Arrest Michael Fish

Mark Robbins comments over at CiF on the convictions of the scientists who failed to anticipate the severity of the L’Aquila earthquake. I find it incredible that people are charged and convicted of manslaughter for what was a natural disaster.

Okay, possibly they made a bad call due to incompetence. Possibly. More likely, though, it was a result of the same difficulty that befell weather forecasters in this country twenty five years ago –  a prediction is just that; a prediction. One cannot guarantee its reliability.

It didn’t help that there had been a degree eof crying “Wolf!” going on with people being evacuated and nothing happening. As a consequence, it seems that the risks may have been played down.

After the meeting, Bernardo De Bernardinis from the Civil Protection Agency walked out and addressed the press: “The scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy,” he told them. “The situation looks favourable.” This was not accurate at all. It was 31 March 2009. Six days later, the earthquake struck. A year later, De Bernardinis and six scientists from the committee were indicted for manslaughter.


The prosecutors, and the devastated families they represent, are well aware that scientists cannot predict earthquakes. The accusation they make is not that experts failed to predict the earthquake, but that they failed to properly assess and communicate the risks, telling residents they were safe without any scientific basis for doing so.

If they are so aware of this, one wonders why they took so much notice of the reassurance…

All I see is a combination of capricious nature doing what nature does and a committee of hapless scientists caught on the wrong foot. These things happen. Sometimes people die. But failing to predict accurately (and as a consequence not giving an accurate assessment to the affected people) being a criminal offence with stiff gaol terms? Bernardinis apparently misrepresented what he was advised and gave a misleading reassurance. The scientists were held accountable because they didn’t contradict him. But, then, if nothing had happened, there would have been nothing to contradict.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a worrying development and Michael Fish had better be looking over his shoulder. Who, in their right mind would want to be an Italian seismologist?

11 comments for “Arrest Michael Fish

  1. Tom
    October 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Wouldn’t it be good if the same approach could be taken to Gordon Brown and his predicted end to boom and bust though? 😉

    • October 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Well, yes, tempting.

    • October 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      And people who sell off gold at the bottom of the market cycle.

  2. Tatty
    October 23, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Just one of the more extreme examples of Survival Instinct being overridden by Reliance On Authority.

    • October 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm


  3. DP111
    October 23, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    These scientists made a wrong decision. However, governments make far worse decisions, that kill far more people. Yet, so far in democratic nations, no one has sent them to prison.

    The nearest situation where there could be a justifiable reason to jail scientists, is in the AGW fraud. Here, there is evidence that data was manipulated, algorithms were tampered with to give the required answer. Moreover, the scientific scam was conducted over a long period, in the face of criticism of the approach adopted. This scam was not a one off, but a deliberate fraud over a lengthy period, with the assurance from the government that no would be tried, or go to jail.

    The AGW “research” was underwritten by governments that were looking for a way to raise taxes on basic needs – energy for heating, cooking and transport. In other words, things one cannot cut back on.

    For such a scam, scientists, and their political backers, should be prosecuted. Long jail terms if found guilty.

  4. ivan
    October 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    If the article on this in the Mail is anything to go by then this is the start of a multi million compensation call aided and abetted by a witch hunt lead by the judges.

    The only thing this does is set a precedent for hauling climate scientists before a court to answer for their doom saying and hopefully extending it to politicians and EU flunkies that support the CAGW scam.

    • October 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm

      The scientists did nothing wrong. They said that the risk of earthquakes hadn’t changed, they didn’t say that there wouldn’t be an earthquake. The one person who did do something wrong was a non-scientist who misunderstood the scientists and then told the press that there wouldn’t be any earthquake. But nor should he be jailed. No one should be jailed for failing to predict the future.

  5. Greg Tingey
    October 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    SO, no scientific advice at all to anyone stupid enought to follow this rulinmg….
    Could be interesting.
    I wonder how long before this is appealed & struck down?

    It’s completely barmy.

  6. October 23, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    How long till people on one side or the other of the Climate Change Hoo Ha (I hesitate to use the word debate) start getting locked up for having been wrong? Better build new prisons now for this Brave New World

  7. Dave_G
    October 23, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Since when did any court need a ‘reason’ to jail someone? Government certainly don’t.

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