Liability(?) of scientists

by Judith Curry

Six Italian seismologists and one government official went on trial for manslaughter in Italy last week. The unusual trial stems from accusations that the seven failed to adequately communicate the potential for a major earthquake to the population around the central Italian town of L’Aquila, which was hit by a devastating magnitude 6.3 earthquake in the predawn hours of April 6, 2009.

Read the article [here] (h/t Vaughan Pratt).  Some excerpts:

The charges have sparked international outrage in the scientific community, where many have viewed the trial as an attack on the scientists for failing to predict an earthquake – something that no one has ever demonstrated an ability to do.

According to prosecutors and some of the plaintiffs in a civil suit against the seven, the crux of the matter is not that the scientists failed to accurately predict the earthquake, but rather that they failed to accurately characterize the risks and convey that information to local civic officials and the public.

The region had been experiencing a swarm of low-magnitude earthquakes in the months preceding the April earthquake that caused considerable concern among the populace. But such swarms have never been shown to be reliable predictors of a major earthquake.

“It is a complicated situation, but if the verdict is guilty, I think it will have a big impact on science, well beyond seismology,” said Greg Beroza, chair of the Department of Geophysics at Stanford University.

The fact that such charges were even brought has reportedly already had a “chilling effect,” making some scientists reluctant to share their expertise with the public for fear of having their statements misunderstood, according to a recent news article in the research journal Nature.

“We are used to statements such as, ‘There is a 40 percent chance of rain on Saturday,'” Beroza said. “And part of the reason we are comfortable with that is that we get that sort of forecast day after day, so we come to understand what it really means.”

The probabilities associated with earthquake forecasting are much lower than weather forecasting, which will likely take some time for people to get used to.

For example, in the seismically active San Francisco Bay Area, a major earthquake strikes approximately once every 30 years. That amounts to roughly one earthquake every 10,000 days, or a .01 percent chance of a major earthquake occurring on any given day. That’s a whole lot smaller than a 40 percent chance of rain.

So while a 100-fold increase in the likelihood of a major earthquake is a significant change, the probability of a major earthquake is still very small.

“Earthquake forecasting is new territory for the public, in terms of digesting these small probabilities,” Beroza said. “But we have to make earthquake forecasting as routine as weather forecasting.”

But even though the probabilities remain small, that information could still be significant in terms of preparing for a possible major earthquake. If the probability of a major earthquake goes up by a factor of five, cities could move fire trucks out of firehouses, so they don’t get trapped inside if the buildings are damaged. Transporting hazardous materials across vulnerable bridges might be temporarily banned. Schools and hospitals could run earthquake preparedness drills.

Vaughan Pratt’s comments

Vaughan submitted the following comments to me via email:

As with any trial, the outcome will depend heavily on how convincing a 
case each side’s lawyers can assemble.  If it goes badly for the 
scientists it will make a mockery of those mocking the warnings of 
geophysicists in other areas, because it puts scientists in an untenable 
catch-22 situation.  If they warn too early they are called criminals by 
those inconvenienced by their warnings; we have endless examples of this 
on your blog.  But if they warn too late they may face criminal charges 
of a different nature for failing to warn.

While the hazards of global warming may not be as concentrated in time 
as those of earthquakes, or kill as many people in the space of a single 
minute, the insurance industry has been concerned about the risks and 
costs of global warming even before the dramatic rise from 1970 to now. 
  If these continue to escalate the global cumulative damage could 
easily exceed that to L’Aquila, if it hasn’t already.

But it’s not just a lesson for climate skeptics.  In response to this 
suit, Northwestern’s Seth Stein said “What you want to do in this 
business is to show humility in the face of the complexities of nature. 
  I think that’s probably a good thing for everybody to bear in mind.”

JC comments:  This is the first I have heard about this.  I have been somewhat out of touch, travelling nonstop (I am currently at the Denver International Airport).

This is an amazing situation.  Vaughan raises many of the issues relevant for climate change.    Another issue is related to the idea of ACE – Attribution of Climate Related Events, whereby after the fact extreme events would be fractionally attributed to global warming.  The ACE exercise seems to me to be lawsuits waiting to happen.  If the event was not predicted, who is liable: weather forecasters or energy companies?   The UK Met Office failures to predict the barbeque summer and the winter transportation mess are examples.  If it is a natural occurrence (such as the earthquake), it is traditionally been regarded as an “act of God,” without any human culpability.  As science advances, we do have some ability to make probabilistic predictions and anticipate some black swan events.  But false alarms are just as likely as an accurate prediction.   False alarms carry their own cost, and then promote a “boy who cried wolf” mentality if there are too many false alarms.

The solution to this conundrum would seem to start with Seth Stein’s statement:

“What you want to do in this  business is to show humility in the face of the complexities of nature.   I think that’s probably a good thing for everybody to bear in mind.”

At best, we can speculate about possible black swan events.   There are however some very distinct differences between earthquakes and climate change.  The regions that are vulnerable to earthquakes are fairly well known, although there are surprises such as the recent earthquake on the east coast.  So the issue is when/where these events will occur; if the events do occur, it is pretty easy to imagine the damage.  With regards to climate change, those who are warning of the dangers need to actually make a case that a warming of several degrees is actually a bad thing.  Tying this warming to extreme weather events seems to be the most straightforward way to do this, but the science of doing this is nowhere near robust at this point.

Communicating the risk even of an imminent event is not always straightforward.  The typical scientist does not often have the connections to get the information to the right  people.  Then there are “official” government sources of information that are relied on for any reaction to such a warning, and official agencies may receive many different types of warnings, how are they to know which ones to heed?  We were faced with this issue a few years ago when we predicted several weeks in advance that a severe tropical cyclone would strike Myanmar.  We had no way to get this information to Myanmar, even though Peter Webster had many contacts in South Asia.  In any event the government chose not to heed any of the warnings they did get (two days in advance), since they didn’t want interference with a political referendum.

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit turns out, it is incomprehensible to me that the geophysicists would be found guilty of anything, but we shall see.

195 responses to “Liability(?) of scientists

  1. A desirable outcome would be a ‘chilling’ of predictions consequences scenarios based on flawed models.

  2. A lesson for climate skeptic? The guy must’ve been joking. The L’Aqulla trial has many lessons but not for climate skeptics:

    1. The trial is about establishing who is at fault if and when bad decisions are taken because politics (in the form of public policy) trumps science

    2. Scientists can’t ignore it when their findings are manipulated in the media.

    3. “Authoritative, transparently available information” means nothing when public policy takes precedence over science

    4. Trusting the scientists expressing public-policy-oriented statements is very likely a bad move

    5. The Government official in charge was not a seismologist, rather a hydraulic engineer. In other news, Rajendra Pachauri is a mechanical engineer.

    6. At the end of the day, none of the scientists understood the point of communicating uncertainties (see point 1)

    And finally…

    7. Wait until somebody starts climate geoengineering, and the class actions will proliferate at the first hail storm

      • Judith C:

        Actually, it’s quite self-evident to practising geologists. I’ve lived with the consequences of geological prediction for > 30 years

        But it is nice to see you acknowledging geology as a basic strand of science … just took a while, is all

        This issue has been around now for about 6 months or so. There’s even some commentary here on this blog a few threads back.

        You will see I commented sardonically – sorry, but I am not surprised at this turn of events. I should be outraged, but for over 20 years now I’ve watched Greenie alarmism encroach upon public discourse, and I knew then it would slowly destroy scientific credibility. This progression is commonly called karma

        You can see that weaselling about “failing to predict the severity of the lethal tremor” is just casuistry. The actual prediction of an “unlikely large tremor” was wrong. My personal answer to this dilemma has been to take a leaf from the “climate” science songbook and offer probabilistic scenarios :)

        I now have absolutely no illusions at all … and I struggle to keep optimism

      • I agree. We live in dangerous times.

        Big Brother has absolutely no scientific credibility at forecasting climate change, Earth quakes, volcanic eruptions, solar eruptions, Sun spots, etc.

        But Big Brother wants the public to believe it has these powers, . . . and many other God-like features.

        Climategate e-mails and the response of science leaders show that federal research agencies and an army of government-paid scientists are willing to promote such false propaganda as “settled science.”

        Big Brother is ill-tempered when confronted, as are bureaucrats worldwide.

        We live in dangerous times, but fear is a self-defeating response to creeping totalitarianism.

        Oliver K. Manuel
        Former NASA Principal
        Investigator for Apollo

    • omnilogos

      (Interesting use of irony there, buddy, btw.)

      The Italian justice system has long been considered a joke internationally.

      Its panoply of shocks, scandals, outrages against sense and even Nature from the current earthquake parody, or the sad Amanda Knox fiasco, or the contrived trial of CIA agents and its outcome, or the Berlusconi affair, back to the mockeries of past days involving organized crime, and on historically to the trials of Galileo and Savonarola convinces one, there’s nothing positive to be learned of justice or law from an Italian source.

      1. The trial, like most outrages in the Italian justice system, is about saving face by finding a scapegoat for bureaucratic laziness and incompetence.

      2. Scientists cannot possibly overcome the tendency of the media and politicians to connive and contrive to manipulate what scientists say, any more than a small child can turn away a tidal wave with a spoon.

      3. Suggesting Italian politics is organized enough to form something that can be called ‘public policy’ demands enormous suspension of disbelief, based on the available factual evidence.

      4. If the scientists had been trusted in what they said (go ahead, read what they actually said), the fine citizens of Italy would form lynch mobs and string up the most culpable wrongdoers, the politicians and developers who allowed and built to shoddy standards such deathtraps as could only result in disaster if a perfectly natural and unavoidable earthquake eventually happened, as is foreseeable over the lifespan of a building, but not predictable to a particular day or place.

      5. The Italian official most in charge of the communications to the public was not the head of the Agency for Civil Protection, but one of the politicians who called for the Agency to hold a meeting about the swarm of tremors because a local crackpot was claiming he _could_ predict an earthquake (though his prediction was 4 days off, and missed the epicenter by many miles); that official was a lawyer, the prosecutor of the case by coincidence.

      6. At the end of the day, anyone claiming the scientists had failures of understanding communication of uncertainty must be assumed to not have read what the scientists actually said. Go ahead, read statements made by scientists at the hour-long meeting in question.

      Here’s just one. Not the bolded words emphasizing uncertainty:

      “It is unlikely that an earthquake like the one in 1703 could occur in the short term, but the possibility cannot be totally excluded.. If you live in L’Aquila, even if there’s no swarm, you can never say, ‘No problem.’ You can never say that in a high-risk region.

      7. Wow.. there’s some Italian legal reasoning going on here.

  3. How far off is the day when your research paper will need a disclaimer after the acknowledgements? And how liable will the press release writers and journalists be when they fail to translate the science to common understanding?

    • It should not be that difficult for the scientists Gary…no disclaimer needed. When Greenland lost 15% of its ice cover, the scientists teamed up to counter that absurd claim. That’s enough.

      It should be likewise for undead polar bears, or when likelihoods in scientific papers are translated into absolute certainties in blogs and newpapers articles. But I know that funding is associated to adherence to public policy.

    • Gary

      Good question.

      Just noticed a rehash of a paper released in April, talking about a record Arctic cold winter that resulted in an atypical ozone hole over the Arctic.

      The press release writers were clear about the timing, and mentioned phrases like “in the Spring,” and so forth.

      And yet, many news carriers are reporting “Record Arctic Cold This Year Causes Ozone Hole,” or the like, with no reference to the original report, or to the timing, or to spring, implying for unwary laymen that arguably the second warmest Arctic summer on record is somehow a record cold year.

      What scientist can defend from such calumny?

  4. He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.


  5. Norm Kalmanovitch

    As an exploration geophysicist my job covers the entire range of prediction from 100% certainty to where one in ten is condidered an adequate success rate.
    Exploration risk can be likened to having 20 unknowns and a certain number of independent parametric equations. 20 equations and 20 unknowns result in cretainty but 20 unknowns and only 19 equations does not equate to 95% certainty but relates entirely to the uncertainty of the assumption made to replace the missing equation.
    Measurements constitute the 19 equations for which we must be held accountable but the missing equation is strictly our best guess based on experience and gut feeling for which we cannot be held accountable.
    Prediction can never be perfect because it would not be prediction if certainty was involved.
    In this context those projecting catastrophic global warming caused by CO2 emissions can be held accountable because while their projections may be based on experience and gut feeling all physical measurements refute the possibility of CO2 emiossions causing catastropic global warming.
    The ice core data shows that the Earth warmed for about 5000 years after the last glaciation but for the past 5000 years the Earth is on an overall cooling trend. Each peak temperature cycle is coolie than the previous one with the Minoan warm period being warmer than the following Roman warm period which was warmer than the following Medieval Warm period and to date when the current warming ended after 1998 peak temperatures were far cooler than the Medieval warm period.
    Physical measurement od the Earth’s radiative spectrum show that current atmospheric concentration of CO2 has already accessed well over 80% of the energy available to it in the 14.77micron band in producing its 10% share of the Earth’s 33°C greenhouse effect. With less than 20% of the possible available energy remaining increased CO2 could only enhance the blockage of thermal radfiation by no more than 20% of the 3.3°C effect already achieved by CO2 and 0.66°C cannot be considered catastrophic global warming.
    If the 57.1% increase in CO2 emissions in the past three decades was actually the prime source for the, increase in atmospheric CO2 and if this increase in atmospheric CO2 had the effect predicted by the CO2 forcing parameter of the climate models OLR would be seen to decrease by precisely 0.782watts/m^2. Satellite measurements of OLR over the past 31 years show that this has not happened to any detectable extent and if a 57.1% increase in CO2 emissions does not even produce a detectable effect then a doubling of emissions to 66Gt from the current 33Gt will cvertainly not produce anything that can be considered catastrophic.
    All five global temperature datasets clearly demonstrate no global warming since 2002 and the HadCRUT3 data shows a cooling trend of 0.2°C/century so before we can make any prediction about global warming we first have to make a prediction when this cooling trend will end, and since this cooling is occurring while CO2 emissions continue to increase to unprecidented levels it is not possible to currently relate increasing CO2 emissions to global warming or do so for the forseeable future until someone at least makes some prediction of when this current global cooling will end.
    Honest scientists can predict with absolute certainty that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will not cause catastrophic global warming without any fear of liability for making a false prediction. This brings the dangerous spectre of liability charges against those who ignore the data and continue to make completely unfounded predictions about catastropic global warming from CO2 emissions. Considering how badly the global ecdonomy has suffered reacting to this baseless prediction and how many people are starving as a result of their food being used as feedstock for biofuel production in support of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate change those misrepresenting the facts to governments should be quite concerned of potential charges for failed predictions.

    • Well, if they commit out-and-out fraud, they could be sued, I guess.

    • Norm it doesn’t help that your claims are factually wrong.

      ” Each peak temperature cycle is coolie than the previous one with the Minoan warm period being warmer than the following Roman warm period which was warmer than the following Medieval Warm period and to date when the current warming ended after 1998 peak temperatures were far cooler than the Medieval warm period.”

      This is false. What data do you imagine support “1998 peak temperatures were far cooler than the MWP?”

      “Honest scientists can predict with absolute certainty that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will not cause catastrophic global warming without any fear of liability for making a false prediction.”

      Actually I think that’s called negligence and it is a liability.

      • Norm Kalmanovitch

        I think that what you meant to say is that it doesn’t help tou when my claims are factually correct.
        If you go to this site you will find the graph from the GIPS2 ice core data showing the cooling that has taken place over the past 5000 years.
        Since you are apparently not familiar with the previous warm periods and the decreasing successive peak temperatures check out Jo Nova’s site at:
        I do not make claims I just state what the data says and the data says that the world has been in an overall cooling trend for the past 5000 years not to mention five million years of cooling or the 50 million years of cooling since the peak temperatures of the Miocene that ended with the last ice age and will likely continue on to the next before the world reverts back to a long term warming trend.
        So lets reverse the question and have you demonstrate with physical evidence and not just the fabricated projections of climate models that we are now warmer than the Medieval Warm period. I din’t suggest that you look at the IPCC 1990 first assessment report because that shows the Medieval Warm period to be much warmer than current temperatures so I guess that you will have to use the MBH99 Proxy from the 2001 report to make your claim!

      • @jim2 Well, if they commit out-and-out fraud, they could be sued, I guess.

        The real fraud is here:

        @Norm If you go to this site you will find the graph from the GIPS2 ice core data showing the cooling that has taken place over the past 5000 years.

        Apparently Norm has run out of new ideas for misinterpreting data and has had to resort to this old one, which is a known variant of Don Easterbrook’s “proof” that MWP was warmer than “now”. Easterbrook defined “now” to be a century ago when the temperature was 0.8 °C below its level today, which made his proof easy. The GIPS2 graph uses the same trick applied to Greenland ice cores. Part of the trick is to take advantage of the 10,000 year scale of the graph, which renders the 100 years over which temperature climbed 0.8 °C essentially invisible.

        The tone for conservative action was set decades earlier by Barry Goldwater in his speech accepting the 1964 POTUS nomination, where he said “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

        The climate skepticism version of this would be, “Find the interpretation of the data that best shows that AGW is not a serious problem,” with no holds barred when it comes to creative interpretations.

      • Norm Kalmanovitch

        Does this mean that you have actual physical data that proves that the past 5000 years represents overall warming?

      • What sandy valley fused itself to the whole glittering spectacle? Easy come, easy go is always a lesson worth the price.

      • Dr. Pratt,
        So now Barry Godlwater caused global warming?
        The real question you raise is why in the heck have people put up with you bigots for so long?

  6. Why shouldn’t scientists be held to the same standards as stockbrokers?

    I,E, Every prospectus comes with a list of ‘caveats’ a mile long.

    • harrywr2, Let us not forget… Bernard Made-Off & All Gore, invented the NASDAQ ‘black box’, that started all of the CGT maddness we now have up & down, Wall Street. The Green Gang has exceeded all their standards, both in our time & money. Not to mention the mile long carrots, dropped along the way…

    • “I,E, Every prospectus comes with a list of ‘caveats’ a mile long.”
      Do you think that would help us to understand our situation?

  7. This whole idea of suing the scientists is just stupid.

  8. harrywr2: good idea but can you imagine … “past performance is no guarantee of future results”? There goes RealClimate!!!

  9. With regards to climate change, those who are warning of the dangers need to actually make a case that a warming of several degrees is actually a bad thing.

    That is completely backwards. Those claiming that they know it to be safe to rapidly warm the earth to temperatures not seen for millions of years, warmer than it has ever been in recorded history, that they know all the consequences of that warming and know it to be benign, are the people who need to make the case for that extraordinary claim.

    • “temperatures not seen for millions of years”

      Thus spaketh Robbie’s Magic Thermometer.


    • Peter Wilson

      No they are not! It is those making the claim that temperatures will rise catastrophically who are making the extraordinary claim, and therefore need to produce some very convincing evidence. The claim that a modest warming is not necessarily or entirely disastrous is not extraordinary at all, but simply in keeping with most observations that warmer climates are more benign (note that people who make this claim are universally dismissive of claims of rapid or unprecedented warming, due to the lack of evidence to support such claims).

      This kind of attempt to reverse the burden of proof is becoming a feature of warmist arguments. Desperation is setting in when you have to resort to this level of absurdity.

      • “reverse the burden of proof is becoming a feature of warmist arguments”

        Peter Wilson,

        Robbie’s been doing this for quite awhile, so “is becoming” is not quite accurate. I’d replace the “is becoming” with “has always been.”


      • It is those making the claim that temperatures will rise catastrophically who are making the extraordinary claim, and therefore need to produce some very convincing evidence.

        The evidence for a several degree rise in temperature on the current path is convincing, and I suggest you review it.

        Those that argue that they know this to be safe need to support that argument.

      • The evidence for a several degree rise in temperature on the current path is convincing, and I suggest you review it.

        It quite obviously isn’t convincing at all. Hence the the ‘need’ to strenthen the argument with widespread science fraud such as revealed in Climategate. I suggest you review it.

    • Robert

      Your logic is completely flawed. If you believe that a change in temperature will result in a negative overall result for humanity, I am willing to look at your evidence.

      You seem to want people to assume that becauce condition “A” changes, than condition “B” must be the result. Why?

      A warmer world will result in both positive and negative consequences. The reasonable question is if the actions we might take in response are an efficient use of resources to address the issue.

      The implementation of policies that negatively impact society by a greater degree than they are able to positively improve the feared condition do not make sense. Isn’t it reasonable to discuss the relative merits and costs of proposed specific policies rather than generalities?

      • Your logic is completely flawed.


        If you believe that a change in temperature will result in a negative overall result for humanity, I am willing to look at your evidence.

        And if you believe that temperatures hotter than have ever existed on the face of the earth since humanity evolved are safe, I am willing to look at your evidence.

        What is your evidence that radically changing the world’s climate is safe?

        You seem to want people to assume that becauce condition “A” changes, than condition “B” must be the result.

        Where do I claim that?

        A warmer world will result in both positive and negative consequences.

        You go on to condemn speaking in generalities, but this is a general, vague, and useless as it gets. Everything has positive and negative consequences.

        Isn’t it reasonable to discuss the relative merits and costs of proposed specific policies rather than generalities?

        I am happy to discuss such policies, but the huge non sequitur that a multiple-degree rise in temperatures is presumed to be safe is a glaring error, and needs to be addressed in order to have a productive discussion.

      • if you believe that temperatures hotter than have ever existed on the face of the earth since humanity evolved are safe

        Please update us with your temperature history of the earth since the time humanity evolved.

      • John Carpenter

        How about since primates or even mammals in general? I’ll answer that for you, Robert, because it is so much more dramatic to say since ‘humanity’ began. In geologic timescales, you know that is not really very long. Let’s look at the evolution timeline of Family Hominidae…

        That stretches way back about 7 million years ago. The Genus Homo was about 2.5 million and the Species Sapiens evolved from Erectus as late as 450,000 years ago, maybe as early as 200,000 years. Anatomically modern Homo Sapiens arrived around 90,000 years ago, maybe as late as 200,000 years ago.

        Primates in general started roughly 70 million years back, but monkey like primates were more around 35 million years back. See this timeline…

        So what do we know about the temperature over the last 7, 35, 70 million years ago?

        Doesn’t look like we are in a heap of trouble does it?

        Just study this link for awhile

        Note that things got bad for species when it got cold, not warm.

      • “How about since primates or even mammals in general?”

        Robert is specifically pointing out the impact on us – humans. I would go further and say anything before the holocene is irrelevant for us as the issue is human civilization with it’s agriculture and cities.

        3C global warming will dwarf the holocene thermal maximum.

      • John Carpenter


        Tell me how human civilization, cities and agriculture will continue if we greatly reduce or discontinue the use of fossil fuels as a mitigation scheme without a replacement? What will we do with the billions of humans on the planet if we have unreliable energy sources? How will we feed ourselves? How will the economies function and employ us? How will governments function? Think about those questions carefully given the troubles we are experiencing with the current world economy.

        Which scenario would you choose?

        1) Adapt to a warming planet (of which it is uncertain how much warmer it might get) and maintain human economies and civilization while seeking new reliable energy sources, continue to understand how climate change works and make ‘no regrets’ type decisions.

        2) Aggressively mitigate CO2 by slashing fossil fuel use with no reliable replacements, face the massive civil unrest that would result and not really affect the global average temperature.

        If you pick 2, who will be responsible to implement the plan and how will it be implemented (enforced)?

        IMO, the potential for a ‘dangerous’ or ‘unsafe’ situation to human civilization arising from civil unrest seems more likely than even a 3C warming.

      • Tell me how human civilization, cities and agriculture will continue if we greatly reduce or discontinue the use of fossil fuels as a mitigation scheme without a replacement?

        They will use other sources of energy, and use energy more efficiently. I like these questions. Very easy.

        My turn: Can you predict all of the important effects of a +4C temperature rise, not neglecting the fact that it will be far larger than that in some regions? Can you assure me that this is safe? With what degree of confidence?

      • Tell me how human civilization, cities and agriculture will continue if we greatly reduce or discontinue the use of fossil fuels as a mitigation scheme without a replacement?
        Robert: They will use other sources of energy, and use energy more efficiently. I like these questions. Very easy.

        Well done, Robert. One small detail though – you forgot to mention what actual other sources these are, and how much more they will cost.

        Robert: My turn: Can you predict all of the important effects of a +4C temperature rise, not neglecting the fact that it will be far larger than that in some regions? Can you assure me that this is safe? With what degree of confidence?

        Given that scientists are still close to clueless as to what drives world climate trends, can you predict all the important effects of a -4C temperature drop?

      • “Well done, Robert.”

        Thank you!

        “One small detail though – you forgot to mention what actual other sources these are, and how much more they will cost.”

        I don’t pretend to be able to predict the inventiveness and adaptive capacity of the free market. Can you? Are you a believer in a command-and-control economy, that you think we ought to be able to predict the nature and structure of a major industry, in detail, several years into the future?

        I suggest you brush up on your Adam Smith.

      • Robert’s ‘easy’ answer is that coal etc will simply be replaced by some more efficient energy source. When asked which, he admits he has absolutely no idea. Robert for next Chairman of the IPCC!

      • “Robert’s ‘easy’ answer is that coal etc will simply be replaced by some more efficient energy source.”

        Punkska’s Stalinist answer is that experts must determine what technology and industrial base is used in what proportions, now and decades in advance.

        Unfortunately he seems not to have heard about this new thing called the “free market” which renders such inefficient, top-down regulation unnecessary.

      • Robert’s ‘easy’ answer is that coal etc will simply be replaced by some as yet unknown more efficient energy source. When asked what this might be, he admits he (like everyone else) has absolutely no idea. He simply has faith; if you assume it, it will come. While you’re at it, Robert, please also assume perpetual motion into existence, I have some really neat uses for it.

        Punkska’s Stalinist answer is that experts must determine what technology and industrial base is used in what proportions, now and decades in advance.

        I neither mentioned, alluded to, nor implicitly assumed any economic system at all, either free market or stalinist/socialist.

      • I’ve made it as simple for you as I can : just explain how the -0.25 anomaly indicates more heat than the +0.25 one.

        (All this also assumes, of course, the reconstruction is reliable. No bristlecones, corrupt hockey stickers, etc )

      • “Robert’s ‘easy’ answer”

        Punksta knows he has lost, so he’s spamming the thread with the same discredited Stalinist nonsense he posted before, word for word.

        So . . . since that argument has already failed, perhaps Punksta would like to explain where he gets his faith in central planning? Can you give us an example, Punksta, of where your approach of central planning has been successful in the past?

      • Robert seems to think he can duck awkward questions, and bristles at being reminded of his question-ducking – a practice he mislabels “spamming”.

        All he has is his blind faith that some other energy source will be found. Feigning interest and knowledge of free markets, he mislabels anyone who questions his faith as stalinist.

      • Back-and-forth comment exchanges like this drive other readers up the wall.

        You’ve been reduced to numbly repeating your comments word-for-word. That’s an open admission of defeat.

        I accept your concession of the point. Let’s talk again soon.

      • Oh come on now Robert, either explain to us poor non-scientists how a -0.25 anomaly indicates more heat than the +0.25 one, or admit you made a mistake.

      • Serial ducking of elementary questions is what drives them up the wall.
        Let’s just leave it saying you goofed big time but are damned if you’ll ever admit it.

      • The Hockey Stick frauds, btw, were about proxies, not instruments.

      • Please update us with your temperature history of the earth since the time humanity evolved.

        Happy to oblige:

      • So even by the standards of that comic-book site you cite, the earth is close to the coolest it has been for 8000 years. And the general trend is down.

      • No, Punksta, you misread the graph.

        Maybe something more like a comic book would help you until you are ready for the grown-up stuff.

      • Your data shows a peak of ~+0.25 at 8000 years ago, and now we are at ~-0.25. So what you show us a cooling trend.

      • Nope, you are misreading the graph. Try again.

        Here’s something that may help you:

      • Does it explain how -0.25 is hotter than +0.25 ? Can you?

      • I’ve already explained: you’ve misread the graph.

        I guess you don’t have a lot of experience looking at scientific data. You’re just reading it wrong.

      • You’ve explained absolutely nothing. Including how -0.25 is hotter than +0.25.

      • Please answer the following questions so I can better help you with your reading comprehension problem:

        What is your science background?

        Have you had problems with reading graphs before?

        What gives you the impression the present day is -0.25C?

        Why should your inability to read a graph be my concern?

      • I’ve made it as simple for you as I can : just explain how the -0.25 anomaly indicates more heat than the +0.25 one.

        Quit ducking the questions:

        What is your science background?

        Have you had problems with reading graphs before?

        What gives you the impression the present day is -0.25C?

        Why should your inability to read a graph be my concern?

      • Stirling English

        I come to the same conclusion as Punksta.

        Here are my answers:

        1. MSc Chemistry, 30 years real world experience.
        2. No
        3. The line intersecting the axis at time t=0 (today) and value for temperature anomaly = -0.25
        4. You cited the graph. If it is capable of misinterpretation, it is your responsibility to explain how you believe it should be interpreted.

        PS: Casting doubt upon another’s ‘misinterpretation’ or abilities – rather than clearly explaining the ‘correct interpretation’ leads me to strongly suspect one or all of:

        1. You haven’t an idea how to interpret the graph yourself
        2. You didn’t bother to check it before you posted the link.
        3. You are out of your depth

      • “You cited the graph. If it is capable of misinterpretation, it is your responsibility to explain how you believe it should be interpreted.”

        Can you give me an example of a graph or other data that is not capable of misinterpretation? Misinterpretation is always possible, especially when biased people seek to rationalize uncomfortable facts.

        “The line intersecting the axis at time t=0 (today) and value for temperature anomaly = -0.25”

        The present day at the time of the graph’s creation (2004) is clearly marked. It is not -0.25. The graph’s x-axis is described as “thousands of years before present.” There is a second graph showing recent changes on a shorter timescale. Did you fail to notice this, or are you choosing to ignore it?

      • “Casting doubt upon another’s ‘misinterpretation’ or abilities – rather than clearly explaining the ‘correct interpretation . . .’”

        You and Punksta made simple, glaring errors in reading the graph provided. Punksta aggressively sought to make his ignorance my problem. I reject this denier debating tactic completely. If you are lazy, sloppy, or lack the background to understand a subject, and you aggressively promote an erroneous interpretation, the explanation of how you reached that interpretation is your ignorance.

        I offered to help Punksta with his reading comprehension problem. He declined, because he is asking for explanations as a tactic of argument, not in an attempt to understand. Climate deniers are not entitled to a free education regardless of how obnoxiously they assert their errors. Sincere questions will always be answered by me. Those that seek to control the discussion with their ignorance will find that I feel no obligation to gloss over their mistakes.

      • I see now why Robert has taken so long to reply – he’s relying on the small graph, which (thanks to the Hockey stick frauds) shows an uptick from -0.25.

      • So you admit you were ignoring part of the graph because of your fantasy of “Hockey stick frauds” invalidating the entire instrumental record?

        This illustrates my point that your questions are dishonest. Instead of saying “The graph says we are at or near the hottest temperatures in the last 8,000 years, but I don’t believe it, because hockey stick, Climategate, the Freemasons, blah, blah, blah” you claimed the graph showed modern temperatures to be at -0.25C, which you knew to be false, as you have now admitted. So you lied, and presented a false question about “-0.25C” without disclosing that you were ignoring part of the graph.

        Wow. I’m sorry, buddy, but I think that’s checkmate. See you later.

      • Stirling English


        You have educated me sufficiently in your generally unpleasant and unhelpful approach to ensure that I will put your remarks on scoll-by in future.

        I expected little from you except arrogance and bluster and you fully met my expectations.

      • So you admit you were ignoring part of the graph because of your fantasy of “Hockey stick frauds” invalidating the entire instrumental record?

        I had no rreason to suspect the long and short-term sections differed so radically. You knew they did, and kept this quiet, knowing the short term, on which you relied, to have very little credibility.

        This illustrates my point that your questions are dishonest.

        No, it clearly illustrates that you are the dishonest one.

      • Stirling English


        Please don’t let my remarks earlier discourage you from posting. You are valuable resource here.

        In a single individual you manage to illustrate all the traits of the true foaming warmist – arrogance, certainty, rudeness and intolerance. As such you stand among the greats as the best Recruiting Sergeants for the sceptical camp.

        Please keep on blogging

        PS When you finish High School in a few years, suggest that you don’t consider teaching, politics or sales as a career. You are not cut out for any of them. Something with no human contact would be better

      • There is hope though. I heard the University of East Anglia is looking for trainee Data Hiders. Robert’s neat non-mentioning of the discrepancy between the long- and short-term axes should out him in good stead there.

    • Robert,
      BS on you.

  10. ““act of God,” without any human culpability.” Not a common defense anymore. :)

  11. In a few more decades they will be building gallows.

    Be careful what you write. Your grandchildren may be held responsible.

  12. Robert read Norm Kalmanovitch’s post. Can you refute?

  13. Judith, you state above, “But false alarms are just as likely as an accurate prediction.”

    If the ratio of success to failure is 50%, can an “accurate prediction” be said to be anything more than just a lucky guess? Like guessing heads or tails?

  14. Sent to tend the flock,
    Hallucinated great teeth.
    Can you blame the child?

  15. Judy-

    Here is some research on this subject in a US legal context:

    Klein, R. and R. A. Pielke, Jr. (2002), Bad weather? Then sue the
    weatherman! Part I: Legal liability for public sector forecasts.
    Bulletin of American Meteorological Society 83 (12) 1791-1799,.

    Klein, R. and R. A. Pielke, Jr. (2002), Bad weather? Then sue the
    weatherman! Part II: Legal liability for private sector forecasts.
    Bulletin of American Meteorological Society 83 (12) 1801-1807.

  16. Alexander Harvey

    Gioacchino Giuliani demanded an apology for being ridiculed for predicting an earthquake in the Abruzzo region (L’Aquila) and being instructed to take his warning (utube?)down from the internet.

    From Time World (Monday, Apr. 06, 2009):

    ‘Indeed, a little-noticed controversy had erupted the week before, after Giampaolo Giuliani, a seismologist at the nearby Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Abruzzo, predicted, following months of small tremors in the area, that a much bigger jolt was on its way. The researcher had said that a “disastrous” earthquake would strike on March 29, but when it didn’t, Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, officially denounced Giuliani in court last week for “false alarm.” “These imbeciles enjoy spreading false news,” Bertolaso was quoted as saying. “Everyone knows that you can’t predict earthquakes.”

    Using a method that measures gasses emitted by small tremors, Giuliani, it turns out, was partially right. A much smaller seismic shift struck on the day he said it would, with the truly disastrous one arriving just one week later. “Someone owes me an apology,” Giuliani, who is also a resident of L’Aquila, told reporters on Monday. “The situation here is dramatic. I am devastated but also angry.” ‘

    I think that this is a an example of the Radon Gas method which seems not to be well respected. He was perhaps right on insufficient evidence.

    One could ask how the presentation of the later expert judgement was affected by this prior one: whether any attempt was made to re-balance public expectations away from the preivous high risk assessment.

    My impression is that the Italian legal system can be somewhat Kafkaesque, particualrly in the case of seemingly accidental death, where culpability can be pursued to an extreme degree. I would not be surprised if they are convicted and sentenced to gaol terms, which will be appealed and may eventually be overturned or not. A final decision might happen in this decade or the next.

    This seems to have politics all over it and if it does, these scientists are in a very bad place. A senior politician seems to have become involved and then it all went wrong.


    • Alexander Harvey

      Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, was quoted above as saying in the run up to the eathquake:

      “Everyone knows that you can’t predict earthquakes.”

      He was also much involved in the decision as to what to do about the G8 summit in light of the L’Aquila earthqake. The summit was scheduled to take place in July, three months after the earthquake and aftershocks were and it turned out would still be taking place.

      He was instrumental in moving the summit, Obama and all, to L’Aquila.

      “G8 summit venue shaken by tremors” Guardian Sunday 5 July 2009:

      Here is a little more on Bertolaso from The Times February 13, 2010:

      “Berlusconi ally Guido Bertolaso accused of swapping contracts for sex.”

      The alleged contracts concerned “… the construction of a €327 million (£285 million) complex at the former US naval base of La Maddalena in Sardinia, which was meant to host the G8 summit.”

      The original venue whence it was moved.

      It seems that the La Maddalena complex was a different soort of disaster area.

      Now could it be that this Prime Ministerial hopeful, who rubbished the earlier warning, which was perhaps right for the wrong reasons, did not comment on the later advice which is the subject of the trial. Being the then head of the Civil Protection Agency, one might think that he had some responsibility in this area, and given his pre-quake sentiment that ““Everyone knows that you can’t predict earthquakes.” one might think that he comprehended the significance of the presentation given to the expert’s deliberations.

      One of the seven defendants “Bernardo De Bernardinis, then vice-director of the Civil Protection Agency” sounds likely to have been Bertolaso’s number two. Must be nice to get support from your boss.


      • Alexander Harvey

        Sometimes, you couldn’t make this stuff up:

        Sep 26, 2011: “Italian officials, businessmen indicted after G8 corruption probe”

        Yes L’Aquila again, and Bertolaso again:

        “News agency ANSA quoted ex-disaster relief chief Guido Bertolaso, a former top aide to the Premier, as saying after his indictment: “I’ll have to wait years to have justice.”

        Also it seems that the manslaughter trial has been postponed until later this month.


  17. They’re already blaming oil and coal companies for extreme weather events. Is it really all that far fetched to suppose some of these execs will some day be charged with say, reckless endangerment?

    This from the “Australian” last Jan:
    “GREENS leader Bob Brown has pinned the blame for the Queensland floods on the coal industry.

    He says the sector’s contribution to global warming is responsible for the extreme weather conditions causing the floods.

    Senator Brown said yesterday the “coal barons” should be made to pay for the damage caused by natural disasters, with half of Canberra’s planned mineral resources rent tax set aside for a repairs fund.

    “Burning coal is a major cause of global warming,” he said. “This industry, which is 75 per cent owned outside Australia, should help pay the cost of the predicted more severe and more frequent floods, droughts and bushfires in coming decades.”

    Scientists had concluded that the floods were caused by record high temperatures in the oceans around Australia.”

    • They’re already blaming oil and coal companies for extreme weather events. Is it really all that far fetched to suppose some of these execs will some day be charged with say, reckless endangerment?

      A more realistic scenario is that fossil fuel companies, like the tobacco companies before them, will eventually be investigated to determine whether they deliberately concealed information about the dangers of their product from the public, and whether they lied or promoted doubt where their own investigations told them that the doubt was not well-founded.

      I would doubt we will see this, however. Likely the fossil fuel companies have learned from the tobacco companies to be very cautious and assume their memos, notes, etc, may eventually be discussed in court.

      Really, though, speculating about future legal action is just going to inflame the discussion further without generating any useful insight. Everybody will tend to think the people they disagree with will eventually be sued (except the martyrs, who think the corrupt system will persecute them in the future). That sort of discussion quickly degenerates into a sort of prediction-as-threat that sheds heat but no light.

      • As regards delibeately concealing information, including about the dangers of their self-interested policies to the public and the general economy, the real culprits are governments and their lackey scientists, shown eg in Climategate to be a bunch of outright, unrepentant frauds. Frauds whose climate science budgets dwarf those of coal companies etc by three or four orders of magnitude.
        But who will, of course, never be brought to justice, since the state will never seriously punish it’s own.

      • the real culprits are governments and their lackey scientists

        Thank you for illustrating my point. ;)

      • the real culprits are governments and their lackey scientists
        R: Thank you for illustrating my point.

        We are at one then. I confess I hadn’t divined that you realised the whole CAGW isue is 99% a political scam to ramp up taxes and advance Big Brother’s interests.

  18. If scientists are only ever prosecuted for warning too little, they will respond by warning too much – aka crying wolf. So for balance, we will need a new crime of Wolf Crying (which would probably put most of the IPCC behind bars).

  19. Hector Pascal

    Perhaps we are looking at the wrong end of the stick. Italy is seismically active. Strong earthquakes are inevitable. The only uncertainty is timing and magnitude. Magnitude 6.3 (stated in the original post) is by no standards a “devastating magnitude”.

    In the town in northern Japan where I live, the March event was Shindo 5+ (equivalent to magnitude 5-upper locally), and the only damage was a broken sewer pipe and a lot of broken bottles in the supermarket. Closer to the epicentre, most buildings survived relatively undamaged. The exceptions were poor quality houses built pre-war, when there were no building regulations.

    The failure here is not seismologists getting the unpredictable wrong. It is the regulatory authorities’ failure to enforce building standards appropriate for the entirely predictable event.

    • Depending .on building standards, 6.3 can be a very devastating earthquake. The ’94 Northridge quake was a 6.7 and the ’71 Sylmar quake as a 6.6. Both caused extensive damage in the northern San Fernando Valley of California, a state which has very strict seismic building codes. The ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake, variously reported as 7.1 or 6.9, caused extensive damage in both the Bay Area, which was widely reported, and in the Santa Cruz/Watsonsville area, which was less widely reported.

      However, there are at least a couple of factors at work here. The first of these is the magnitude of the quake — if it is large enough nothing will survive. Another is the building codes to which buildings are constructed and how they are constructed. Finally, the substrates on which buildings are constructed plays a big role.

      I was trying to get money out of my bank’s ATM when the Loma Prieta quake struck and watched the coffee roasting company collapse. I went home and found that my house was mostly undamaged, a few heating vents popped out and the door to the stall shower in the master bedroom off kilter, but still operable. My house was built to modern standards (1970’s,and it had the avocado color scheme in the kitchen to prove it!) and was built on bedrock. Buildings in the downtown area, regardless of age, were heavily damaged. They were built on alluvial deposits in the historic flood plain of the San Lorenzo River. A house many of my friends lived in, also 1970’s vintage, was condemned, it was built on alluvial deposits. In the downtown,stick built structures fared better than masonry. If a building was tied adequately to it’s foundation it tended to fare pretty well, although chimneys did less well and provided work for masons for years afterwards. In the Bay area much of the damage occurred in areas where the soil was subject to liquefaction (Marina district, Cypress Structure).

      As far as liability goes in this case? We still can’t predict earthquakes with any certainty and quake swarms, such as preceded the quake in question, are not indicative of a larger quake to come, in general. Here in Yellowstone country — home of the Yellowstone Super Volcano, now go home — there are small quake storms all the time and the call goes out to the USGS: does this mean we’ll have a big one? The answer is invariably *no*, because they are not diagnostic of future events. If a geologist in Hollister, CA tried to predict major earthquakes from small quake storms his batting average would be close to .000. So far the Parkfield experiment has been a bust. We just can’t predict earthquakes. I don’t understand why the Italian courts are allowing this case to go forward, but then I know nothing about the Italian justice system, except that they let Berlusconi keep getting away with his crap.

      • Hector Pascal

        Agree with your points. Building codes in Japan are very strict. No-one builds in masonry. Everything is either timber frame (2 storey maximum) or else steel frame or reinforced concrete. Many older public buildings have been retrofitted with diagonally braced cages to bring them up to current standards.

        My home is 3 storey steel frame. A more typical design for a 3 storey home is a ground floor of reinforced concrete, with a 2 storey timber frame bolted on top. This is common throughout Tohoku. Regardless of construction, footings are invariably an inverted Tee section reinforced concrete buried 60-100cm underground with the overlying structure bolted down. This applies to my garage as well as my home. Public buildings (schools/hospitals etc.) as well as structures built on sediments are piled.

        As the housing stock is being replaced, it is all being upgraded. Public buildings are required to comply with current standards. All this is very expensive, but this is how it needs to be done. Parts of Miyagi less than 40km from where I live were subject to shindo 7 intensity and most buildings survived intact.

        Shindo 7.

        “People: Thrown by the shaking and impossible to move at will.”

        “Ground and slopes: The ground is considerably distorted by large cracks and fissures, and slope failures and landslides take place, which occasionally change topographic features.”

        “Peak ground acceleration: Greater than 4 m/s²”

        The culture here is one of taking appropriate precautions. The community accepts the standards as appropriate and understand the risks of living in a country subject to earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and landslides. It is a “no blame” culture. Somethimes, bad stuff happens.

      • Yeah, in CA if you want to get a permit to improve an older building you need to bring it up to minimal earthquake codes. My brother bought an 1890’s house in Oakland, CA (on the eastern shore of San Francisco bay) which had survived the ’06 quake. He wanted to change the attic into a bedroom and in order to get the permit, he had to bolt the house to the foundation (a good thing and fairly simple for a do-it-yourself project).

        Shindo 7 sounds about like the Loma Prieta quake, the main road out of town to the Bay Area was close for over a month because of massive landslides. I was in my car, so I wasn’t trying to walk, but people across the street dropped to their knees during the shaking. Power was out for the better part of a week, but phones occasionally worked depending on traffic. Sometimes you couldn’t get dialtone, sometimes you could.

        Because I am a backpacker I had food, flashlights camping stoves, lanterns and propane, so we were in pretty good shape to ride out the problems, still it was a pain in the rump to deal with after a couple of days. Biggest problem was keeping the fishtank aerated by my housemate had a small battery powered eggbeater which allowed us to keep the water oxygenated until the power came back on. Didn’t lose any fish!

      • Rattus admitting to the unknown and the unknowable?

  20. Robert Smithson has a very interesting essay on this

    some excerpts:

    The first problem arises from the small magnitude of these probabilities. Because people are limited in their ability to comprehend and evaluate extreme probabilities, highly unlikely events usually are either ignored or overweighted. The tendency to ignore low-probability events has been cited to account for the well-established phenomenon that homeowners tend to be under-insured against low probability hazards (e.g., earthquake, flood and hurricane damage) in areas prone to those hazards. On the other hand, the tendency to over-weight low-probability events has been used to explain the same people’s propensity to purchase lottery tickets. The point is that low-probability events either excite people out of proportion to their likelihood or fail to excite them altogether.

    The second problem is in understanding the increase in risk from 1 in 200,000 to 1 in 1,000. Most people are readily able to comprehend the differences between mid-range probabilities such as an increase in the chance of rain from .2 to .6. However, they may not appreciate the magnitude of the difference between the two low probabilities in our example. For instance, an experimental study with jurors in mock trials found that although DNA evidence is typically expressed in terms of probability (specifically, the probability that the DNA sample could have come from a randomly selected person in the population), jurors were equally likely to convict on the basis of a probability of 1 in 1,000 as a probability of 1 in 1 billion. At the very least, the public would need some training and accustoming to miniscule probabilities.

    All this leads us to the third problem. Otway and Wynne’s “reassurance arousal paradox” is exacerbated by risk communications about extremely low-probability hazards, no matter how carefully they are crafted. Recipients of such messages will be highly suggestible, especially when the stakes are high. So, what should the threshold probability be for determining when a “don’t ignore this” message is issued? It can’t be the imbecilic Dick Cheney zero-risk threshold for terrorism threats, but what should it be instead?

    Note that this is a matter for policy-makers to decide, not scientists, even though scientific input regarding potential consequences of false alarms and false reassurances should be taken into account. Criminal trials and civil lawsuits punishing the bearers of false reassurances will drive risk communicators to lower their own alarm thresholds, thereby ensuring that they will sound false alarms increasingly often (see my post about making the “wrong” decision most of the time for the “right” reasons).

    Risk communication regarding low-probability, high-stakes hazards is one of the most difficult kinds of communication to perform effectively, and most of its problems remain unsolved. The L’Aquila trial probably will have an inhibitory impact on scientists’ willingness to front the media or the public. But it may also stimulate scientists and decision-makers to work together for the resolution of these problems.

    • From my comments on the Smithson essay (and see Michael’s response):

      How about communicating risks using something based on decibels? See, for example, this post by John D. Cook (Especially the Jaynes reference at the end.) The intensity of an earthquake (tornado, etc.) is measured using a log scale, so it would seem natural that the risks could be too. Human senses respond to input more log-like than linear-like anyway, so I think casting risks in decibels would be natural and easy to learn.

      But the larger issue, IMHO, is the subjective nature of risk:

      1. My risk from an earthquake could easily be an order of magnitude different from my neighbors. So giving me an “average” risk number could be worse than useless for me.

      2. If an organization is at risk for providing a risk number, they will tend to give numbers that reduce their own relative risk — not mine. Again, possibly worse than useless for me.

      Best just to give a Bayesian likelihood ratio and let me use my own priors?

  21. From the very long post of Norm Kalmanovitch at 6:14 PM on 1 October, I extract the following:

    Honest scientists can predict with absolute certainty that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will not cause catastrophic global warming without any fear of liability for making a false prediction. This brings the dangerous spectre of liability charges against those who ignore the data and continue to make completely unfounded predictions about catastrophic global warming from CO2 emissions. Considering how badly the global economy has suffered reacting to this baseless prediction and how many people are starving as a result of their food being used as feedstock for biofuel production in support of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change those misrepresenting the facts to governments should be quite concerned of potential charges for failed predictions.

    This is worth addressing further.

    In addition to criminal charges of peculation – by way of the knowing utterance of false statements in their applications for government grants to fund their “research” – and conspiracy, the Cargo Cult Science academics who have been enthusiastically participant in the perpetration of the AGW fraud are also unarguably legitimate subjects for the attentions of the Plaintiff’s Bar in these United States and all over the rest of the world for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages in civil lawsuits.

    The dereliction of professional duty which defines the concept of malpractice in medical jurisprudence would have to apply to these “climate scientists,” particularly in light of their active pursuit of roles in the advocacy of government policy regarding matters like “food being used as feedstock for biofuel production” (not only enormously dislocating their respective national economies but also resulting indirectly in the deaths by starvation of millions in the various Third World countries, and almost certainly triggering the “Arab Spring” uprisings in which the Middle East is currently embroiled).

    Beyond that, there’s the demonstrably unjustified and criminally irresponsible diversion of billions in taxpayer funds to support what were obvious boondoggles like Solyndra and the other solar energy companies (not to mention the gormless bat-mangling Teletubbies pinwheels masquerading as “wind farms”) all over the industrialized West which had been capitalized with government loan guarantees by politicians acting in part upon the “settled science” of the warmista cabal in climatology.

    When we consider joint and several liability in these matters, who come more instantly to mind than the CRU correspondents exposed in the e-mail portion of the archive we all know and love as “Climategate”?

  22. Even under Italian law, this isn’t a lawsuit, it’s a criminal prosecution. Manslaughter is a somewhat vague crime, and apparently some zealous prosecutor decided that the proximate cause of the damage was the experts not properly warning.

    Even in a foreign court system, this is an incredible reach. I suspect grandstanding.

    • Alexander Harvey

      You are right yet there is a parallel civil suit being heard in conjuction.

      If there ever seemed to be an example of stretching the meaning of manslaughter it was the subsequent trials following the death of Ayrton Senna in Italy at the San Marino Grand Prix. Whatever the situation, many in the sport professed amazement, on the basis that racing drivers of prototype cars were fully cognizant and responsible for the risks involved which includes the car simply breaking (which was disputed anyway), this is not necessarily the case for cars that are purchased from a manufacturer. After various trials and appeals resulting in acquittals, a seemingly double jeopardy trial convicted Patrick Head, or rather found him to be culpable, as the statue of limitations had long expired, the legal process having taken 13 years.


      • Hector Pascal

        It goes back further than that. After Jochen Rindt was killed in a Lotus at Monza in 1970, Colin Chapman was charged with manslaughter.

      • Alexander Harvey


        Thank you for the reminder. It was Italy again, which is a trend but not to the total exclusion of other countries.

        Some more are recalled here:

        There are cultural differences between nations and but also between two, three and four wheels, and between racing cars and tin-tops. Over its 100+ year history the IoM TT meetings for motor-cycles has resulted in about two fatalities a year, including three this year. Figures that many dedicated 4 wheel racers and their fans consister reckless carnage, but each to his own.


      • As Alex points out (and there are other motor racing examples) this is not mere grandstanding by an individual prosecutor, but par for the course in Italy. Few people inside Italy seem to take it very seriously, (who has a statute of limitations of 7.5 years for homicide, for goodness’ sake?) and nobody outside ought to. I suspect it has zero implications for science at large.

  23. One, the fact that the event occurred did not make it more likely, that’s elementary. So I have trouble seeing the scientists liability. In this case, as with others though, I think the scientists would have been better off saying “what we currently believe is…” That way when something like this happens they were simply wrong. Putting a percentage to something implies, to me at least, a lot more certainty than they actually had. The humility comment is a good one. It reminds me of Pierce Brosnan as the scientist in Mars Attacks saying, “The Martians are more technologically advanced than us – and therefore peaceful.”

  24. To me this raises the question of what happens after the projected warming and its consequences happen with the politicians not having taking sufficient precaution in some case. Would it be the scientists’ fault for not having been certain enough, or will it be the politicians’ for not having listened to the scientists?

  25. Greenland meltdown

    As they don’t let me post a comment at RC, I will post it here.


    Around 1250, the balmy days of the Little Climatic Optimum began slowly but surely to wane. England once again become inhospitable to wine grapes, and the Continent, vineyards that had flourished on hilltops had to be moved to lower, more protected sites. Long stretches of wet weather introduced a protracted cool period, and the particularly sodden decade of 1310 to 1320 brought terrible suffering to England and northern Europe. In some years wheat harvests were so poor that farmers did not even have enough grain to use as seed the following year. As a consequence, the price of wheat tripled, and death from starvation and related diseases reduced the population of some parts of England by two thirds.

    Meanwhile, ice floes began to clutter the waters around Iceland, hindering access to Greenland. Soon, ships were unable to reach the Greenland colonists, farming became impossible and the settlement withered. In 1492 the Pope expressed concern that no bishop had been able to reach his Greenland flock for 80 years; he did not know that the last of the settlers had died by 1450. When a Danish archeologist began excavating a Norse cemetery on the Greenland coast in 1921, he found macabre evidence of the intensifying cold. The oldest remains were buried several feet below the surface, but later graves were shallower; evidently, the permafrost zone had moved upward, making deep digging impossible with primitive tools. The most recent graves-about 500 years old-were very close to surface, which by 1921 had itself been hardened by permafrost.

    The cold that turned Greenland into frigid wasteland afflicted parts of Europe in the 15th Century. Temperatures began a decline that was not dramatic–they were, on the average, only 1 deg to 2 deg F below those of 1200–but winters became longer and more severe, and summers were cooler and shorter. This climatic phase would last more than 300 years and would come to be known as the Little Ice Age.

    With crops often damaged or destroyed by early-autumn frosts, food supplies were in some years inadequate, and famine again took a terrible toll. A vision of the era is seen in the work of the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegal the Elder, who portrayed cloudy, snow-clad landscapes filled with ice skaters plying the frozen canals and hunters making their way through the drifts. Ice floes drifted farter and farther south; sometime in the 14th Century a polar bear stepped ashore from a floe that had reached the Faeroe Islands, just 250 miles northwest of Scotland. The Thames River froze six times as often during the Little Ice Age as it had during the Little Climatic Optimum. Henry VIII took advantage of one of these occasions in 1536 to travel on the ice by sleigh from London downriver to Greenwich. In the Alps the glaciers crept down the mountainsides, often crushing houses that had been built in warmer times. As late as the 18th century, the Little Ice Age was still in full cry.

    Oliver E. Allen
    Page 157, 1983 Time-Life Books

    Why do people complain for the globe’s coming out of the Little Ice Age?

    Do they prefer the catastrophic story for Greenland above to the time of plenty now?

  26. Why do they start plot for the melting of Greenland ice starting from the global warming phase of about the 1970s?

    Why don’t they start the plot from the 1940s?

  27. They should have hired Mann;s lawyers.

  28. Hmm, Is this really all that different from the pharma business, where a lot $$ are invested up front, a drug goes thru Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 testing. Depending on the drug and medical indication, the Phase 3 clinical trial may have 1000s of patients. Ok, so the drug gets approved and now it is going into many 10s of thousands of people. Side effects not seen in the smaller clinical trials now show up at some low, but non-zero, frequency. The lawsuits start and go on for years.

    Ok, it’s true that researchers and the scientists that develop the drug are rarely (if ever) named in these suits, but I do see some parallels. Society has a hard time wrapping its’ mind around risk and what it means.

  29. It is really unusual for scientists to be held legally responsible for anything they do or say.

    Contrast that with us engineers. When we make mistakes the result is often death, destruction or massive financial losses. Naturally the aggrieved parties want us fined or locked up for our failings.

    Personally I welcome more accountability for scientists. Maybe Michael Mann and James Hansen could be could be held accountable for the harm they have done.

  30. Girma,
    Thanks for those comments on Greenland. Thank God for historians who tell us what was going on 700 years ago with an abundance of fascinating detail.

    The IPCC clearly acknowledged the existence of the Medieval warm Period and the Little Ice Age in its AR1/FAR. Since then they have denied these “Inconvenient Truths”. Maybe we should call the IPCC “History Deniers”.

  31. gallopingcamel


    IPCC=> History Deniers

  32. I’m not sure I know enough about the Italian geologists to comment on their particular case but, in general, the question is an interesting one.

    If scientists are genuinely of the opinion that there is a particular danger, should they speak out? Should they stand on picket lines and get themselves arrested? Should they antagonise the powerful vested interests to such an extent that they, and their families, receive death threats for doing so?

    Or should they sit on the fence emphasising about their doubts and playing up the uncertainty?

    • In general, if scientists can improve their grants by making their work line up dutifully behind public policy and the interests of their paymasters, by not mentioning their doubts and playing down the uncertainty, hiding data, deleting emails etc, should they do it ?

  33. It’s difficult to understand why people keep discussing something else than what is happening …anyway…:

    1. It’s not “the scientists” who are being prosecuted but “the members of a commission, some of them scientists, who underplayed the risks for public consumption”.

    2. Members of that commission were fully conscious of the publicity surrounding their deliberations. Their last meeting was public.

    3. The risks were waved away, not just described as slightly lesser than the public thought.

    4. Nobody in the commission thought it necessary to counter the antiscientific claim that a swarm of quakes dissipates energy to the point of making a big jolt less likely. Source of that claim? A member of that commission (not a scientist). Likewise for all the fanciful newsmedia reporting concerning the commission’s work.

    5. The commission actively and passively fought against the low-cost, traditional precaution of spending the night out if and when a relatively stronger quake is felt.

    6. None in the commission felt it necessary to equip the public with the means of assessing the quake resistance of their homes.

    Point 5 alone would have saved many people, many.

    As for Giuliani he predicted the earthquake for some other place nearby so had people been evacuated accordingly, they would’ve been evacuated to (you guessed it right) …L’Aquila!

    • I must throw in with omnologos. This case has a much more specific and problematic character than the general, alarmist extrapolation that assumes it is a “medieval-stye attack on science.”

      The real situation is that if you are a scientist or public servant on a public commission tasked to assess the immediate risk of an earthquake after a swarm of earthquakes, you had better be careful of reassuring them that they are safe when it is indeed possible that several hundred might die six days later.

      If someone you knew had died in that earthquake after such advice, mightn’t you be angry and feeling a lawsuit was justified?

      This is light years away from a Nuremberg trial of climate scientists for not sufficiently warning an endangered humanity of the risks climate change decades in the future.

      The prosecution’s case appears to be grounded in a seismological risk-assessment made by Italy’s aptly named Commission of Grand Risks. The assessment, it is alleged, led to a memorandum describing the possibility of a major tremor as “improbable.” The defendants, in turn, made public statements to this effect. The prosecution is now focusing on these public statements, arguing that they effectively “persuaded the victims to stay at home.” In essence, these scientists are being accused of causing death by negligently downplaying the risk of a deadly earthquake.

      Italian Seismologists to Stand Trial on Manslaughter Charges

  34. Judith

    Surely we are seeing a recognition of potential liability in a whole host of scientific fields.

    In the UK we regularly have ‘weather warnings’ for weather events that at one time would have barely passed without notice. The Met office for example have contracts to forecast unusual weather so supermarkets can get in more food and drink for barbecues and get out the soup for colder spells.

    Sea level experts who forecast rising levels are not going to get castigated if those levels do not materialise but would get it in the neck if they failed to predict it. The consequences of forecasting a storm or storm surge that doesn’t materialse is much less than not forecasting these events in the first place .

    So I think liability in some shape or form is already built into the system, its a matter of how far do you go?

    If the supermarket brings in an extra 10000 packs of sausages for barbecue weather that doesnt arrive will they shrug their shoulders or sue?

    This is all the tip of the iceberg and perhps explains the over use of the precautionary principle as exhibited by the IPCC.


  35. Although I can not verify this, Italian friends once explained to me that whenever somebody is hurt or dies in an accident/mishap or from non-natural causes, that it is automatically assumed that it is somebodies elses fault. Obviously, in that culture, this lawsuit is logical.

    • But this was totally natural. Even if that’s true, that legal doctrine wouldn’t apply in this case. It’s not like a car crash situation, where somewhere among the unknown unknowns like a rational explanation.

  36. Whether I pound or am being pounded, all the same there will be moaning!

    Henrik Ibsen: Peer Gynt

  37. son of mulder

    You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

  38. It’s interesting that they brought up percentages in weather forecasts, because the National Weather Service in America uses percentages, but to communicate much different information that the public expects, even as they internalize it anyway for what they think it means.

    At the NWS, a 30% chance of rain essentially means that a given storm system with similar qualities as the one presently discussed would typically rain 30% of the time. It is not designed to indicate something like “there’s a 30% chance you will receive rain” or “30% of the area will be experiencing rain” … In a way, the non-deterministic probabilities are just rendering the forecast as less accountable(liable) while attempting to maintain some semblance of meaning/utility.

    Consider again the Tropical Season forecast by the National Hurricane Center: 3-6 Storms of Category III or higher. Well, you might think they lucked out with Ophelia attaining 120mph winds, but the NHC would be quick to point out that their 3-6 range also comes with a 70% likelihood qualifier. This both reduces meaning and liability, but the hope is that its primarily liability.

    In America, there are laws that protect the NWS (and presumably seismologists) provided that they are following all their procedures and protocols. If they omit a step in procedure, then they are negligently liable (note that this has nothing to do with accuracy, false positives, or false negatives).

    • Ronald Standler has a paper that discusses tort liability in the US for erroneous weather forecasts…

      The only cases in which the NWS has been shown liable is where they failed a step in their procedure…(knowing dangerous conditions were possible but not warning about it). These only involved airplanes, so maybe weather services should issue different risk-based forecast for aviation vs. the ground/sea.

      Considering that there’s a 70% false-alarm rate on Tornado Warnings, and that in-and-of-itself breeds dangerously dismissive ignorance on the part of the public, there doesn’t seem to be any way around the quasi-meaningfulness of liability-free forecasting and a consuming public that is increasingly warning-fatigued.

  39. “Procedure” is the key word…

  40. And then there’s the other side. Say some company makes large investments in alternative energy technology based on forecasts of anthropogenic global warming coming from scientists at large universities. And say that it is shown that scientists knew or should have known that their forecasts were uncertain or highly uncertain and didn’t report that uncertainty. And further say that one or two scientists had unreported data that would have contradicted their forecasts. And finally say that ten or twenty years from now the whole anthropogenic global warming idea turned out to be just anthropogenic global worrying. Is it at all likely that some company or more likely some stockholders or some lawyers might sue one or more large universities (such large universities having billions in their endowment funds) for causing companies to make foolish investments in alternative energy technologies?

    If you don’t think this is likely or even possible, think about what would happen if we were talking about a cancer drug.

    • If the whole anthropogenic global warming idea does turn out to be anthropogenic global worrying, the real culprits would not be the crooked scientists so much, as the crooked government funding agencies that by their biased funding decisions, brought about the desired false alarmism in the first place.
      But of course they too were selected by persons even further up the political food chain.
      The root – seemingly intractable – problem is the political funding of a science that shows massive potential political implications. There is as little hope of government-funded climate science ever being objective, as there was about tobacco-funded science being objective about smoking. Vested interest trumps in both.

      • Punksta,

        Does that not hurt the quality of science to follow the path of science and not for some scientist to generate their own path and call it science?

      • Sorry, don’t understand your question, Joe.

  41. Judith,

    How revered is the designation of expert in the field?
    Citizens are paying for expert advice through their politicians giving out grants and status of advising on their limited knowledge.
    Not a single scientist will use a per cent age of certainty. Only that they are absolute experts through their own education and some research. But they are also only as good as the upgrading they receive if new technology is being used or discovered.

    In the past, even myself, designated scientists as all knowledgeable with no uncertainty considered.
    As I dug deeper, I found massive errors in many areas.
    But too late, they have the arrogance of this designation already enshrined into the education system.

  42. Judith,

    What I find very interesting is how scientists have generated models with extremely bad parameters. And will use this model to show changes that are not reliable to the real world.
    Yet the media picks up on these experts spewing of nonsense as they are absolutely certain as the models say so.

    • Note: The Earth Quake and tidal waves off Japan showed a tilt in our axis by the models and NOT by measurements or evidence scientists claimed.

  43. If a fingerprint expert or DNA SNP expert attends court and claims that the possibility of evidence not being the accused is one in a billion; and this accused is later shown to have been innocent, is there a come back?
    If a pap-smear examiner claims a sample is abnormal cell free and a woman is later shown to have had cervical cancer at that time, can the scientist be sued?
    If one provides goods and services, and one is show to have provided a defective product, then the consumers are allowed to sue.

  44. John Vetterling

    Welcome to Denver.

    I have mixed feelings about this, and stories like it. On the one hand this has the feel of a politically motivated circus.

    On the other hand, welcome to engineering. Engineers, at least civil engineers, have faced this sort of liability for decades. When the built environment fails for some reason, and people are injured, you can be assured that someone will track down the engineer of record and initiate a suit. It just goes with the territory.

    I remember a colleague who stopped at a landslide to take pictures for a class he was teaching, only to get dragged into a suit regarding said slide.

    The courts in the US have developed the doctrine of “Standard of Care” with regard to professional liability. The key question in a liability case being whether or not the professional adhered to the professional standard of care in the matter.

    In this case it does not appear that the earthquake forecasters adhered to their standard of care. I have a good friend who is an earthquake forecaster at the USGS in Golden. Based on our conversations I cannot imagine that assuring people in an earthquake prone region that there is no threat is in keeping with the standard of care.

    It does appear that there was at least some degree of political meddling in this case. We see that in civil engineering all the time. It is particularly prevalent in flood control – an area that has many parallels with other hazard mitigation fields. The wise engineer has a folder of memos/emails to decisions makers clearly indicating what the engineering answer is regardless of the political position. Hopefully the earthquake scientists has these as well.

    But this is a climate blog, so what does this story tell us about climate science. One, climate scientist do not seem to be adhering to the standard of care, at least not as practiced by other sciences. Their statistical methods are an embarrassment, the pall review is anything but scientific and objective, and their computer models are, at best, elaborate hacks. Moreover, not only are they horribly over-confident in their predictions (from a strictly mathematical perspective); there seems to be a great reluctance to honestly communicate the uncertainty. I think this is one area where you are doing your profession a great service by the way. Finally, there seems to be a general lack of intellectual humility. Over and over I see the climate inner circle routinely dismiss any constructive criticism from other scientific disciplines. The hubris is astounding.

    While there is much hand wringing about how this will send a chilling message to science, I see it as a wake-up call. Politicians will never, ever, take responsibility for policy failures. They always deflect to the professionals who advised them. Hence it is incumbent on those professionals to accept that responsibility. To adhere to rigorous standards of professional care, to effectively communicate risks and uncertainties, and to acknowledge and objectively address alternative theories and non-conforming data.

    If you want to sit with the big boys you have to put your big boy pants on.

    • ‘Pall Review’ goes in the folder.

    • The difference between this and flood control is that the Army Corps is not only responsible for making predictions, they’re also responsible for acting on the predictions by managing the reservoirs. If the seismologists make the best predictions possible (which isn’t very good), their job is done. At least in the US, it would be FEMA and local governments who would be responsible for implementation of recommendations. This Italian system seems beyond strange.

  45. The case against the Italian geologists is not as extreme as is being portrayed by by their scientist friends. The prosecutor has made it clear that he did not charge them for getting the prediction wrong. He is charging them for having ignored their own data, and failed to raise their warning level status. There WAS evidence in the data that the area was getting more active, and there IS evidence that such activity that occurred correlates with earthquakes. When the time came to raise the threat level, they did not.

    Thus, they were charged with not following their own professional standards, NOT for ‘failure to predict an earthquake.’ Of course, scientists are closing ranks to protect their own. It’s what interest groups do. The first rule of any professional group is to protect its own.

  46. The Stanford U. article fails to properly reflect the Seismologists relationship to government agencies and any attempt they might have made to warn official government agencies in Italy.

    Reading between the lines, since one government official is also named in the suit, its reasonable to conclude that they did report findings of the months leading up to the quake.

    If the seismologists were funded by the Italian government, they have a fiduciary responsibility to report findings on a timely basis. Clearly, the seismologists should no have warned local governments directly, it isn’t their responsibility and if the warnings proved incorrect would expose them to law suits related to lost revenue and potentially loss of life resulting from an evacuation.

    • John from CA

      The topic raises a fairly interesting question.

      If scientific information is being withheld or if individuals are intentionally exaggerating the impact of AGW, do governments both local, state, and federal, who have leveraged the “Science” in policy decisions, have the obligation to recover damages?

      The Supreme Court has already ruled that it is not in a position to judge the science but it can rule on the outcome down the road. Another great reason for the Climate Science community to step away form “the science is settled” and present an accurate accounting of state of their science.

      • Can you name any climate scientist who has said “the science is settled.”

        Al Gore once said the science is solid, and he described the specifics of where he thought it was solid.

      • John Carpenter

        “Al Gore once said the science is solid, and he described the specifics of where he thought it was solid.”

        Check out this link

        Perhaps no scientists have said it, but it looks like the phrase has been used by Gore before, and many others to try to shut down discussion.

      • Obviously its not all settled, no scientist is suggesting that its all done and dusted and they are looking for new jobs in different fields. However, all scientists would have, at some time or another, made the point that at least some of the science regarding climate change is settled.

        That includes Judith Curry too. At least it does if this means what I think it means!

        “However, whether atmospheric gases such as CO2 (and H20, CH4, and others) warm the planet is not an issue where skepticism is plausible.

      • “This is solid, settled science” was uttered by Richard Somerville, see here

      • It’s pretty shocking how naive Richard’s manifesto is.

      • “The essential findings of mainstream climate change science are firm. This is solid settled science. The world is warming. There are many kinds of evidence: …melting ice…”

        Seriously, “melting ice” as evidence that the world is warming? This is a scientist?


      • Pretty bristly. I think you’re on to something with the Jungian personality analysis. These prima ballerinas just don’t have the temperament.

      • Bad Andrew, ‘the world is warming’ and ‘ice is melting’ are separately unequivocal statements. Some people choose to connect the dots, and some can’t seem to, but they don’t give very good reasons as to why they can’t.

      • Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.

      • ‘the world is warming’ and ‘ice is melting’

        Jim D,

        FYI…If the world was cooling Ice would still melt.


      • Bad Andrew, skeptic logic at its best. So we will have lost the glaciers and Arctic sea ice anyway even if warming turned to cooling. Interesting theory.

      • “So we will have lost the glaciers and Arctic sea ice anyway”

        Yes Jim, any ice could melt simply due to local weather conditions, not a ‘warming world.’


      • Bad Andrew, do you think Somerville was referring to local weather?

      • Jim D,

        He said ‘ice melting’ is evidence for a warming world, when any thoughtful person knows it’s just evidence for local warmer weather.


      • I seem to have missed the distinguished professor emeritus and research professor’s description of what the solid, settled science position on feedbacks and clouds is. Can anyone help?

      • So when ice melts in my Coke, it is evidence of a warming world? Is that how you read that statement? That might just be where you went wrong in your interpretation.

      • Coke may very well be involved in ‘Prof’ Somerville’s analysis.

      • The point I was attempting to make from reading the article, the Stanford U. article fails to properly reflect the Seismologists relationship to government agencies and any attempt they might have made to warn official government agencies over the months leading up to the event.

        The perception that there was any wrong doing, like the perception that the Science is settled, is a rush to judgement but there is not question that Scientists are at risk if policies are enacted without proper due diligence.

        In the face of it, wouldn’t it make more sense for the Climate Science community and related Science organizations to properly reflect (without exaggeration) the current state of the science to avoid the misperceptions and inappropriate policies that could foster law suits down the road?

      • Bad Andrew,

        20,000 years ago the sea levels were 100 metres lower and the polar ice caps were much more extensive than they are at present.

        There was I thinking that this was indeed unequivocal evidence that the world has warmed since then. However, as you say: ” ice could melt simply due to local weather conditions, not a ‘warming world.’”

        You can’t set the bar of proof too high can you? If you were ever called in for jury service you’d certainly be the defence’s first choice. No matter what seemingly compelling evidence there might be for the defendant’s guilt, you’d be sure to find some reason why an acquittal was the correct verdict!

  47. eClimate science, as it is practiced by an influential clique is a religion designed and built to keep the human race from self-destruction. There can be no higher calling than to save mankind from itself. The priests of climate change are not liable for a bad precautionary forecast, nor should they be. The followers are the gullible who, as in the Jones debacle, drank the cyanide laced Koolaide. Followers of charismatic leaders, speaking the tongue of what you want to hear, are regularly led into “the Valley of Death.” “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” How do people move from being a follower to falling by the wayside of the movement? First, by being skeptical; observing the disparity between what is said to be happening to what one sees as actually happening. There in lies the resolution: individuals becoming aware that they should trust what they are seeing, and not pay attention to what some authority figure tells them what to think. Individuals assembling their own basis for understanding, at their own pace, aimed at their own abilities. Giving people multiple resources from which they can pick and choose becomes the method to bring “the masses” along to a political solution. I believe people will become attentive to climate change when weather can be predicted more than a few days out. In the mean time, “followers” to the Climate Change paradigm are feeling their group diminishing in numbers as more information is available.
    It is Sunday morning; time for sermonizing and reflection.

  48. An awful lot of opinion based on a trial about an hour-long committee meeting that, so far as I can tell, even the three or so posters who do speak Italian didn’t bother to read.

    Does no one believe in looking at the raw data before coming to a conclusion about the facts any more?

  49. I think legal action against scientists is a path we would do well to avoid. Litigation (especially civil) has become all too common in western democracies and IMO it has bred risk aversion and unecessary additional expense. There are already too many people advocating the use of the precautionary principle, and the threat of legal action would make matters even worse. Scientists should be encouraged to share there findings and conerns but threatening them with legal action is hardly going to encourage balanced and fair reports.

  50. This is what happens when politicians and scientists get together. They should be kept apart. Politics will, sooner or later, ruin everything it touches. I have no sympathy for any scientist who chose to play in the gubbermint sandbox and then got sand in their eyes.


  51. Eric Ollivet

    The matter is not only a question of warning on time or too late.
    Scientists should (shall?) also be liable for promoting fraudulent theories, based on flawed models and subsequent policies that could actually turn out to much more devastating than the so-called risks they pretended to mitigate.

    When a plane crashes because of structural failure (or any failure caused by a design weakness), the engineers and the company in charge of its design are considered as liable and therefore prosecuted.
    When a surgeon kills a patient due to professional mistake, he and the hospital are also sued.

    This should exactly be exactly the same for any kind of scientist, especially when he intends to leave the academic world for interfering with political sphere, and promote dangerous decisions based on junk science.

    • So when Lindzen and Spencer put small error bars on their 1 degree sensitivity, they should be held accountable if in fact it ends up warming faster. I am not sure if they attached a 95% confidence level to their numbers like the IPCC did, but I agree if they did, it would be accountable for anyone who took action or not based on this.

      • Policy, me boy, as in polis.

      • John Vetterling


        You are confusing legitimate scientific inquiry with specific recommendations for action. As long as scientist stay within the real of science, it is expected that there will be errors. The back and forth is recognized as the way knowledge progresses.

        Where liability occurs is at the point where they start making recommendations for or against specific actions from a position of responsibility.

      • That’s a key point that relates to the issue of V&V, and the whole quality thing. You can’t have one standard for all of science. If someone is sloppy in his study of the mating habits of the dung beetle, nobody cares. When they start implicitly or explicitly advocating policy, there’s a responsibility that comes along with that.

        It seems like the climate science bunch want it all ways; they want the right to remain sloppy, and at the same time they want to be taken seriously, and on the third hand, don’t expect to ever face any consequences. Where do I get a job like that?

      • Lindzen and Spencer are putting themselves in the position of the Italian earthquake scientists who gave a false sense of security to the people that mattered. This is not to say it is right to prosecute scientists who do that, but there is a thin line where they show too much certainty in an outcome that doesn’t actually happen. And, yes, this cuts both ways, which is why the IPCC are not going above 95% certainty in their numbers yet.

      • Except that earthquakes are discrete events. Attribution of disasters to AGW is like nailing jello to the wall. Or do expect to wake up one morning and learn that the oceans rose 20 feet overnight?

      • Policies are both long-term and short-term, depending on the time-scales. Politicians can go ahead and fund building a dam or flood wall for no good reason, but they might have to cite scientific reasons to justify it, and similarly if they choose not to.

      • Which has nothing to do with legal liability.

      • I would hope not too, otherwise the scientists would be forced to hedge on their certainty to protect themselves.

      • Eric Ollivet


        The responsibility & liability principles are indeed applicable for the both sides of the climate debate.

        You’re partially right in the extent Lindzen, Spencer & other skeptics are defending non action, that could turn out to be dangerous if warming is faster AND if human guilt is proved. But you’re wrong in the extent Lindzen, Spencer & al, never claimed their science to be 95%, 90% or even 60% certain… On the contrary, they always pointed out the numerous uncertainties in climate science.

        Those who are claiming a 90% certainty in human guilt for climate change, whereas they don’t have the slightest beginning of evidence, are IPCC’s scientists. Those who are promoting potentially (probably) dangerous public policies, based on erroneous conclusions derived from flawed and formally invalidated models (see V&V thread), are the same IPCC’s scientists.

        There’s a significant difference between errors and malpractice. Scientists, in all domains, do make unintended mistakes. That’s scientific life and scientific processes (such as Peer Review) are designed to correct these mistakes. But when a scientist derives erroneous conclusions from a model that he perfectly knows to be invalidated (for the good reason that he never tried to validate it!), and when he, on top of that, displays a 90% confidence level, this is no more an error: this is just a scientific fraud. And he should be considered as accountable for such malpractice!

  52. I am quite happy with the regulation of scientists with standards that punish academic and scientific fraud and the federal and state laws that criminalize false claims. The VA attorney general is investigating Michael Mann to determine if he violated the state false claims law. The FOIA and similar laws provide the tools to investigate potential wrongdoing by scientists.

    The real barrier to accountability is the inertia that must be overcome to get regulators and prosecutors to conduct meaningful investigations when warranted.

  53. Here is how the defendant’s got indicted.

    “A group of local citizens later said that many of the earthquake’s victims had been planning to leave their homes — but had changed their minds after the committee’s statements. In August 2009 they filed a formal request asking a prosecutor to investigate. L’Aquila’s chief prosecutor, Alfredo Rossini, told the Italian press on 3 June that this had left him no choice but to proceed with an investigation and that his office had now gathered enough information to indict the individuals named.”

    And in a remarkable coincidence:

    “The judge decided that more time is needed to evaluate the requests of dozens of citizens to become ‘civil parts’ in the trial. In the Italian criminal law, this happens when someone who claims to have been damaged by the defendant asks for his compensation request to be judged by the same court in charge of the criminal accusation. During the past few months, more and more citizens have requested to become civil parts in the trial, and the court now has to decide who to accept and who to reject. After the hearing, a spokesperson for a citizen’s association said that ‘in principle the whole city could ask for compensation, but a limit has to be found'”.

    Does anyone doubt that the “group of local citizens” who pushed for the prosecution are among the “civil parts” who stand to gain from that same prosecution? Combining prosecution in the same proceeding as the and action for damages, American ambulance chasing lawyers would salivate at the chance to manipulate such a system.

    As Italy calmly follows Greece into the financial abyss, greedy plaintiffs (almost certainly lead by plaintiffs’ lawyers) seek to put civil servants in jail for stating that a major earthquake was probably not imminent, all so they can hopefully cash in on the local government’s limited revenue.

    Anyone who thinks that greed is a product of capitalism, rather than a human failing that can manifest in any economic system, should look closely at this latest example of how socialism feeds on and inflames greed – for unearned money and benefits from the government.

    • Sounds like an icky system. I prefer the American system where you can pick somebody’s pocket without sending the victim to jail. OTOH, divorce court in the US resembles the Italian system in a number of ways. There’s definitely a perverse incentive to allege crimes in that civil situation.

  54. I wonder why the purveyors of horoscopes have never been hauled up in front of the Italian courts. Their work has as much scientific basis as the nonsense we have been subjected to by the CAGW alarmist community

    and a lot more people pay attention.

    ok. i am a sceptic

    • John Vetterling

      Because there is no standard of care. Legally, no one expects horoscopes to be right hence if someone acts on them they act at their won risk. It’s actually very similar to race tips.

      On the other hand, if a professional, in a position of responsibility due to office or contract, gives you a recommendation, they are liable.

      Engineers, doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, etc. have practiced under these standards for decades.

    • Technically, Galileo was hauled up in front of the Italian courts for the practice of astrology (the name for both astronomy and astrology at the time).. and it’s true, he did also dabble in horoscopes.

      Further, despite John Vetterling’s learned opinion about standard of care (which has some truth to it in some places), soothsaying, belief in witchcraft, reading horoscopes and so on have been illegal on and off again in Italy for centuries and many have been taken to trial and found guilty. Depending on the mood of the time.

      Of course, most of the astrologers who dodged ‘Italian Justice’ never made the mistake of openly criticizing the local prosecutor of failing to enforce building codes before a major earthquake.

      • most of the astrologers who dodged ‘Italian Justice’ never made the mistake of openly criticizing the local prosecutor of failing to enforce building codes before a major earthquake.

        Wow – is that actually what happened in this current case? And did they do this before or after they themselves were accused? And is the prosecutor duly being prosecuted now ?

      • Punksta

        I believe that’s what happened.

        The scientists made the criticism a week before the earthquake.

        The prosecutor is in charge of the case against the scientists, I think.

        Perhaps you could look into it and report back?

  55. We live in a “victims'” world, created by the US legal system and the hordes of tort lawyers it spawned.

    Class action suits have created multi-millionaire lawyers while the masses of hapless victims have usually ended up with a pittance for their grief.

    Deep-pocketed “victimizers” were forced to take out expensive liability insurance to save themselves from bankruptcy.

    Anther bevy of lawyers were needed to craft ingenious disclaimer clauses

    So the “victim” business has become big business.

    What if climate scientists become the next group of “victimizers”?

    Farmers counting on dire predictions of more frequent and severe rainstorms could feel “victimized” by droughts, while those preparing for catastrophic warmer weather could feel the same if winters suddenly became longer, decimating crop yields. Homeowners whose houses were flooded could feel betrayed by climatologists’ warnings of severely drier than normal weather.

    It could become the next bonanza for the tort lawyers.

    But there is one problem.

    Even though climate science has become a multi-billion dollar big business, the individual climate scientists involved do not have the deep pockets required to sustain this bonanza.

    The astute organizations behind the scientists that do have deep pockets will hire lawyers to make sure they are held harmless with suitable disclaimer clauses.

    And the smart doomsayers will make sure their predictions are far enough in the future that they can never be held accountable.

    So I do not see this is a real growing problem for climate scientists.

    They can continue to make poorly founded frightening predictions without being held liable by anyone..


  56. PS “95% confidence”, “very likely” and other such expressions used by IPCC are simply clever “weasel words”.

    They imply a very high level of certainty but leave the escape hatch open.

    In effect, IPCC is telling us, “we’re almost 100% certain this is correct but you can’t hold us liable in case we are 100% wrong”.

    Isn’t that what they call an “Oklahoma guarantee”?


  57. Sounds like a real boon to government-funded earthquake prediction science. Reminds me of Californians who don’t pay taxes passing a proposition to fund global warming to be paid for by the state. It’s a replay of the hippy generation all over again: stink for brains with the power to vote.

  58. Going back to the liability of geophysicists for not assessing the risk of a particular earthquake: as Vaughan Pratt suggests above, we are not near being able to reliably predict the timing of a major earth tremor, although we have a much better idea of risky locations. This is what the Royal Society of New Zealand (Te Aparangi) has to say: “Despite substantial scientific effort, the specific timing, location, or magnitude of earthquakes cannot be predicted. Although it is not possible to reliably predict individual earthquakes, it is possible and routine to identify areas and times of higher or lower earthquake activity based on models of crustal stresses and faulting. In addition, on the basis of observations of past earthquakes, it is possible to expect a series of aftershocks after an earthquake which follows a general and decreasing pattern, but there is always some level of unpredictability as to their timing, location and severity. For this reason, it is not possible to give specific predictions about aftershocks in terms of severity, location and timing.”
    As with climate forecasting, possibly more statisticians should be involved in earthquake risk assessment based on past patterns. In the meantime people are going to continue living and working in earthquake-prone regions such as New Zealand, Japan and Italy. To ameliorate the effects of such unpredictable events, tighter regulation of new building and development is needed, particularly in Italy, where traditional un-reinforced stone dwellings are all too vulnerable to tremors. Better communications will also help, so that those trapped in collapsed buildings can be more easily located.
    Prosecuting scientists for inadequate risk assessment seems a vengeful and retrograde step, which will only serve to slow down our understanding of natural hazards.
    The parallels with weather and climate are clear. Extreme weather events and climatic fluctuations are not going to go away and will remain largely unpredictable. While continued research into the fields of weather and climate is needed, the more immediate need is to prepare and adapt.

  59. Eric Ollivet

    Liability is a concept born in the USA, with your cohorts of lawyers, ready to sue anyone for anything, provided there’s a little money to make… That is the reason why microwave ovens’ manufacturers are now obliged to add a warning note in their User Manuals specifying that cats (or other small animals) shall not be “dried” in the oven… Unfortunately this concept is progressively but very surely invading all western democracies. “Unfortunately” because if the principle of one’s civil responsibility, for each of his decision or action, looks pretty sound at the first glance, there is too often a significant drift in the way this principle is applied. That is obviously the case in this Italian “L’Aquila” trial.

    Actually the question of scientists’ liability is of course closely connected to the liability of politicians regarding their decisions & policies, when funded upon scientific analyses. It is also closely linked to the precautionary principle that is more and more polluting public action, especially here in Europe (I don’t know what exactly the situation in the US is). If looking a priori reasonable, this principle is indeed just nonsense. First of all because “zero” risk is pure fantasy, but also because precautionary principle basically absolves policymakers from any responsibility regarding the potentially dangerous effects of the decisions and policies they promote, provided they intend to mitigate an identified risk. Liability just disappears as soon as soon as the action or decision is motivated by risk mitigation!

    Actually, precautionary principle is the exact negation of a maturated political decision or action. Such a decision or action requires the policymaker to carefully weigh up the pros and cons, the risks at stake, either those related to the issue he intends to treat, or those inherent to the action he promotes to treat that issue. Sometimes remedies are even worse than the illness they are supposed to cure! By applying the precautionary principle, the policymaker actually tries to get rid of any responsibility as well as of this difficult risk analysis.

  60. Mark Harrigan

    Judith you say “With regards to climate change, those who are warning of the dangers need to actually make a case that a warming of several degrees is actually a bad thing. Tying this warming to extreme weather events seems to be the most straightforward way to do this, but the science of doing this is nowhere near robust at this point.”

    I can understand your second point (and even agree – although I suspect it’s getting better) but the implication of your first point is that warming of several degrees is NOT a bad thing and that no case has yet been made.

    I’m curious why you argue this when on your very own site you reference a paper like David Zhangs which very clearly makes the case that it IS a bad thing ….
    “climate-induced subsistence shortage and population growth working synergistically, that cause large-scale human population collapses on the long-term scale.”

    Also I’d be interested how you can say that a “case needs to be made” that warming of several degrees is bad whern my understanding is that we have experienced a quite stable climate for most of recorded human history (perhpas +/- 0.5 degrees C or so)? Surely, if warming is to be several degrees the risk is great.

    At the very least sea level rises associated with several degrees of warming

    We know that The global average temperature in the mid-Pliocene (3.3 mya – 3 mya) was 2-3°C higher than today and global sea level 25 m higher.

    Of course one cannot simply extrapolate that figure to today but an increase of even 1-2m would not be inreasonable under a 2-3 degree C rise. That would spell disaster for a very large number of coastal cities in the indsutrialised west not to mention devastating areas like the Mekong Delta and Bangla Desh.

    So I am having real trouble understanding (or accepting) your statement. Please advise :)

  61. Neither of those two comments is an answer. David Zhang shows that variation is an issue and the current sea level rise will look pitiful if the temperatures go up by a few degrees.

    I therefdore find Judith’s comments to be, frankly, incredible and unsubstantiated in light of historic evidence

  62. Mark Harrigan

    Here’s another reference clearly showing warming of a few degrees may be a very BIG problem indeed
    Ms Curry’s easy dismissal of this smacks of ignorant denialism not worthy of a good scientist