An Earthshattering Ruling

How accurate is science?  How big of a mistake can it be for people to rely upon it?  Do the scientists have any duty for the failure of their predictions?

According to an October 22nd article on phys.org, six Italian scientists and a government official have been sentenced to jail today for underestimating the risks of a 2009 earthquake.  They were also required to pay almost $12 Million in damages to the survivors in the town of L’Aquila.  The reason?  The scientists provided an “incomplete, inept, unsuitable, and criminally mistaken analysis” six days before a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the town, tearing down houses and killed 309 people.

If such precedent holds, there are plenty of implications.  How about climate change?  If the earth does not boil over and the waters cover half of the United States, should scientists around the world be held liable for all of billions of dollars spent in preparation and policy?  Could the Climate Change Skeptics be held liable for the trillions of dollars in destruction incurred if such events actually do occur?

Of course, the ruling may be more geared to the way that the analysis was conducted, rather than mere mistake.  However, the possibilities are staggering.  Could we hold a weatherman liable for the effects of rain when he forecasted snow, if such a case were mandatory authority in the United States?

Certainly, the illustrations make this ruling appear ridiculous.  Hopefully, there is little to worry about.  But, until another court rules on a similar case – or an Italian appeals court rules on this case – our confidence, like the city of L’Aquila, must remain shaken.

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