Friday, November 02, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #80 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week and Clown Award (combined): Italian court sentences scientists to prison for failing to predict an earthquake

On April 6, 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the town of L'Aquila in the Apennine region of central Italy. Over 300 people in and around the town were killed. The historic center of the town was devastated and is still largely deserted.

On October 22, an Italian court convicted seven scientists and experts of manslaughter and sentenced each to six years in prison - for failing to predict the earthquake. They are also ordered to pay court costs and damages of $10.2 million and were barred from even again holding public office.

This would be hilarious - this would be like a Marx Brothers movie - if it weren't for real. There is no currently known method of predicting earthquakes. Period. Scientists - seismologists - have gotten much better at determining the regions in which quakes are more likely to occur, even better at suggesting time frames, but predicting when they will happen is beyond human capability and even those time frames can be measured in decades. "You're likely to have an earthquake sometime in the next 50 years."

Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post got it right: Her blog post on the case was titled "Italian scientists found guilty of manslaughter for failure to perform magic."

My gosh, this is getting frightening. It's not only an outrage, it's utterly clownish. Here, we have ignorant twits like Rep. Paul Broun, the man who recently declared that ”All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” serving on the House Science Committee. Over in the Senate, we have Sen. James Inhofe, who says global warming is a hoax because the Bible says so, as the ranking GOPper on the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

And now, in Italy, they're putting people in jail for failing to predict earthquakes. So here, the thought is scientists are liars or stupid; there, the thought is they know everything. In both cases, science gets trashed and scientific progress gets undermined.

Broun is a clown. Inhofe is a clown. And the prosecutors and the judge of L'Aquila, along with the people who praised the verdict - they are all scientifically-ignorant clowns.


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