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We know that when something seems too good to be true, it probably isn't.  But what about if it seems too bad to be true?

The decision by an Italian court to convict the members of the 'Great Risks' committee has made waves worldwide, including at least one lengthy diary right here on DailyKos.  Theories searched into the 1616 trial of Galileo Galilei by an 'Italian' court (actually, by the Inquisition, as Italy had to wait another 250 years to get on the map), the anti-science pronouncements of Pope Benedict, those of bible-belt judges and politicians, and other such irrelevancies.  Lousy explanations, to be sure, but much more familiar, and therefore reassuring to the cognitive biases that PR professionals rely on in distracting the public's attention.  Everyone searched for explanations everywhere, except where they had been laying all along: within the story, in greater depth.

Fortunately, real journalists don't just regurgitate what they heard from other media sources, and so yesterday's front-page headline by the very reputable and independent Fatto Quotidiano online read:

Science has nothing to do with it
Between the content of that article and prior reports, it is possible to put together a coherent background.

It is known that the 'Great Risks' committee served at the pleasure of Guido Bertolaso, an Italian version of Michael Chertoff, then unaccountable head of the powerful and way-less-than-transparent Italian Civilian Defense under Silvio Berlusconi.

It is beyond established that Bertolaso has very close connections with the Italian versions of Halliburton, who have provided special personal favors for him and his family.  Needless to say, the quid-pro-quo involved no-bid contracts and other special treatment on his part.

Bertolaso has been criticized and formally investigated during his tenure for a tendency to using emergency management powers on situations that were originally not emergencies, but that were left to spiral out of control while they could have been dealt with more effectively if dealt with preventively.  He was able to do so with legal cover from special decrees by the government of Silvio Berlusconi.

It has also come to light that the risk assessment meeting that resulted in invitations to the population of L'Aquila to take it easy was requested by Bertolaso himself as a "media operation".  Bertolaso said, in his own words, wiretapped as part of a separate bribery investigation:

...De Bernardinis, my deputy, will call you… I told him to have a meeting in L'Aquila tomorrow on this story of the series of shocks that is continuing, so as to shut up any imbeciles, put down innuendos, worries, and so on… I am not going to be there, but [the luminaries of Italian seismology] are coming… I couldn't care less where, you decide, so that it's more of a media operation, ok? So they, who are the top experts will say: it's a normal situation, these are phenomena that do occur, better 100 level-4 shocks than nothing because they release energy and there will never be the bad one… We want to calm people down...
The intent of the 'media operation' seemed to be to prevent the citizens of L'Aquila from listening to alternative interpretations and taking the matter into their own hands by shutting down homes, businesses, schools, etc., which they had already begun to do. It appears that De Bernardinis and the others complied without hesitation.  Significantly, one researcher who had publicly asserted that there was an increased risk due to increased radon gas emissions, was not invited to contribute or explain his dissenting viewpoint.

What was Bertolaso's motivation for prejudging science's predictions? Was it that the Civilian Defense would have looked less than organized in handling a spontaneous evacuation? Did they see their status threatened by the unorthodox methods of an upstart from outside the old-boy network? Clearly, as in previous cases, Bertolaso's corrupt cronies stood to gain much more from hastily awarded emergency no-bid contracts than from orderly awarded competitive contracts for building reinforcement.  Some of them were wiretapped as they laughed with glee at the news of the catastrophic earthquake and lucrative prospects.

The final, incontestable fact, is that about 300 people, who were explicitly invited by officials entrusted with their safety to stay put in their unreinforced dwellings in the midst of one of Italy's two most active seismic areas, met their death among the rubble less than a week later.

Of course, it is possible that the pronouncements of the committee had nothing to do with Bertolaso's corrupt dealing, and that the scientists freely expressed their best professional opinion, that just happened to be so tragically wrong. That was the defense's claim. We will have to wait for the verdict to be deposited in order to read the judge's motivation, but it looks like a least at this stage in the trial, that the defense's argument failed to persuade the judge.

It now looks like some of the convicted 'scientists' may be going public, outing Bertolaso and the pressures they received.  That may have been the investigators' plan all along.

UPDATE: Apparently, the minutes of the fateful scientist's meeting that preceded the requested announcement to the population not to worry and stay put were written only after the big earthquake, a week later. But maybe that too is standard procedure...

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Comment Preferences

  •  There is a war on science alright, (6+ / 0-)

    But not all scientists are on its side.

  •  Huh? (3+ / 0-)
    "that just happened to be so tragically wrong"
    What the fuck is wrong with you? Earthquakes aren't predictable.
    •  Really? Not predictable? That's a revelation! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wilderness voice

      The trial brought to light that they told the people too go back to their houses because a corrupt politician told them to. They maintained that they were just giving their best guess. It didn't convince the judge, and it doesnt't convince me.

      •  It doesn't convince you because (1+ / 2-)
        Recommended by:
        aravir
        Hidden by:
        wilderness voice, On Puget Sound

        apparently, you're an idiot.

        Earthquakes are less predictable than lightning strikes, because plate tectonic movements, boundaries and fault systems are both more complicated than the atmosphere and because we have far less data and foundational observations available.

        Can you sit out in a thunderstorm and predict the location of each and every lightning strike?

        You can't, and no one can.

        As to the politics and games played in the situation, I am sure there's a lot of that garbage happening and that took place.

        The far MORE damning and damaging question is this: given that Italy itself, and that particular area of Italy specifically highly prone to damaging earthquakes (something that has been well known for many, many years)... and given that we now have a huge body of information, design, testing, and experience with respect to designing, retrofitting, and constructing buildings that are far more likely to survive... or to be damaged in such a way so as to maximize occupant survival...

        Why were those buildings not up to basic code? Why were those people living in structures that didn't meet the level of acceptable, known, calculated, and forecasted risk?

        The scientists are being scapegoated in order to deflect attention away from government, social, economic, and policy failures... and they're being scapegoated based on complete and utter nonsense.

        Radon gas is SOMETIMES a precursor signal... and sometimes not.

        So every time we measure increased radon, we evacuate? Do you know the success rate of the radon precursor in predicting earthquakes?

        It's not good.

        The only way to ensure a free press is to own one

        by RedDan on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 06:35:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You must have trouble understanding the (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wilderness voice

          written word.

          This diary isn't about predicting earthquakes.

          The trial wasn't about predicting earthquakes.

          The whole story never was about predicting earthquakes in the first place.

          Predicting earthquakes  is what simpletons like you are content to think the whole story is about.

          You are an easily conned fool, and somebody is probably scamming you out of your meager earnings as I write.

          That's just fine with me.

          But thank god most judges are smarter than you.

          •  The trial was about (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            AaronInSanDiego

            scapegoating.

            The pretext, and the basis for the scapegoating was failure to predict earthquakes.

            The assertion by the prosecution was that the scientists failed to predict the earthquake.

            That is why the entire AAAS, the entire advisory and editorial boards of the highest level scientific journals in the world, the Seismological community of the world...

            All wrote letters of protest to the judge and to the Italian government in order to point out that that very basis of the trial (failure to predict an earthquake), was a sham. An impossibility.

            It may very well be that the trial was intended to shield one political figure, and protect his fiefdom from scrutiny... but regardless of that, the venue, the accusation, and the course of the trial were all about predicting earthquakes.

            So maybe I am a fool, but that puts me in very good company: in the same crowd as the very best scientists in the world. I accept.

            The only way to ensure a free press is to own one

            by RedDan on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:15:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Ah, the appeal to authority now! (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RageKage

              The more you write about it, the clearer it is that you don't know jack shit about the facts of this case, or anything of any substance to this story.

              Of course the least every self-respecting scientist in a public role can do is to rush to defend their own kind, facts be damned. Doctors do it. Cops do it. Banksters do it. Republicans do it. Those scientists have their own selfish reasons for covering their asses, you are a still a gullible fool.

            •  What the Fatto Quotidiano article says, (0+ / 0-)

              via Google translate:

              Too bad that things are not that way at all, and probably those who have widespread calls for the freedom of research have not read the papers of the investigation. Starting from the memory of the pm (?) of Aquila, Fabio Picuti, filed July 13, 2010 and therefore well known, where we read: "The intent is not to move the defendants a judgment of reproach for not having foreseen the destructive shock of 6 April 2009, or for not having launched alarms that a strong shock was imminent, or not to have ordered the evacuation of the city." Precisely because it is the same deputy prosecutor who writes, "Science does not currently have the knowledge and tools for deterministically predicting an earthquake."
        •  this could have been a productive discussion (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Garrett

          if you had left off the name calling.  The diary is not very clear, but from what I can gather inappropriate reassurance was given to people in who were in substandard structures in the midst of a swarm of earthquakes.

          •  The contention (0+ / 0-)

            within the diarists writing is that some scientists predicted the earthquake based on radon gas emissions measurements.

            While there is some linkage between radon emissions and earthquake precursors, the linkage is not reliable as a predictor of earthquakes.

            The diarist contends that this maverick scientist was sidelined because of politics and game-playing.

            While it may be true that politics and gameplaying were prominent factors... the reality is that this maverick would have been (and rightfully so) shushed by the seismological community, because earthquake prediction using radon emissions levels is unreliable.

            The only way to ensure a free press is to own one

            by RedDan on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:20:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But what if there is evidence that (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Rights of Bill

              the public pronouncements were not based on science, but on political considerations and pressure?

              We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. - Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

              by RageKage on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 11:29:43 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  RedDan? RedHerring, rather. (0+ / 0-)

              Everybody who understands anything at all about this case knows it's about much more than that. In fact, those 7 were going to jail regardless of the fact that a particular maverick scientist was able to predict that particular quake due to blind luck or whatever.

              The 7 did not feel the need to look into the claims of the maverick scientist, among other things, because it was a media operation with a politically preordained conclusion. That is what the evidence (wiretaps, witnesses, written record, and public statements) shows.

              The rest is blather about stuff every 5th grader knows, and something that happened 400 years ago.

        •  Saw this comment on the Hidden Comment list (0+ / 0-)

          I admit, your first sentence was unnecessary.  But the rest of your post, and the back and forth between you and the diarist seems important enough to rec the comment and get it off the Hidden list to be seen by others viewing the diary.  Besides, the diarist's own tone of contempt for those who disagreed with him, including you, seems sufficient enough to broadly characterize your first sentence as irrelevant to the substansive disagreement of which the rest of your comment consisted.

          Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

          by aravir on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 06:58:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I don't understand your comment (0+ / 0-)

      The part you quoted doesn't seem to imply that earthquakes are predictable.

      My head says "No" but my heart says "Yes". And then my liver says "What?" and my butt's all like "Farrrrrrt" --jbou

      by Caj on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 07:46:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Diary is steamy pile of CT based on little to no (3+ / 0-)

    evidence. No proof that these seismologists were so malleable that a corrupt politician could easily mold their scientific consensus.

    I'd tip you but they cut off my tip box. The TSA would put Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad on the no-fly list.

    by OHdog on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 08:14:48 PM PDT

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