Shooting the Messengers

| Wed Jun. 16, 2010 1:29 AM EDT

You think science has been politicized in the United States? Just feel lucky you're not an Italian seismologist. A geologist friend of mine emails to let me know about an open letter the science community has written to the president of Italy. It starts like this:

Two weeks ago in Italy, the L’Aquila Prosecutor’s office indicted scientists, some of them members of the “Commissione Grandi Rischi” (Commission for High Risks), and civil protection officials for manslaughter. The basis for the indictment is that these people did not provide a short-term alarm to the population after a meeting of the Commission held in L’Aquila six days before the Mw 6.3 earthquake that struck that city and the surrounding area.

300 people died in the L'Aquila earthquake in 2009. The Independent reports:

L'Aquila's public prosecutor Alfredo Rossini said yesterday: "Those responsible are people who should have given different answers to the public. We're not talking about the lack of an alarm, the alarm came with the movements of the ground. We're talking about the lack of advice telling people to leave their homes."

The president of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Enzo Boschi, and the director of the National Earthquake Center, Giulio Selvaggi, are among those under investigation. I have a feeling that Italian geologists may be very reluctant to serve on the Commission for High Risks in the future.

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