Prosecuting Earthquake Scientists

I’m sorry for putting a blunt point on it, but what f-ing moron decided it would be appropriate to prosecute the Italian scientists for failing to predict the L’Aquila earthquake that happened in 2009? Here is the news article which I couldn’t believe when I read: 

These poor seismologists, who have to have been mortified that they were not able to predict this thing anyway, are being prosecuted for not predicting the L’Aquila earthquake that claimed hundreds of lives in Italy.

Maybe I’m an incredibly naive American but I thought that most of the European governments were fairly reasonable or at least less litigious than American society has been of late. And then here comes this article. My first thought is that it is being prosecuted by some morally bankrupt a$$$$le trying to make his or her legal career at any cost. I don’t know the details of the suit.

What I do know is that if we are going to prosecute seismologists for not predicting an earthquake, while knowing that seismologic methods for earthquake prediction are at best educated guesses that are often wrong, then go ahead and jail meteorologists for failing to predict the recent tornados, doctor for failing to predict their patients getting the flu, traffic light engineers for people getting in accidents. While we’re at it, go ahead and round up all the psychics in every country too, since they claim with more self-assurance than scientists ever do, that they can predict the future. Where were they during the days leading up to the earthquake? Notably silent. Why? Because so far, there is no accurate prediction, and unless people spend their days neurotically cycling between storm shelters, gas masks and duct taping their windows, they are never going to be prepared for everything at every moment, unless we all turn into a society of obsessive mental cases.

People should always be aware of the hazards that can occur in their area, and prepare for them as best they can. If you live in a flood zone, get flood insurance. If you live in a tornado zone, know how to shelter and know the most likely signs, etc. But people in these areas are overall not dumb enough to assume that science is able to solve their preparedness problems because it never has. They prepare the best they can, and then go ahead and live their lives.

Scientists like this strive to get data that will benefit the world someday, if not today. And they regularly get shat on because so many people in society, particularly politicians, are incapable of seeing the long view or even past their own terms of office, and don’t want to fund anything that doesn’t give them instant gratification. As a result, scientists, overall, are forced to dance and jump through hoops of fire to get funding for their research, which includes putting up with any garbage that gets dumped on them. This makes them easy and expedient political targets for blame, rather than mobilizing the society to pull together and respond to its own problems caused, not by science but usually by political mismanagement.

I think, frankly, that if any government is foolish enough to cripple the scientific community by prosecuting them for doing their best in a precarious field, then the seismologists should go on strike, everywhere. I think that would send a clear message that if their toil is not going to be appreciated, and if in fact it is no longer safe to work in these scientific fields without risk to their freedom and welfare, then the government can just figure out how to get the scientific benefits they so cavalierly take for granted, themselves. Suits like these jeopardize the motivation needed to entice people into scientific fields which already offer little benefit to the scientists except for pure intellectual and ethical gratification. For the truly dedicated crusader of science, this is still often enough. But I think a line needs to be drawn in the sand that these brain trusts need to be protected, or ultimately the pursuit of knowledge which will benefit us in the long run will die out.


One Response to “Prosecuting Earthquake Scientists”

  1. If we prosecute those who study and try to learn, where will that leave us?

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