"Earthquake experts said the scientists had been unfairly scapegoated for failing to predict the unpredictable," writes Stephanie Pappas for LiveScience regarding the manslaughter verdict for six Italian scientists and one government official accused of being too reassuring about the risk of an earthquake prior to the deadly temblor in 2009 in L'Aquila, Italy. An appeal is likely to follow the verdict.
One 1998 study of Italian earthquakes found that only 2 percent of small clusters of quakes predicted a large shock. Another 2010 study found the likelihood of death for citizens in L'Aquila's least-safe buildings still being low enough to be better ameliorated by retrofitting dangerous buildings than evacuating entire towns for indeterminate lengths of time on the slight chance of a quake. "There was a very small chance of that earthquake," said John Vidale, a University of Washington seismologist, told LiveScience. "It didn't make sense for people to evacuate."
Although seismologists agreed that Italy's system for communicating earthquake risk before the trial was imperfect, "the real problem is helping people understand how risk works," Erik Klemetti, a geoscientist at Denison University in Ohio, told LiveScience. "The key to communicating risk about natural disasters, researchers agreed, is to let the public know what scientists don't know," concludes Stephanie Pappas.
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