Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search

 


L’Aquila convictions about science communication

STATEMENT FROM GNS SCIENCE, 23 OCTOBER 2012

L’Aquila convictions about science communication, not about quake prediction

The manslaughter conviction of six scientists and a government official in the wake of the magnitude 6.3 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy in 2009 is a complex matter involving legal, scientific, emotional and political aspects. It is also concerned with a very specific set of circumstances.

We understand that the court case was not about failing to predict an earthquake. Most people understand this is not possible with current scientific knowledge. There are no proven precursory signs such as gas measurement, micro-earthquakes, animal behaviour, electrical phenomena, or lunar phenomena that can predict earthquakes. Despite decades of research into earthquake processes, the ability to predict earthquakes remains elusive.

The Italian case is really about the ineffective communication of science. In this instance, the scientists and government official were found to be deficient in the way they communicated the state of scientific knowledge and the possible threat of a large damaging earthquake.

The communication of risk and uncertainty is a challenging area for scientists. But to suggest that repeated small earthquakes in the area of L’Aquila were favourable because they unloaded seismic stress and reduced the chance of a big quake was unwise in our view. This, and other comments from officials, apparently inhibited many people from taking actions that might have saved their lives.

Equally, the L’Aquila area had a known history of earthquake activity and government officials could arguably have done more to prepare city infrastructure and the population for a large earthquake through measures such as setting appropriate building standards.

It is difficult to make any direct comparisons between L’Aquila and what happens in New Zealand. The roles and responsibilities of scientists and government officials are different in the two countries. However, the case does provide lessons about the communication of science and earthquake risks to officials and the public.

The most scientists can do is to estimate the probability of an earthquake occurring in a given region over a certain time frame such as months, a year, or longer. However, because natural events are inherently unpredictable, the limitations on the meaning of these probabilities need to be communicated clearly to the public.

GNS Science endorses the need for scientists to communicate meaningful information about natural hazards and probabilistic information to government agencies and the public. In this regard, for example, we update our aftershock probabilities for the Canterbury region on a monthly basis.

In relation to the Canterbury earthquake sequence, over the past two years GNS Science has undertaken hundreds of communications with a wide range of stakeholders via public seminars, briefings to government agencies, written reports, video and Youtube clips, plus many communications with the print and electronic media. It is worth noting that in the past 60 years in Italy, only six of 26 major earthquakes have been preceded by foreshocks and many earthquake swarms have occurred without subsequent large earthquakes.

As foreshocks are usually not any different to ‘background’ earthquake activity, it is impossible to make a diagnosis that they are precursors to a major earthquake. Worldwide, most major earthquakes do not have precursory foreshocks.

Scientists must weigh up the evidence carefully and be cautious about the possibility of saying too little and delivering a false sense of security that could cause complacency, or delivering a false alarm that could cause panic.

There is a need for balanced information so government agencies and the public have the ability to make informed decisions about their actions.

Part of GNS Science’s core purpose, established by the Government, is to increase New Zealand’s resilience to natural hazards and reduce risks from these hazards. As its role requires, GNS Science will continue to communicate measured and meaningful information about natural hazards to government agencies and to the public.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Cosmetics & Pollution: Proposal To Ban Microbeads

Cosmetic products containing microbeads will be banned under a proposal announced by the Minister for the Environment today. Marine scientists have been advocating for a ban on the microplastics, which have been found to quickly enter waterways and harm marine life. More>>

ALSO:

NIWA: 2016 New Zealand’s Warmest Year On Record

Annual temperatures were above average (0.51°C to 1.20°C above the annual average) throughout the country, with very few locations observing near average temperatures (within 0.5°C of the annual average) or lower. The year 2016 was the warmest on record for New Zealand, based on NIWA’s seven-station series which begins in 1909. More>>

ALSO:

Farewell 2016: NZ Economy Flies Through 2016's Political Curveballs

Dec. 23 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's economy batted away some curly political curveballs of 2016 to end the year on a high note, with its twin planks of a booming construction sector and rampant tourism soon to be joined by a resurgent dairy industry. More>>

ALSO:


NZ Economy: More Growth Than Expected In 3rd Qtr

Dec. 22 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the September quarter as a booming construction sector continued to underpin activity, spilling over into related building services, and was bolstered by tourism and transport ... More>>

  • NZ Govt - Solid growth for NZ despite fragile world economy
  • NZ Council of Trade Unions - Government needs to ensure economy raises living standards
  • KiwiRail Goes Deisel: Cans electric trains on partially electrified North Island trunkline

    Dec. 21 (BusinessDesk) – KiwiRail, the state-owned rail and freight operator, said a small fleet of electric trains on New Zealand’s North Island would be phased out over the next two years and replaced with diesel locomotives. More>>

  • KiwiRail - KiwiRail announces fleet decision on North Island line
  • Greens - Ditching electric trains massive step backwards
  • Labour - Bill English turns ‘Think Big’ into ‘Think Backwards’
  • First Union - Train drivers condemn KiwiRail’s return to “dirty diesel”
  • NZ First - KiwiRail Going Backwards for Xmas
  • NIWA: The Year's Top Science Findings

    Since 1972 NIWA has operated a Clean Air Monitoring Station at Baring Head, near Wellington... In June, Baring Head’s carbon dioxide readings officially passed 400 parts per million (ppm), a level last reached more than three million years ago. More>>

    ALSO:

    Get More From Scoop

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Sci-Tech
    Search Scoop  
     
     
    Powered by Vodafone
    NZ independent news