Italian seismologists: guilty(?)

by Judith Curry

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L’Aquila. – BBC

The background to this story was discussed in a previous thread Liability(?) of scientists.

The BBC provides a thorough analysis of the trial in an article entitled L’Aquila quake: Italy scientists guilty of manslaughter.  Some excerpts:

The BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome says the prosecution argued that the scientists were “just too reassuring”.  Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes.

The seven – all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks – were accused of having provided “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory” information about the danger of the tremors felt ahead of 6 April 2009 quake, Italian media report.

In addition to their sentences, all have been barred from ever holding public office again, La Repubblica reports.

The case has alarmed many in the scientific community, who feel science itself has been put on trial. Among those convicted were some of Italy’s most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts. Earlier, more than 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the group in the dock.

After the verdict was announced, David Rothery, of the UK’s Open University, said earthquakes were “inherently unpredictable”.  “The best estimate at the time was that the low-level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game,” he said.

Response from the AGU

The American Geophysical Union was quick off the block with this statement, entitled  Conviction of Italian Scientists May Hinder Open Discussion of Seismic Risk.  The complete text of their short statement:

The verdict and prison sentences delivered on 22 October in the trial of six Italian scientists and one government official charged with manslaughter in connection with the L’Aquila earthquake are troubling and could ultimately be harmful to international efforts to understand natural disasters and mitigate associated risk.

While the facts of the L’Aquila case are complex, the unfettered exchange of data and information, as well as the freedom and encouragement to participate in open discussions and to communicate results, are essential to the success of any type of scientific research. For scientists to be effective, they must be able to make good faith efforts to present the results of their research without the risk of prosecution. Outcomes such as the one seen in Italy could ultimately discourage scientists from advising their governments, from communicating the results of their research to the public, or even from studying and working in various fields of science.

The most appropriate response to natural disasters such as the L’Aquila earthquake is a renewed commitment on the part of scientists, engineers, and government officials to continue working together to more accurately understand and communicate the best available science and information for what can be done to protect the public.

Pielke Jr’s remarks

Roger Pielke Jr has a good analysis Mischaracterization of L’Aquila Lawsuit Verdict.   Excerpts:

Unfortunately, such characterizations of the he lawsuit are simply wrong: the scientists were not on trial for their failure to predict the earthquake.In an article published October 12, Science explained that the trial is far more complex than that: 

The trial in L’Aquila has drawn huge international attention, as well as outrage and protests. In 2010, more than 4000 scientists from Italy and around the world signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, calling the allegations “unfounded,” because there was no way the commission could reliably have predicted an earthquake. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS (the publisher of Science) called the indictments “unfair and naïve” in a 2010 letter to Napolitano.

Yet as the trial unfolded here over the past year, a more complex picture has emerged. Prosecutors didn’t charge commission members with failing to predict the earthquake but with conducting a hasty, superficial risk assessment and presenting incomplete, falsely reassuring findings to the public. They have argued in court that the many tremors that L’Aquila experienced in the preceding months did provide at least some clues about a heightened risk.

Meanwhile, a recorded telephone conversation made public halfway through the trial has suggested that the commission was convened with the explicit goal of reassuring the public and raised the question of whether the scientists were used—or allowed themselves to be used—to bring calm to a jittery town.

I discussed some of the dynamics at play in my Bridges column of October, 2011 (here in PDF):

On March 31, 2009, in L’Aquila, six days before a deadly magnitude 6.3 earthquake killed 308 people, Bernardo De Bernardinis, then deputy chief of Italy’s Civil Protection Department , and six scientists who were members of a scientific advisory body to the Department (the Major Risks Committee) participated in an official meeting and press conference in response to public concerns about short-term earthquake risks. The public concerns were the result of at least two factors: One was the recent occurrence of a number of small earthquakes. A second factor was the prediction of a pending large earthquake issued by Gioacchino Giuliani, who was not a seismologist and worked as a technician at Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics.

The deputy chief and scientists held a short one-hour meeting and then a press conference, during which they downplayed the possibility of an earthquake. For instance, De Bernardinis went so far as to claim that the recent tremors actually reduced earthquake risks: “[T]he scientific community continues to confirm to me that in fact it is a favourable situation, that is to say a continuous discharge of energy.” When asked directly by the media if the public should sit back and enjoy a glass of wine rather than worry about earthquakes, De Bernardinis acted as sommelier: “Absolutely, absolutely a Montepulciano doc. This seems important.” . . .

. . . in L’Aquila, the government and its scientists seemed to be sending a different message to the public than the one that was received. Media reports of the Major Risk Committee meeting and the subsequent press conference seem to focus on countering the views offered by Mr. Giuliani, whom they viewed as unscientific and had been battling in preceding months. Thus, one interpretation of the Major Risks Committee’s statements is that they were not specifically about earthquakes at all, but instead were about which individuals the public should view as legitimate and authoritative and which they should not.

If officials were expressing a view about authority rather than a careful assessment of actual earthquake risks, this would help to explain their sloppy treatment of uncertainties.

The case is likely to be appealed, so the current verdict is not the last word. While the verdict rests on finer points of Italian law and jurisprudence, the issues at play are not accurately characterized as a failure to accurately predict an earthquake, or even more broadly as science vs. anti-science. The public responsibilities of government officials and the scientists that they depend upon are too important to characterize in such cartoonish fashion.

JC comments
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I have been fielding a few queries from the press on this.  One reporter asked for parallels from the weather hazard forecasting world, in terms of whether this outcome would have a chilling effect in the weather hazards community.  I said that since weather forecasters make forecasts to the public every day, the public and the decision makers have a pretty good understanding of how reliable these forecasts are, and on what time horizons.  And most of these forecasts are accompanied by some indication of uncertainty (notably the ‘cone of uncertainty’ for hurricane tracks).
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Further, there is a very clear delineation of roles in terms of warning the public.  Whereas most private sector weather forecast providers do not provide forecasts to the public but rather to paying clients, these clients typically sign a contract that does not hold the weather forecasters responsible for any adverse decisions arising from a failed forecast.  Public warnings to evacuate an impending flood or hurricane are  made by the appropriate NOAA agency, FEMA, whatever and are communicated to the public through the media and through local government agencies.  So there is a pretty clear delineation of responsibilities for weather hazards.  So I think the public has a pretty clear understanding of where the authority lies in terms of warnings for impending severe weather.
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That said, effectively communicating the risk of an impending weather hazard is not always straightforward.  In particular, recent memory of similar hazards colors the response.  The failure to evacuate more completely the residents of New Orleans was in part due to the memory of riding out Hurricane Camille in 1969.   Then there was arguably an over reaction to Hurricane Rita, which occurred just on the heels of Hurricane Katrina.
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The Italian earthquake situation is complicated by confusion of the authority of the statements of Guiliani.   A weather analogy would be evacuating a city based upon a forecast by Joe Bastardi.  In terms of U.S. weather, we know better because of more frequent experience with the particular weather hazards.
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And finally, the scientific issue at the heart of this uncertainty:  the Italian scientists were bitten by the uncertainty monster.  As pointed out in the post The weatherman is not a moron,  careful characterization and communication of uncertainty is the hallmark of a useful forecast.
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So should all this have a chilling effect on science?  I think not, at least in the U.S., since this is not so much an issue for academic researchers as it is for government agencies in communicating risk and effectively warning the public.  I agree with the AGU statement that
The most appropriate response to natural disasters such as the L’Aquila earthquake is a renewed commitment on the part of scientists, engineers, and government officials to continue working together to more accurately understand and communicate the best available science and information for what can be done to protect the public.

188 responses to “Italian seismologists: guilty(?)

  1. Error check.. “Then there was arguably an over reaction to Hurricane Rita, which occurred just on the heels of Hurricane Rita.”

      • For some reason I can’t post a new comment below – I think it may be a problem on my end – but I can post replies.

        I wanted to out point to folks that it is a very poor idea to draw any conclusions about any trial, based on what is reported in the media. One of my brothers was a long time prosecutor and made me aware of this fact. Without spending every day at the trial and seeing and hearing all of the evidence and testimony, drawing conclusions is a fool’s choice. If it were not, we could simply have every thing tried in the press and do away with juries and judges.

      • And btw, tim –

        I completely agree with your point here. I’d think that skeptics would take what you’re saying for granted. That’s why it will be interesting to watch what “skeptics” have to say about this trial.

      • er.. not take if for granted. I meant take it as a given.

      • Is it “a very poor idea to draw any conclusions about any trial” ?

        Is it possible, timg56, the prison sentences given to skeptics of earthquakes is a thinly disguised warning to skeptics of AGW, Al Gore and the UN’s IPCC?

      • Amusing.
        Suppose you go on record that climate change will never happen, and we don’t have to worry about it in the slightest.
        Then the Midwest USA turns from fields of corn into fields of sand dunes and blowing dust. And WAIS collapses in a few months.
        Hmm. Might that be considered a hasty, superficial risk assessment and presenting incomplete, falsely reassuring findings to the public.?

      • Josh,

        Didn’t miss it. Just haven’t had time to get back to you.

  2. Guilty of allowing themselves to be used—to bring calm to a jittery town.

    • Well we don’t know without seeing the full transcript of the trial, but, like all trials it went through two gateways, the verdict and the sentence. So an Italian jury heard all the evidence and decided that the prosecution was right. The judge then took their verdict and had the opportunity (he may not have, but there’s usually scope) to take on board their guilt but understand the reasons “to bring calm to a jittery town.” But he too had heard all the evidence, and gave what I regard as a savage sentence of 6 years in jail and banning from public life.

      If the verdict of the judge and jury was based on them making a mistake with the best interests of the community at heart then indeed the sentence is harsh and chilling for all scientists. If however they had conspired to give certainty to something they were uncertain about, for whatever reason, they have something to answer for. If it was purely, or mainly, to put Sr. Guiliani in his place then they were reckless with people’s lives for the the most base of reasons.

      I wonder how Sir Paul Nurse feels on this issue, he, after all, declared that he would always go to the experts when he wanted advice and not listen to those who weren’t qualified.

  3. On the bright side this verdict gives great comfort to Casandras.

  4. Did the people in Italy engage in the some of the same types of behavior as some people we know in the climate community? I haven’t followed the trial. It will be interesting to find out.

    Of course the press wants to know about parallels between this event and the impending climate catastrophe. That could be the entire reason such a ridiculous trial was pushed in the first place. The issue skeptics have with so much of what is portrayed as science is the many instances of “hiding the decline” by certain people. To draw a parallel between someone making an honest judgement call in one instance (Italian earthquake) with the deliberate hiding and manipulation of inconvenient data on the other is not a valid comparison.

    • “Of course the press wants to know about parallels between this event and the impending climate catastrophe. That could be the entire reason such a ridiculous trial was pushed in the first place.”

      ha! :D

      that’s one the lewindsky man or whatever his name is!

      • I stated that it “could” be a reason, since the ink hasn’t dried on the verdict and the world press is already asking many of the same questions. Lew and co. stated fake, ridiculous things as fact (and the peer reviewers agreed!). BIG difference genius.

    • “The issue skeptics have with so much of what is portrayed as science is the many instances of “hiding the decline” by certain people.”

      That’s why skeptics keep getting the numbers wrong is it?

      • Please elaborate on just which numbers that would be. Little or no warming since 1997? Argo buoys showing no OHC increase? 1.4 deg of projected temperature rise in next century. 20% increased crop yield due to CO2 rising. The world waits with baited breath, oh anointed one!

      • lolwot,

        If I may, can I change the topic to this?

        What do you think of the part about the “expert” seismologists trying to downplay the position of the guy saying a major quake was a real possibility, simply because he wasn’t a peer-reviewed scientist in the subject?

      • > If I may, can I change the topic to this?

        Look! A polite squirrel!

        PS: I like it, tim.

      • willard,

        I was reminded of the large number of times I’ve heard about “real Climate Scientists” and “peer-reviewed” as a rebuttal to people who supposedly are not qualified nor compentent enough to hold a valid opinion on climate change.

        Rather ironic that the guy suppossedly not qualified was the one with the most accurate position. Granted, it could have been the result of a blind squirrel.

      • Every rule has its exception. Even the “believe peer reviewed scientists first” rule!

      • timg56,

        A stopped clock is right twice a day.
        Justification gives authority more leeway.

    • I’m guess that Gil alternates between saying that the views of “skeptics” aren’t monolithic and characterizing the views of “skeptics” as being monolithic.

  5. An analogous weather situation is Joe the Scientist calls fears about human-caused CO2 also causing freezing temperatures as simple-minded and superstitious global warming alarmism, just before NY freezes over in a real-life The Day After Tomorrow

    • Wouldn’t the correct comparison be if a “climate scientist” or weather forecaster made statements to the public saying they should NOT worry about an advancing storm because based upon their expert analysis, no damage will be likely from the storm? If the storm destroys the area it would seem reasonable that the public would have a reason to complain.

      • Assume residents of a city suffering from a drought contribute money to hire a rainmaker who then uses a divining rod to tease the heavens causing a torrential downpour that results in disastrous flooding. Who should be run out of town on a rail, the rainmaker or the residents that hired him?

      • That is unrelated to the court case and would be a completely different type of case and set of issues.

      • Really? Then, substitute ‘climate scientists’ for ‘residents’ and instead of ‘contributed money’ say, ‘influenced politicians to use tax dollars.’

      • Yes really. If you think a bit more it is obvious. Try thinking more and commenting less.
        The case in Italy was about scientists making definitive statements that they knew that harms would not come to the public.
        In your example- There is no expert making a similar claim. There is no evidence to be able to prove a link between the rainmaker using the diving rod and the resulting storm.

      • Gawd really?… what I am describing actually happened too, around the time of Pancho Villa, and the ‘scientist’ in that story was run out of town on a rail and for the same reason the Italian scientists were railroaded.

        See, http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/70winter/hatfield.htm

      • Wagathon

        Think again. Just because a similar result occurs does not mean that the root cause was the same.

      • It is very clear what the reason is and it is the same a the reason the Left blamed George Bush for nothing he was responsible for causin in the aftermath of Katrina.

  6. Italian Scientist Disclaimer Notice: the views of the scientist(s) shall not be construed convey certainty or uncertainty of any event past or present or to endorse or advocate any particular act or behavior or to recommend or discourage any course of action in reliance upon anything actually or assumed to have been thought, said, heard, understood or otherwise conveyed in any manner communicated by any means.

  7. We seem to have inherited an age in which it is desperately important to feel like we have control. Part of having control is being able to blame someone in the name of “holding them responsible.”

  8. ~Huffington Post – GREEN BRIEF

  9. Certainly the “CO2 is life” folk* might eventually be hauled in front of courts if CO2 rise turns out to have a rather opposite effect than they claimed.

    *if only to find out exactly how they got it wrong.

    • David Springer

      It opens up the door to anyone harmed by an expert’s hasty opinion to criminal charges for it. This works both ways as people can die because a predicted calamity doesn’t happen and where people are harmed, financially or physically, in their response.

      So it basically means if you’re a professional in the relevant field you better make damn sure you don’t give any half-cocked warnings out or make damn sure you convey with no ambivalence that the prediction isn’t… what to call it… oh yeah… that the prediction isn’t “settled science”.

      This is a wonderful thing. Long overdue.

    • Yeah, lolwot, and the predictors of climate disaster (leading to a shutdown of the fossil-fuel driven World economy) will be pilloried when it turns out that their models predictions (oops! projections) turned out to be wacky.

      Max

  10. David Springer

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/22/us-science-manslaughter-italy-idUSBRE89L1IC20121022

    I was just about to put the link to this in whatever article was on top but I see it IS the top article.

    Scientists speaking as experts in their field to the general public are being held accountable. Chilling my ass. This is heartwarming.

    The following article is instructive with regard to which countries have same legal framework as Italy (civil law not english common law like US and most former British colonies).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_country_legal_systems#Common_law

  11. It is not clear what sort of employment contract the scientists had signed. It should not affect their conclusions, but more diligence would be expected of people who were in effect, public servants. But we don’t know the full story. It is possible that the department heads had pressured them to avoid decisions that would involve government expenditure. Especially so when Italy’s government has a huge sovereign debt.

    But there is no doubt that scientists and engineers are often required to sign employment contracts that require them to relinquish all rights to intellectual property.

  12. I personally think it is time that Scientists realised that they can be held accountable if they make reckless statements. For too long we’ve had a free for all where certain people have felt able to make the most ridiculous statements and as climategate showed – their colleagues would not hold them to account.

    Now the courts are doing the job of regulation because everyone can see that self-regulation has failed.

    Even I as an ordinary person can’t shout “fire” in a crowded cinema, nor the contrary … state there is not a fire when I didn’t know. So why do scientists think that they should be treated differently and have some god given right to say whatever they like without ever being held to account … THEY DON’T … that’s what the court is saying.

    • Of course–the weatherman in Lake Havasu City is supposed to say its 10° cooler to get people to drive over from Phoenix.

    • The opposite also happened: when the meteo predicted a sunny weekend at the Belgian coast and they had rain pooring down all weekend, I didn’t hear any complaint from the same city mayor…
      The main complaint might be that medium-term weather forecasts still are simply too unreliable and too broad for what will happen locally. But scientists need to make these uncertainties far better known…

    • Proof that idiocy has no limit. It is examples like this that alternatively makes me dispair for the future or seriously think about laws preventing people like this from procreating.

      Most people living in the Pacific NW quickly learn to ignore weather forecasts when planning on doing something. You simply plan on the weather running the spectrum from warm & sunny to wet & cold.

  13. Judith Curry

    I was appalled when I first heard the news of this on Swiss television.

    After hearing more details, I am even more appalled.

    Early warning science on natural disasters (example tornado warnings) has been around a while, but still relies on empirical data that are anything but consistent. Warning systems are better than they were, but still relatively primitive. And tornado strikes are easier to forecast than earthquakes.

    Earthquakes can hit anywhere, but we all know the regions that are at greatest risk. But no one knows exactly when an earthquake of what magnitude will strike where.

    As you have written earlier, scientists have to walk a thin line between crying “wolf” or being “Pollyannas” when it comes to predicting natural disasters (both approaches tend to result in apathy in the general public in the long term).

    A second problem that may be generic. The Italian justice system is a laughing stock in the rest of Europe. Mafiosi assassins get away free while criminal investigators get murdered.

    The sloppy and apparently politically motivated criminal justice system surrounding the Amanda Knox trial and conviction that was overturned on appeal last year and is now set for acquittal appeal next March is a specific example.

    This case is another.

    The really bad thing in my mind, however, is that it sets a precedent whereby scientists are de facto made guilty of resulting damage, destruction and loss of human life caused by natural disasters they did not foresee properly and in time.

    Scary.

    Plus it will lead to scientists issuing daily warnings of disasters too fierce to mention in order to cover their rear ends “just in case”. So everyone eventually ignores the dire warning and goes to sleep when “WHAM!”.

    But the “scientist” is off the hook.

    Max

    • The really bad thing in my mind, however, is that it sets a precedent whereby scientists are de facto made guilty of resulting damage, destruction and loss of human life caused by natural disasters they did not foresee properly and in time.

      Scary.

      It’s always cute when folks who spend so much time hand-wringing about “alarmism” turn around and expose themselves as alarmists.

      • Joshua

        You missed the point (AGAIN).

        It’s not about “alarmism” – it’s about the “victim mentality”

        A “victim” of a natural disaster “blames” a “scienist” for his misery.

        The scientist gets sued and convicted.

        Future scientist gets smart; predicts “disaster” every day just to cover his rear end. (Politicians “parrot” the “impending disaster” predictions.)

        No “disaster” (earthquake, in this case) happens for years.

        Everybody relaxes. Earthquake building codes are ignored.

        Natural “disaster” hits (what the hell, you’re in the middle of an earthquake zone!).

        Non-code buildings collapse. People die. Lots of “victims”.

        “Scientists” (and “politicians”) are off the hook, though.

        What’s wrong with this picture?

        a) People were naive enough to believe “scientists” (and “politicians”)
        b) When it turned out that both were wrong for many years, people stopped believing that natural disaster could ever occur
        c) People ignored basic safety and loss prevention measures, such as earthquake building codes, etc.
        d) “WHAM!”
        e) Politicians and scientists are “off the hook” (“tol’ ya an’ tol’ ya, but ya jes’ wudn’t pay me no mind…”)

        Moral of the story

        a) Don’t believe everything “scientists” tell you (they are only humans, not prophets of the future)
        b) Don’t believe everything “politicians” tell you (they often act in their – not your – interest)
        c) Follow Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared”

        Not much “alarmism” in that, Joshua.

        Max

      • There is also a significant difference between “scientists” and “engineers”. Engineers (and Doctors) assume a level of professional liability every day that is reflected in their approach to their work. You will never hear an engineer say to not worry about an earthquake – they know better, and they ARE responsible for the safe design of buildings in earthquake prone areas.

  14. Judith Curry

    My remark was not specifically related to the climate science “brouhaha”.

    he one-sided, exaggerated “projections” of model simulated “impending disaster” scenarios by a politically appointed and supposedly gold standard inter-governmental science assembling and reporting group (IPCC) is bad for many reasons, which have been discussed here and on other threads.

    There is really no direct link to the Italian earthquake story, however, because the differences are far too great:

    – the Italian earthquake was real (not a computer model forecast for the distant future).
    – it killed people and destroyed buildings and property (nobody has been killed and no property has been destroyed as a result of AGW)
    – there are precautionary measures to minimize damage and loss of life from earthquakes, but no actionable precautionary measures having a demonstrable potential impact on AGW have been brought forward
    – seismologists (unlike many “consensus” climatologists) are not trying to “sell a bill of goods”, there is no multi-billion dollar big taxpayer-funded business involved and and there are no trillions in potential tax revenues for politicians to collect and distribute

    IOW it’s a different story entirely.

    Max

  15. There is an analogy between the increasing failure of the climate models and the increasing frequency of seismic events, granted, a shaky one.
    ====================

  16. BBC News Online: The head of Italy’s disaster body, Luciano Maiani, has resigned in protest at prison sentences passed on seven colleagues over the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila.

    Six scientists and an ex-official were convicted of multiple manslaughter for giving a falsely reassuring statement.

    Prof Maiani, a physicist, said the Serious Risks Commission could not work “in such difficult conditions”.

    Prof Maiani’s decision to quit was announced by the Italy’s Civil Protection Department, which said the commission’s vice-president, Mauro Rosi, and emeritus president Giuseppe Zamberletti had also tendered their resignations.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20039769

    Whether or not the Italian advisers were at fault in underplaying the risk, this will have a chilling effect on scientists and others in providing advice on such uncertain issues (climate alarmists excluded, of course).

    • Chief Hydrologist

      They should throw him in goal too.

    • Whether or not the Italian advisers were at fault in underplaying the risk, this will have a chilling effect on scientists and others in providing advice on such uncertain issues

      Yet more alarmism? Fascinating.

      • Steven Mosher

        You might take notice of the difference between seeing an existential threat to all and a legal threat to a few. Otherwise any statement of risk becomes alarmism and your abusive over generalizing becomes a sign of unreflective bias

      • Chief Hydrologist

        I wish I’d said that.

  17. Join Facebook group FreeItalianSeismologists

  18. Pathetic. Truly pathetic. Waiting for Bill McKibben and the rest of those “extreme weather” loons to call for prosecutions of “cllimate deniers” if Hurricane Sandy impacts the U.S.

    • Pathetic. Truly pathetic. Waiting for Bill McKibben and the rest of those “extreme weather” loons to call for prosecutions of “cllimate deniers” if Hurricane Sandy impacts the U.S.

      Alarmism? At Climate Etc.? Say it ain’t so!

  19. I happen to live in Kansas in “tornado alley”. Tornado warnings can run the gamut in terms of seriousness, with luck more or less the driver. However, the idea of suing the various forecasters if you get hit (or not hit) doesn’t even register as a consideration.

    The Italian justice system is a joke and, IMO, symptomatic of the “I’m a victim, give me money” mentality that characterizes large swaths of Europe.

    • kellermfk

      Excellent!

      [I live in Europe (Switzerland) and agree fully.]

      But the “victim mentality – gimme money” also exists in the US tort law system (klutzy lady spilling her McDonalds coffee in her lap and then suing for millions).

      We are a “society of victims” and somebody else has to pay for our (often self-inflicted) misery.

      As tragic as the Italian earthquake deaths were, everyone living there knew that earthquakes could happen, yet many old buildings were not built or retrofitted earthquake-proof, as it turned out.

      Whose “fault” was that?

      Max

      • David Springer

        It’s not quite so simple in the McDonald’s case. The argument is that a cup of coffee is not reasonably considered capable of causing third degree burns over 10% of your body if spilled.

        http://images.google.com/images?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4LENN_enUS461US461&q=mcdonalds+coffee+lawsuit+burns

        The restaurant was serving the coffee heated to a dangerous degree, the lawsuit had merit, and the jury rendered a good verdict.

      • My understanding is that the plaintiff simply pointed to the huge number of previous complaints of coffee too hot, and then demonstrated what McDonald’s had done in response, which was nothing.

        H/t Stray, unverified, internet gossip.
        =================

      • Another steaming analogy: What has climate science done in response to huge number of complaints of ‘models too hot’?
        =============

      • David is correct on this.

        The McDonald’s case got a lot of publicity and many took it up as a perfect example of the court system & juries out of control. However the facts show a completely different picture.

        The particular Mickey D’s in this case was on record with several prior complaints and warnings from the health department for keeping its coffee at too high a temperature. A temperature that exceeds the one stated in the McDonald’s operating manual. Their excuse was that many of their customers have long drives to work – it being Arizona after all – and preferred the higher temp because it kept their coffee from getting cold too soon. In other words, they were operating outside their standards and had been previously warned. Strike one.

        Next was the fact that the woman had only asked that McDonald’s cover the difference between what her medical costs were and what her insurance covered. Something around $5,000 as I recall. McD’s response? They basically told her to piss up a rope. Strike two.

        So the woman files suit, goes to court, provides evidence showing real injury, which combined with the above makes it an easy decision for the jury. Strike three, Ronald goes down on a called third strike.

  20. “falsely reassuring statement”. One thing I have learned from the movies… if anybody says “it’s going to be okay” or “it’s going to be alright”, it’s not. I gather they even said that to the people who died in 9/11. For some reason, everyone assumes they want to be reassured, even falsely. Either that or it’s better for the rest of us if the victims don’t panic. There must be a pysch study in here somewhere. Of course, if they do live they are going to be fuming mad.

    • The only movie line that bodes less well for the speaker than “it’s going to be alright,” is “I’ll be right back.”

      • Well, outside the movies (in business) there is, “the check’s in the mail”.

        And in “climatology” there is, “most of…is very likely (i.e. more that 90% likely) caused by…”

        Max

  21. If a microbiologist stated “You can safely drink this water”, and then 15,000 people died of typhoid, do you think that the microbiologist is at all at fault?
    If an engineer stated “The dam will hold and will not brek flooding the town” and the dam gave way killing thousands, do you think that the engineer is at all at fault?
    If the forgemasters states “The linkages of the chain are all up to specification” and the bridge collapses killing all driving over it, do you think that the forgemastert is at all at fault?

    If you are asked to give a ‘professional’ assessment and you call it wrong, you deserve to get sued. Medics are always VERY careful in how they advise cancer patients towards treatments; “I like this approach”, “we have a lot of success with..” and “In your case I would advise..”

    You put your ass on the line and call it wrong, you have to face the consequences.

    • Exactly

    • Steven Mosher

      So if you say its safe to go to 600 ppm..or even desireable and it turns out otherwise…is your excuse goibg to be that no one should have listened to a non climate scientist

      not u personally

      • “So if you say its safe to go to 600 ppm..or even desirable and it turns out otherwise…is your excuse going to be that no one should have listened to a non climate scientist”.

        The question is when and if global CO2 reaches 600 ppm.
        If global CO2 were rise at 4 ppm per year, it will take 50 years.

        We know 600 ppm is safe, 1500 ppm is also consider safe level in buildings. Because of poor ventilation one can some building easily exceeding 3000 ppm and 5000 ppm is permissible levels.

        And in terms of climate, a 50% increase in CO2 is suppose to do what?
        Worse case.

        So it seems the question isn’t if it will be safe, but something more timely could be the question when is the soonest one expect a 3 or 4 ppm average increase in global CO2 levels.

        Does anyone imagines the average increase in CO2 will be 3 ppm or more within say, a decade or two?

        So such kinds of prediction allows people who could make the prediction not to dead from old age or something. Though no one would die if 3 ppm yearly increase occurs earlier time than whatever the prediction happens to be, but at least the person making the wrong prediction has reasonable chance of still being part of living.

        But perhaps rather any future predictions, perhaps knowing how much China [the largest CO2 emitter] actually emitting might better start on things:
        “According to Chinese national statistics, on average, CO2 emissions have been growing 7.5 percent annually from 1997 to 7.69 billion tonnes in 2010, the authors say in the study.

        In contrast, aggregated emissions of all Chinese provinces have increased 8.5 percent on average to 9.08 billion tonnes in 2010.

        By comparison, U.S. emissions were 6.87 billion tonnes in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency says.”
        http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/10/us-china-emissions-idUSBRE8590AD20120610

        So predicting when China get to 10 billion tonnes could also be interesting, but it’s possible it’s already occurred. And that’s no fun!

      • Yeah, Steven, and if “going to 600 ppmv CO2″

        a) results in no perceptible change of our climate, OR
        b) results in a slight beneficial change to our climate

        [two out of the three possible outcomes, each with an arguably equal statistical probability]

        then the billions of dollars NOT wasted in futile attempts to change our climate will have been saved for use somewhere where they can (hopefully) have done some good (Lomborg).

        Logical, no?

        Max

      • Steven Mosher

        Yes. thats why reasonable people are cautious to endorse crazy action or in action. no regrets solutions first

      • Steven

        We agree. No “crazy” inaction (or action).

        “Non-crazy” action – YES.
        “Non-crazy” inaction – YES

        Now let’s define what’s “crazy”

        Max

        PS I’ve got my definition and you probably have yours. Are they the same?

      • Steve

        “if you say its safe to go to 600 ppm..or even desireable and it turns out otherwise”

        That is not a reasonable comparison to the court case and would not be actionable. What does “safe” mean? Does it mean perfect weather every day all the time? Does it mean that if people prepare properly they can live reasonable well?

    • Wrong analogy.
      Engineers have control over whether dams crumble or not.
      Nobody has control over earthquakes.

      • There was a guy running a “Predict the sex of you baby: Refund Guarantee” scam. He told all expectant parents that they would have a Boy, and if they then had a girl he gave them their money back; he went to prison.
        The people claiming ‘600 ppm will cause the world to end’ are telling us we are telling us we are going to have sons.

      • I heard tell of a much more clever scheme, at which this doctor gained only community respect. When asked the sex of the foetus, he’d say either boy or girl, then write in the record the opposite. The only ones who challenged him were the wrong guesses, and he could then point at what he’d written in the chart. This was a long time ago, and I believe everyone was on to his ‘skill’.
        =============

      • A pregnant analogy: Climate science has professed certainty, but written uncertainty into the record. This is not an innocent scheme.
        =============

    • DocMartyn

      You ask the question:

      If a microbiologist stated “You can safely drink this water”, and then 15,000 people died of typhoid, do you think that the microbiologist is at all at fault?

      There is not enough data in your question to come up with a single answer.

      a) Did the microbiologist test several samples of the water first to make sure it was safe?

      b) Did the test results confirm to the scientist that it was, indeed, safe beyond a doubt?

      If the answer to a) and b) are both positive (and this can be verified by empirical evidence), then the scientist is not at fault, i.e. something happened to the water after the lab tests.

      If the answer to either a) or b) is negative, then the scientist is at fault.

      Max

      • MAx, stop playing stupid word games. If you state your professional opinion; A causes B, and A does not cause B, then you deserve to be treated as a scam artist.

      • Doc

        Ain’t no word game.

        The whole premise of the scientist and the typhoid infested water rests on whether he/she had exercised due diligence in clearing the water for human consumption prior to doing so.

        – If he/she did and can prove this, he/she is innocent, i.e. something bad happened after the water was tested and cleared, which was outside the control of the scientist. (Someone else may be guilty for all the deaths, but it’s.not the scientist).

        – If he/she did not exercise due diligence, he/she is guilty of gross negligence with disastrous consequences.

        Now to “scam artists”. I agree with you that “scientists” who deliberately understate uncertainty about the attribution observed past phenomena in order the make dicey predictions of future phenomena by concentrating myopically on only one factor as the sole driving force to the exclusion of others, are “scam artists”.

        If their predictions cause governments to undertake actions, which turn out to be totally ineffective in accomplishing anything but cost the taxpaying public an exorbitant amount of money that would have been sorely needed elsewhere, then both the scientists and the government agencies that sponsored them should be held accountable.

        But, unlike the example of the typhoid infested drinking water, where the people die pretty fast, these scientists have all covered their backsides, by making the predictions so far in the future that no one will still be around when it becomes clear how wrong they were.

        Max

  22. MattStat/MatthewRMarler

    National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks

    Their penalty includes that they will not be eligible for government employment again. That seems perfectly appropriate.

    Had the commissioners communicated to the public, as was their job, their considered opinion of the risks and the absence of certainty, they surely would not have been found guilty. They were negligent in their duty. I think that the AGU statement completely misses the point that these were government officials who did not in fact engage in something like the unfettered exchange of data and information, as well as the freedom and encouragement to participate in open discussions and to communicate results; the letter seems irrelevant to the case.

    The analogy with the AGW community is that among themselves the promoters are honest about the limitations of the knowledge, with detailed critiques of each other’s work, but in public they express extreme certitude. To the degree that they are paid public servants they are being derelict in their duty. Prof Curry has spent a great deal of time trying to apprise the public of the uncertainties. To the degree that there is praise and blame (no trial to determine guilt), she gets praise.

  23. MattStat/MatthewRMarler

    The AGU statement does not seem to address the actual charges: Prosecutors didn’t charge commission members with failing to predict the earthquake but with conducting a hasty, superficial risk assessment and presenting incomplete, falsely reassuring findings to the public.

    If there is an analogy in the contemporary US, it might be the hasty and superficial investigation of Mann by Penn State U, which is a focus of Mann’s libel suit against NRO and CEI. The malfeasance asserted (against the commission and against Penn State) is not reaching the wrong conclusion but dereliction of duty.

  24. So, hypothetically speaking, after sixteen years of no warming, should we sue Al no-more-snow Gore for lost income?
    My situation: Some investors planned to build a new ski slope and lodge near here, but decided there wouldn’t be enough snow with global warming. I could have made a fortune like friends near two slopes in the next county. Sounds to me like I might have a case, what do you think? This is actually a true tale.

    • Not likely(IANAL). The four D’s of Liability are Duty, Dereliction, Damages and Direct Cause between Dereliction and Damages. You have damages, so does a massive horde of potential litigants. But Duty and Dereliction are massively confused in this desperate social mania. Showing Direct Cause would drive a Minotaur amazingly mad.
      =====================

  25. “So should all this have a chilling effect on science? I think not….”

    What this Kafkaesque tale should have a chilling effect on is scientists’ willingness to be used by progressive governments. When it goes wrong, who do they think will take the fall?

    As to the substance of the case, anyone dumb enough to believe scientists can forecast earthquakes (or the rise in global average temperature over decades to within tenths of a degree), has no one to blame but himself for any ill that befalls him.

    Even under civil law, manslaughter requires proof that the bad act of the defendant caused the deaths in issue. The testimony the prosecution referred to to prove causation?

    “It described how Guido Fioravanti had called his mother at about 11:00 on the night of the earthquake – straight after the first tremor.

    ‘I remember the fear in her voice. On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they repeated to themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed.'”

    Leaving aside the apparent mind reading involved here, such blind faith in government is something one would hope the Europeans will soon learn to control. Though it appears it may take the complete collapse of the European economy to accomplish this.

    The real lessons here: scientists should not suborn their integrity to government, and the people should not abdicate responsibility for their own safety to that same government.

  26. Lack of precise information makes the scientists on trial story hard to get my arms around. Were the scientists politically motivated into not making a catastrophic prediction? Were the scientists guilty of not having precise information on when and where and how much an earthquake would strike? Did over reliance upon computer models cloud their judgement? Did the scientists run off and hide when they should have been out in the field making precise measurements?

    Other questions relate to the judicial system in Italy. Are judges politically motivated, making feel good verdicts instead of what the law states? Do the laws of Italy, in this area of jurisprudence make government officials vulnerable/immune to criminal prosecution?

    One wonders.

    This ruling seems to place scientists who make scientific predictions, or, in this case lack of predictions, on a similar liability footing as physicians, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, contractors, etc. It appears to me that scientists will be held accountable for their predictions. This would entail providing an estimation of risk, likelihood, and uncertainty. The ruling would make scientists provide the basis for their prediction and the data behind their assessment: transparency. The scientists would need to provide records of their deliberations, and most importantly, an airing of opposing or dissenting opinions. Disclosure of conflicts of interests along with timely updates would be required as well.

    Its hard for me to understand this ruling with the lack of precise information. If the outcome is scientific transparency, well, maybe not so bad

    • RiHo08,

      Reading the stories, it seems the government wanted to calm the fears of inhabitants caused by tremors leading up to the quake. So, as with the IPCC, the government got some scientists to make the pronouncement they wanted.

      Stupid government bureaucrats, foolish scientists.

      But a six year prison sentence? Lunacy.

      Someone asks above whether the judges (actually magistrate in this case) are political. That is like asking if fish are wet.

      There have been some heroic magistrates in Italy, who have given their lives to fight corruption. But they are the exception. The entire European continent is befuddled by progressivism. There are virtually no conservatives in old Europe, or at least, none that seem to be willing to speak up. Everything is political in that system.

      Those who live by centralizing enormous power in the state, are the ones who will ultimately pay the consequences of that folly.

    • David Springer

      RiHo08 | October 23, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Reply

      “Lack of precise information makes the scientists on trial story hard to get my arms around. Were the scientists politically motivated into not making a catastrophic prediction?”

      They were tasked to lie about the possibility of a major quake in order to avoid a panic in the region. The quake happened, the lie was exposed, and they were punished for lying by the same government that asked them to lie. I suppose they considered it a noble lie.

      The moral of the story is that scientists considered experts in a field should avoid the noble lie and not offer any expert opinions that are not both competent and truthful. There’s an old saw that covers this situation that goes along the lines of “if you don’t have anythiung good to say don’t say anything at all”. The convicted scientists had nothing honestly good to say so they should have opted to say nothing at all. But they instead chose to be dishonest. Now they’re paying for it and in so doing setting an example for experts everywhere.

      • Like Bart R is always saying: ‘I want my money back’. Now, we all seem to feel the same way when we get a lie with our *science*. It has to cost the cooks a fair price now, or we all will be served more garbage with a promise from a smarter *peer* the next time. The heat has to go somewhere they said. Little did they know.

  27. It now falls to Judy to figure out how many Georgia sea islands residents could drown in 39 inches of water .

  28. The problem with the court decision is that there is uncertainty in science. This shows that courts in Italy have bought into neo-science where science error is not possible.

  29. David L. Hagen

    If Joe Bastardi recommended evacuation, I would take that very seriously and get out ASAP.

  30. Mischaracterization.

    A nice brokerage device. Sounds honest.

  31. David L. Hagen

    Evidence of human impact on climate? Or higher profitability?
    Speaking of disasters, see:
    Scientists Denounce Dubious Climate Study by Insurer, by Axel Bojanowski

    German re-insurer Munich Re claims to have found proof that man-made climate change is causing more weather catastrophes in North America. Scientists are outraged. . . .
    So far, Pielke says, scientists have been unable to identify man-made climate change in catastrophe damage data.

    Has Munich Re discovered the human signature in climate? Or is this an excuse to increase rates and profits?

  32. In Australia many local authorities along its eastern seaboard have both issued predictions of imminent sea level rise, leading to falls in property values of beach properties even hundreds of metres from the sea, and in many locations have forbidden construction of new property within sight of the sea. These predictions are already failing, and the evidence (Watson 2011, Boretti 2011) is actually for currently falling sea levels in Sydney and along the coast (with no secular change in SLR for over 100 years). The issue is whether our jails have enough room to accommodate all these alarmist scientists at CSIRO and their mindless followers in local authorities like Lake Macquarie in the light of the malign impact on property values of based on their false predections.

    • David Springer

      Exactly. Economic damage was caused by negligent and/or fraudulent projections by certified experts in the field. They should be held legally accountable and made into an example to discourage such behavior by themselves or peers in the future.

      • David Springer

        I’m waiting for the coal and electric power industry in the US to sue the scientists whose opinions were used to make the determination that CO2 emission from same is a public health hazard. Again this is a case of economic damages caused by negligent and/or fraudulent expert opinions.

  33. Uncertainty, prediction, the insolence of office..and it’s down the rabbit hole we go …

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/TheMousesTale.svg

    .. and who might we meet while we’re down here? .. Oh, good day, Eli!

  34. The 6 scientists were naive with their modeling results and to dance with the politicians to make reassurances. Its part of the government systems to hire ‘experts’, ‘consultants’ as scapegoats for decisions to be made. Consequences of large no. of deaths, injuries and property damages left no choice for the government to prosecute the naive scientists or the government had to shoulder the consequences. Its just part of the system.

    When people discover the CAGW/AGW were frauds in the end, could the governments be sued for the damages?

    • SamNC by the reasoning in the first para of your post the climate scientists could be sued instead! If the AGW hypothesis is ever disproved one wonders what recourse there is for any additional costs now being borne by tax payers and consumers for carbon pricing policies that had been unnecessarily imposed?

      • If the voice to sue the governments is loud and clear for damages done due to decisions made from the mis-representation of CAGW/AGW, I am sure the governments will sue those involved. They were paid for it.

  35. @ “In addition to their sentences, all have been barred from ever holding public office again, La Repubblica reports.”

    Should that not also be an option for people, which may have been not less “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory”, thinking they should get away with a cheap bet, as they offered four years ago:

    “Global Cooling-Wanna Bet? “ By Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, Ray Bradley, William Connolley, David Archer, and Caspar Ammann http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/global-cooling-wanna-bet/langswitch_lang/en/

    “The bet we propose is very simple and concerns the specific global prediction in their Nature article. If the average temperature 2000-2010 (their first forecast) really turns out to be lower or equal to the average temperature 1994-2004 (*), we will pay them € 2500. If it turns out to be warmer, they pay us € 2500. This bet will be decided by the end of 2010. We offer the same for their second forecast: If 2005-2015 (*) turns out to be colder or equal compared to 1994-2004 (*), we will pay them € 2500 – if it turns out to be warmer, they pay us the same. The basis for the temperature comparison will be the HadCRUT3 global mean surface temperature data set used by the authors in their paper “

    • Arnd

      The “bet” that was proposed is “loaded”, of course.

      1994-2004 was a period that started off with very strong warming, which then flattened out toward the end (as the current period of “lack of warming” kicked in after 2000).

      So if the warming trend now remains perfectly flat until 2010, it is obvious that the period 2000-2010 will have temperatures that are higher on average than the earlier period.

      Even for the period 2005-2015 the argument is the same. Even if there is ZERO warming from 2001 through 2015, the period 2005-2015 will have warmer average temperature than 1994-2004 (because of the rapid warming that occurred in the 1990s and despite the lack of warming since 2000).

      Do the math. It’s simple.

      And don’t fall for “loaded” bets.

      Max

    • David Springer

      I’ll bet that 2010-2019 will be cooler than 2000-2009. Any takers?

  36. There are some professions, such as doctors, lawyers and professional engineers, who put their signature on an opinion, and can be sued if they are wrong. Are there occasions when scientists should be included in this sort of process? I am not sure, but I can see that a case could be made that scientists should not necessarily be immune from prosection.

  37. Hey, folks!

    Scientists are just plain old human beings (like everyone else) – no more,no less.

    So are politicians

    When either group tell you something, be skeptical.

    Both groups are often acting in their own interests – nor yours (oh, horror!)

    Neither group can predict the future when it comes to natural phenomena – like earthquakes or the climate (nobody really can).

    So be rationally skeptical when they tell you something is going to happen in the future (they really do not know).

    And, if and when you are unfortunate enough to have become a victim of a natural disaster, don’t look around for someone to blame – or for a court to give you justice.

    S*** happens. Get used to it And don’t believe anything anybody tells you, without first checking it out.

    Max

    • Joe's World(progressive evolution)

      No S*** Max?
      :-)

      Currently my wife is an alien…the government has seized her birth certificate when applying for a pass port…alot more to this saga…

  38. I received a very interesting comment via email from an Italian scientist:

    the real issue -the way I see it, at least – is that it’s almost impossible to disentangle the political meaning of the sentence.
    Scientists are traditionally left wings. Bertolaso, head of the Civil Protection, was one of the guy of Berlusconi (one of the best example of the Berlusconi’ style). During the berlusconi government research money were (still are… but now is for anything) very scarse, and Bertolaso had quit a bit of power in ‘distributing’ extra funds (the civil protection was pretty flushed, all things considered).

    The 6 people in the commission were appointed by Bertolaso, and Boschi in particular is the typical Italian Baron that switched political sides heavily. From a left man turned into a right one when was convenient. His last act, after being at the head of the INGV for 28 years (in theory impossible, but it’s enough to change name to the institute… so from ING became INGV when it was decided that 12 was the max -and he had already 16), has been to have -just before the collapse of the Berlusconi government – I mean two weeks or so before… – his closest former student appointed by the (berlusconi) minister for the research as his replacement.

    First degree judges in Italy and in L’Aquila for sure are strongly left wing (and very much anti-berlusconi). It’s very common to see political sentences in first degree decisions, usually -fortunately in most cases- reversed later on (we have two more levels).
    They could not get to Bertolaso, who, as in other circumstances, had his back well covered. At least they got his men (and Berolaso was more than happy to blame them for everything and more).
    It’s a political sentence. Some of the people involved are serious scientists though, and it’s sad.
    I’m sure the meeting of the 6 was called by Bertolaso just to get the people reassured. The civil protection and the government had no way to evacuate l’Aquila.
    So the 6 had the order or the strong recommendation to just meet and say that everything was going to be ok. They did it, possibly believing it, without any good analysis in hand.
    Sounds to me like the ‘there must be arms of mass destruction in Iraq’. Whichever commission did the assessment, the job was as sloppy as the one from the 6 italians. Nobody got the jail for 6 years, though

    • Joe's World(progressive evolution)

      Judith,

      When you receive grants OR ANY money from the government, that is public funds from every individual.
      Just very bad politicians generate very bad decisions by this rabbit route of enclosed circle of friends.

    • David Springer

      fyi “the arms of mass destruction in Iraq” was a story put on the street by Saddam Hussein designed to strike fear into the hearts of anyone (foreign or domestic) who might contemplate violent opposition to his government. He used poison gas to kill both domestic insurgents (Kurds) and foreigners (Iran) so there was no doubt he had, at the least, poison gas and the will to use it. So the non-existent WMD wasn’t really an intelligence failure on the part of the coalition but rather a counter-intelligence success by Iraq.

      • > So the non-existent WMD wasn’t really an intelligence failure on the part of the coalition but rather a counter-intelligence success by Iraq.

        David Springer for the win!

      • David, you’re arguing against a Nobel Peace Prize winner – the EU.

        If only they could manage world security, I’d feel alot safer. Look, Europe hasn’t had a genocide in over ten years!

      • The Nobel Peace Prize has no more value than a child’s “Crackerjack” prize.

        The current US President got one simply for being elected!

        (And a past US VP arguably got one for NOT being elected.)

      • The Skeptical Warmist (aka R. Gates)

        Don’t rewrite history David. The WMD’s in Iraq lie was a fabrication direct from the mind of Dick Cheney, including the fabricated mobile weapons lab which was drawn up by his CIA buddies and given to the unwitting Colin Powell to present to the UN in order to try and drum of support for an attack. This is the way it went down, the Downing Street fiasco spelled it out quite plainly.

    • Judith

      The interesting mail you received from an Italian scientist just confirms my view that the legal system in Italy is so politicized and corrupt that it no longer functions in practice.

      This is one of the “root causes” of this disastrous ruling.

      The second is the “victim mentality”, which is prevalent throughout the “western world”: if something bad happens to you, it has to be someone else’s fault.

      And that “someone else” should be brought to “justice”.

      “Tilt!”

      Max

      • More alarmism. What a shock!.

      • I will also say it is certainly quite interesting to see Max’s concern – given his (likely?) beliefs about the victim status of “skeptics” – about “victim mentality”

      • Joshua

        No “alarmism” on my part whatsoever.

        I am rationally skeptical of any “alarmism” – especially one that originates from the stupidity of scientists not saying, “I don’t know”, instead of arrogantly pretending they do know (when, in fact, they don’t).

        Folks, forget the “alarmist” or “reassuring” statements coming from “scientists”.

        Realize that they don’t know any more about the future than you do when it comes to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, etc..

        Forget any predictions you hear from politicians (remember Mencken and the “imaginary hobgoblins”)).

        THINK for yourself. Be rationally skeptical. If you live in the center of an earthquake zone, make sure your home is built earthquake-proof. If you live in a tornado zone, make sure you have a storm shelter.

        And if s*** DOES happen due to natural causes, don’t blame someone else for your misery.

        That, my friend, is NOT “alarmism”.

        It’s just plain “common sense”.

        “Alarmism” is getting your knickers all twisted worrying about disastrous climate change some day in the far distant future, just because a group of sociopolitically-minded “scientists” have cooked up a potential disaster story, which is not even backed by empirical scientific evidence.

        Max

      • Lol!

        Alarmism is alarmism except when you do it. Then it is “rational skepticism.”

        Too funny.

      • Joshua

        The “funny” thing is that you keep deluding yourself into believing a premise you’ve made up, even when it is proven wrong.

        “Stick-to-it-iveness” or plain stupidity?

        (Or both?)

        Max

      • Steven Mosher

        Manacker.

        you would do better if you defined what you mean by alarmism.

        “all of us are doomed unless we act”
        three elements

        universal danger
        existential threat
        call for action.

      • Steven Mosher

        Thanks for response.

        Actually, it was our friend, Joshua, who used the term “alarmist” in describing me, and I have no idea what he was getting at, because I consider myself anything but an “alarmist”..

        For me, an “alarmist” is one who makes “alarming” predictions, whether or not he/she really believes the prediction, packages it as a “projection”, has any sound empirical data to back basis for the prediction, etc.

        “Predictions” of any kind are suspect, especially if they cover a longer time period (as the climate predictions of IPCC do). Nassim Taleb has covered this pretty well.

        “Alarming” predictions are even more suspect, since truly “alarming” events are the exception rather than the rule. (The media love “alarming” events, as they sell copy or ratings – so “not-so-alarming” events are often up-graded to “alarming” events.)

        When there is no robust empirical scientific evidence supporting the “alarming” prediction, it becomes even more suspect.

        And “alarming” predictions calling for drastic and costly actions now to (maybe) avoid something that might occur some time in the distant future, which may be good or bad for humanity (or have no net impact at all), are the most suspect of all.

        That’s what the “alarming” CAGW prediction is all about.

        So, nope, I’m not an “alarmist”, Steven. “Skeptic”, yes.

        Max

      • Steven Mosher

        I know it was joshua. hes tfying to redefine alarmism.

      • The really bad thing in my mind, however, is that it sets a precedent whereby scientists are de facto made guilty of resulting damage, destruction and loss of human life caused by natural disasters they did not foresee properly and in time.

        Scary.

        Right. No alarmism there. Nosireebub. Just “rational skepticism.”

        Oh. My sides.

      • steven

        Yes, I agree.

        Also a good example of an “alarming” prediction, which turned out to be false.

        HOW and WHY this happened is a matter for historians to debate.

        The specter of a murderous maniac with WMD, who had already demonstrated his will to invade neighboring countries or even use these types of weapons on his own people, was an “alarming” situation, indeed – calling for urgent (drastic and costly) action.

        The “alarm” was bogus, the “no regrets” solution turned out to lead to many “regrets”

        Max

      • Left out this sentence:

        The “precautionary principle” supported acting now – because the result of “not acting” could be so horrible even though the uncertainty of the occurrence of the “alarming” prediction was great.

    • Based on this I’d say that we should not draw any conclusions regarding the impact the case may have, at least outside of Italy.

      I’m also reminded of a thought I had after two Med cruises (courtesy of the USN) – Italy is a beautiful place. Great weather, great landscape, great history, great art, great food, great wine. Only one problem. It’s chuck full of Italians.

  39. Joe's World(progressive evolution)

    Judith,

    Scientists should be embracing the intimacy and complexity of our planet and the interaction it has with the sun.
    Are we understanding and acknowledging new frontiers on interaction?
    No, all we are currently doing is recording and projecting to generate a model. This is ripe for failure!

  40. Have a look at this – especially the coments section where some geoscientists chime in. Puts it into some perspective. As a geoscientist myself i was quite curious about the background of the story and as always it is not that what the MSM make it look like:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110914/full/477264a.html

    • comment #27443 is VERY interesting

    • Roger L.

      A true Italian story.

      A few years ago, my wife and I were having dinner in an Italian restaurant near San Francisco run by an Italian who liked to mingle with the customers.

      Our server was a young kid, who was new on the job and a bit nervous. He did his best to describe the choices to us and pronounce the Italian words authentically. At the end he added proudly, “I’m part Italian.”

      To which a Scottish lady at the next table, who overheard the remark, asked, “Oh yeah. What part?”

      The owner, who had been talking to her, quipped, “Well, if he’s lucky, it’s the right part”.

      The poor kid turned bright red as everyone laughed.

      Max

  41. Hector Pascal

    Seismologists guilty and jailed. Meawhile what building regulations (earthquake resistance) are in place and enforced? What retrospective regulations apply? What are the authorities doing and is anyone taking responsibility?

    For reference, following the Great Hanshin earthquake (Kobe 1995) Japanese building regulations were revised and many greater than 6 floor buildings have been retrofitted with strengthening.

  42. Roger L. 24/10 @ 8.45 am posted an url that has several comments providing context to the inditement of the Italian seismologists. Comment #27443 from Alexsandro Martelli PhD and Past President of ASSISiA is worth reading, including:

    “The Italian High Risk Commission has not been indited for failing to predict the earthquakes but for other reasons…. They were accused to have underestimated /not understood the available data and not to have taken the correct measures to minimize the number of victims in case the earthquake occured.”
    And this:
    ..” having let people believe that there was no danger. This may be checked by reading the indictment act which is fully available on Internet.”

  43. This case is absolutely ridiculous.
    Suppose the scientists issued a warning: “there is some chance of a big earthquake in the next few weeks” – what would have been done that is different from what actually happened? Evacuation of the town was impractical, and impossible, given the unknown time frames. So the scientists’ assurances didn’t matter, and if they had warned istead of dismissing the danger it would not have affected the outcome.

    The scientists were idiots, for not stating the plain truth “we don’t know”. That is a common malady of scientists, they hate to admit this truth (when it is the case).
    But, being idiots isn’t cause enough to throw them into gaol.
    Besides, trying to understand Italian customs is sometimes a challenging task.

    • jacobress

      Aside from the doubtful legal culpability and the screwed up Italian legal system, I think you hit the nail on the head.

      The take home here is:


      The scientists were idiots, for not stating the plain truth “we don’t know”. That is a common malady of scientists, they hate to admit this truth (when it is the case).

      In IPCC AR4 we have thousands of pages of this stupidity.

      More to come in AR5?

      (Oh, God, let’s hope not.)

      Max

  44. Roger Pielke re trial evidence suggests that experts’ statements of public reassurance, given the uncertainties, were a derelection of duty. Not ‘science’ or ‘scientists’ on trial for failure to predict correctly, but rather, on trial, consensus political behavior by professionals who should have been less certain.
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/mischaracterizations-of-laquila-lawsuit.html

  45. Mark Steyn of National Review notes that Michael Mann is apparently proceeding with a suit against him and NRO. I like his quotation from Mann’s press release:

    “Dr. Mann is a climate scientist whose research has focused on global warming. In 2007, along with Vice President Al Gore and his colleagues of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for having ‘created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming.’”

    And his deconstruction of the claim.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/331497/nobel-mann-takes-revolting-peasants-mark-steyn

  46. Hundreds of $$$$Billions of taxpayers dollars flushed down the Great Greenie Gaia Crapper because a number of celebrity scientists jumpedon the Glowball Warming Fame & Gravy Train, torqued up the fear mongering and distorted Public Policy making.

    Ya, some scientists should be in jail, some Tenures should be removed, some pensions should be clawed back.

  47. Joshua,
    Conjecture and refutation are the bedrock of Science and the Open Society and it would be outrageous fer scientists ter be jailed simply fer being in error. But it seems to me, i could be wrong, that this particular case is about scientists subverting their role, ( re Feynman, presenting the data + /-) and exchanging it fer the political role of influencing public behavior.

    I think Roger Pielke’s concluding paragraph states the issues at play:
    .. ‘not a failure to accurately predict an earthquake,’ nor, ‘more broadly science versus anti science. The public responsibilities of government officials and the scientists that they depend upon are too important to characterize in such cartoonish fashion. ‘

    Engineers, medical practitioners etc are expected ter be professionally accountable. Why should scientists, giving out public information be held ter less account? Even in Italy yer would want rule of law fer all.

  48. Years ago we were confronted with not a too dissimilar conviction in Italy. An Italian collegue explained how Italian legislation logic works: whenever people die not from ‘natural’ causes, somebody must be guilty of that. Accidents don’t count.

  49. lurker, passing through laughing

    yet the politicians who induced the scientists to hedge their concers get off scott free……

  50. Okay but Italy does have strange laws in who can be tried and for what and imprisoned. These scientists should not be in prison either.

  51. Italian law tends to have some fairly unique concepts of individual and corporate responsibility. These aren’t anti-scientific, silly, or irrational ideas — just different. For a quick example, look at the summary of Legislative decree 231:
    http://engineering.techint.com/html/static/documents/general/BRIEF_SUMMARY.pdf
    In US law, for example, we put a lot of weight on whether an action was reasonable, whether reliance on a statement was reasonable, etc. In Italian law, it may be more important to ask “Was the established procedure a reasonable one? Did the individual follow the procedure?” This is all a matter of degree, but the legal “accent” is noticeably different in Italy. Even as among EU countries, Italy seems to care less than most about motivation and more about procedure.
    I’m sure any competent Italian attorney will, with reason, smirk at my oversimplification. Unfortunately, I’m about as close to being an international lawyer as anyone likely to read this blog, so offer my 0.0154 euros.

  52. Anyone who is a climate change skeptic and presents information to that end to any governmental group that uses that information to slow down, stop or just change activities desired by the alarmists would be liable for prosecution under the Italian example. Saying you should not take alarm when you should is the crime: if someone claims a recent hurricane is a direct outcome of global warming, that which the skeptic denied, then his denial was a causitive action that lead to harm from the hurricane.

    What a world! The witches are about, all those who deny witchcraft are responsible for the terrible things that the witches just did (because we didn’t burn them at the stake as we wanted to).

    • Highly sophisticated law firm, highly unsophisticated judge. No appeal to federal court.

      H/t IANAL
      =======

  53. I don’t think, Doug Proctor, that the Italian trial was about freedom of opinion or Joan of Arc sacrifice, more about failure to warn the public of legitimate uncertainties and of compliant experts creating false confidence that a potentially dangerous situation was ok. People slept in their houses who might otherwise have taken the more tradional precautions of staying outdoors (Roger l’s citation indicates this happened.)
    Sure there’s individual responsibility fer yer actions, as Max points out, take no man’s word, ) but experts have responsibility too. Jest sayin’ and I’ll leave it there.

  54. An Italian flag analysis would have been apropos here.
    Clearly these scientists were selected by particular politicians because of their willingness to say a specific thing. This is where the science-policy interface is broken. A similar thing happens in the press where journalists select particular scientists to make a specific point that is really their own view. Good politicians or journalists would “take the temperature” of opinions in the field in general and present a balanced view with both sides when disputes exist, but this seems rare in politically relevant science.

    • Jim D

      these scientists were selected by particular politicians because of their willingness to say a specific thing.

      Yes.

      Good politicians or journalists would “take the temperature” of opinions in the field in general and present a balanced view with both sides when disputes exist, but this seems rare in politically relevant science.

      Indeed. You have hit the nail on the head as to why this happened.

      But there is one more point you left out.

      It also shows the way the civil (and criminal) justice system in Italy works.

      A can of worms, all around.

      Max

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  56. Note to scientists. When you don’t know, try saying “We don’t know.” Before you get sued that is, and not after.

  57. Who will be to blame for the next hard winter?

  58. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01ngnwg/Material_World_25_10_2012/

    The above BBC radio show has a good discussion on the subject (Online for 7 days only). Tom Jordan’s points seems like some of the best points on the subject. That really what was at fault here was the mechanism by which science is communicated to the public.

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