Italy on the verge of the stupidest censorship law in European history

I might have forgotten a “FTFY”, but I thought rescuing you from spreading casual racism against Southern Italians was an act of mercy. I guess you’d rather revel in it. Feel free to flag as much as as you want - as an actual Italian myself, with an actual son named after the poet you aptly quote, I simply don’t give a monkey :slight_smile:

I know we are getting off-topic but you are accusing me of being wrong and knowing nothing of the facts. The facts are these:

There were 6 scientists involved, not one as you suggest.
The scientists made their prediction 6 days before the earthquake.
The main earthquake was preceded by two smaller ones the day before, at which point the situation had changed and there was time to take action against the risk of a larger earthquake.
However, action was not taken.
The scientists were subsequently charged with giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory” information (which of course conflicts with the claim that they said there would be no earthquake)
The convictions were overturned two years later.
The principal reason for the deaths was the failure to set and monitor adequate building standards in the region. You might want to consider the possible reasons for this, including a consideration of who controls a lot of the building work in Italy.
Wikipedia says ‘an official at Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, Franco Barberi, said that "in California, an earthquake like this one would not have killed a single person’.
There is a summary article about this which may be of interest:

Basically in your post you seem to have confused Bertolaso (not a seismologist) with the seismologists and vulcanologists who were prosecuted, and repeated as fact the prosecution claim which was not upheld by the appeal. The article might seem to hint at possible political corruption in the original decision of who to prosecute, but of course has to be very careful owing to Italian libel laws.

[Edit - the reason for my interest in this case is that at the time I worked for a company that was hoping to expand into Italy, and as a result I was looking for any possible legal pitfalls, with my compliance and IP hat on. Anything to do with prosecution of experts for their advice was of enormous interest. In the end my feeling was that Italy was just too high risk without an Italian partner.]

1 Like

You are right, we are off topic. But this story is so frequently pulled out at random
(and out of context on BBS) that off topic discussion might be justified.

To clarify my points:

Yes. 6 scientist + 1 government official. I know, it should read plural, I just missed an ‘s’.[quote=“Enkita, post:43, topic:85621”]
The scientists made their prediction 6 days before the earthquake.

Yes. They had a meeting six days before and when their scientific statements were miscommunicated by government officials and used to reassure a frightened public those scientists were not screaming from the roof tops, they were not calling in question the statements etc. One of the most prominent of the scientists Enzo Boschi, was a former president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, so not just a scientist but also the head of a prominent government institution. It is also important to note that the Italian University System is among the more corrupt and known for its cozyness with power. The issue in the public eye was the lack of independence of said scientist and their comfortable relationship wit those in power.

No. There were swarms of earthquakes (which is something that happens regularly in this region) and older people with experience sounded the alarm. I have many friends who live in the region, some of whom know people who died and who remember how in spite of people’s better judgement they were encouraged to stay indoors. Staying indoors killed people.

The government communication based on these scientist statements played a large part in that. After the earth quake people slept outdoors for weeks in cars etc, because that is what people in these regions automatically do when there is earthquake activity–the charge is that more people would have done so on the night of the fatal quake had they not had false reassurances based on these seismologistS statements.

The only action people can take is to evacuate and not be in unsafe buildings. This, communities in Italy do on their own accord, when they are not falsely reassured on the basis of misrepresented scientific information that it is safe to stay in buildings.

You are right on this one in L’Aquila the student housing which collapsed was not according to the regulation another related issues was that the building code in L’Aquila had been downgraded, which of course is down to corruption etc…

This is where I am suggesting you should gain more local information before making sweeping statements about a locality with which you seem unfamiliar.

The Civil Protection Agency in Italy is among the most disreputable, reviled and hated institutions in all of Italy. Its head is among the most corrupt officials and was known to be a mate of Berlusconis’ at the time. Conveniently there is very little on him on the web (right to be forgotten might play a role here). Barberi and associates made incredible amounts of money out of the L’Aquila disaster and his statement re. California is just stupid. In L’Aquila structures collapsed which had been standing and withstanding earthquakes for centuries, they were turned into rubble. The devastating power of earthquakes is not just dependent on the magnitude but on many other factors in this case the swarms of earthquakes and the aftershocks.

Anyways, if you really want to understand the context of the L’Aquila tragedy and people’s anger with the powers that be, including scientists who settled for taking the cozy route to a comfortable retirement, than it’s worth watching Draquila. It will give you a sense of why the population was angry and wanted some kind of revenge from those who were associated with the powers that be. Clearly the scientists were the easiest targets, scapegoats, far easier than to go after Barberi etc., but the charge was fair in so far that the seismologist didn’t insist on their own independence, but instead allowed for the misuse of their academic credibility for careless propaganda. Their failure was one of integrity–and I guess that is not something you can be sued for in court.
The whole situation is not unlike Hurricane Kathrina in the US and various state agencies failures.

Or watch this starting at 2:50

If you stick with it. You will hear what impact the Seismologist misquoted statements had.

EDIT: Just to add that Italy is always too risky without an Italian partner.

1 Like

Thank you for taking the time to post a much more reasonable reply and one that I can understand and sympathise with. Actually the situation wasn’t really like Katrina; it was much more like the Challenger disaster. I’m not sure that it was really a lack of integrity so much as how scientists get heard. I know journalists in Italy used (pre-Berlusconi) to have much higher standards than ones in the UK or the US, but I’m still not sure that the scientists would have had a route to publication that would ensure that their views were fairly and adequately represented. Had the earthquake then not occurred, their careers would have been destroyed. I would not want to be in the position of making that call. You might try and get publicity, fail, and still end up unemployable.

In the UK, despite our many failings, we do have a system of public enquiries after events like this which seek to ascertain all the facts in a non-judicial way. Any prosecutions will only happen after the enquiry has reported to the government. I think this would have been a far better way of proceeding. It may take a long time, but the last two British enquiries, into the Iraq war and the Hillsborough disaster, put the blame firmly on the people at the top. Rush to judgement often allows the powerful to deflect attention to minor players.

the first time I got aware of the witch seismologists hunt was an open letter by the Italian Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (the original link is down, one of many copies can be found here) and this (biased, naturally) document (and the media reporting around this issue) did not give me the impression that the scientists were naive or allowed that the findings were used to spin a political story.

do you have more infos about the participance of the scientists in a political game?

1 Like

It was the tail end of the Berlusconi years, everything was highly politicized. Couple that with the increasing disconnect between elites and the common man, as visible in most of Europe + US and fueled by the rise of social media, and you get a situation where the minimal error risks inciting a mob – and this was a major error of judgement, at the very least. These scientists might have been scapegoated, but they knew the dangers before they started playing - anyone working with Bertolaso knew full well the degree of politicisation that would be incurred.

There is a view (which I partially agree with) that says one of the major problems in Italy is that official responsibilities never carry any personal consequence. In this case, there was some accountability; rather than an attack on scientists, it was an attack on “people in charge”, which incidentally happened to be mostly academics (the word “scientist” is a bit too flattering for some of these political animals, at least in Italy). The real attacks to scientists are others, like the ban on fertility research, and they are usually carried out in Parliament rather than through the justice system.

1 Like

not even the Italian WP has an article about the “commissione grandi rischi”. do you know how this committee was formed and worked?

fooling around with Google translate and the it.WP earthquake article I kind of agree - it seems the evaluation of the commision had (scientific) misjudgements and the conviction was not based on bad science but communication and information problems. and (this was new to me) a later trial reduced the sentence for one (2 instead of 6 years) and acquitted the rest of the defendants

1 Like

So you don’t see anything wrong with what the men did, and hold the Church responsible for her pain? I don’t even know how to respond to this.

My Italian is not good enough to give a definite assessment of the available information and the coverage in English has been very inaccurate. But two things I do know:

We lived in Abruzzo in Sulmona (45min from L’Aquila) for two months after the 2009 earthquake. The nerves were still raw (they still are today, 7 years later) and reasonable, educated people felt very aggrieved about how they were misinformed in the immediate days before the earthquake.

People really did stay in houses on that fateful night, against their better judgement, because of so-called scientific advice that it was safe to do so. Again, this is a population that is very experienced in living with earthquakes. We still have many friends in the area who we regularly see and no way will they trust any scientists on how to deal with natural disasters. They pack their bags and sleep in cars or pay for earthquake safe houses, visiting weekly, daily to oversee the construction.

The second important point is the Italian system of recommandazione which completely penetrates Academic Institutions. Again this I know from Italian friends. You don’t get posts on Italian Universities (other than a few in the very North) without being friends or relations of the right people and you also don’t get appointed to public bodies without the right strings being pulled. There are exceptions, but these are few. Apparently in certain medical departments three generations of the same family are holding tenure.

Conflict of Interest is nothing new in Academics and also nothing specific to Italy. e.g. Sugar conspiracy or smoking

BUT when your conflict of interest results in dangerous safety advise being disseminated and that advice is purportedly based on your science and people die–that is not good as a scientist.

I understand how things happened and that these seismologists were the smallest of clogs in a far bigger machinery, but I am not happy to accept that they do not, did not have a duty to educate the public in every which way possible–I know local journalists who would have been very happy to talk to them before / after anytime. Earthquake is a subject people living in Abruzzo want to know about. But scientists do not seem particularly interested in investing energy and talking to the plebs. Abruzzo is the kins of backwaters of Italy not a lot of glory to be had there.

1 Like

If we are talking about the suicide case: the people involved (not all men, afaik) were, to use an old “moral” word, indiscreet. They did the modern equivalent of sharing a “scandalous” picture in the early 1900’s. The woman was not filmed against her will, and initiated the sharing herself – which then snowballed with notorious consequences. There was no direct abuse, but too much honour was lost. If you think the problem is protecting someone’s honourability from scandal through widespread censorship, then you are just enabling a system that will keep killing people.

(Note: in some other cases, there was actual abuse, with victims harassed and filmed against their will. They should be (and are being) prosecuted under existing laws, which also regulate distribution of the resulting material.)

1 Like

Trying to decipher Italian law is better left to the experts (who’ve done it for 2300 years, yo!), but I can give you a rough background. Italy has long been plagued by periodic natural disaster due to its “young” geological nature (plus some human help, see: Vajont dam). After every disaster, of course, there are cries about incompetent authorities etc etc, and eventually, in the '90s, there was a big reorg to consolidate a bunch of institutions into an authority for generic rapid response on a regional basis, which is more or less what they have today. However, disasters didn’t end in the ‘90s, nor did cries and recrimination post-facto; so every government, to be seen “doing something about it”, reshuffled departments heading that corp, including that commission. The overall trend was towards centralizing responsibility, so that the government couldn’t be held responsible for Regions’ faults (there is a complicated dynamic between the two levels that is better left aside). That reached an apex when Berlusconi installed Bertolaso, who was seen as his right-hand “action man” having sorted out a few sticky situations before.

I honestly don’t know how the other members are nominated, the law is typically unreadable (fancy digging up “regal decrees” from 1923? because you’d have to). As @nojaboja says, the Italian academic world is pretty murky; and Berlusconi was pretty ruthless in occupying bodies with friends and “faithfuls”…

1 Like

this was a long worded non-answer - are you part of the Italian political circles? : P

I guess you don’t like libel or blackmail prosecutions either. Me, I hope these “indiscreet” people are caught and suffer mightily.

I would guess “British” from the rhetorical style; they seem to have a centuries-old patent in claiming expertise on everyone else’s political machinery.


It could work! Remember that Italy has very little in the way of “insult culture” – people there are reticent and deferential, almost to a fault. Not like cultures with a more boisterous, outgoing demeanor such as Finland, for example.

Or that’s what I’ve heard.

1 Like

Unless it’s me you are attacking in error, and not @toyg, I would say that from internal evidence I suspect @toyg of being Italian, at least by descent. His use of English resembles that of Italians I have worked with, and so does his attitude to the interaction of politics and science. This is not, by the way, a criticism, just an observation. As an English person myself, I would say that while our educated classes do often seem to feel we can comment on other systems of government, at least unlike our US equivalents we don’t usually then go on to explain why it is OK to bribe, destabilise or bomb them into imitating our own. [yes, snark is intended.]


An unfortunate dominant superpower trait…that we inherited from you! (But I stick with my original guess for @toyg.)

You remind me of the episode in Il Piccolo Mondo di Don Camillo when the village priest attempts to explain the errors of Communism to the local Party members with the aid of a bench, and has to go for a rest in the mountains.


Ha! Now there’s a character I haven’t thought about in more than 30 years. Thanks for reminding me.

1 Like

yep. nuance and complexity in things human are overrated. let’s simplify and simplify and simplify and WOW you got Trump and no need for wordiness. It’s all becomes crystal clear.

1 Like

[EDIT: I see that while I was writing this, most of of what I’m summarizing has already been addressed in further replies…]

erm, guys, no.

You’re both wrong about the seismologists incident.

This is, more or less, what happened.

  • The area of L’Aquila was experiencing minor quake swarms since weeks. Population was distressed, and self-proclaimed amateur “experts” were claiming that a major quake was certainly imminent.
  • The then head of Protezione Civile (italian FEMA equivalent), Guido Bertolaso, a shameless dodgy and corrupt figure, just wanted the population to stay calm and quiet, possibly to avoid the spotlight of the media be directed to the unpreparedness of his agency (monitoring, building surveys, contingency plans…).
  • So he quickly set up an unusual meeting of the Commissione Grandi Rischi, an advisory panel of geologists, on site at L’Aquila. The committee usually met in Rome at scheduled times. For this reason some of the members weren’t even able to attend, and their seats filled by local civil servant with no scientific qualifications, just to reach the legal number of attendees.
  • At the time, Bertolaso was being wiretapped for unrelated investigations. There’s a recorded phone call with a local politician, where he basically says “hey tomorrow I’m sending you six of those science guys and my man De Bernardinis (a Protezione Civile brass, chair of the panel) to meet up and say that people have nothing to worry about, take care of the media coverage”
  • So there’s this very brief meeting, and De Bernardinis tells the media and local administrators in very absolute terms that everything is fine & dandy, there’s no risk at all, and people should just go home and “uncork a bottle of wine to ease off the stress”.
  • One week later, the major quake hits.
  • People rage against Protezione Civile and Commissione Grandi rischi. The panel’s memorandum gets released, it states the geologists declared in the meeting that their models couldn’t predict anything certain, but the recent seismic activity was compatible with the possibility of a major quake happening soon, and they recommended to step up monitoring and contingency plans. However, it is discovered that the memorandum was written and signed eight days after the meeting - one day after the major quake.

So, De Bernardinis and all the geologists present at the meeting are put on trial. Bertolaso escapes incrimination thanks to some technicality about his wiretapping being authorized for a different investigation.

The judge declared De Bernardinis and the geologists guilty of fabricating unwarranted statements of safety.

For the record, the appeal trial reversed the verdict for the geologists, and last year the Court of Cassation (our court of last resort) confirmed their acquittal.
Basically, they were recognized as unwitting pawns, not active actors, in the Protezione Civile scheming to downplay at all costs the risk of earthquake.

Only De Bernardinis was confirmed guilty.
A new trial has also started, at last, to determine Bertolaso role in instigating his officers to downplay the risk.
It is unlikely however that this trial will end in time to avoid the sentence being statute-barred.