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Thread: Scientists on trial: At fault?

  1. #1 Scientists on trial: At fault? 
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    Did anyone read the recent news feature in Nature;
    Scientists on trial: At fault?

    I felt for a science journal they spent far too much time on the human elements of the story, which admitedly are still important, but they certainly seemed more intent on telling a story than examining the science and politics involved.

    What are your thoughts on the matter?


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  3. #2  
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    It was on the news here.Although earthquakes are unpredictable,it was noted that there was an increase in radon,which indicates activity.i guess thats what the problem is.


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    Radon is an unproven theory that has never been published in a peer reviewed paper. More than likely the lab tech who published this data was at the fortune of coincidence.
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  5. #4  
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    I read it. It's supposed to be public communication, not science. I think it did a pretty good job of balancing the view, especially given that it is intended for a scientific audience and you might expect that scientists would be eager to jump on the scientist's side in this case -- they made sure to convey the human side of the tragedy.

    You might also want to read Willy Aspinall's piece for the same journal: Check your legal position before advising others : Nature News.
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  6. #5  
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    I see your point, gut reaction for most scientists would be to jump to thier side of the argument. I certainly agree that a balenced view of the charges being laid out needed to be put forth. Personally I think that the way the advice was given was out of the ordinary and shouldn't have been phrased the way it was, although manslaughter seems extremely excessive.
    My issue with the article wasn't presenting both sides as far as the allegations go, but that an emotionally charged story has nothing to do with the facts.
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  7. #6  
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    It is scientifically impossible to predict an earthquake. However, the guy that said that the more small tremors the safer it was getting should be held to account for his words. The seismologists should have been more vocal in warning people and to straighten out the misinformation that seems to have spread.

    They could not have possibly predicted the earthquake. The guy monitoring the radon emissions should continue to follow his line of scientific investigation -- however his work at the time was unproven and so it was right for the scientific community not to accredit it and trumpet it to the masses. The seismologists cannot be blamed for failing to predict the earthquake. However they might feel internally guilty for not doing more to convey the proper scientific message of due diligence and proper safety drills. Whether or not it is their legal responsibility to provide this service is questionable. One could argue that they are the experts in the field and are best placed to offer advice, and hence it is their civic and moral duty. However, I agree with Willy Aspinall in that the government should do more to actively set up these roles of responsibility, including properly setting aside the resources for them to put out the necessary equipment and do the scientific work that is necessary for them to do the job properly. Then it would be justifiable to hold them to account. In this grey area one could argue that it is not their specified job to monitor the seismic hazard of Italy, and that their resources are spread out into whatever other areas of research they are forced by the pressures of academia to pursue. The job of conveying public safety information should ultimately be government's responsibility. People should be regularly reminded of their safety drills, due dilligence should be constantly encouraged, whether or not the seismic activity is peaking or troughing.
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    Yes, I believe the person in question was a government official, his statement was bad science and probably decreased some people's alertness. I think what this situation highlights is that like you say, it should be specifically somebodies job to convey this type of information to the public, or scientists should be more trained in how they communicate with the public. At the moment it seems like there is a barrier between scientists and the lay people and unfortunately this incident isn't going to improve matter, not in the short term at least.
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  9. #8  
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    The barrier is largely technical. Scientists are never sure on anything and often make attempts to quantify their uncertainty. The data a scientists works with can be easily misinterpreted -- even by other scientists working in different fields -- even by the bona fide scientists working in the field themselves. Because often their statistics are generated by algorithms they don't understand, and their data are affected by biases that they are unaware of. The reality is it's a messy game. Trying to extract a clean story out of that is difficult. Every simplification that adds clarity to the message hides some detail which may turn out to be important. Research is ongoing.

    Ultimately people want to know: to evacuate or to stay put? In reality there will always be a grey area between the two clear cut messages, and communication in that grey area should be something like: "There is a x% possibility of an earthquake in the next y weeks. We advise people to evacuate the area if possible. These are the safety drills ..... Remain alert at all times."
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  10. #9  
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    The shame is there are already public models used that could be adapted.

    For example weather for several decades has used a projection/forecast; watch and warning system.

    -24 hours, there's a 20% chance of thunderstorms, but some of those thunderstorms could be severe.
    -4 hours, You're area is under a Tornado Weather Watch box. "Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms including winds over....., and isolated tornadoes."
    -30 minute, You're country is under a Tornado Warning. Seek shelter immediately. A tornado storm has been identified on radar at xyz....

    There's always risk versus money and long term impressions you leave with the public. Too many false positives and it gets expensive, people stop caring, and become unprepared for the "big one." Not enough positives and people don't get warned get hurt because they're off guard.
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