GNS scientists wary after Italian ruling
Tue, 23 Oct 2012 6:03p.m.
By Hamish Clark
A prominent New Zealand earthquake scientist is defending a decision to jail six Italians who failed to predict a quake that killed 309 people.
Kelvin Berryman told 3 News he's not surprised at the guilty verdict because they failed to do their job.
The 6.3 earthquake struck the town of L'Aquila, just days after the town was told there was no need for alarm.
In a makeshift court in central Italy, an Italian judge created uproar in the scientific world by handing down guilty verdicts against six of Italy’s leading scientists.
They were charged with manslaughter for not keeping the city of L'Aquila informed of the risk of a large earthquake. There were hundreds tremors in the months before the big one that killed 309 people.
One woman who lost her sister in the quake stood outside court and said, "Now they will start to take their responsibilities a bit more seriously."
A same-sized earthquake struck Christchurch last February, killing 185 people and destroying the town centre.
Dr Berryman, GNS scientist and manager of the Natural Hazards Research Management Platform, says he is not surprised they were all found guilty.
“I think they took a very optimistic view,” he says. “And despite several hundred years of information in Italy that it is a very active area, for the public to be told not to worry and go home and have a nice glass of wine would appear to be not a very professional call.”
But leading New Zealand earthquake engineer Stefano Pampinin, who travelled to Italy following the quake, says the sentences are a concern for all scientists.
“We had an earthquake in September, so should we condemn or put to jail a seismologist who could not predict February? Or the local authorities in Christchurch? Or the Government, not to evacuate the South Island or the whole of New Zealand?”
Forecasting earthquakes and aftershocks in Christchurch reached fever pitch when weather forecaster Ken Ring was slammed for trying to help a worried public. Scientists then tried to calm things down, releasing regular updates based on seismic data.
“I think it reminds us of duty of care and that as professionals we must always act professionally,” says Dr Berryman. “We are not expected to predict earthquakes but we are expected to provide balanced advice that is neither pessimistic or optimistic but lays out the uncertainties. I think above all when talking about earthquakes, be prepared.”
So what are the chances of scientists here being prosecuted? A leading law expert says there would be no chance of a similar case happening here, as scientists would never be held responsible for deaths as a result of an earthquake.
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24/10/2012 8:40:41 p.m.
Mr Berrymans comments are way out of line. Can't believe he is a "scientist" with that attitude. Is he expecting to be chargedwith manslaughter for not predicting the Christchurch deadly quake?
24/10/2012 8:16:58 p.m.
Ken Ring wrote:
Dr Kelvin Berryman, in page C3 in The Press, said on 18 September 2010 that there would not be another destructive earthquake in Christchurch for 500-600 years. On 18 September 2010 I twittered an alternative viewpoint, which was that another destructive one was likely to come to Christchurch in 6 month's time. This can be verified by looking up my Twitter account. As we know, 6 months later there was indeed a tragic earthquake with over 100 lives lost. So mainstream geology in NZ didn't really cut the mustard either. Earthquake scientists are only doing their job, so cannot be held accountable for what they do not know at the time. NZ geologists had a bob each way - saying the shakes were dying down and at the same time coming back over the next 1000 years or so. They even admitted in daily press statements and interviews to not knowing what new faults would erupt, and their focus was much on the Alpine Fault and tsunamis. Jailing a scientist anywhere would be wrong, and Dr Berryman may be trying to deflect examination of his own team's poor track record at a time when the public were asking for information about which dates to be more careful around. I was asked to appear on Campbell Live after 1500 requests to TV3.
24/10/2012 7:26:38 p.m.
Since Mr. Berryman is so certain the scientists should be charged for not predicting the earthquake, maybe he should do the honourable thing and turn himself into the closest police station and confess his guilt for not predicting the Christchurch earthquake. If he is only outspoken and seeking attention and does not do the honourable thing, the families of the victims of the earthquake should file charges against him. After all, he has already admitted his guilt by his accusations against the Italian scientists.
23/10/2012 9:23:00 p.m.
Arthur Monteath-Carr wrote:
The real culprit here is the politician who over-stated the results of the report; somehow, I don't think we'll see him charged any time soon.
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