, held in L’Aquila on March 31 2009, in which they told residents there was no need to panic after a series of tremors had rocked the town in the preceding months. On April 6, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit the city, killing more than 300 people.
The public prosecutor, Fabio Picuti, said,
The scientists gave an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken" analysis, which had reassured locals. That meant they did not prepare for the quake, with many staying indoors when the first tremors hit.
The case sparked outrage in the international scientific community with some scientists warning that the case might set a damaging precedent and will affect future earthquake research. An open letter to Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, signed by more than 5,000 members of the international scientific community, criticized the proceedings.
According to Seth Stein, a professor of Earth sciences at Northwestern University in Illinois,
Our ability to predict earthquake hazards is, frankly, lousy. Criminalizing something would only make sense if we really knew how to do this and someone did it wrong.