You are Going to Die

Genetic engineers are going to have to figure out how we can all be born with a ‘best by’ birth mark dated for about 80 years following our nativities. Otherwise, they will be sent to prison for not telling us that we are going to die.

Idiotic?  Too stupid to even be worth a chuckle?

Idiotic it might be, but alas!  This silly little bit of science fiction is not too far off – at least not in the European Union where the principles of post-modernism have raised the lowest common denominator of human intellectual flotsam to positions of the highest authority. Hot off the press is the latest proof that the leaders of modern Italy could not have actually descended from Romans as most other Italians, but are the remnants of some enslaved group of inbred half-wits who, through sheer perseverance have out-waited everyone else and are now enjoying what will hopefully be a very brief stint in the seats of authority.

This past week six Italian scientists and a government official were sent to prison for six years for manslaughter.  The crime?  Failing to predict a magnitude 6.3 Earthquake in L’Aquila (the Eagle) in which 300 people died in 2009.  Now, the rationale behind this shining example that the western psyche has turned the corner and confronted its moronic self is that those people were not convicted for failing to predict the fatal earthquake, but for failing to communicate the risks of living in an Earthquake-prone area.

People who live in Italy are as aware that they live in a seismically active area as the Japanese are aware that they live in tsumanis central (we use a Japanese word for that latter phenomenon for a good reason).  From now on, seismologists in California and Japan, and of course all the other seismically active areas around the Mediterranean (all of it by the way) had better issue warnings that living inside buildings, or conducting business indoors, or going to hospitals, or taverns, or hotels, or restaurants…. carries with it a chance of death from Earthquake.

Oh, but of course, there are also active volcanos in Italy.  Better include them to be safe. And landslides. And sinkholes, and avalanches and any number of phenomena in the natural world.

Insurance companies will now insist that scientists must issue the equivalent of the surgeon general’s warning about tobacco during every press conference, and they must put rubber stamp warnings, disclaimers, caveats and probability estimates on every report.  And what about other types of scientists?  What about all the people who die every year from accidents caused by icy roads – or tree branches which fall into their cars because they are weighted down with ice and snow.  Are meteorologists going to go to jail over a mis-predicted snowstorm? What about trees that blow over in tornados and hurricanes?  What about….. Oh, you get the idea.

Of course, this little tongue-in-cheek game of mine is just that.  The real effect of this travesty is that scientists are going to clam up and refuse to be part of anything that has to do with making informed statements about human society in the natural world.  Except, of course, one particular flavor of climate scientists who seem to make patently false predictions about the consequences to society of our supposedly deteriorating climate and get rewarded for doing it.

What? Patently false?

According to the predictions of that group, by this current year (2012) the Ten Thousand Lakes district of Minnesota was going to be dry, snow would have stopped falling in Europe, the Arctic Sea would be ice free, India would already be suffering from drought and low water because of disappearing glaciers in the Himalaya, sea level would have risen to elevations which would have already drowned many island nations, and global average temperature would have risen to levels far above what they actually are. That none of these things has happened is too simple for anyone with eyes to ascertain with a minimum of effort, or intellect, so specific refutations are not worth even enumerating.  And those are just the obvious ones.

But what is their punishment for convincing the world’s governments to waste trillions in ‘going green’ and thereby usurping money which would be better spent on health care or food for the sick and starving?  They get more research money and celebrity status, and they get to share in a Nobel Peace Prize.  Meanwhile, people who try to be responsible scientists by not being overly alarmist about a very well known threat are jailed for not telling us to keep out of our own way.

Let’s think about this one realistically. People in California know they live in Earthquake country. They know the risks. They know they could lose everything, or even die.  If our government came and told them they should move out because of the risks…. I don’t even need to go on with that analogy. They stay because it is their home and the risks are small enough that its worth, well, risking it.  No-one ‘communicates’ the risks to them. So, why would the people of L’Aquila Italy have done anything differently if they had been told the bleeding obvious – something they already knew – something every Italian knows. It is a country where Earthquakes happen. Italians know the risks.  So do Greeks, and Turks and Armenians and …… Actually, is there anywhere on Earth where there are no risks from some natural disaster?  If there is, they had better start getting ready because a lot of scientists might want to move there.

And by the way, as a scientist, please let me state for the record that you are at risk of any and every catastrophe, natural or man-made, there is no safe place to go, no place with lower risks and no way to get to them without traveling though a risky area. Perhaps you might be safe in your grave, but it is awfully risky getting there – you might die or be killed trying.


Update:  Recently (2015) the decision of the Italian courts was overturned and the reckless unconcern exhibited by the scientists and government officials has been determined to be not so reckless or unconcerned. I wanted to leave this post in the blog however because the entire escapade illustrates the danger of brining science into the courtroom where judges and juries are ill equipped to comprehend the most basic things about the nature of the scientific process and the uncertainty inherent in being able to make definitive predictions in the Earth sciences.

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