Freak accident… or scientific conspiracy?

Sometimes shit happens and we find someone to take responsibility for it. Sometimes we hold these people legally, economically, socially, politically responsible, or what have you. In some cases you just cannot. That’s the way life is. For instance, if you hear from your local weatherman on television that it was going to be sunny all day and decided to host an outdoor barbeque, and the weatherman turned out to be dead wrong, and ruined your day along with everyone else’s.

Sure, we could hold you responsible for listening to the man on television (who even listens to weathermen anymore?), but can you hold the man on television responsible? Are you going to bring him to some sort of legal justice for making the wrong prediction? Of course not. That’s just ludicrous and would never— What’s that? Seven Italians have been found guilty of multiple counts of manslaughter over an earthquake? No shit…? Uh… Yeah… Words cannot express how utterly stupid this decision is and the dangerous precedent it sets.

Now, granted, I have never been to Italy. My knowledge of Italy is relegated to movies and video games and occasional news tidbits: Super Mario, the mafia, and the pope, and now holding people responsible over a fucking earthquake. I have no idea how the law functions in Italy. Maybe there is some strange law that can hold scientists blameworthy over incorrect predictions. Maybe they operate based on appeals to emotions rather than any sort of functional legal system.

“In the closing statement, the prosecution quoted one of its witnesses, whose father died in the earthquake. It described how Guido Fioravanti had called his mother at about 11pm on the night of the earthquake – straight after the first tremor. ‘I remember the fear in her voice. On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they repeated to themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed.’” (Source: BBC News)

Yeah, that’s nice. Seriously, it sucks people died but that’s why they call them tragedies. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s more depressing: that these people got charged in the first place (never mind being actually found guilty of something that I could never think you could be found guilty of), or using these emotional sobs as some kind of legal evidence.

It really reminds me that case in the 1990s with the old lady who sued McDonald’s because her crotch got burned drinking their coffee. In that case, I believe she took the lid off herself, put the cup of scalding hot coffee between her legs, and wheeled away in her car out of the fucking drive-thru. Had me wondering just how McDonald’s could be seen as being at fault. The court found that McDonald’s kept the temperature much higher than other restaurants (McDonald’s defense was that their drive-thru coffee was kept hotter for people on the commute). Of course, the court also failed to find that she would have scalded herself regardless.

Of course, there’s a major difference between that case and this one: it was the fault of the old lady’s stupid actions. I’m not saying they were stupid for not leaving. I’m saying that in the McDonald’s case, there were at least two identifiable parties to leverage blame. In this case, we’ve got people going to prison because of a fucking earthquake. Not only do I see this as a perversion of the law and setting a potentially dangerous precedent, but I feel like the people (victims and victims’ kin, alike) who got rolled through the court simply got used for some gain.

It also severely hinders what is the more speculative side of science. It is pretty much impossible for science to function as science without predictions and hypotheses. Scientists know more than anyone that the future cannot be predicted; it is only with some kind of perverted hindsight that human beings believe that tragedy can be avoided. In this case, I suppose the blame was leveled on a group of scientists.

“If the scientific community is to be penalised for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavour will be restricted to certainties only and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled.” – Malcolm Sperrin (Source: BBC News)

The future is not created, in the sense we believe it is. It sort of just happens. We can postulate and predict and pontificate on what is to come, to the best of our ability, but often in life shit happens. Scientists are often thinkers of the future. But they are not seers. They do not have some sort of specialized clairvoyance that sets them apart from the rest of us. This is just the same with financial analysts, who predict stock market movements, or researchers, who predict how well a product or service will do.

It is true that the legal system is not perfect. I always believed that since it was created and run and populated by human beings it would be victim to humanity and its mistakes. I guess I was right. But this decision seems almost a gross perversion of what the law ought to be doing. Often, many of us complain that the law does not adequately enough, that we are not all equal before the law. We often forget that there’s another equally disastrous extreme on the other side of the spectrum.

“I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don’t understand what I was convicted of.” – Enzo Boschi, one of those found guilty (Source: BBC News)

I really don’t know either. If this decision stands, these scientists may not be the only victims in the fallout of the earthquake.

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3 thoughts on “Freak accident… or scientific conspiracy?

  1. Interesting article, but in regards to the McDonald’s case I suggest you watch the documentary in which they talk to the people involved. It shows that that case was used to fight frivolous lawsuits, but the actual fact were quite a bit different. It’s called Hot Coffee and is worth checking out.

    • I have heard of Hot Coffee, and have been meaning to watch it. Never got around to it.
      This is one of those articles I wish I could completely rewrite or just delete, simply because of that McDonald’s coffee case example. I was on an emotional rush at the time of writing this, and, in hindsight, I don’t think the coffee lawsuit example was the best one to use in this case. I can see why I used it, but I don’t know if it gets my point across well.

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