I wrote about this once before, but I think it is important enough to repeat. In what I think is a material threat to the science sector, scientists are on trial in Italy because they failed to accurately predict a deadly earthquake. From the Daily Telegraph story:
The trial – due to start Tuesday – has proved intensely controversial before it has even begun, with the scientific community arguing that it is impossible to accurately predict the timing and severity of a quake. But relatives of the 309 people who died when centuries-old buildings and modern apartment blocks crumpled on the night of April 6 say they are not blaming the experts for failing to forecast the event, just for fostering a culture of complacency which cost lives. Prosecutors say the six leading scientists and a top official should have given much clearer warnings to the people of L’Aquila that the city had been the subject of more than 400 low-magnitude tremors and that there was a real danger of a major quake.
They say clearer information would have allowed the inhabitants of the city, the capital of the Abruzzo region, to evaluate the threat and decide whether to evacuate their homes. The experts were members of a panel that met six days before the 6.3 magnitude earthquake at which they determined that the activity was probably not a prelude to a big quake.
This is an outrage. These scientists face the possibility of 15 years in jail!
But we need to also look at the bigger picture. In some sense, I think the international Science Establishment should look in the mirror for at least part of the cause. How often do we hear hype about the capacity of science to know truth, proper political policy, and even tell us right from wrong? For the uneducated, that sense of false potency can set up some materially false expectations. Thus is the power of scientism to harm science.
Free the Italy 7!