Why you must never, ever be wrong about anything

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” said Niels Bohr with a straight face. Fortunately, we’re used to wrong predictions — hell, the government has made an art form out of failing to deliver — so we haven’t gotten into the habit of taking the makers of those predictions to task.

And this is what would happen if we did:

Six Italian seismologists and one government official will be tried for the manslaughter of those who died in an earthquake that struck the city of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009.

The seven are accused of misinforming the population about seismic risk in the days before the earthquakes, indirectly causing the death of the citizens they had reassured.

Among those indicted: Bernardo De Bernardinis, then VP of Italy’s Civil Protection department, and volcano expert Franco Barberi. This is apparently what happened:

[S]eismic activity had been going on in the area for more than three months, causing alarm in the population. De Bernardinis summoned the meeting and asked the scientists to assess the risk of a major earthquake and its possible consequences. The meeting was followed by a press conference by De Bernardinis and Barberi, where the two reassured the population that the seismic sequence did not necessarily hint at a major earthquake. De Bernardinis, in particular, appeared on television saying that “the scientific community tells me there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favorable”. A major earthquake did hit on April 6 though, killing 309 people. In the aftermath, many citizens quoted those statements as the reason they did not take precautionary measures, such as fleeing their homes. According to the accusation, many people who would otherwise leave the area decided to stay, and were eventually killed in the collapse of their houses.

Of course, if blowing a call were a hanging offense, Paul Ehrlich would have been decorating a cottonwood tree several decades ago. Still, if I were Gary England, I’d be watching my ass right about now, just on general principle.

(Via this Syaffolee tweet.)


  1. McGehee »

    27 May 2011 · 9:24 am

    Hmm. I think if anything those guys should be on trial for leading people to think they could predict an earthquake. But I guess they wouldn’t be on trial if they hadn’t, so…

  2. Jeff Brokaw »

    27 May 2011 · 1:42 pm

    These same opportunistic lamebrain dipshits would probably sue him if there was no earthquake and this De Bernardinis guy told them to leave. Either way there are costs and benefits, and winners and losers. Life is like that. But some people want a risk-free existence with unicorns and rainbows 24×7. Morons.

    Say, if we can now sue people for incorrect use of alarmism, just think of the possibilities. What line do I get in to sue Al Gore for using alarmism plus imagery (cute polar bears) plus simplistic unscientific graphs to fool people into believing junk science?

  3. Tatyana »

    27 May 2011 · 7:53 pm

    Jeff – but they still show “endangered” polar bears on Public Television! Just yesterday I happened on a documentary with voice-over urging all people of good will to save those cuties.

  4. Jeff Brokaw »

    28 May 2011 · 9:20 am

    Tatyana – exactly right. The narrative becomes the accepted version of reality, even though it is usually completely disconnected from reality.

    This applies in so, SO many cases. Facts have become optional accessories, and we are collectively dumber as a result.

    So, you go have a nice day now! ;-)

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