Collective Intelligence: Science on Trial, Berlusconi sentenced. Dispatch from Italy, by Jasmina Tesanovic

The Italian scientific community was stunned when Italian scientists, seismologists, were recently sentenced to years of prison for manslaughter, for failing to predict the lethal earthquake in Aquila in 2009. Other scientists have resigned to their jobs in protest, and even some relatives of the victims condemned the sentence as ridiculous.

The world press was reporting on the dark ages of inquisition in Italian courts and labs. But then, journalistic investigations discovered political scandals that implied a plot to downplay earthquake dangers in Aquila, involving Berlusconi and his cabinet. Silvio Berlusconi can't control earthquakes any more than seismologists can, but he's always been keen on controlling media.

It came as a huge relief to many Italians when, on Friday, a brave court of Milan managed to sentence Berlusconi for his tax frauds. He is condemned to 4 years of prison, but of course he will appeal, stall, and agitate demogogically. Nobody is expecting this potentate to serve time in an Italian prison. It is still a significant moral victory for the brave judges, fighting for years on end to legally prove what was already obvious to everybody.

Of course Berlusconi was enraged and immediately threatened to take over the Italian government and, if necessary, topple the European Union in his ageless feud with the Italian courts. His re-ignited ambitions -- he only feels safe at the top of the Italian state, and often not even there -- caused justified fear among the citizens. Italians are unhappy with Monti governmental solutions, an Austerity imposed by the Central European bank and the EU from Brussels. The Austerity is miserable, but it got there due the wild immoral corruption of Berlusconi, his party members and the court harems.

In Rome an anti-Monti demo blocked the downtown of the city with the usual leftist protests, so dear to the Italian alert activists. But in the outskirts of Rome, in Garbatella, a wise and sharp conference of small enterprises and craftsmen was held. Here political matters were handled in a different way; no more laments and protests, but a search for concrete solutions for getting Italy out of a dead end.

The CNA NeXT 2012 Motori festival was held in a rebuilt theater in Garbatella, the working class neighborhood once dominated by the vanished Italian auto business. Digital and other young Italian craftsmen, self employed artists/businessmen are facing a harsh reality of shocking number of small businesses bankrupting next year. Made in Italy crafts, the nation's most famous and prestigious products from food to clothes, are collapsing in the general economic crisis. There's no sign of plausible political and social solutions, just the black past of Berlusconi laissez faire right winged corruption, or the present European asphyxiating austerity.

The Italians have won the battle on national brands in the EU regulations: they can keep their much-prized "Made in Italy" branding, if any craftsmen financially survive to actually make things in Italy. It's been hard to forfeit control of local affairs to the distant European Union; when it came to deposing Berlusconi the Europeans were lifesavers, but Brussels isn't sentimental about local arts and crafts.

Garbatella has a certain working-class blue-collar romantic air, the part of town was portrayed by artists like Pasolini, the poet killed in 1975 and Nanni Moretti the prestigious Italian contemporary filmmaker. So "Motori" was a conference for "Collective Intelligence," where Italians, who might have once been in labor unions, scratched their heads and wondered if they could organize digitally on new platforms for design, creation, production and export. It may seem farfetched to look for rescue from the Internet and open-source, rather than from Rome, Brussels or panicky business investors. But what else is on the horizon for people who want to get real work done? Just anti-science superstition, financial corruption, and blatant fear of the future.

Besides the young boisterous voices of Italy's lost generation, who are seeking inventive ways to avert the disasters brought on by their nation's elderly "Caste", two Italian celebrities were also present. They were the Oscar winning Italian conductor Piovani and the famous national soccer coach Zeman, both accompanied by Roman paparazzi. How do they manage the "collectivity" of an successful Italian orchestra and a successful Italian soccer team? Did these star managers have any useful hints?

Piovani, the musical director, resplendent in a silk suit and burgundy socks, was entirely in favor of collective work imposing discipline, and, as he put it, the beauty of following the rules. Zeman, the leather-clad soccer coach, was in favor of individual talent -- the stars have to hone their gifts to pull the team to victory. So approaches differed, but everyone involved mourned the painfully obvious cultural and moral decline of such a beautiful and creative country.

It's hard to believe in national salvation by "collective intelligence." On the other hand, it's exhilarating to see proud Italians rallying against obvious stupidity.

Photos: Jasmina Tesanovic


  1. I live in Italy. The group of scientists, belonging to the national security, were condemned not because they failed to predict the earthquake but because, after a long series of minor earthquakes that scared the people of l’Aquila, they held a public conference saying there was no risk and that they could all go home and sleep peacefully.
    Just a few days later, a big quake arrived and killed 309 people.
    If they had said “We can’t predict if there will be a major earthquake, so be ready to evacuate anyway” nobody would have accused them, but what they did was actually pretend they knew that such eventuality would not happen.
    I think they are guilty for this.

    1. You’ve got to be kidding. They’re not guilty of anything. It’s tragic people died, but you can’t blame an earthquake on a couple of people.

      That’s insane.

      It also makes Italy look like a very, very bad place.

  2. no one can predict heartquakes, but they said it was not going to happen. please, get informed before speaking. italy actually is a bad place to live in, but not for these reasons. many of the rumors about how bad justice in italy is, moreover, is a typical leit motif from berlusconi, and this essay is, to me, an example of how effective these rumors are. anyway, this is what scientific american said about the fact :

    “According to scientific opinion cited by prosecutors, the dozens of lower level tremors seen before the quake were typical of the kind of preliminary seismic activity seen before major earthquakes such as the one that struck on April 6. Instead of highlighting the danger, they said the experts had made statements playing down the threat of a repeat of the earthquakes which wrecked the town in 1349, 1461 and 1703, saying the smaller shocks were a “normal geological phenomenon”.”

    the scientists, probably, were under the pressure of another man, bertolaso, that at the earthquake time was leading the italian emergency management.

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