Monday, October 22, 2012


I love Italy. Friendly people, good food, great art, nice weather, etc. But there is something in Italian governance traditions that make me feel okay about not living there. Prime examples are Berlusconi and this, the conviction of six seismologists and a government functionary for failing to predict an earthquake in L'Aquila that killed 309 people in 2009. More exactly, they issued a report that said that it wasn't possible to predict whether or not their would be a major earthquake that year, but estimated the probability as fairly low. The earthquake came, and they are the scapegoats.

Imagine if you will that an Italian man goes to the doctor, and asks if he is going to have a stroke that year. The doctor gives him an exam, some blood tests and a questionnaire, then uses the best available methods to estimate that this man has only a 10% chance of having a heart attack that year. The man goes for a hike, has a heart attack, dies. Should the doctor go to jail for failing to know for sure that the heart attack is coming? Of course not. We don't put people in jail for failing to know things that no one could possibly know. We don't, but apparently the Italian courts do.

Now imagine the Italian government comes to you next week and wants you to produce an expert report on an unpredictable topic for them. Would you be eager to help?


jte said...

If an appeals court won't overturn this absurdity, the only logical thing to do is to proceed to prosecute the authors of the Astrology columns in newspapers whenever they predict a good day and someone dies.

jte said...

I don't know why I capitalized Astrology.