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20/20 Hindsight

Even the best and brightest can get things wrong, which is why science depends on corroboration to get things right. On Respectful Insolence, Orac investigates the conviction of six Italian seismologists for failing to warn people about an earthquake that killed 300. Orac writes “‘earthquake swarms’ are not uncommon in the L’Aquila region” and “a medium-sized shock in a swarm forecasts a major event within several days only 2% of the time.” But for accurately assessing the risk of a major event, the government employees have been sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter. On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel outlines the requirements for a truly scientific prediction, adding “some natural phenomena are simply presently beyond the reach of science.”  Meanwhile, on The Weizmann Wave, new research contradicts the hypothesis that certain lake bacteria can substitute arsenic for phosphate in their DNA. Rather than exploit the local abundance of arsenic, these bacteria “have actually evolved to reject it ever more efficiently.”


  1. #1 Steven Earl Salmony
    Chapel Hill, NC
    October 31, 2012

    “…..the essence of this human-driven tragedy: to know that a given course of action will lead to disaster but to pursue it nevertheless.”

  2. #2 C Tatge
    November 2, 2012

    We heard about this here in the states and were amazed.
    Earthquakes cannot be predicted!

    To hold anyone accountable in such a situation is bordering on just-plain-crazy. One would think with Italy’s record of scientific achievement (read: Galileo) they would recognize the silliness of this incarceration.

  3. #3 W Tompson
    November 3, 2012

    But scientists claim that they’ve found out fairly new techniques in earthquakes prediction. Specially when it is related on short term predictions.

  4. #4 B Griffin
    November 5, 2012

    ‘Respectful Insolence’?!?
    Was this oxymoron intended?
    Perhaps the author was reaching for ‘Respectful Dissent’?
    ‘Respectful Dissent’ certainly makes more sense.