Failure to forecast morphs to criminal investigation

From an AGU press release, potential charges for failure to forecast an earthquake. h/t to Dr. Leif Svalgaard.

Aerial view of l'Aquila in Italy - Image: Times of Malta

Scientists May Face Manslaughter Charges After Earthquake

22 June 2010

AGU Science Policy Alert 10-18

Seven Italian scientists and government officials are under investigation on charges of manslaughter for failure to warn the city of L’Aquila, Italy, before an earthquake hit last year, killing hundreds. The scientists and officials under investigation, who are employees of the National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) and the Civil Protection Department, took part in a meeting of the Major Risks Committee on 31 March 2009. At the meeting, the committee told L’Aquila city officials that “just because a small series of quakes has been observed [in L’Aquila] there is no reason to suggest that the sequence of low-magnitude tremors are a precursor to a major event,” which was deemed “improbable, although not impossible.” However, on 6 April 2009, the city was struck by a Mw 6.3 earthquake that killed 308 people.

The criminal charges against these scientists and officials are unfounded. Despite decades of scientific research in Italy and in the rest of the world, it is not yet possible to accurately and consistently predict the timing, location, and magnitude of earthquakes before they occur. It is thus incorrect to assume that the L’Aquila earthquake should have been predicted. The charges may also harm international efforts to understand natural disasters and mitigate associated risk, because risk of litigation will discourage scientists and officials from advising their government or even working in the field of seismology and seismic risk assessment.

Science is making critical contributions to the understanding and mitigation of earthquake hazards in Italy and the world. Examples include providing tools such as seismic risk maps to determine areas of greatest vulnerability, improving seismic wave analysis so that we can better understand how the Earth moves during an earthquake, and increasing our capabilities for seismic monitoring and for providing rapid information on earthquake location and severity for early warning systems and first responders.

It is in the best interest of all countries to reduce earthquake vulnerability through awareness, preparation, and mitigation. Local government officials should work with scientists and engineers to prepare for seismic hazards in that region. To truly mitigate earthquake risk, governments must utilize the long-term hazard assessment, post-earthquake Shake Maps, and other tools created by seismologists to educate residents and inform sound infrastructure policy. Communities can increase their earthquake preparedness through implementation of building codes based on these long-term hazard assessments, retrofitting older buildings, improving emergency response, and increasing public awareness of the hazard and individual responsibility during and after these tragic events.

In support of the Italian scientists and officials, the INGV has written an open letter to the President of the Republic of Italy. The letter is open for public signatures and, as of 21 June 2010, has 5,028 signatories from around the world, many of whom are geoscientists. Please sign the letter and pass this information on to your colleagues if you support these seven scientists and officials and their right to conduct best scientific practices without risk of persecution.

Update 28 June: The letter has been closed for signatures with 5,165 signatories.

Advertisements

107 thoughts on “Failure to forecast morphs to criminal investigation

  1. This is what happens when a few scientists (a couple of names come to mind) put themselves on the pedestal as gods.
    The public comes to believe that scientists have special powers. Perhaps X-Ray vision, so that they can see down inside the earth.

  2. That’s ridiculous.I guess scientists have fostered the impression that they know it all,but it’s still ridiculous that you think you could evacuate a city of millions(not talking Italy in particular)on a guess.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought tremors are felt quite often in areas prone to earthquakes?

  3. If I were a citizen of a country that mandated you go public with a best guess of essentially unpredictable events like earth quakes, tornadoes, floods, etc., or face legal punishment, I’d quickly find another line of work. This is probably a text book example of not exploring unintended consequences.

  4. How can you predict the breaking point of that which is buried under miles of earth, and that has never seen the light of day?
    Better hurry up and invent nanoprobes that can crawl into faults.

  5. Noelene: September 4, 2010 at 8:44 pm
    That’s ridiculous.I guess scientists have fostered the impression that they know it all,but it’s still ridiculous that you think you could evacuate a city of millions(not talking Italy in particular)on a guess.
    It’s also ridiculous to think that someone would be so frightened of “scientific” pronouncements about the catastrophic effects of global warming that they’d kill themselves. But people have done just that.

  6. WTF??
    That’s like the girl who sued McDonalds saying they made her fat.
    Unbelievable!
    I’m signing the letter, for what my signature is worth.
    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  7. There is a lot more about this story then mentioned above. I included it are as part of an April 2nd. essay called “What Is The Cause of It” a part of which follows:
    “Sometimes we look at our models and at our data and even if the fit is not perfect or our understanding incomplete, seeing the moral and ethical need to act. Because we study rocks does not mean we have no social conscious or responsibility. This very thing happened to a technician in Italy, not all that long ago. Gioacchino Giuliani had noticed a increase in radon gas seeping from a known active fault zone. He believed that this increase signaled eminent movement on the fault and therefore an earthquake. He thought he knew when this would happen and attempted to warn the citizens, living in the zone or area of danger. His prediction was movement correct, his estimation of the time was not. Many took him to task for having warned of immanent danger without having sufficient skills to accurately predict the time. If he had been more or less correct, say ±6 hours he would have been a hero. He was out by about 6 days. On the human scale, a long time. On the geological scale less then an instant.
    What has clearly been demonstrated in this situation was: for this fault, in this place, the model seems to work, at least this time. Ignazio Guerra of the University of Calabria said that it is impossible to rely on that technique to predict an earthquake: “There have been earthquakes without the emission of radon gas just as there have been emissions of radon gas without earthquakes. Thus this method is far from perfect.”
    This also demonstrates the moral and ethical dilemma of the technician. He honestly believed the conclusions drawn from his data and how that data fit into his model. He developed a hypothesis and on the face, it has not been falsified. It has not been proven but remember, we don’t prove things we falsify them. This is not a new technique and has not been shown to have great predictive value on a reliable basis, as yet.
    As to the moral and ethical responsibility, it is clear this scientist did what he believed he must do, the well-being of his neighbors hung in the balance. Time was of the essence here, in my view he had no choice but to act. We may and the Italian authorities did, not approve of that action, i.e. the way he did it. In the social/political dynamic, just like the geophysical dynamic of the fault, we do not know all the elements sufficiently well to make judgments, that will completely satisfy everyone. To some extent it is a credibility thing. If the technique only works half the time, then we may as well roll dice or cut cards. Here Credibility was tied to expectations. Society needs to temper its desires to the probability of model accuracy. Since scientists can not depend on others to be honest about our accuracy and abilities, we ourselves must. In music he who pays may call the tune but in science the results must be independent.”

  8. Ah, Greece has a sad story of earthquakes and of predictions for earthquakes.
    in 1980 there were a 6.9 and a 6.5 richter earthquake 70km from Athens that impacted the metropolis and for about a month the whole city was shaking with small tremors like a tree in the wind.
    Now we are descendants from people who jumped out of stone and wood buildings before they collapsed, our reflexes are strong, so most of the Athens population slept for a month in their cars, or set up tents in lawns etc.
    This turned every physicist into a seismologist or seismic explorer. Unfortunately, an assistant professor at the university whose specialty was solid states and particularly piezoelectris, latched on to the currents coming out from faults and decided that they could used them in a triangulation method to find when an earthquake happens.
    They have peer reviewed papers and all. They were supported politically.
    Their predictions range in hundred kilometers and the magnitude +/- 1 richter, useless in a country that has a size 4 somewhere every week.
    The end result is that what the main line seismologists were saying was right, you cannot predict earthquakes with a precision in time and space and magnitude to be of any use for protecting the population. The only prevention is better building codes which fortunately were undertaken and buildings after 1980 are much more robust ( that word 🙂 )

  9. Shamans & Witchdoctors beware…
    Now that the Church of Algorean has been maligned all the soothsayers shall be torn asunder.
    Seriously, what the he!! Is wrong with the world?
    Fools & their ways are soon parted…

  10. The Queen of Hearts is alive and reigning in Italy — “Off with their heads!”
    Or is that Stalin shipping off out of favor scientists to the gulag?

  11. Amazing as to how little press there has been on this one. Maybe because we just take for granted the Kiwis living in paradise but geez….somebody needs to give them some love.
    Serious situation down there.
    Major winter cyclone bearing down upon the city with possible hurricane force gusts after a devastating earthquake.
    OK….might be worthy of a little media coverage please…
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/nzealandquake
    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  12. Perish the thought that scientists are ever held accountable for their predictions. Or their failure to take account of uncertainty. I wouldn’t be too quick to exhonorate these guys until I’ve seen what they actually said. Errors in good faith are one thing, but sloppy science and gung ho adverturism is another thing altogether.

  13. The really silly thing is that no-one has ever died from an earthquake – you die from things falling on you.
    If you are outdoors, and away from falling objects, then just enjoy the ride like human-kind has done for aeons.
    I blame global warming……

  14. Worthlesspedia says of l’Aquila, “Villages in the valley along Strada Statale 17 just outside l’Aquila suffered the greatest damage while medieval mountain hill towns lying high above the valley suffered little damage.” So, the culprit appears to be (as is the case for most earthquake related deaths) the local ground conditions. Ground failure (probably liquefaction) caused by strong ground shaking during the earthquake resulted in catastrophic collapse of some of the structures.
    If the ‘prosecuters’ need someone to blame, why don’t they go after the local city officials. The local officials knew about the earthquake swarm and the ‘not impossible’ prediction from the national government scientists. They were also undoubtedly familiar with the quality of the structures and the general nature of the ground conditions in their “medieval city”. I don’t know about the building codes or code enforcement in Italy, but the local officials would be the ones with the authority to order and administer any evacuations. That said, I think it is ridiculous to try to blame anyone, and it would be ‘unprecedented’ (outside of a couple instances in China) for any evacuations to be ordered on the basis of an earthquake prediction. However, if it happened in this country, plaintiff lawyers would sue any party related to the construction/development of the collapsed structures that had liability insurance.

  15. Christchurch, NZ, has just been hit by a 7.1 earthquake without a single death – some good fortune but also good management of building construction and remedial work.
    You cannot predict when an earthquake will happen but you can predict places it is likely to happen and you can build structures that will avoid killing people.
    Sounds like the wrong people are in the dock in Italy.

  16. I am all for holding public servants and people in position of influence (such as Professor of respected Universities, or for examples head of medical practices at a large hospital) responsible for their actions (or non actions) and to be charged with criminal negligence.
    I recall (some time ago) two engineers in Italy were jailed due to the failure of a dam they had (poorly) designed.
    In professions these days few seem to apply or hold to ethical standards. The whole of so-called climate science is riddled with people who put their self aggrandizement before the ethical requirements of a) competence b) respect for other professionals (competent persons who may have contrary views c) and not to cause harm to others (through taxes, excessive costing, planning or carrying out things that do not work etc etc)
    People employed to give advice about earthquakes, volcanoes, and other seismic events should be competent, give considered and timely advice. The same thing applies to Meteorologists who give warnings about Hurricanes and the mess about air travel in Europe after the Iceland volcanic eruption.
    My feeling is that Obama has a lot to answer for by not overriding laws which hampered the oil spill clean up. I do not know if someone can sue him (and his senior public servants) for not doing their job in an emergency.
    I am a registered professional engineer and expect to be held accountable for my design and operational decisions.
    I believe every other professional needs to similarly accountable. The world will then be a better place.

  17. A) Bureaucrats are trying to cover their butts, and these scientists are convenient scapegoats. This is not fair.
    B) There was the series of low-magnitude tremors. “Failure to predict,” as worded, is overboard. But declaring an earthquake “improbable, although not impossible” seems wrong. People were likely lured into a false sense of security, thinking the possibility too remote to worry about. Merely declaring it a possibility and recommending preparedness would have been prudent and advisable. [As far as “the precautionary principle” goes, earthquakes are a known potentially-lethal danger to be wary about, (C)AGW is not.] The declaration made is potentially negligent, investigation into whether it was criminal should not be barred. This is fair.

  18. This is not a new issue. Back in the Reagan years the US geologists professional association asked the government about forecast liabilities.
    At that time there were three issues because observations of water injections in Colorado showed they could trigger small earthquakes and thus reduce pressure and prevent a big one. Discussion about a big one in the San Francisco region were peeked partly by a documentary on “the city that waits to die.” They posed three questions, a) If we have information about a potential earthquake and don’t provide a warning are we liable? b) If we trigger a big one while inducing small ones are we liable? c) If we make a prediction and enormous costs are incurred to vacate the city etc and it doesn’t happen are we liable?
    I don’t recall that any answers were provided

  19. Climatologists should take note of this. Because the next time that they predict a mild winter and a huge cold wave comes in and kills hundreds, they may see themselves in a trial too. And for the same wrong reasons.
    The key thing is: “do not pretend that you know what you have no idea about, and always always admit your ignorance, especially if you are assessing risks”.
    The italian scientists had no idea whether an earthquake was comming or not, yet they dared to call that possibility “improbable”.

  20. The US Congress should pass, and Obama must sign, a legislation prohibiting any and all natural disasters. That will solve the problem in the same quick and easy way they solved health care, unemployment and financial crisis problems. Nothing to worry about: yes, we can!
    Along the same lines, Grand Ayatollah Hamenei, in his speech given last week, proclaimed that music (all music, the holy man doesn’t split hairs) is against the fundamental principles of the Islamic Revolution. Young men and women, says the Interpreter of God (that’s what “Ayatollah” means), should devote themselves to prayer, learning the science (!) and sports. Great God!

  21. How can anyone forecast an earthquake with sufficient accuracy to prevent accidents ? The only way is to build with earthquakes in mind. Here on Corfu all new buildings are safe to 6.3 tremors, but obviously old structures are prone to damage. “Act of God” is the phrase that comes to mind.

  22. Italy has not been long on brains since Fermi left. The hubris of “science” has overtaken common sense. Does anyone remember that Vesuvius gave indelible warnings for 4 days prior to the destruction of Pompeii? And all authorities said there was nothing to fear? Unfortunately the word ‘pompous’ is unrelated. But it does fit Gore’s nonsense.

  23. @Dennis Nikols, P.Geol. says: September 4, 2010 at 9:20 pm
    @anna v says: September 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm
    Some very interesting and thought provoking stuff here.
    Naturally, any boffin beavering away in his ivory tower (and particularly those who tear themselves away from their computer screens to go out into the real world and take a few measurements) is going to be tempted to make some predictions.
    And, being human, they may well make them a bit more attention grabbing (and attractive to media arts graduates looking for a good story) than the state of the science can support. That’s why we always see all the carefully crafted weasel words “could”, “might”, “scientists believe” and all the rest of it.
    They are only really to be blamed when they take their scenarios and, starting to believe them themselves, inflate them way past the level that the state of knowledge can justify.
    Of course, the big Scientific Institutions (The Royal Society and all the rest) and the editors of the ‘big’ peer-reviewed journals should watch out for this and advise caution, not alarmism. We’ve seen how well that works. Not.
    And then you get all the BigSnakeOil salesmen. Who pick up the scientists’ scares and twist them into something that will make them rich and powerful. The John Houghton, Crispin Tickell, Bob Watson, Maurice Strong, Rajendra Pachauri, Al Gore, Lord Oxburgh gang of creeps and racketeers.
    They are the ones who should be first to appear behind a nice brass rail in the dock.

  24. huh? So we are basically prosecuting them because they were too dumb to know what was going to happen? Would they be liable if they predicted an earthquake and it did not happen, thus they would need to pay for the preparation costs? This is absolutely insane, and the prosecutor should be dis-barred…

  25. Can we sue the politicians for not providing proper warning of the recent economic crisis? As I recall, right up to the collapse they were saying that there was nothing to worry about…..

  26. Let this issue go to court; perhaps then the Italian judiciary will underline the sheer nonsense of attempting to make scientists culpable for their reservations concerning any predictions on Earth’s frequent upheavals. On the other hand, those scientists who do predict natural disasters, and are found wanting, should be duly castigated.

  27. As others have stated above, there is more to this story. Much as I don’t like to quote from the Guardian:
    An Italian scientist who predicted a major earthquake near L’Aquila a few weeks ago was forced to remove warnings from the internet after being reported to the police, it emerged today.
    Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at the National Physical Laboratory of Gran Sasso, based his forecast on emissions of radon gas coming from the ground in seismically active areas.
    The first tremors in the region were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, leading to concerns that a large earthquake was imminent in the medieval city.
    Vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after Giuliani predicted the quake was about to strike.
    The scientists’ warnings drew criticism from the city’s mayor, and following complaints to the police, Giuliani was forced to take down warnings he had posted on the internet.

    Full story at:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/06/italy-earthquake-predicted

  28. This is what happens when “Scientists” take taxpayer money and give the impression that they know everything……So I can’t say I have too much sympathy if it has come back and bitten them on the bum.
    If Scientists want to set themselves up as Godlike at everyone else’s expense… Then they can suffer the full consequences at any and all perceived failures….
    Science should keep its nose out of politics and stick to seeking knowledge instead of seeking government funding.

  29. fhsiv says: “I don’t know about the building codes or code enforcement in Italy”.
    Well, you can find out more if you read the tiny proportion of the Italian media which isn’t under the direct or indirect control of Council President (Prime Minister) Berlusconi. Italian politics revolves around the eternal struggle against corruption involving political parties (often with Mafia involvement) and the attribution of public building contracts.
    Berlusconi made fantastic promises of rehousing and rebuilding after the earthquake, and desperately needs a diversionary story.

  30. So my take is that the remarkably accurate warnings given by the scientist on the ground (Giampaolo Giuliani) that there was going to be an earthquake were ignored by the Town Major, and the more distant scientists from National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), . It could have been coincidence, but there also could well be something of great value in Guiliani’s radon gas emissions theory. Either way, this story has strong parallels with Ibsen’s Enemy of the People with its ‘the individual is always right’ meme. Which is something I have a lot of respect for (in an increasing number of disciplines, i.e. climate science, vaccine science/safety, not to mention the rather improbable collapse of building 7) given that the alternative is the madness of crowds.

  31. Just remember Italy is the country that bought Manslaughter charges against the Williams racing team after the death of Ayrton Senna in Formula 1 1994 Italian race. This case is partly a function of the Italian legal system.

  32. So does this mean the AGW crowd are liable for their failed predicitions? I notice Flannery when taken to task recently emphasized that despite demanding we follow his climate prophesies or be doomed that he said ‘could’, ‘might’ etc

  33. This sort of heavy handed approach can only hinder progress towards a better understanding in fields that will always be prone to uncertainty. Still it is no more than I expect of our world, Nietzsche summed up it all neatly when he said:
    Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”

  34. “Alan Wilkinson says:
    September 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm”
    What is intersting, for me at least as I lived in New Zealand, is Christchurch is a considerable distance from the main active fault line which runs down the western side of the country down the Southern Alps. See here; http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/active-faults/1/1. That little blip to the south and east of Christchurch I think is an extinct volcano. I’d intereted to find out what focal depth this one was at. Shollow is typically tectonic, very deep (100’s of Kms) is typically volcanic.
    There was an earth quake further south, in the Fiordland national park, early this year I think, which moved the wole region about 1m further north.

  35. prior to this earthquake there was a scientist who tried to warn inhabitants of this town an earthquake was inniment by driving around using a loud hailer and i believe local authorities prevented him to do so . maybe charges of a kind are warranted .
    i understand the scientist had detected large traces of radon gas and that was enough for him to warn people directly . remember 300 people died and obviously he knew something.

  36. Earthquakes are beyond the scale of human knowledge. Nobody can predict the location, time or magnitude of an event with enough precision to help avoid casualties. The scientists involved in the Italian quakes are, therefore, not accountable.
    However, the people in earthquake zones responsible for enforcing building regulations and organising rapid emergency response when events happen, are accountable if it can be proved there failures contributed to death or serious injury.
    I see this as the Italian government trying to deflect public anger about their failings in their handling of the L’Aquila earthquake.

  37. Come on they did their best. If they get sued then the next scientists will always exaggerate the risks just to cover their buts.

  38. Earth quakes, flash floods, volcano’s, CO2 pools and a fascist government every 60 years..
    It’s a hard life living in Italy.

  39. Dave F says:
    September 4, 2010 at 8:30 pm
    How could a rational person blame them for this?

    How? Really how? Have you watched Dante’s Peak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dante%27s_Peak)? How many times “scientists” unlawfully “cooperated” with local or gov bureaucrats or let themselves be pushed by local authorities or were neglected and then did nothing else? Do you think the life is so simple? From what I have learned through my 50+ years is that Pecunia non olet – on every level of human activities.
    The same scheme plots were applied to many other U. S. movies. Yeah, I know, the plots are captivating, but do you think they – the movie makers – conjured them up without knowing the reality?
    Regards

  40. There are ~16 million people who live in Istanbul, which sits on the Anatolian fault line. Quakes in the region along that fault over recent few decades have been slowly creeping towards Istanbul. Not if, but when.
    There are ~16 million people who live in Naples, at the foot of Vesuvious. Not if, but when (Another Pompeii?).

  41. Italy (thank the Gods ) has its own political mess, plus if you have 1,000 Italians, you have 1,001 political parties, so leave Italian politics to the Italians, it will, in time get sorted and the ruling concences will give some form of answer, or perhaps pass a law forbiding earthquakes.
    The only answer to earthquakes is BUILDING CODES, just check out New Zealand with a 14,000 plus tremors a year, now a 7.1 earthquake and no deaths in the countries second largest city, but in world political circles, ( as in round and round ) provention is a lost word !

  42. This was/is a “Witch” hunt in the true sense of the word. No different than the middle-ages variety, except with those scientists as the targets.
    [sarc] Aren’t we just so very enlightened in this modern world. [/sarc]

  43. Alan Wilkinson says:
    September 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm
    Christchurch, NZ, has just been hit by a 7.1 earthquake without a single death – some good fortune but also good management of building construction and remedial work.

    You forgot the background – L’Aquila is rather several hundred years old, the Christchurch was build from scratch in modern times. Add to this human nature and the habit shaped through the times with small tremors common like seasons.
    Regards

  44. I’m guessing there are going to be a lot of geologists, seismologists, and meteorologists getting away from Italy’s Government Infrastructure. This is just plain nut-bag stuff here. I thought Mussolini’s reign was over?

  45. I think there are lots of comments hear that fail to understand Italian law. In Italy, someone is ‘usually’ to blame for an incident. Hence the prosecution of the Williams Formula 1 racing team over Ayrton Senna’s death. It’s just the way their law deals with accidents. Ultimately, the trial is to show that the accused weren’t indeed to blame – but the trial must be seen to be done.
    I don’t want to get involved with comments about the trial of Amanda Knox (as Rice Werme does), but I will say that any American reading this should follow the same advice! The prosecutions of US soldiers over the massacre at My Lai should preclude commenting on foreign oddities in law – as did the trial of O J Simpson. The rest of the world doesn’t understand, to this day, America’s legal dealings with either, and many more.
    Let Italy have its trial, and you’ll see the scientists found not guilty. But as I said, there has to be a trial under Italian law, it’s just the way they operate their legal system

  46. Dodgy Geezer says:
    September 5, 2010 at 12:36 am
    Can we sue the politicians for not providing proper warning of the recent economic crisis? As I recall, right up to the collapse they were saying that there was nothing to worry about…..
    __________________________________________________
    Oh yes we SHOULD sue the politicians but that is a cause and effect issue:
    From January 29, 1989
    “….These days, corporations seem to exist for the investment bankers…. In fact, investment banks are replacing the publicly held industrial corporations as the largest and most powerful economic institutions in America…. THERE ARE SIGNS THAT A VICIOUS spiral has begun, as each corporate player seeks to improve its standard of living at the expense of another’s. Corporate raiders transfer to themselves, and other shareholders, part of the income of employees by forcing the latter to agree to lower wages.” New York Times: LEVERAGED BUYOUTS: AMERICAN PAYS THE PRICE
    Statistics (courtesy of Bridgewater) showed in 1990 Foreign ownership of U.S. assets amounted to 33% of U.S. GDP. By 2002 this had increased to over 70% of U.S. GDP. http://www.fame.org/HTM/greg%20Pickup%201%2010%2003%20report.htm
    Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act which had prevented the coupling of investment banking and lending by signing into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. It allowed commercial and investment banks to consolidate. Economist Robert Kuttner said the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act contributed to the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis. The Community Reinvestment Act, enacted in 1977 under Jimmy Carter, forced banks to downgrade the quality of their mortgage portfolios by making mortgage initiators lower credit standards to less qualified borrowers in poorer communities. The act was expanded further during Bill Clinton’s presidency, creating a higher percentage and a larger pool of subprime mortgages.
    http://moneymorning.com/2009/01/13/deregulation-financial-crisis/
    It took twenty years but the payment has finally come due.

  47. Where do shamans and witchdoctors buy malpractice insurance? AIG sells anything and is gubment owned.
    These men did not cause the earthquake. They are performing a service like the media. They can report what they see and not what has not happened.

  48. Sueing for Acts of God ? Try the Pope, at least he’s got lots of the people’s cash and he can square it with God later (or in his case, sooner) !

  49. “Gail Combs says:
    September 5, 2010 at 4:31 am”
    Wonderful snippet! Add Regan to that list of politicians leading economic crisis. But also consider, the entire western worlds financial system is based on a 300 year old system of interest bearing debt. Thanks to the Bank Of England!

  50. If earthquakes cannot be predicted then why did the scientists predict an earthquake to be improbable? Why do we pay scientists to do things that are not possible? Why do we allow them to make false claims?
    Charging scientists with manslaughter is nonsensical. They should have been reprimanded or perhaps fired for implying they knew an earth quake was unlikely to happen. That is professional misconduct IMO.

  51. Obviously, the UN is to blame. Earthquakes have been a part of our world for a long time and the possibility of catastrophe is always eminent somewhere. If they fund a group to look into the possibility of climate gone wild (CO2 bad), then earthquake modeling should obviously had higher priority. It’s their failure to use their incredibly robust talents to save us from earthquakes, that is at the heart of this and other tragedies worldwide;)

  52. Tom in Florida says:
    September 5, 2010 at 5:44 am
    Scientists – the new sacrificial lambs (what no more virgins left?)

    In my former posts I forget to add that scientists employed by state or local authorities/administrations became office clerks or bureaucrats and from then were part of Bureaucracy Empire not the Science World.
    Regards

  53. So the earthquake scientists set themselves up on a pedestal, claiming their science was more “robust” than it really was, and now they are being held accountable.
    Sound familiar?

  54. This sort of takes things to the realm of the twilight zone … What next, no one will do anything, because government does everything, fails, but can’t be sued.
    This is what the global warming hoax has led science to, and it’s their own damn fault.

  55. I think I got it, they don’t build buildings like they used to in Italy but they still prosecute scientists like they used to.

  56. The headline on this article is misleading. The request for a criminal investigation is not because they failed to forecast a major earthquake, but rather because they did forecast the that there was little danger “because the series of small tremors was releasing the built up energy.”
    They made the cardinal sins telling people what to do rather than stating the facts and got then facts wrong. This article http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-07-10/bay-area/17216632_1_san-andreas-tremors-san-simeon discusses how a series of tremors could lead up to a major earthquake.
    This reminds me too much of the movie “Dante’s Peak” where political influence was used to downplay the danger for fear of panic. The investigation should proceed to find out if there was political influence here. Look at the emails and phone logs.

  57. J. Hansford said:
    “Science should keep its nose out of politics and stick to seeking knowledge instead of seeking government funding.”
    As a scientist, I can assure you that I would bwe happy to seek knowledge, but someone must give me funding. As as the situation is, it is mostly the government. Private funding isn’t so keen on people just seeking knowledge. They want industrial applications only.

  58. Can we see employment contracts that the workers accept liability for reporting location and times of earthquakes? Even docs get sued but only for what did and never for forecasting error.

  59. “Gary P says:
    September 5, 2010 at 6:44 am
    The request for a criminal investigation is not because they failed to forecast a major earthquake, but rather because they did forecast the that there was little danger “because the series of small tremors was releasing the built up energy.”
    And that is the falacy perpetuated by “experts” that tremors “release built up energy” thus leading to less damaging events. Of course, anyone in the real, unpaid, world of the study of geology and tectonics would dispute this. Well I certainly do.

  60. dave38 says:
    September 5, 2010 at 6:29 am
    > PaulH says:
    > September 5, 2010 at 5:13 am
    > Well, lawyers have to earn a living somehow. 😉
    do you have evidence for that statement?

    Yes, read/hear/watch the media of the U.S.A.
    Q.E.D.
    I suggest to start with Michael Savage Radio Talk Show.
    Regards

  61. Patrick Davis says:
    September 5, 2010 at 5:05 am
    “Gail Combs says:
    September 5, 2010 at 4:31 am”
    Wonderful snippet! Add Regan to that list of politicians leading economic crisis. But also consider, the entire western worlds financial system is based on a 300 year old system of interest bearing debt. Thanks to the Bank Of England!
    ____________________________________________________
    It actually goes back to the nasty practices of the goldsmith’s lending out more gold via IOUs or gold receipts than they actually held and then collecting interest on the nonexistent gold they loaned out.
    The Origins of Fractional Reserve Banking
    This is a pamphlet on the modern version
    A PRIMER ON MONEY: by US House Committee on Banking and Currency
    (where is jim to defend collecting interest on fairy dust??)

  62. I think this is a very interesting situation just in asking that scientists be accountable. Modeling of any sort is half voodoo science and half fact. If geologists, seismologists and vulcanologists are allowed to claim that their science is not predictable, why should climate scientists be allowed to say that theirs is? I don’t think anything in nature is predictable. We just don’t know enough to make models work subwhat accurately. I’m waiting for the first court case against climate scientists for advocating wind and solar power. This will come after the first deadly winter, probably in Europe or the UK, where there isn’t enough power to heat homes.

  63. I remember a dust up caused by an earthquake related ‘prediction’ that happened here in California a few decades ago. However, the nature of the indignation resulting from the ‘prediction’ was the other end of the spectrum from what has happened in Italy.
    In 1980, nearly coincident with the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, there was a series of moderate earthquakes (four magnitude 6 and tens of magnitude 4 and 5) within and immediately around a Quaternary volcanic center in northeast California known as the Long Valley Caldera. The town of Mammoth Lakes and associated ski resort are located on the eastern flank of Mammoth Mountain, a Quaternary volcano at the southwestern edge of the caldera. The nature of the seismicity, combined with increasing volcanic gas emissions and ground surface deformation over the next two years prompted the USGS to issue a ‘notice of potential volcanic hazard’ in 1982.
    Earthquake and related activity decreased soon thereafter, but the ‘damage’ was done. The ‘damage’ was to resort and real estate interests in the Mammoth Lakes area that suffered short term drops in visitors and real estate prices. The USGS recieved criticism in the press from the affected business interests. The perception was that USGS was over zealous and had acted prematurely with their hazard warning.
    The criticism received by the USGS over this event has been said to have changed their criteria for issuance of geohazard warnings. Taken in combination with the nature of the charges being made against the Italian geologists, this shows that the scientists responsible for geohazard prediction are operating between a rock and a hard place! We should be so fortunate as to have climate scientists constrained to operate within the same tight space.

  64. Patrick Davis says:
    September 5, 2010 at 5:05 am
    “Gail Combs says:
    September 5, 2010 at 4:31 am”
    Wonderful snippet! Add Regan to that list of politicians leading economic crisis. But also consider, the entire western worlds financial system is based on a 300 year old system of interest bearing debt. Thanks to the Bank Of England!

    Ahem, the concept of interest bearing debt is older than 300 years, and didn’t originate with the Bank of England. Would one prefer to have debt not bear interest? If so, how would one move financial capital to higher, and better uses? What would be the measure? If interest bearing debt is a problem for an economy, then it must follow that the Islamic countries have the best functioning and most advanced economies, right? Eliminate interest and you’ll soon have no capital formation.
    The almost ancient quotation from 1989 about the dangers of leveraged buyouts is about as relevant as the 1980s worries about Japan overtaking the US as the world’s biggest economy. Leveraged buyouts often, not always, move assets toward better uses. Leverage is a problem only when one bets wrong on interest rates.
    Finally to quote Robert Kuttner is to have given up all hope of making an economic argument using facts. The man is an imbecile with a megaphone.

  65. Italy is so beautiful. Why not to move some forecasting offices to the italian riviera, like Giss, Noaa, Nasa, etc.?

  66. To not cause adverse economic consequences, a prediction of eminent danger must be proved quickly. This is not the case for earthquakes and never will be, nor will it be true for climate. In these cases the prediction may require decades to prove. Even erroneous predictions of adverse weather often take days to prove out, and until the forecast is proved wrong the damage grows–the misforecast for Earl is a good example, but there are thousands of others.
    The only sensible route for dealing with highly uncertain events is engineering to mitigate the consequences of the event, and insurance that helps individuals deal with expense, but the insurance also has to be structured in a way to encourage individuals to manage risk sensibly. Examples include:
    1) Building codes appropriate for extreme cold, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. Advanced building designs that can absorb earthquake energy and allow repair rather than demolition and rebuilding.
    2) Crop insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance, separate from routine casualty insurance, and all with premiums set appropriate to risk.
    3) Prohibit building expensive assets in places where they cannot be defended. For instance, why build a city in an area subject to floods and surge that is also below sea level? Why continue to force the Mississippi River to locate 300 miles east of its equilibrium location using levees?
    The tendency to view uniform insurance rates as being “fair” and make laws requiring such, does little except to injure risk management. If I think that a hurricane causing a catastrophy will lead to the Federal government bailing out uninsured homeowners, then my cost/benefit calculations are going to be skewed in the direction of accepting more risk, and I amy forego flood insurance altogether. Even getting people to purchase flood or earthquake insurance has the perverse effect of subsidizing risky construction unless the rates are related to the risk taken.

  67. Przemysław Pawełczyk says:
    How? Really how?
    Yes, I think it is definitely absurd to get into the discussion of levying criminal charges against people for failing to predict an earthquake. If another earthquake strikes Iran, is it an act of war by Italy? They are impossible to predict currently, and suggesting otherwise is probably irresponsible.

  68. The Italian justice system is weird and nuts. They have attempted to punish race drivers if accidents happen even if the incidents are honest errors in judgement.

  69. To: The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley:
    Even in Jaws the mayor of the town was not sued for down playing the likelihood of a shark attack.
    As for US laws Vs Italian laws, there are a lot of problems with the US justice system, but failure to sue often enough is not one of them. When there is no one to blame, don’t blame anyone.

  70. Gail Combs September 5, 2010 at 7:10 am

    The Origins of Fractional Reserve Banking [Lew Rockwell material]
    This is a pamphlet on the modern version
    A PRIMER ON MONEY: by US House Committee on Banking and Currency [devvy.com material]

    This form the basis for your financial education?
    Lew rockwell and who is devvy.com anyway? Any accreditation or credibility beyond self-accreditation and self-credibility (just because a ‘source’ seems to resonate with your thoughts at the time doesn’t make it right, true or correct … the ‘stopped clock is right twice a day’ phenom comes to mind here)?
    Please, I implore everyone to weigh the material supplied by GC with more studied, accredited material that *has* withstood the test of time *and* cross-examination …
    .

  71. re: Przemysław Pawełczyk says: September 5, 2010 at 3:52 am
    Przemyslaw, the reality is that people tend to panic, and evacuations almost always cause some injury and often even deaths. As a result, it is essential for those in official positions to be VERY careful about declaring the need for an evacuation – and even more careful in their chose of wording for the announcements.
    I’ve been involved off and on (mostly on) for several decades in emergency planning for nuclear power facilities and the surrounding areas, and seen what most public officials tend to do during our regular drills. The overwhelming tendency is to declare evacuations when they are NOT warranted, in an over abundance of caution. They not only call for evacuations where its not needed, but for far larger areas than could be conceivably needed also. Often this is done even when people would actually be safer remaining in their homes.
    So one thing we inevitably have to teach is that there are risks and harm from evacuations also. Not just the inconvenience to people, and the immediate costs to the public and businesses (and the government too, which of course comes right back to costs to its citizens), but also from the inevitable car accidents, and harm especially in trying to evacuate facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. In the latter cases especially (hospitals and nursing homes), it is very difficult to evacuate everyone without medical harm, injuries, or even deaths occurring.
    So these things HAVE to be considered by those in public office – and I suspect that many if not most of them never get good training on these sorts of issues, at least here in the USA. If I recall correctly, these concerns could easily have been part of the thinking in the movie Dante’s Peak.
    Regardless, its not just crass uncaring greed that is responsible for those in positions of authority being hesitant to call for evacuations – and as I’ve already noted, my experience has been that most are far too prone to call for evacuation when its NOT a good thing to do, in an excess of caution, a lack of understanding of the harm that comes with just the evacuation itself, and a worry about “what will be said about me AFTER the fact if it turns out that evacuation would have been better even tho at the time everything made it look like evacuation wasn’t needed?”
    Sooooo…… Its an extremely difficult calculation and call to make when the danger is questionable. Shoot, it can be quite difficult to make a good call that way even when the danger is fairly well known and understood!! Regardless, the harm and cost of evacuation HAS to be factored in, or officials can actually harm or even kill more people than just doing nothing would have.

  72. Anyone care to bet against the greens starting to crow that this is exactly the reason the precautionary principle must be followed in global warming. If it can happen in an earthquake, it can happen with CO2. When in doubt, shut down everything that burns carbon fuel. We’re all doomed.

  73. Steve from rockwood says
    ———
    If earthquakes cannot be predicted then why did the scientists predict an earthquake to be improbable?
    ———-
    Seems to me some people have trouble understanding what the word -improbable- actually means.
    Put it another way:
    if horse race outcomes can’t be predicted why do bookies put odds on horses? Because it is useful Information. Will people use that information sensibly. Probably not.

  74. @Ric Werme
    Denigrating the entire justice system of Italy without offering any evidence whatsoever is deeply racist and xenophobic. Italy is a modern democratic country and member of the United Nations, NATO and the G8.
    Italy has a transparent and rigorous legal system. It has plenty of checks and balances in place to ensure that justice is served. 21 judges looked at the evidence against Knox and Sollecito and they all concluded that it was overwhelming. Judge Massei wrote a painstakingly detailed report on how the court arrived at its verdict and made it available to the public. Knox and Sollecito are automatically guaranteed two appeals. America and Britain don’t have such a fair and rigorous legal system.
    The US State Department and the American Embassy in Rome have monitored the legal proceedings and have found nothing wrong.
    I politely suggest you read the Massei report. It can be downloaded from here:
    http://www.perugiamurderfile.org/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=259

  75. I hope to make you understand what happened last April in L’Aquila.
    Let’s start with a weather forecast, just because I’m a meteorologist.
    If your local NWS office in Oklaoma forecasts a tornado outbreak for tomorrow and someone outside the NWS tell people that a tornado will hit just that village, what will you do?
    A meeting with the main personalities of the NWS to confirm that the righ path of a tornado can’t be predicit a day in advance, so don’t believe to anyone and have a nice day.
    Or do you tell people that a tornado path can’t be known in advance by noone but someone could be hit tomorrow?
    After Giuliani made his prediction, he who is not a patented geologist, the others overselled the science. The message most people in L’Aquila got was: stay home and don’t worry. But your child is no more alive.
    The correct message would have been: we don’t kown if all these small quakes are a sign of something bigger, we don’t think so, but we cannot be sure.
    If you live in a house that can’t resist a strong quake, as many old and new building in Italy are, you should have the possibility to decide if to have a vacation or stay there.
    Their words made many think that there was no danger at all!
    Paolo
    P.S. We italians know that we are everything but perfect, but it is always fun to see what some people (much more perfect) think of us 🙂

  76. italian magistrates, prosecutors and judges are a chast of unaccountable, ultrapotent bureaucrats who will be the first on the scene of any disaster looking for someone to bring to court in order to gain power, media coverage, career boost. thats how so many of them got into the parliament and government. no wonder, in italy we are used to these ridicolous stunts. same guys who tried to bring to courd US soldiers and CIA agents, and who keep the political class hostages of their power. they run the country since a referendum eliminated parliament immunity.

  77. If climate scientists can accurately predict the sea level 50 years from now, surely scientists ought to be able to predict an imminent earthquake given they had a few tremors to go on. Where are the computer models when you need them?

  78. What the scientists did that is morally questionable is weigh in with a prediction, at least a “sort-of” prediction of “nothing is happening.” That is the Al Gore impulse. It has nothing to do with science. The goal of science is to understand nature. If other folks want to take the fruits of science and use them to control nature, that is another matter entirely and is totally independent of science. When asked to make predictions based upon the series of tremors, the scientists in question should have said that their science does not enable them to make reliable predictions based upon the events described.

  79. _Jim says:
    September 5, 2010 at 11:36 am
    “Gail Combs September 5, 2010 at 7:10 am

    The Origins of Fractional Reserve Banking [Lew Rockwell material]
    This is a pamphlet on the modern version
    A PRIMER ON MONEY: by US House Committee on Banking and Currency [devvy.com material] ”

    Please, I implore everyone to weigh the material supplied by GC with more studied, accredited material that *has* withstood the test of time *and* cross-examination …

    Tried to do just that right here.

  80. … 6.3 earthquake that killed 308 people.

    Christchurch New Zealand has just suffered a 7.1 with zero deaths. If anyone is charged in Italy it should be builders, building inspectors and those responsible for construction standards

  81. The picture at the top of this story tells where the blame lies in this and Haiti and all the other cities where old unsafe buildings kill people. If anyone is to blame it is local government for not condemning the old buildings which have failed in every strong Italian quake. The new buildings in the upper left corner look undamaged, the old buildings are rubble heaps.

  82. Because I live in Christchurch I’d like to add the following comment about our 7.1 quake this last weekend. Most of the “pre-earthquake proofed” buildings were (past tense) situated within the CBD which was pretty much deserted when the quake struck at 4.35AM NZ time. Christchurch is also built on alluvial plains which seismologists tells us absorb at least some of the jolts so most of the older wooden weatherboard houses swayed and shook but didn’t breakup. We have been having regular and some significantly large after-shocks – ooops just felt a big one that wobbled my desk as I write this. Damn and there go the sirens again.

  83. The local officials want to watch out if they are successful they will have either no seismologists to predict future events, or no tourists or locals because they are all frightened off by the constant string of alarms as the seismologists try to predict something which may or may not happen just to cover their backs if they get it wrong.
    It’s a bit like the weather men trying to work out where the hurricanes are or are not going to end up, there are too many variables in the mix to give a definitive answer.

  84. being an Italian geologist, I should agree with Paolo….
    Our construction codes are really OLD, and we are facing with active volcanoes, seismic zones (more or less 70% of Italy), alluvial fans, flood plains and so on…
    Most of our buildings are really OLD (my high school had foundations from a Roman age previous building…) and NOT safe against seismic waves, but our bureaucrats (we have 4 degrees of government, from the central State to the single municipality) are concerned only with the external architectural shape of them, in a kind of “aestethic rule” that prevents peoples (and local governments) from retrofit them against hearthquakes…
    And when you can retrofit them, thanks to the old construction codes, someone does it in an improvised manner.
    One of the buildings that collapsed in L’Aquila, killing many young peoples, was the “Home of the Student”, a kind of college-style house for students of the local University; according to some sources, it collapsed because of a solar-powered warming system that had been retrofitted to the building, adding some 150 tons of water (the hot water insulated reservoir) at the top of it, making the structure more prone to damages from horizontally-shaking seismic waves….

  85. Kevin Kilty says:
    September 5, 2010 at 10:21 am
    As for the “precautionary principle” it would be: “If not sure then don’t open your big mouth” 🙂
    Unfortunately it doesn’t happen as GW forecasters have to repay their bosses by predicting catastrophes.

  86. Italian Geologist says:
    September 6, 2010 at 5:50 am
    I have always wondered: how do you manage to accomodate the new generations in the same old buildings? Which is the secret?, I don’t think you send the elders, like me , prematurely to the hades” 🙂

  87. Enneagram says:
    September 6, 2010 at 8:50 am
    I don’t think you send the elders, like me , …

    Time is the essential ingredient to all the finest things I know.

  88. Zeke the Sneak says:
    September 6, 2010 at 9:20 am
    One thing is for real: It is said that “The Devil knows more because of being older than for being a Devil” 🙂
    As for “time” it is subjective, though the shorter the wave length the sooner it goes…..TEMPO, so the closer to the source the higher the pitch. (Perhaps this why, when old, ears whistles..:-) )

  89. In old cultures, like the italian, usually survive odl customs, like the “tarantella” or the praying to the moon: “luna, luna, porta fortuna”. To seriously understand those italian judges, we must think they were not judging scientists but AUGURERS (those who forecasted using the flying of birds).

  90. Enneagram says:
    September 6, 2010 at 9:40 am
    One thing is for real: It is said that “The Devil knows more because of being older than for being a Devil” 🙂
    That is why he is always advising, “You’ve got to do something – quick!”
    He elegantly calls it these days his Precautionary Principle 🙂

  91. “Kevin Kilty says:
    September 5, 2010 at 9:43 am”
    I don’t know of any Banking system that is considered “modern” that predates that which the Bank of England created. The problem with this system is that it does not create any wealth at all. In fact, this system and it’s failings, was a factor in what became WWII. All is well when the sprial is upwards however, we are all too aware of what happens when the reverse happens.

  92. I’m neither a scientist nor a mathemetician, but reading the comments above, I can tell that some definitions are in order:
    * Possible–This is something that CAN HAPPEN.
    * Probable–This is something that is LIKELY TO HAPPEN.
    The scientists said what anyone else should have said. It is possible for there to be a major quake in a certain area during a certain time period, but based on current knowledge, there is not much chance of accurately predicting it.
    There. Does that make it clearer?

Comments are closed.