Apr 06 2009

When Politicians Play Scientist

Published by at 9:00 am under All General Discussions,Global Warming

Al Gore, the doomsayer of Global Warming, has nothing on the Mayor of L’Aquila who decided he knew more than a certain scientist. A scientist who predicted a deadly earthquake was imminent. A scientist who was outside the ‘consensus’ bubble of other scientists feeding from the government’s trough. The Mayor knew more, and at least 100 people are now dead:

An Italian scientist predicted a major earthquake around L’Aquila weeks before disaster struck the city on Monday, killing dozens of people, but was reported to authorities for spreading panic among the population. 

The first tremors in the region were felt in mid-January and continued at regular intervals, creating mounting alarm in the medieval city, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Rome. 

Vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani predicted a large quake was on the way, prompting the mayor’s anger. 

Giuliani, who based his forecast on concentrations of radon gas around seismically active areas, was reported to police for “spreading alarm” and was forced to remove his findings from the Internet. 

Italy’s Civil Protection agency held a meeting of the Major Risks Committee, grouping scientists charged with assessing such risks, in L’Aquila on March 31 to reassure the townspeople. 

“The tremors being felt by the population are part of a typical sequence … (which is) absolutely normal in a seismic area like the one around L’Aquila,” the civil protection agency said in a statement on the eve of that meeting. 

“It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake,” it said, adding that the agency saw no reason for alarm but was nonetheless effecting “continuous monitoring and attention”.

These arrogant ‘scientists’ providing political cover for their preferred politician have a lot of blood on their hands today:

Rescuers were digging bodies out from the collapsed ruins of dozens of houses and emergency services said the death toll was ”bound to rise.”

Gianfranco Fini, speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament, said entire towns has been “virtually destroyed” with 15,000 buildings off limits.

The tremor struck at just after 3.30am local time this morning and measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.

The epicenter was close to the city of L’Aquila in the centre of Italy, about 100 miles north east of Rome.

TV footage showed a scene of devastation in the city with rubble strewn on roads, buildings collapsed and large cracks in many structures.

It seems fate or God needed to send a message about thew difference between scientific facts verses “scientific consensus”. Are people paying attention to this?

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “When Politicians Play Scientist”

  1. Phineas says:

    I think you’re being a bit unfair to the town officials, AJ. The radon gas method Dr. Giuliani based his predictions on is still controversial, and reliability is very much at issue: http://www2.ee.ic.ac.uk/zhongjie.chen06/yr2proj/radon.html

    In fact, as pointed out in the article you quote, eminent seismologists are questioning whether earthquakes can ever be predicted: http://scec.ess.ucla.edu/~ykagan/perspective.html

    Where they do deserve blame is for an apparent lack of preparedness and adequate building codes: I’m willing to bet that most of the buildings that fell are over a century old. I live in Southern California, where earthquakes are a fact of life. The 1994 Northridge shaker was about as strong as the one to hit l’Aquila, but the death toll was much less in large part because of effective building codes.

    You’re essentially damning Italian officials for not listening to the one dissenting voice, for somehow not being able to spot that, this time, the doomsayer was right. Everyone wishes now they had, but how were they supposed to know at the time that he was right? Post-hoc vision is always 20-20.

  2. AJStrata says:


    The Radon gas method is not all that controversial, really. The point of the article is about the myth of ‘consensus’ – and the town should have taken the man’s concerns much more seriously and planned ahead.

    The politicians did not want to hear bad news, so they silenced it – that is the moral of this story.

  3. Frogg says:

    Kind of makes you wonder about those “Tsunami” warnings a few years ago which were ignored for “economic reasons”:

    “Just minutes after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning, Thailand’s foremost meteorological experts were sitting together in a crisis meeting. But they decided not to warn about the tsunami “out of courtesy to the tourist industry”, writes the Thailand daily newspaper The Nation.”

    Political pressure?

  4. Phineas says:

    Hi AJ,

    Just to follow up, this short article in the LA Times discusses the radon-gas controversy in light of the l’Aquila quake: http://tinyurl.com/crwssa

    Key paragraphs:

    The history of earthquake prediction is littered with a lot of discarded ideas, including, many scientists say, the radon theory. Guiliani said he was collecting samples of radon gases escaping from the earth’s crust in the area around the quake. He detected unusual readings and concluded that a big quake was imminent.

    Using radon gas to predict quakes was popular in California in the late 1970s. Researchers at USC, Cal Tech and elsewhere believed changes in the gas levels were a precursor of quakes. In 1979, researchers found gas irregularities before two significant quakes, in Malibu and Big Bear. But the radon method began to lose steam because it could not reliably predict quakes.

    Now, have any replicated studies since the 70s shown a significantly increased predictive reliability for the radon gas method? I’m not aware of any, but, if there are, then I might agree with you that the town officials were remiss.

    Note also that the Times article says Dr. Giuliani made his prediction to the mayor of Sulmona, 35 miles from l’Aquila, and that he predicted the quake would hit in the next 24 hours; about a week passed, instead. If the article is accurate (If), then the reliability issue rears its ugly head again: he had the area and the timing wrong.

    Looked at from another angle, Italian officials were trying to prevent a panic after someone using an unproven method predicted a disaster. Far from a global warming-like “consensus,” decades of experience supports the idea that earthquake predictions are not to be trusted.

    I’m not saying they should have done nothing — it sounds like their disaster preparedness was awful for people living in a seismically active zone. For that, politicians deserve blame. But breaking out the pitchforks and torches to go after the politicians just doesn’t seem justified here. Not with what we know, so far.