Scientists sentenced to prison for not predicting earthquakes


Six Italian scientists were found guilty by a local court in L’Aquila because they had not predicted that a massive earthquake would hit the city.  Over 300 people died in an earthquake that reached a magnitude of 6.3 on April 6, 2009. Thousands were injured and tens of thousands were left homeless.

A few days before the major quake hit central Italy the region was rocked by a number of smaller earthquakes. A group of scientists were called to the region to give their opinion. They stated, however, that smaller quakes do not automatically mean that a massive earthquake was close at hand.  Now, two years later, a court convicted the scientists and accused them of downplaying the risk of a major earthquake in the centre of Italy. The scientists were sentenced to six years in prison. According to Italian law the scientists do not have to go to prison at once. They have two chances to appeal.

Many scientists and geologic experts around the world are shocked by the scandalous ruling.  It is common knowledge that earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted. They think that local authorities are just trying to find someone to blame for the tragedy. Scientists in Italy and in other countries now fear such a ruling in the future. Many have explained that they will not give any more information on how risky a region might be. It will also be hard for scientists to join commissions or speak openly about earthquakes.

Other seismologic experts say the ruling can be compared to how the church treated scientists in the Middle Ages, when Galileo was put in prison for claiming the Earth revolved around the sun.

The European part of the Mediterranean Sea is an especially active area when it comes to earthquakes and volcanoes. Italy, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey are regularly hit by massive earthquakes. L’Aquila, which has not been fully restored yet, was damaged by massive earthquakes in the 14th, 15th and 18th century.


Earthquake in L'Aquila

Earthquake in L'Aquila - Central Italy


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  • according to = as said by
  • accurately = exactly
  • accuse = to say you believe someone has committed a crime
  • appeal = to ask a higher court to change a decision
  • authorities = here: the town government
  • blame =to say  it is your fault
  • century = a hundred years
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • close at hand = about to happen soon
  • common knowledge = facts that everyone knows
  • convict = to announce that a person is guilty of a crime
  • court = place where a trial is held and a jury decides if a person is guilty or not
  • damage = destroy
  • downplay = to make something seem less important than it really is
  • earthquake = a sudden shaking of the Earth’s crust that causes damage and kills many people
  • homeless = without a place to stay
  • however = but
  • injure = hurt
  • join = to become a member of
  • law = the rules of a country
  • magnitude = how strong an earthquake is
  • major = big,  very important
  • massive = great
  • openly= freely
  • predict = foretell
  • reach = get to
  • regularly = often
  • restore = rebuild
  • revolve = go around
  • rock = shake
  • ruling = decision
  • scandalous = like a scandal
  • scientist =  a person who is trained in science or works in a laboratory
  • seismologic = related to earthquakes
  • sentence = when a judge gives you punishment
  • state = to explain, give your opinion
  • treat = deal with