Scientists Are the New Witches: Italy Jails Six Seismologists for Failing to Predict EarthquakeS

Italy, the country that earlier this year declared it a fineable offense to tell a man he has no balls, convicted seven seismologists of manslaughter on Monday, for failing to adequately assess the risk of a 2009 Earthquake that ended up killing 309 people.

The scientists were sentenced to six years in prison.

According to the BBC, prosecutors argued that the defendants "gave a falsely reassuring statement" before the 6.3 earthquake occurred on April 6, 2009. That statement came from a meeting held in the city of L'Aquila on March 31, in which the seismologists declared it "improbable" (though not impossible) that a major earthquake would strike the town.

The meeting was held in an effort to quell public panic inspired by a researcher from Italy's National Insitute of Nuclear Physics, who claimed to have deduced that a major earthquake would occur on March 29. (NewScientist reports that that man, Giampaolo Giuliani, "drove around the town with a megaphone encouraging people to evacuate.")

L'Aquila had been experiencing minor shocks for 6 months at the time of that announcement. However, as one geophycisist told the BBC, events like foreshocks and the release of fluids or gases don't provide detectable patterns that can be used to predict earthquakes.

In June 2010, more than 5,000 international scientists signed a letter to the Italian president calling the charges against the scientists "both unfair and naïve," as "there is no accepted scientific method for earth quake prediction." Those methods most commonly used are only able to forecast quake probability 10 or more years in advance.

At the trial, Italian authorities claimed that the men were convicted of manslaughter not for failing to predict the earthquake (which is impossible), but for being "misleadingly reassuring" in their statement.

In the days immediately following the quake, the New York Times points out, most of the blame for the devastation was laid on lax (or unenforced) building codes, rather than charlatan scientists who failed to predict an event it is impossible to predict.

Italy, which has been Benjamin Button-ing itself ever since ushering in the Renaissance a few hundred years ago, is expected to lead a formal Crusade against science-talkers by the end of the century and discover science sometime around 2250.

The convicted men plan to appeal the decision.

[BBC // NYT // Image via Getty]