Big Brother and the Big One – Lessons from Aquila

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Let’s start with this excerpt from the Nature article:

Quote:  “From when he was a young boy growing up in a house on Via Antinori in the medieval heart of this earthquake-prone Italian city, Vincenzo Vittorini remembers the ritual whenever the family felt a seismic tremor overnight. “My father was afraid of earthquakes, so whenever the ground shook, even a little, he would gather us and take us out of the house,” he says. “We would walk to a little piazza nearby, and the children — we were four brothers — and my mother would sleep in the car. My father would stand outside, smoking cigarettes with the other fathers, until morning.” That, he says, represented the age-old, cautionary “culture” of living in an earthquake zone.

Vittorini, a 48-year-old surgeon who has lived in L’Aquila all his life, will never forgive himself for breaking with that tradition on the night of 5 April 2009. After hundreds of low-level tremors over several months, L’Aquila shook with a strong, magnitude-3.9 tremor shortly before 11 p.m. on that Palm Sunday evening. Vittorini debated with his wife Claudia and his terrified nine-year-old daughter Fabrizia whether to spend the rest of the night outside. Swayed by what he describes as “anaesthetizing” public assurances by government officials that there was no imminent danger, and recalling scientific statements claiming that each shock diminished the potential for a major earthquake, he persuaded his family to remain in their apartment on Via Luigi Sturzo. All three of them were huddled together in the master bed when, at 3:32 a.m. on 6 April, a devastating magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck the city.

“It was like being in a blender,” Vittorini recalls. “It wasn’t a roar, it was a gigantic noise. And then darkness.” The apartment building, a structure of reinforced concrete constructed in 1962, instantly collapsed, and their third-floor apartment ended up in a jumble of wreckage several feet off the ground. Seven people were killed in the collapse of the building, including Vittorini’s wife and daughter; he was pulled from the rubble, injured but alive, six hours later. The earthquake claimed 309 lives in L’Aquila and several towns nearby, injured more than 1,500 people, destroyed some 20,000 buildings and left 65,000 people temporarily displaced.”

Now, in response to this terrible human tragedy, those very authorities who swayed the personal decisions of people like Vincenzo Vittorini have been found guilty of manslaughter. This has created huge waves around the world’s scientific and risk assessment community and sent a chill down the spine of every individual even remotely connected with the burden of making a public decision on risk.

No wonder. Six years in jail is no laughing matter. Nor is dying unnecessarily for that matter. But who is responsible? Where does the buck stop? Do we have a right to expect impeccably worded alerts and public warnings from the authorities we pay to issue them? Are we willing to bear the consequences? Do we have a right to hold them culpable when they fail to do so? Is this even a sensible approach?

What ever way you look at the Aquila tragedy, it throws up a huge number of complex issues, some of them probably intractable but I will revive the long slumbering body of political science I once studied and try to approach these issues, not from a seismologists’ or civil defence point of view but from the wider angle of political philosophy.

Ok, so shit happens. Catastrophes occur. Whenever you place something of value at risk you have what insurers call an exposure. (For some reason the concept of exposure always makes me think of being forced to go for a pee behind a rock on an alpine ski field in -23° temperatures, but that might be just me.)

We live in a world that seems to have only recently discovered the concept of risk aversion. In the old days, everyone smoked, drank copiously, jumped into a rusty hump of contorted metal called a car that didn’t even have seat-belts, forget about crumple zones and airbags, and hooned it off homewards, possibly slowing down for stop lights but not necessarily. As kids we were told to go play out on the road for a bit to give our parents some peace and quiet.

My, how things have changed. And, confronted by the huge tragedy of an unnecessary death, they have changed most certainly for the better. Now entire armies of engineers, scientists and mathemeticians are working for our benefit, carefully tweaking our systems and machines to reduce the risks we are exposed to.

Yet risks remain, particularly risks from natural hazards, like floods, storms, avalanches and, yes, earthquakes. These kind of risks will always be there. They are facts of life. There will always be earthquakes as long as we live on this planet. And, if we are truthful, a world completely devoid of risk would be a pretty bland and boring place.

Which brings us pretty quickly to the crux of this issue:

Does an individual have a right to choose his own risk exposure? Does an individual have a right to be protected by the government from risks (within the bounds of reason and budgets of course)? Does the government have a duty to protect its citizens with the resources at its disposal?

These are weighty questions and each individual will have their own answer. All I will try do here is outline the framework.

I. Does an individual have a right to choose his own risk exposure?

This first issue goes to the heart of social liberties. Generally, if you are a freedom loving individual, you would answer this in the affirmative. If you want to go base-jumping and are prepared to take the associated risk of tunneling through a couple of meters of granite when you fail, then you should be allowed to do this. If you want to smoke or inject a whole lot of harmful substances into your body, you should also be allowed (arguably) … but when your actions start posing a risk to others who don’t want to take this risk, then there are some good arguments that start limiting your individual freedoms.

Thus in terms of seismic hazard, if I want to build on a fault line, and am informed about the exposure, then who should stop me? However if I jump into the crater of an active volcano and then call the emergency services to get me out, do I have a right to be helped? If the consequences of my smoking burdens the public health system, should I pay for it? Etc.

II. Do I have a right to be protected by the government?

This is where it gets knotty. If you think you do, then you must very carefully delineate the scope of this protection for every right entails a corresponding duty on the other party (see III below). For example, if you think the government has a duty to protect you, you can’t complain when a SWAT term bursts in your door late at night and takes away your whiskey. So obviously, most of us would like limits. Indeed libertarians believe there is no such right or duty on the part of the government to do this. But this extreme might be a little simplistic too. Then we wouldn’t have road rules and I am not sure I would like to live with the resulting chaos. Especially when I think of GeoLoco and his big truck.

III. Does the government have a duty to protect its citizens (even against their will)

This is probably the knottiest of all. Should the government have the right to evacuate people from the danger zone in the face of a pending lateral blast? I guess most of us would say yes. After all, it is the government that has to clean up the resulting mess. Does the government have a duty to stop us drinking alcohol and smoking, driving over-powered cars and jumping off cliffs? hmm.. here I am not so sure. What is acceptable? What is not acceptable?

Implications for Aquila

Right, using the above very broad principles, let’s look at Aquila.

I think we can take it as given that everyone who lives in Aquila is aware of the seismic risk, apart from those who are too young or infirm to grasp the concept. So anyone who lives there is tacitly accepting the risk, even for their children and dependents. Moreover, there is enough information in the public domain about how to reduce your risk even in such areas: different methods of building, placing of furniture, etc. that an individual can actively choose to reduce his exposure. So the citizens there were aware of the risk, they actively took the risk, therefore they should bear at least some of the responsibility for the resulting tragedy, no? If they didn’t live there, it wouldn’t have happened.

Which leads us to this question: does the government have a duty to protect you, even when you actively choose to take these risks?

Right, this is where we quickly enter a push and pull battle over where to draw the line. Governments can install building codes. They can enforce demolition of at-risk buildings (the most beautiful brick buildings were demolished on our local campus in the 70s and replaced with horrible concrete bunkers). In brief, the government CAN do a lot. But MUST it do these things? Is this what we expect of government? Do we want to live in a moddle-coddled world where all risk has been eradicated by government decree? Are we willing to pay the price by renouncing the associated liberty?

At a minimum, one could argue, the government does have a duty to at least inform its citizens of the risks it is exposed to. There are good arguments for setting this as a minimum requirement on government action. Why? Well, for one, government has the resources. Secondly, it is not only in the individual’s interests, but it is in the collective public interest. Why have a collective institution (called government) if not for at least collating and identifying all those issues of relevance to the people? Thirdly, it is the best way that I can see of combining a maximum of individual liberty (informed risk-taking) with a maximum of government care (informing the risk-takers).

Whether this duty then extends to proactive measures on the part of the government to protect its citizens is a next-level issue that should be answered by the members making up that collective. In a modern democracy, this should be by democratic vote (though, obviously in reality, it is decided by endless committee meetings of bureaucrats working in the background). However, as past catastrohphes have already indicated (and Aquila is no exception), the extent of government intervention should be clearly formulated along a clear set of principles. This serves not only as a guide for action in the event of a crisis for the decision-makers, it also serves to raise public awareness and introduce this thorny issue to the public domain, where it belongs: How much intervention do we expect of our government? The results should then be formulated in a brief set of principles that even the courts could then refer to in issues like Aquila.

As it now appears, the, what I would term, minimum duty to inform the public, is where the scientific committee meeting in Aquila failed.
Whether this failure though is tantamount to manslaughter is highly dubious. In the end that is something each jurisdiction will have to decide but this decision seems to have a strong whiff of populism to it.

Accountability is all well and good but it seems extraordinary to suddenly make an issue of it with you civil defense team when there are numerous far more blatant cases where people have dodged accountability for pecuniary gain”
Ironically, at the same time, the Italian government is cutting the funding of other public institutes aimed precisely at informing the public of imminent risks. This is tragic to say the least and the public inertia is just one consequence of generations of government officials failing to meet their basic
duties. Sad. Very sad indeed.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional in any of these matters in any form whatsoever. All the above is my sole private opinion expressed here for the sole purpose of stimulating debate and for no other purpose whatsover.

Bruce Stout


367 thoughts on “Big Brother and the Big One – Lessons from Aquila

  1. I just want to say sorry for post a meteo subject, but i know there are many US people here in the blog and so everyone in the line of the storm, please stay informed of every update and be prepared. Sorry again.

  2. @Diana: In this little village on the outernmost northeast coast of Iceland, called Raufarhöfn, houses are rather cheap, because the fish processing stopped and is now done at other places, people vent to the bigger cities. But it is though a beautiful place, with the big north (northern polar circle) just in front of you, mountains behind and geothermal heating. 🙂

    • Inge, Thank you. I watched all the way through and I managed to actually understand a little of the language! Mainly because I have been trying to teach myself Norwegian and it is somewhat alike.. I felt so sorry for the people. I could tell they are sad that the village is getting smaller and the local school is nearly empty.
      I loved the scenery and the sea. Of course it was good weather during filming! Also the eider ducks!
      I could live there. I miss the sea and would be happy there with a fishing rod and a small boat!

      • Just all a household moving firm then. 🙂

        It’s a bit far from bigger towns, but such a beautiful spot! and in the film they said a.m. – and you got that absolutely right – that even bigger houses often do not cost more than € 50.000.- there.

        From the lighthouse on this photo http://commons.wikimedia.or/wiki/File:Hraunhafnartangaviti2.JPG you can throw a stone over the Arctic Circle (in the sea), but you really would have to be very good, it is about 2 km. I didn’t even try at the time. 🙂

    • Raufarhöfn is really beautiful scenery. And so peaceful…. I have been there once to see the midnight sunset almost at the solstice day. And geologically the whole area is really interesting too.


    @all: I’ve just heard GOOD NEWS: Carl is OK. So please do not worry any more.
    Maybe we all just need a little more space around us sometimes, I do not know.
    All I know is that he is fine. And of course he will return. 🙂 🙂

    • A pre- (I think) -1970 US or Canadian penny is worth about 3 cents because they’re almost pure copper, sorting them from yr small change is probably easier and more profitable than schmelting humans for their gold content 🙂
      In Britain you would need to go back to the pre decimalisation era to find coins with actual intrinsic value, in those days “clipping” was a problem; the edge of the coin would be “nibbled” away and the clippings sold as scrap, whilst leaving the coin “schpendable.”
      Desimalisation put an end to this, our coins are now made of alloys with no metals worth the effort and cost to extract…
      Now; if an old US penny is worth say 3cents, what would a pre 1970 british penny be worth? They’re maybe 8-10x the size so call it 30 cents, and where did these tangible stores of value mostly end up? Government coffers would be my guess…

  4. A “loop” effect taking place in Etna volcano?
    As Professor Stephen Gresta, one of the authors, and president of the INGV, the most interesting and promising area of ​​research, which has been granted the use of a computerized mathematical model (the boundary elements) to simulate and analyze ‘interaction between the magma and the fault lies in the discovery that the ascent of new magma may transfer stress on the eastern flank of Etna, resulting in activation of known seismic fault Pernicana and / or other fault affecting the eastern and southern sides of the volcano. This movement can also increase the instability of this whole side and unleash local seismic activity. This dynamic, in turn, may request further magma ascent. You can create, well, a real “feedback mechanism”, or rather a sort of “loop”, which, as we have seen, is able to explain the evolution of the major eruptive and seismic crisis in decades Etna. The study now opens the encouraging prospect to define in advance the time evolution of the different possible scenarios (seismic and eruptive) on the largest active volcano in Europe.,/em>

    • Brave of him to stcik his neck on the block- then I saw the publication date, several days before the Aquila judgement. Safer these days I think to be much more equivocal –
      ‘on the one hand …but on the other….’

    • The largest active volcano in Europe? I think not. The summit of Etna is 3330 m a.s.l, Teide 3718 m and Elbrus 5642. If you look at prominence, that of Etna is 3,329.6 m while Teide checks in at while Elbrus towers at 4,741 m. The most recent eruption at Teide was in 1909 while Elbrus had its most recent eruption around 50 AD, so neither Teide nor Elbrus can be considered dormant or extinct.

      Only if you consider Teide and Elbrus as not being European volcanoes can Etna lay claim to that title.

  5. Hi, i just came home from work and am trying to catch up on what i missed.
    The swarm in northern Iceland is not as strong but still ongoing.
    Japan had yet another earthquake 5,6
    Hurricane Sandy is very interesting to me, so i ll keep a close watch.
    I plan a post for tomorrow evening: Alan and Suzie sent riddles and will do the Dinging.

  6. Geologists in Iceland think that the whole strain in the Húsavík-Flatey-Fault could be enough – if released all in one – for a 6.8 quake in the region (“possibly”).

    And the civil protection units have been rather busy today and will be so this evening and tomorrow. The most important thing now to inform the population of possibly endangered regions (esp. the region around Húsavík), but also in the whole. In Húsavík they intend to distribute some brochures about reactions to big quakes and preparation for more safety in case of. And they intend to spread the information personnally this evening in parts of Húsavík (town) which seem to be in special danger. Talk to people also. For the parts not so exposed, residents will receive brochures by postal service tomorrow.

    Information is of course also to have had at the website of Civil Protection Organisation (Almannavarnir). (in Icelandic, general information also in English and French).

    • Good luck to everyone in the area. Dalvik had an EQ of 6.3 in 1934, according to my Iceland guidebook (Globetrotter Travel Guide Iceland) or 7.2 (The Rough Guide to Iceland). So the area as a whole can get big ones.

    • This is also what I think. I think the strain is not going away, and eventually (can still be a few years from now) it will be released in a bigger earthquake.

      I think the Civil Protection is doing an excellent job, in recognizing the risks and alerting the population.

      Also to VC: a future large quake will most likely (but not excluding that change) would not trigger anything in nearby volcanoes, because large quakes have occurred often in this area (Tjornes) without any volcanic activity being triggered. I think most likely Theitareykjarbunga will continue to sleep.

    • I hope it has some effect.
      I wonder if the scientists who have been prosecuted could call in the European Courts on their case? Our legal system’s verdicts are often challenged and sometimes overturned when a defendent, if found guilty here, puts in an appeal to Europe.

      • Think that it is normal practice to appeal in Italy.

        From the BBC’s report on 22/10/2012:

        “Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence. As convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeal in Italy, it is unlikely any of the defendants will immediately face prison.”

        • There is a difference appealing against their countries verdict than going into European Courts. The verdict will then be an issue that will then have ramifications in all Member countries!

          • @Diana: I think the appeal process in the member country has to be exhausted before anything can go to the European Court. At least that is what happens in UK. I believe in Italy the sentence often comes first followed by appeals which are often successful.

    • I like quote and stress this (from the IASPEI press release):

      Scientists cannot be held responsible for effects that are not under their responsibility. Governments and authorities are responsible to ensure that appropriate strategies and measures for risk mitigation are in place and applied. Roles and responsibilities in the earthquake mitigation chain need to be clearly defined, understood and adhered to.

    • “We [IASPEI] do not express here opinions on the Italian judiciary system nor on the details of the sentence, but the trial in L’Aquila sets a disturbing and unprecedented case in linking the free expression of scientific opinions to casualties resulting from the collapse of poorly built or maintained buildings during earthquakes, with issues and ramifications relevant to the whole seismological community…”

      Here, I’ll do it for you. In my opinion, the Italian judiciary system is just a puss filled festering boil representative of the rampant corruption in the political/bureaucratic structure that permeates the country.

      BTW… I am covered under Article 1 of the Bill of Right of the US constitution. {Freedom of Speech} What I have stated is my opinion based on the prevailing news from that blighted country. I hope to God that someone in Italy wakes up to the insanity and takes corrective measures.

      Note: Yeah, I know the US has it’s own problems… and we are on a fast track to also loosing our freedoms, so I’m speaking while the US Constitution still exists and affords some measure of protection from the government.

  7. Joe Bastardi‏@BigJoeBastardi

    18z GFS shifting south again. now landfall at the Stone Pony, Asbury park, 939 mb.

  8. *…. yawn. Blink, blink.

    Here is my most up to date compilation of the Icelandi Listi files from

    The period is from 1995 to 10/24/2012 22:35… about 875 weeks.

    But first, a WARNING.

    This is not a research grade compilation, and is ONLY SUITABLE for amateur use. The weeks were collated by human managed field selection and are subject to the vagaries of Excel wanting to interpret a column as a number rather than as text… unless you catch it and tell it otherwise. In other words, there is room for error.

    In this attempt to weed through the list and find those errors, I did find that there are several occasions where entire swaths of the data no longer have a one to one concurrence from the old list (gathered over the last two years) and the new data. This means that IMO is actively updating their weekly listings as better analysis on the data is done. I’ve noticed changes in whole sets that are 10 to 12 years old.

    Following about two hours of poking at it, and then reviewing my updates I noticed that I had placed a few holes in the data myself. Frustrated, I switched back to the unmodified set, attached the most recent quakes and then sorted to find the obvious errors. They have been removed from this list, but are still valid quakes. Their problem was the number vs text issue that I noted above.

    1996	3	3		64.07854	-21.20134	4.824km	M 0.72	ML 0.88
    1996	8	14		64.00017	-20.38997	3.827km	M -0.19	ML 0.27
    1997	11	20		63.98742	-20.44431	8.894km	M -0.75	ML -0.41
    1998	3	1		64.07458	-21.23204	4.467km	M 0.7	ML 0.56
    1998	4	21		64.09325	-21.18339	4.293km	M 1.68	ML 1.66
    1998	6	23		64.08767	-21.18412	4.851km	M 0.46	ML 0.33
    2000	11	5		63.89099	-22.33513	6.976km	M 0.84	ML 0.6
    2005	9	7		63.67542	-23.36694	0.729km	M 1.98	ML 1.99
    2007	10	29		65.12151	-16.36598	5.629km	M 0.75	ML 0.8
    2008	1	23		64.75671	-17.34553	8.115km	M 2.31	ML 1.45

    The weeks that contain these quakes should be used with caution. There is a good possibility that they may have errors in the time stamps. A sniff test of these weeks show that the sequencing of them flows correctly, but if you need exactness, refer to the original data on IMO’s website.

    Eventually I’ll get a better handle on the errors, but for now that’s about all I have to say about them.

    Here’s the current list. (28+ Mb)

    The old file has been deleted and that link no longer works.

    Thank You.

    • Excellent! Hoping that WP doesn´t choke on the download volume.
      All randomly checked date-times (formatted as TT.MM.JJJJ hh:mm:ss) look perfect 😀
      Thanks a lot for your hard work…again!

  9. I am glad to hear that Carl is OK. I was beginning to wonder if we should all be watching the webcams in Iceland to see if he was waving at us! 🙂

    • For some reason the Italians call this region in Calabria “Il Pollino”. I’m trying to figure out why so. Over FB they have talked about te risk from earthquakes specifically concerning this area during the Acquila trial.

      • Interestingly, while looking for information on Pollino at Wikipedia – a mountain chain located between the provinces of Calabria and Basilicata (il Massiccio del Pollino è una catena montuosa al confine tra la Basilicata e la Calabria) I found this text box protesting against limitations imposed by the Italian Senate on articles who thereby are entitled to repress measures any contents considered detracting or offensive to their own image and privacy. Weird times we’re living in. Giggle translate at your own expense!

      • These mountains are home to a rare Bosnian Pine variety, and are included in the Pollino National Park

        I grew up in pines… every year they dump pollen like it’s going out of style. Wispy accumulations of yellow dust all over the cars. Possible connection?

    • Based on the MMI curve for this event from the USGS listing.

      And from a description of MMI – VI

      Description of Shaking Severity: Moderate
      Summary Description Used on Maps: Objects Fall
      Full Description: Felt by all. Many frightened and run outdoors. Persons walk unsteadily. Windows, dishes, glassware broken. Knickknacks, books, etc., off shelves. Pictures off walls. Furniture moved or overturned. Weak plaster and masonry D (see previous page for definition) cracked. Small bells ring (church, school). Trees, bushes shaken (visibly, or heard to rustle).

  10. If you may allow me I’ll post a Giggle translation of its contents:
    Dear readers,
    once again the independence of Wikipedia is under threat.
    In these hours, the Italian Senate is debating a bill on defamation (DDL n. 3491) which, if approved, would require each site (including Wikipedia) the correction or deletion of your content on simple request those who considered damaging to their image or their privacy, and provides for the criminal conviction and fines of up to € 100,000 in the case of failure to remove. Similar initiatives are not new, but this time their approval seems imminent.
    Wikipedia recognizes the right to the protection of the reputation of each and volunteers that contribute for free already strive daily to ensure it. The approval of this standard, however, be obliged to alter the content regardless of their veracity. Such a requirement would distort the fundamental principles of Wikipedia, would be an unacceptable restriction of its autonomy and a grave threat to the activity of its 15 million volunteers around the world, who would be inclined to stop dealing with specific topics or characters, even only “no problems.”
    Wikipedia is the largest collective work in the history of the human race in 12 years has become part of the habits of millions of Internet users in search of a knowledge-neutral, free and above all free. The Italian edition has almost a million entries, receiving 16 million visits every day, but this rule may obscure them forever.
    The Encyclopedia is the heritage of all. We will not allow it disappears.

    • Leave it to bloated money grubbing and most likely corrupt politicians to try and suppress dissenting opinions.

      Yet another reason why Italy is quickly making it’s way to the top of the list of countries that don’t impress me… and I damn sure wouldn’t spend any money there.

      They fail to enforce building codes, get a shit load of people killed, and scapegoat the very scientists who study it… and on top of that, start slashing funding for the agencies that are there to protect people. What next? Prosecute the firemen because a substandard wiring system in house catches fire and kills several families?

      How about those corrupt government officials that are slopping it up in the money trough ane taking kickbacks? No? Well pack friken sand.

    • I believe Amanda Knox and her parents are being tried in Italian courts for comments they made regarding the police conduct and other actions during and leading up to her murder trial. These charges were not dismissed when her conviction was overturned on appeal. Seems like a similar situation here.

  11. “But this extreme might be a little simplistic too. Then we wouldn’t have road rules and I am not sure I would like to live with the resulting chaos.”

    False! Libertarians are not against rules. If the road were owned by a private entity there would still be rules. Indeed all privately owned roads have rules of some sort or another. Indeed our driveway is not owned by the government and we absolutely have rules on our driveway. The notion that libertarians are against rules comes across not only as misinformed but too often as a smear campaign against those of us who question the many systems of control that we find repugnant. I know that’s not your intent here and that you are just repeating dogma you’ve heard elsewhere. It’s patently false dogma.. Thanks!

    • Have you ever lived in a country with censorship? Well, I did.
      Knowledge is free and should be kept as such in a free world. We all know that Wikipedia has its own internal rules but has on its favour, the idea that knowledge can be shared by all.
      Who is talking here about lack of rules?
      We are talking about a “superior power” boasting itself that it is entitled to filter what can or cannot be said. And this sounds too familiar for me to accept without opening it to the free debate in a forum who primes for discussing delicate, ethical, matters..
      Thanks for expressing your opinion, from which I solemnly diverge.
      Renato Rio

      • Renato I think you missed the context of what I was replying to. What you said sounds fine but I don’t see that it has anything to do with what I was replying or talking about. Here I’ll quote what to what I was replying:

        “II. Do I have a right to be protected by the government?

        This is where it gets knotty. If you think you do, then you must very carefully delineate the scope of this protection for every right entails a corresponding duty on the other party (see III below). For example, if you think the government has a duty to protect you, you can’t complain when a SWAT term bursts in your door late at night and takes away your whiskey. So obviously, most of us would like limits. Indeed libertarians believe there is no such right or duty on the part of the government to do this. But this extreme might be a little simplistic too. Then we wouldn’t have road rules and I am not sure I would like to live with the resulting chaos. Especially when I think of GeoLoco and his big truck.”

        What does that have to do with what you said about freedom of speech? And FYI freedom of speech is a libertarian ideal so I think we are in agreement, yet you say you ‘solemnly diverge’ from my opinion so that just doesn’t make sense to me in several ways.

        • I am totally a libertarian in the sense that I don’t want the government to restrict the choices of an invididual if those choices do not cause harm to another. It’s dictatorships that like to interfere in other individuals, because they are arrogant to thinlk they can know what is best for others, and by doing so, they harm others (by restricting their freedom). Often inspired by hidden religion.

          But it is a very important point that our behaviors do not harm others! The problem is that the line is sometimes grey, and therefore people tend to disagree in those questions. One must be responsible and have ethics, and that’s where rules fit in. Human beings, in general, do not have much ethics, and rather have in detrment too much ideology and dogma, which is obviously a huge problem. This often creates the duality of two sides against each other. I wonder if this is the way we want to continue to live in the future!

          In those grey questions, I like not to be very obsessive with them, let’s listen to both sides of the debate and balance them, trying to find a common ground. Let’s care more for the happiness of another (and our own too), rather than assuring we are only “intelectually or ideologically correct”.

          Peace to all of you!,

          • Thanks Irpsit, there is so much wisdom in your comment! Good to read.
            Once I learned that the only limit our freedom has, is the freedom of others. I think this is one of the most important “rules” in our lives, if we want to live in a peaceful world.

      • QA,
        That was the last comment I wrote before I went to sleep.
        I was referring to the Wikipedia warning, and you were still talking about the trial, as I see more clearly now, that I’m a bit more awake..
        That was the confusion. Sorry.
        I need my coffee!

        • Oh, Milan,
          Look here. Strong beliefs, people express them, a little misunderstanding, things discusses, all cleared. If the world would work like that… If politicians where half as “good” as the commenters above…
          I say that trying to illustrate my point of 8:47.

    • Given that I am the author, guess I have a duty to reply to this. Well, quite frankly, QA, you are right to a large degree and it went through my head when writing it whether I should go into more detail about what I mean, but I thought, nah, that is just distracting from the more important issue, which is, if we hold government (big brother) accountable for not saving us from our own decisions, then this is necessarily going to take away a lot of our liberties. As GeoLoco pointed out, this has already happened to a large degree (in our best interests of course 😉 ).

      I am actually quite partial to the libertarian viewpoint but just have a hard time imagining it working in practice. That said, I think your comment is fine and deserved and also on topic.

    • I don’t think we are being any different – we are specifically discussing what has happened to geologists in Italy. What happenes to them will affect the reporting of eruptions in Italy in future so it does concern us. We often have chats about various governments and their shortcomings or otherwise. 😀

    • Hi Milan,
      There are quite some concrete heads in here, and most of us have a sort of sense for science over economic interest in common. Ranting about political issues like freedom and how society copes with hazards is part of the cement that holds our little and a bit mad community together. Don’t take that bad, the very most of us are pretty nice people.
      Live with it and join in the rant politely and with good arguments. Or just watch and try to smile, or get mad alone.
      Your observation is right and it’s good to notice it / ask. But please, don’t start a too harsh argument about how we dare talking about some of these things. The Dragons won’t hesitate stopping anyone too badly attacking regulars because they express a bit of frustration around something like what happened in Italy.

      To turn it a constructive way: have you personally been involved, or do you have info that might complete / relativize our understanding of the events in Italy?

      • :clap: what Geoloco says is bang on. Do you have a different slant/experience on the issue? I think most of us here would be very happy to hear it.

    • well, I hate political shit-storms as much as the next guy.. and I certainly don’t want to start one here. But I think the Aquila verdict IS political and extremely relevant to the social aspect of volcanology. Many of us here are extremely grateful to the volcanologists who take the time to converse with us over the internet, like Boris Behncke, whose job is now at risk of cost-cutting, and the Aquila decision got many of us pretty riled. I am actually suprised at myself that I managed to write such a bland article on it.

      • Say what you want, but if a scientist is talking politics to me, I listen to him / her. Why? Scientists are notoriously thorough in their research, typically listen to facts more than emotions, and are taught to ignore bias as much as possible.

        That’s not to say that all scientists are the epitomy of unbiased, but without knowing anything else about an individual, I would trust a Scientist’s opinion way before I would trust the opinion of most others.

    • The answer is quite simple. Politics has invaded our area of interest because they stuck their nose into it.

      It’s not the first time we have adopted a political view and railed against politicians and governmental entities. (Hello “Perfido the Idiot” and his proposed auto rally through a higher than normal SO2/H2S area, or his proposed diving photography contest over an actively spewing volcanic vent).

      Personally, I have some really, really strong political opinions… ones that would probably tick off more than a few people. I don’t air them here because this is not the place. But when a political entity intrudes into the realm of Volcanology or Seismology, and has the potential of killing people through their actions or stupidity… I will respond.

      I think most people here feel the same way.

  12. East Coast: It’s Time to Get Ready!

    As Hurricane Sandy passes over the Bahamas, the forecast models are beginning to come into agreement that the Northeast Coast of the U.S. will be impacted by this strong storm.

    • If it hits NY as some predict, come November 5th there’ll be a lot of people claiming it’s God’s judgement on a people that voted for the wrong presidential candidate.

      • Yeah, that would be a hoot…. People would laugh at them just as much as they did this statement:

        “So that one new voter that you register in your precinct — think about it — that one neighbor that you get to the polls on November the 2 I want you to understand, that could be the one that makes the difference.”

        Here’s the punchline, this years election is on November 6th. It floats somewhat.

        “The Tuesday after the first Monday of November.” is the official date.

        • OT? Silvio Berlusconi has just been sentenced to four years in jail for fraud. No doubt subject to the same process of appeal as the geologists. 🙂

  13. Holy moly! Southern Italy is on a roll – there’s a whole lot of shaking going on! After the 5.3 the locality has been rocked all night long.

    ‘Date & Time UTC Latitude degrees Longitude degrees Depth km Mag [+] Region name

    2012-10-26 06:56:41.01hr 11min ago 39.88 N 16.00 E 8 2.2 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 06:39:46.01hr 28min ago 39.88 N 16.02 E 9 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 06:25:33.01hr 42min ago 39.90 N 16.03 E 8 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 06:14:41.01hr 53min ago 39.87 N 16.07 E 5 2.3 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 05:57:10.02hr 11min ago 39.87 N 15.99 E 8 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 05:52:28.02hr 15min ago 39.89 N 16.02 E 9 2.3 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 05:48:08.02hr 20min ago 39.91 N 16.00 E 10 2.7 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 04:06:34.04hr 01min ago 39.89 N 16.03 E 9 2.1 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 03:37:55.04hr 30min ago 39.89 N 16.01 E 9 2.2 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 02:56:52.05hr 11min ago 39.91 N 16.02 E 9 2.2 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 02:40:08.05hr 28min ago 39.88 N 16.01 E 7 2.9 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 02:36:36.05hr 31min ago 39.89 N 16.02 E 8 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 02:25:11.05hr 43min ago 39.92 N 16.03 E 6 2.9 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 02:14:34.05hr 53min ago 39.88 N 16.02 E 9 2.3 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 02:01:20.06hr 06min ago 39.88 N 16.01 E 8 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 01:50:36.06hr 17min ago 39.91 N 16.00 E 9 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 01:31:16.06hr 36min ago 39.89 N 16.03 E 8 2.1 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 01:20:54.06hr 47min ago 39.89 N 16.06 E 6 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 01:18:57.06hr 49min ago 39.92 N 16.01 E 7 2.1 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 01:04:19.07hr 03min ago 39.88 N 16.02 E 9 2.2 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 00:31:55.07hr 36min ago 39.89 N 16.00 E 6 2.8 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-26 00:00:11.08hr 08min ago 39.87 N 15.99 E 9 2.1 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-25 23:56:34.08hr 11min ago 39.92 N 16.04 E 8 2.3 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-25 23:47:14.08hr 20min ago 39.90 N 16.00 E 8 2.0 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-25 23:35:08.08hr 33min ago 39.89 N 16.03 E 10 2.5 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-25 23:19:32.08hr 48min ago 39.85 N 16.03 E 5 2.1 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-25 23:16:06.08hr 52min ago 39.90 N 16.01 E 8 3.3 SOUTHERN ITALY
    2012-10-25 23:12:19.08hr 55min ago 39.89 N 16.00 E 10 2.7 SOUTHERN ITALY
    7 V 2012-10-25 23:05:26.09hr 02min ago 39.88 N 16.03 E 5 5.3 SOUTHERN ITALY

    Bold : Earthquakes with a magnitude ≥ 4.5 in Euro-med, or ≥ 5.5 in the world
    Red : Earthquakes with a magnitude ≥ 5 in Euro-med, or ≥ 6 in the world ‘

    courtesy of emsc

    • You aren’t kidding about it being interesting.

      The buttes last erupted between 940 and 0 B.C., not 30,000 years ago, as previously thought,

      For all: These are those five small volcanoes at the south end of the Salton Sea where the San Andreas becomes the Imperial Fault down into Mexico. and then move off down into the Gulf of California.

  14. Hi all, for those interested, here under the link to INGV page regarding Pollino earthquake, just notice that there is a welknown seismic swarm going on from 2010 in that area. Every time the swarm resume, a greater M is reached. From the allignement of the quakes it seems that there are 2 sources generating the swarm in a distensive tectonic regime, one is a NNw-SSe normal fault with the powerfull quakes (until now)

    INGV page:
    event logs:

    • I particularly like the video in the INGV page.

      Didn’t understand a lick of what was said… but I understood the imagery and displayed charts. And interesting side-note… one of the displayed trace examples that were used while the narrative was going on, was in a program that I have seen and used before.

      At the link you can download and use it. It runs in a Java environment. The cantankerous part of using it, is that you need a seed file. These are used to distribute seismographic waveforms.

      I generally use IRIS Bud page (Bud – “Buffer of Uniform Data”) located here:

      (this is mainly for the more hard core seismic aficionado)

  15. I have pictured this scenario with sandy many time for the northeast for this time of year. The dynamics that come into play are mind boggling to say the least. There will be a lot of people that will be fooled by this storm. Oh it’s only a northeastern we have had them many times.

    Look people this is setting up as a never before event, that could rival anything on recorded history. The so called perfect storm of 1991 never made a direct landfall mostly grazing the coast. This event setting up could mean days of relentless winds, heavy rain and snow for millions. I see a setup that could even stall this storm for a longer duration in the northeast. The ramifications boggle my minds.

    Of course most will not do anything some will buy batteries and beer. The least that could happen will be millions without power for weeks. The worst is unthinkable as most people will never believe it.

    This storm is transforming now into a very giant wind field from warm core to semi warm cold core. This is history in the making. Most mets are freaking out now looking at the computer models it is beyond there rationalization that this could happen. A tropical system from the birth has a so called signature that never really goes away. It is a part of the electrics of the storm, all matter has electrics involved that is the nature of life. This signature was once a powerful major hurricane before hitting Cuba. The electrics of Sandy are being displaced over a wide area of distance forming into a never seen before event for many who know what to look for.

    The bottom line is this storm will rival none because it has never happened before with our current day knowledge of weather. Read a post by Brian Norcross below as he is concerned.

    • 3 minHurricane HD‏@HurricaneHD

      AT Hurricane Sandy Advisory: 17, 70 kt/81 mph winds, 970 mb, 26.7N 76.9W, n at 5 kt/6 mph, #tropics #fb

    • Ryan Maue‏@RyanMaue

      NAM-4km WRF drifts #Sandy west closer to S. FL coast w/likely better organized convection/winds. 2 AM Sat morning.

    • I’m really hoping that the use of the term “electrics” is just a poor choice of words.

      There is nothing special about this storm. What is “odd” is the environmental set up that it exists in. The positioning of other atmospheric structures and the timing of when each will impart their effects on the life cycle of the storm.

      This is not be the first storm tracking on the Gulf Stream and drawing energy off of it. Hugo was a peicemeal storm as it approached the Carolina’s and then hit the sweet spot and ramped up pretty significantly just before landfall.

      This is not the first storm that will be snagged by the westerly flow of a Northern High and get slammed into the coast like a chicken crossing the Interstate.

      This will not be the first storm to get tangled up with and approaching cold front and turn into a monster of an extra-tropical system.

      What makes this storm different, is when and where all those events will or may take place.

  16. Now that the thread has moved on to new misadventures, I thought I would sneak back in here to drop a concluding comment without anyone noticing. Mainly because I am still a little uncomfortable with some of the things I said and also because I am not sure I could state the same things face to face with one of the victims of Aquila, which I guess is a good acid test.

    It is probably pretty apparent that I like big sweeping principles more than the nitty gritty of daily decision-making. Big “universal” principles have a nice clean feeling to them, are untainted by compromise, stand the test of time and offer some kind of guiding light. But in real life they are often simply impractical. So I always feel myself caught between the ideal and the real and this case here is no exception. So what follows here is doomed to failure, as it is just another attempt to shoehorn the ideal (well, my ideal) into the awkward realities of a terrible tragedy like Aquila.

    I’ll stick to the basic dichotomy between individual freedom (and accountability which comes with individual freedom) and government regulation.

    I. Generally I think a political system should try to foster a maximum of individual liberty.

    II. But individual freedom should never be at the cost of someone else’s freedom. This is because rights entail duties on others and it is the one maxim that keeps us from resorting to the law of the jungle.

    This implies:

    1. If I live in a system that fosters my individual liberty, I must accept the responsibility for my own decisions.

    2. Because my acts and decisions should not harm the freedoms of others, I have a duty of care not to put others at risk. (This is the basis of the law of negligence).

    From No. 1 we can draw the conclusion that if I take risks, I must bear the consequences. If I decide to turn left on a dark road on a rainy night when I should have turned right, then I must accept the consequences of my decision and pay the farmer for the damage I did to his field of corn. I might want to blame the people who made the road for bad signage or the maker of the car for poor lighting and, possibly, such third parties just might bear some of the blame, but in the end, third parties are precisely that: third parties and the ultimate responsibility for the decision remains with me. The alternative is a state with no personal liberty where all your decisions are made for you.

    Interestingly, No. 2 is the foundation of our building codes, among other things:
    Because I must not put others at undue risk through my decisions, we have decided that even private buildings should meet a minimum standard because I, the owner, am not going to be the only one involved with that risk. There are going to be postmen, plumbers, bailees and all sorts of interesting people who will very likely visit my property, not to mention future generations. So we expect a minimum standard and, as Geoloco pointed out, already prohibit buildings in high risk areas unless special precautions are made.

    Likewise, when professionals make statements in their area of expertise, it can be expected that people will give them more heed and base their decisions on these statements. So it is incumbent upon professionals to do their job properly (within the bounds of reason). And we can rightfully sue them when they don’t.

    Now, with this statement I have already entered into the nitty gritty of real life and have muddied up the clear principles I started out with. What is reasonable? Where does personal responsibility stop?

    In an ideal system (ok, my ideal system), individuals would be well-educated, fully informed and able to take their own decisions on this basis. Professionals would be expected to fully inform the people and not to make any misstatement as this encumbers the ability of individuals to make their own reasoned decisions.

    So what happened at Aquila? I don’t know. I was not there. Moreover, I do not speak the language and I was entirely missing out on the context that plays such a crucial role in any communication.

    I suspect (and this purely speculation on my part) that a bit of both went on.

    I imagine many individuals did not bear the full responsibility for obtaining full information of the risks they were exposed to, relying instead, on the statements of one ad hoc committee called together in a rather strange climate due to the actions of a charlatan claiming he could predict earthquakes.

    I also suspect that the professionals did not fully understand how their communications would be understood. Please note, this is not the same as saying they are guilty of misstatement. Rather that the communication broke down and I highly suspect that what the professional committee thought they were saying was not the same as what was understood. I am not sure if this enough to make them culpable under the laws of Italy, but then I am neither Italian nor a lawyer.

    From my (very distant and unprofessional) perspective I would say no. They are not culpable. Their statements were made to allay panic (which btw is one of their duties) caused by unfounded claims made by a charlatan. And they were right. They were right before the earthquake and they were still right after the earthquake: The chance of a large quake coming after a series of foreshocks is very small. It is possibly slightly higher than the general background risk, but not much higher. Quite possibly, this was not communicated well enough or there was not enough stress placed on the fact that Aquila is at high risk of an earthquake every day and night of the year, but quite frankly, the general public should have known this. Earthquakes are frightful beasts. They usually come without any warning and can be extremely severe. The public should always be prepared – and this extends to making sure your building is safe and taking the right private decisions on what to do.

    As I understand the charge, the members of the committee were found guilty, not of making any misstatement, but of not providing enough information for the locals to make a reasoned decision. This is an interesting charge and I can think of two aspects to it that would exonerate the seismologists: if this information was publicly available anyway then the victims bear a certain share of the responsibility themselves for not finding it out themselves. They were obviously aware there was a risk. The town has a long history of devastating earthquakes. Secondly, were the seismologists aware that absolute and full disclosure was part of their brief? Were they not actually performing one of their other duties, which is to allay unfounded panic? (and to reiterate, the fact that a big quake did occur does not mean the panic was founded. It was not. The chance of a big quake was always there, same as it ever was).

    I fully realize this line of reasoning must be extremely painful to the victims and those who lost loved ones in the tragedy and I don’t want to downplay their grief and anger, which is fully understandable. However, it is also of paramount importance that seismologists can operate in an environment where the rules are clear and the responsibilities clearly laid out. These people devote their lives to saving other people’s lives and they have already done so in many countries of the world. We desperately need them and we need to cherish their wisdom. But in the end it is us, the wider public, who has a duty to become informed (which means relying on multiple sources), and taking the necessary action, which in the end, I believe, we are responsible for. And even when we have taken all possible precautions, shit happens. That is the way of the world. The pain of the tragedy is enough without having to apportion blame for it.


  17. Pingback: The L’Aquila Earthquake: Jail for Scientists for Being “Just Too Reassuring”. | InteractBlogs

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