Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 23 October

The scientific world reacted in dismay yesterday after an Italian judge convicted six scientists for failing to assess the risk of the 2009 earthquake in the city of L’Aquila.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 23 October

Italian scientists found guilty of manslaughter


The scientific world reacted in dismay yesterday after an Italian judge convicted six scientists for failing to assess the risk of the 2009 earthquake in the city of L'Aquila.

309 people died after an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the richter scale struck the Abruzzo region. It devastated the city, destroyed much of the historic centre, injured over 1,000 people and left many more homeless.

The six scientists - as well as a former government official - were sentenced to six years in prison on charges of multiple manslaughter.

The prosecution argued that the seven defendants – who are all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks – had given "a falsely reassuring statement" with "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" over whether smaller earth tremors that had recently rocked the area were a sign of impending disaster.

Marcello Petrelli, a lawyer for one of the experts, who are all now barred from holding public office again, said the outcome of the trial was "astounding and incomprehensible".

Enzo Boschi, one of the accused and the former president of Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology, said: "I still do not understand what I have been convicted of."

Scientists around the world condemned the sentencing and voiced concern that the trial may deter scientists from advising governments in future.

David Rothery, senior lecturer in Earth sciences at the Open University, told the Huffington Post that he hoped they would appeal. Citing the "unpredictable" nature of earthquakes, he said: "The best estimate at the time was that the low level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game."

The director of medical physics at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Malcolm Sperrin, also expressed concern that the verdict could set a worrying precedent by restricting science only to certainties, taking away "the benefits of prediction" if the scientific community is penalised for them.



Questions for discussion


  • If an earthquake had been predicted and you had to evacuate your home, what items would you grab first?
  • Should scientific experts be held responsible for the effects of natural disasters like this one?
  • How do you think the scientists might feel about being blamed for the loss of people's lives?


Related resources


Why do earthquakes happen?

  • A PowerPoint resource exploring why earthquakes happen.

Earthquakes

  • A great series of lesson ideas on earthquakes.

The Scientific Process

  • A brilliant summary of scientific practice to encourage hypotheses.

Justice

  • An introduction to the concept of justice – and whether it is always right.

Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


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A renowned neuroscientist has issued a stark warning about how pre-teens are being exposed to the effects of social networks, with potentially profound consequences.

Volunteer astronomers have discovered a planet, just under 5,000 light-years away, with a quadruple star system.

Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner took to the skies on Sunday afternoon in a historic bid that saw him become the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound in freefall.



In the news archive index