Russian seismologists on Tuesday condemned the conviction of seven Italians of manslaughter for failing to warn residents before an earthquake hit central Italy in 2009.
Over 300 people were killed in the quake. The court in L'Aquila on Monday sentenced the defendants, six scientists and an ex-official, to six years each in prison and fined them.
Alexei Zavyalov, head of a seismology laboratory at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Physics of the Earth, said it was wrong to imprison people “for making an inaccurate forecast.”
“The situation with the Italian seismologists throws us back to medieval times,” he said in an interview with the daily Izvestia.
“We are unable to say exactly whether or not there will be an earthquake. Scientists share the information that they have at a given moment. The current level of development does not allow seismology to make an absolutely accurate forecast.”
The precedent in Italy may even freeze the further development of seismology, he warned.
His view was echoed by Leonid Starkov, a leading expert at the Fobos Center.
“There is always an element of inaccuracy in any forecast,” he said. “You can understand people, but those are only emotions.”
Serious earthquakes take place in Italy every 30 years, but it is difficult to predict where exactly it will strike, he said.
“In Russia, an earthquake should take place in the Kamchatka region. So what, are we supposed to drive people out into the street every night?” Starkov said. “That would be like creating a false alarm, which is even worse.”