Monday, October 22, 2012

Talking to the public about risk just got riskier!

6 Italian seismologists have just been found guilty of manslaughter in an Italian court (see New Scientist story). This is causing severe angst amongst science bloggers everywhere. However, it is important to keep in mind that they were not charged with failing to predict the L'Aquila quake. What they were charged with was failing to adequately communicate the risk. Some of the background suggests to me that the scientists involved weren't solely at fault with failing to communicate with the  public. Nonetheless, this should serve as warning to all of us involved in the business of communicating stochastic phenomena - the consequences can be severe. It's worth noting that engineers have had this sort of professional liability for decades, maybe centuries. Maybe its time we started following their lead on certifications and professional liability?