In April of 2009, an earthquake caused extensive damage to the ancient city of L’Aquila, Italy. Relatives of people I know in that region luckily survived without injury. However, the Italian government surprised the International scientific community when it filed criminal charges against the geologists for “failing to predict the earthquake.”
Fortunately, the geologists were acquitted in October. Appeals by prosecutors are still expected, so this story is not yet over.
Here is some background:
At a special meeting held to calm anxious residents a week before the 6.3-magnitude quake hit, the panel concluded that it was “unlikely” that a big earthquake would follow the tremors, but also stressed that “there are no instruments to make forecasts.”
The former deputy chief of Italy’s civil protection authority, Bernardino de Bernadinis, told press at the time that there was “no danger” because the small shocks were acting to relieve seismic pressure. Relatives of the victims claimed that such reassurances had persuaded many residents to remain in their homes, thus causing their death in the quake. The relatives took legal action against the experts, leading to their conviction.
The ruling was met with dismay by the scientific community, which argued that the convictions were based on a complete misunderstanding of the science used to calculate the probability of an earthquake.
Source: Deutsche Welle