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

 

Half Full: Dairy Payouts Steady, Cash Will Be Tight

Industry body DairyNZ is advising farmers to focus on strong cashflow management as they look ahead to the 2015-16 season following Fonterra's half-year results announcement today. More>>

ALSO:

First Union: Cotton On Plans To Use “Tea Break” Law

“The Prime Minister reassured New Zealanders that ‘post the passing of this law, will you all of a sudden find thousands of workers who are denied having a tea break? The answer is absolutely not’... Cotton On is proposing to remove tea and meal breaks for workers in its safety sensitive distribution centre. How long before other major chains try and follow suit?” More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: NZ-Korea FTA Signed Amid Spying, Lost Sovereignty Claims

A long-awaited free trade agreement between New Zealand and South Korea has been signed in Seoul by Prime Minister John Key and the Korean president, Park Geun-hye. More>>

ALSO:

PM Visit: NZ And Viet Nam Agree Ambitious Trade Target

New Zealand and Viet Nam have agreed an ambitious target of doubling two-way goods and service trade to around $2.2 billion by 2020, Prime Minister John Key has announced. More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: NZ Economy Grows 0.8% In Fourth Quarter

The New Zealand economy expanded in the fourth quarter as tourists drove growth in retailing and accommodation, and property sales increased demand for real estate services. More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: RBNZ’s Wheeler Keeps OCR On Hold, No Rate Hikes Ahead

The Reserve Bank has removed the prospect of future interest rate hikes from its forecast horizon as a strong kiwi dollar and cheap oil hold down inflation, and the central bank ponders whether to lower its assessment of where “neutral” interest rates should be. The kiwi dollar gained. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sci-Tech
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news