Science-Challenged Italian Government Considers Not Predicting an Unpredictable Earthquake Manslaughter

Seeing as how anybody anywhere actually predicting an earthquake would likely be enough to win them the Nobel Prize (and maybe a Pullizter and the Heisman Trophy while we’re at it), I had the exact same reaction to this headline as acclaimed baseball writer Jonah Kerri: “I swear I thought this was from The Onion.”

Seriously, it’s hard to believe this one is true.

But sure enough, the Italian government has lost its mind, charging its nations top seismologists with manslaughter for failing to predict a 2009 quake that left 308 people dead.

A shocked spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) likened the accusations to a witch hunt.

“It has a medieval flavor to it — like witches are being put on trial,” the stunned spokesman told

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

Earthquakes are, of course, nearly impossible to predict, seismologists say. In fact, according to the website for the USGS, no major quake has ever been predicted successfully.

“Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake,” reads a statement posted on the USGS website. “They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.”

For the Italian scientists’ sake, let’s hope nothing comes of this and that the charges are soon dropped — something that the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is rooting for.

Alan Leschner, chief executive of AAAS, said his group wrote a letter to the Italian government last year [after word of the investigation first became public] — clearly, to no avail.

“Whoever made these accusations misunderstands the nature of science, the nature of the discipline and how difficult it is to predict anything with the surety they expect,” Leschner told

The case could have a “chilling effect” on scientists, he noted.

“It reflects a lack of understanding about what science can and can’t do,” he said. “And frankly, it will have an effect of intimidating scientists … This just feels like either scapegoating or an attempt to intimidate a community. This really seems inappropriate.”

I know almost nothing about seismology. I know even less about geology.

But I do know that humans can’t predict earthquakes. Frogs may be on to something. But humans are not even that close.

So while I do understand that the Italian government may be upset with the “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information” given by quake scientists in a meeting held (coincidentally) less than a week before the deadly fault line broke …. manslaughter?

Get out of here with that.

Another Fatal Bus Crash Highlights an Expanding Industry’s Lack of Oversight

Tragedy hit the highway again today as yet another commercial bus ride turned fatal. Four are dead and 50 have been taken to 11 area hospitals for injuries after a motorcoach headed for New York’s Chinatown from North Carolina ran off the highway and flipped upside down in Virginia on I-95, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch (whose video above shows a helicopter leaving the scene of the accident).

Authorities have cited driver fatigue as the cause of the crash, which involved a 60-person bus owned by Charlotte-based Sky Express Inc., a company with a poor inspection history.

Sky Express Inc., has a troubled inspection history, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s web site.

The company performed worse than 97 percent of all passenger bus companies within the last 12 months and 99.7 percent worse in the last 24 months in the “Driver Fitness” category, FMCSA  records show.

Additionally, the firm scored worse than 77.80 percent of all bus companies within the last 12 months and 86.2 percent worse in the last 24 months in the “fatigued driver” category, records shows.

Nothing will bring back the dead, but perhaps this latest tragedy will spur further outcry for better regulation of an industry that has been expanding in recent years without much oversight.

Emily highlighted this concern in last month’s issue of our own Risk Management magazine.

In New York, most people rely on mass transit. And for getting out of town, one of the most popular choices are the motorcoach buses that depart from Manhattan’s Chinatown. These “Chinatown buses” offer riders a cheap ticket out of town to destinations such as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and various casinos in the area.

But these low-cost tour bus companies have a horrifying track record of safety. On March 12 that fact tragically came to light when a bus returning to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut overturned on a Bronx highway, killing 15 people and injuring 20. Just two days later, two people were killed in another accident involving a Chinatown bus returning to New York from Philadelphia. That bus line, Super Luxury Tours, has one of the worst driver safety ratings in the nation, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Though Super Luxury Tours may be considered the bad seed of the tour bus industry, many motorcoach companies have a spotty safety record. In fact, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety reported 34 motorcoach crashes nationwide in 2010 that resulted in 46 deaths and injuries to 363 people.

As Emily goes on to write, in New York, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called for an audit of all bus operators and, across the Hudson River, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has written to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, urging further legislative action from the federal level.

Thus far, two stalled-in-Congress bills have attempted to impose greater regulations: the Motor Coach Enhanced Safety Act and the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act. Even after this latest crash, it is not certain that either will advance towards becoming law, at least in part due to prohibitive costs (including the $25 million Department of Transportation estimate it will cost to install seat belts in all buses) and industry opposition, as noted by The Carlson Law Firm PC.

At this point, it is unclear whether either of the two bus safety bills will make it into law. Past attempts to strengthen federal bus safety laws have been largely unsuccessful. The NTSB has been recommending changes to improve bus safety for years, but so far Congress has been unable to implement the vast majority of the recommendations into law.

Regardless of whether Congress is successful in passing tougher bus safety regulations this year, those who have been involved in a bus accident still have legal options available to them. This includes bringing a civil claim against the motor coach company and others for any injuries and other losses they have suffered. Some of the types of compensation that may be available in a bus injury claim include medical expenses, lost wages and other earnings, pain and suffering and other damages.

Stay tuned, I guess.

But considering Congress seems to have a lot more on its plate today than bus safety, maybe consider taking Amtrak.

Meet Mason, the Tornado-Surviving Dog Who Crawled Home on Two Broken Legs 19 Days After the Storm

We always cover the deaths and destruction caused by disasters. It’s nice to sometimes see a touching tail tale of hope. And it would be hard to come up with any more amazing than that of Mason, a dog who found his way home, on two broken legs, 19 days after being swept away by the April 27 tornado that hit North Smithfield, Alabama. (video via Buzzfeed … h/t Trey Kerby)

Great Video Coverage of RIMS 2011

The staff over at continues to do an impressive job posting daily commentary on the industry’s pressing topics. Today they are showcasing a well-crafted video featuring coverage of the RIMS 2011 Annual Conference Exhibition in Vancouver, including an interview with Bermuda Premier Paula Cox and a preview of some of the most exciting booths in the exhibit hall. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

Thanks again to