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 FoxNews.com.
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 FoxNews.com.
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.