Go back

ICSU calls for justice for Italian earthquake scientists

The International Council for Science (ICSU) is calling for justice for six Italian scientists sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for manslaughter for providing over-optimistic safety assurances before the earthquake that struck the area around the town of L’Aquila in 2009.

The scientists were banned for life from holding public office and ordered to pay €7.8 million compensation.

They were sentenced on 22 October for issuing “an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken” assessment of risks following a series of small tremors. The court found that the scientists’ forecasts resulted in a large number of people remaining in the impact area. More than 300 died.

The ICSU said that the court was wrong to blame scientific advice for the deaths and said the decision will deter scientists from accepting public advisory roles.

Scientific evidence has limitations and the timing and strength of earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted, the ICSU said. The scientists had “accepted their responsibility to society to try and support decision-making in a situation of inherent uncertainty. That these scientists should be condemned to prison for so doing is a gross injustice,” it added.

A number of other scientific associations have called for the court to reconsider its decision. On 22 October, the Sense about Science lobby group in Britain said that the decision will have a “chilling effect on scientists advising policy-makers in Italy”. Britain’s Royal Society and US National Academy of Sciences have also asked for the decision to be protested so that it does not become a legal precedent.