Italian scientists guilty of manslaughter after failing to predict L'Aquila quake; face 6 years in prison (updated)

A verdict has been reached in the "medieval" trial of six Italian scientists and a former government official: all 7 are convicted of manslaughter for providing "inexact, incomplete and contradictory" information about the dangers signaled by pre-shocks preceding a devastating 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy. The 6.3 quake killed 309 people. Effectively, the defendants are being punished for having failed to predict the earthquake, which scientists argue is impossible to do.

Prosecutors allege the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake after studying hundreds of tremors that had shaken the city. The defence has argued that there is no way to predict major earthquakes even in a seismically active area.

Many in the scientific community believe the controversy places science itself on trial.

More than 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano supporting the defendants. More: BBC News. More at CBS News.

Nature News has an excellent backgrounder, and reports just now via Twitter that the seismologists have been found guilty, and are sentenced to six years in prison.

Above, a piece I produced with Miles O'Brien for PBS NewsHour about the science of earthquake prediction, and the L'Aquila case.

Update: La Repubblica, the popular Italian newspaper, reports that the verdict affects seven members of the "National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks" who were in office in 2009, and confirms the charges that they "provided false information" about the improbability of a strong seismic event on the night of April 6, 2009, which led to the deaths of 309 citizens. Prosecutors had asked for four years in prison, but a higher sentence of 6 was given. There's a video report here, but in Italian. The Telegraph notes that the scientists will also have to pay for the prosecution's legal costs.

Reuters notes that it's unlikely anyone will actually go to jail before an appeals trial is held.

Hey, don't jail me for this, bro—but I predict this decision will create a profound chilling effect for scientists in Italy.

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