Wednesday, October 24, 2012

6 scientists convicted in Italy in a Salem witch trial in reverse

L'Aquila in 2009
School kids marvel at how people in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692-93, could have been so foolish as to have believed in witches.  Things have changed little though.  In Italy, six scientists were just convicted of failing to predict the April 6, 2009 L'Aquila earthquake.  Now, current science has no way of predicting earthquakes.  The only way that they could have predicted this one would be if they had supernatural powers.  The scientists were convicted, in essence, of not having supernatural powers.

Their convictions were on charges on manslaughter and the six were sentenced to six years in prison.

While earthquakes cannot be predicted, science can talk about probabilities.  Generally, seismologists look over past earthquakes and see what is the largest earthquake that typically happens in a 100-year period.  They then dress that up and say something like "there is a 30% chance of such an earthquake happening in the next 30 years."   That's about it.

We may think that we live in a modern and sophisticated world but the public is just as likely to confuse science and witchcraft today as it was in Salem in the 1690s.

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