A scientist does not kill anybody by failing to predict an imminent earthquake, even if he believes and says that it is unlikely to occur just before it does occur. Non-omniscient seismologists don’t kill people; earthquakes kill people.
Nevertheless, Judge Marco Billo sentenced six Italian scientists and a government official to six years in prison for manslaughter, and also billed them for court costs and damages to the tune of $10.2 million.
Some residents of the Italian town of d’Aquila applaud the penalties.
The seven defendants were members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risk, which had convened not long before the earthquake struck d’Aquila in April 2009, killing 309 people. Commission members did not issue a warning because the kind of small tremors that had been putting townsfolk on edge were, in their experience, not often the prelude to a major earthquake.
Their crime, then, was for uttering less-than-omniscient judgments in their field.
Suppose the defendants had instead determined that there should be an evacuation, that the town were then evacuated, and that a person died on the way out of town in a way directly attributable to the evacuation — but no earthquake then ensued. Also manslaughter?
If inability to eliminate uncertainty about future hazards is a crime, then we’re all guilty. But the real crime was committed by anyone having anything to do with this miscarriage of justice.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.