On October 22, 2012 six scientists and one government official, formerly of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were wrongfully convicted by the Italian courts. Judge Marco Billi sentenced each of them to 6 years in prison for manslaughter. Their alleged crime was providing "inexact, incomplete and contradictory" information to residents of L'Aquila, Italy ahead of the April 6, 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people.
While the devastating earthquake and the resulting loss of life were tragic, punishing scientists for failing to predict disasters sets an absurd standard for justice. For the scientific method to succeed, scientists must be free to conduct their work in an open and accountable manner, but without fear of political reprisal.
As Dr. Tom Jordan, the director of the southern California Earthquake Center, told CBS News, "This trial has raised huge concerns within the scientific community because here you have a number of scientists who are simply doing their job being prosecuted for criminal manslaughter and I think that scares all of us who are involved in risk communication."
This verdict was motivated by emotion rather than rational judgement, and the international scientific community should express its concern. Join the 5000 international scientists who signed on to a 2010 letter by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to Italian President Napolitano. Make your voice heard. Tell the Italian government that this kind of scapegoating is unacceptable.
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