Earthquake Detectors ‘R’ Us

In 2009, the city of L’Aquila was beset by an earthquake, killing 309 people in total. This is a horrible, horrible tragedy.

Now, two years later, a new tragedy is about to occur; 6 scientists are being charged for manslaughter, after they gave a false negative.

“Prosecutors allege the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake after studying hundreds of tremors that had shaken the city.”

When I first read the headline, I had Tesla-esque fantasies of the scientists holding the town to ransom with their earthquake machine.

But no, they weren’t even doing tests into earthquake machine technology, they were simply part of the safeguarding mechanism against quakes themselves, and provided, as I said, a false negative.

This is unacceptable. Primarily because it is in no way the fault of the scientists themselves. They did not build a faulty Earth which kills hundreds of people for no reason, nor a machine that is consistently misleading, nor did they withhold important information from the relevant authorities. They had a machine which was statistically accurate to a sufficient degree, and gave the answers that the evidence suggested. No-one should be punished for that

But this court case also sets a horrendously bad precedent. Earthquake detectors are one of the only methods we have for the predictions of earthquakes which kill hundreds of people per year. They give predictions which are accurate to an acceptable degree of uncertainty. There are error bars, but these error bars are narrow enough that to call it an earthquake detector is not blatant lies. It detects them.

Every once and again, they will be wrong. If we start threatening the operators of such things with manslaughter for the offchance that the detectors are wrong, we are disincentivising them from ever giving answers. I mean, no-one wants to be accused of the murders of hundreds of people and locked up for 15 years, simply for doing their job


Posted on September 20, 2011, in GLOOP, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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