Luciano Maiani, the head of Italy's disaster prevention agency, has quit – saying that it's impossible for him to stay on after seven of his colleagues were convicted for failing to warn the public of the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake.
Six scientists and one former government official were convicted yesterday of multiple manslaughter, the BBC reported, accused of providing "inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory" information after small tremors were first felt.
The tremors, which can be an early warning sign, were followed by a 6.3-magnitude quake that killed 309 people and caused billions of euros of damage.
The defendants were judged to have put lives at risk by minimizing the likelihood that a dangerous quake was on the way.
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Maiani, a renowned physicist and president of National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Serious Risks, said the decision made it impossible for him to continue giving scientific advice, the Gazzetta del Sud's English-language website reported.
The Commission's vice president, Mauro Rosi, and president emeritus, Giuseppe Zamberletti, also resigned.
The court's ruling has provoked astonishment among scientists all over the world, who say they shouldn't be punished if their forecasts don't come true. Guardian science writer Martin Robbins warns:
"Few scientists will want to take responsibility for similar statements in the future, and those who do are likely to be biased toward crying wolf rather than facing the threat of possible prosecution if their assessments are in error."
Meanwhile the American Association for the Advancement of Science has addressed an open letter to the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, calling the convictions "unfair and naive."
Yet risk perception consultant David Ropeik, writing for the Scientific American, argues that the Italian scientists were at fault – not for failing to predict the earthquake, but for failing to communicate the risks accurately to the public.
The seven defendants have been sentence to six years in jail and banned from public office for life, according to Euronews.
They plan to appeal the conviction and will remain at liberty while their case is heard.
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