The Italian earthquake manslaughter decision is blame gone mad.
We often talk about politicians who have all of the power while taking none of the responsibility. But tonight, a group of Italian scientists are facing six years in jail for manslaughter for providing “an incomplete, inept, unsuitable and criminally mistaken” assessment of risks posed by the L’Aquila earthquake. Surely this is all the responsibility with none of the power.
What is it about our species that gives it an insatiable appetite for blame? If there was a reliable way of predicting earthquakes – and their likely effects – one suspects that, in the aftermath of the 1906 edition that levelled San Francisco – someone would be peddling it. The fact is, it doesn’t exist. So I am at a loss to understand how anyone can be ‘criminally mistaken’ about something nobody understands.
For we humans, there must always be a culprit. Sh*t happens, but we must find someone upon whom to shower guilt.
The Iranian Mullahs blame scantily-clad women for earthquakes. The Chinese at one time blamed a giant snake who had been condemned to live below ground level. King Harold’s supporters blamed a comet for the defeat at Hastings in 1066. Hitler blamed the Jews for everything. Neocons blame society for getting in the way of business. The Germans blame the Greeks, and vice versa. The longer it goes on, the madder it gets.
How would it have been, for example, if in 1987 Michael Fish had been sentenced to 20 years hard labour in a Gulag for saying the Great Hurricane wasn’t going to happen? He looked at his charts, they said 50 mph winds, so he told people that: HTF was he to know that, after he’d gone to bed, the speed would go up to 130 mph?
At the moment, I find myself being blamed by knuckleheads for something in my private life. People who on the one hand think me controlling also want to blame me for the actions of another human being who refused to control her own actions. They wish only to accuse, rather than understand. There must be a Court, there must be a Judge, there must be a Jury, but above all, there must be a Verdict: GUILTY. And of course, they the sovereign accusers must not be guilty of anything: Yorkshire police must be guilty of everything, but I the yobbo gatecrasher must be absolved. Bankers must be guilty of everything, but I the spendthrift Chancellor must be absolved. NHS budgetary control must be guilty of everything, but I the greedy carpetbagger must be absolved. The markets must be guilty of everything, but I the talentless Belgian poetic onanist must be absolved. Jimmy Savile must be guilty of everything, but I the irresponsible Lolita creator must be absolved.
In biology at school, we learn that lesser species have only rods in their visual systems, so they see only in black and white. Whereas we wonderful human beings have cones as well, so we can see in colour. Well, you could’ve fooled me.
This entire attitude of action-judgement stems from crap education (unable to teach kids to think for themselves) crap media content interested only in cruel typification, and rapacious lawyers. We are become a culture compulsively focused on the pursuit of the guilty, and the persecution of those unfortunate enough to find themselves In the Frame. But as cases involving the British police have shown over and over again, those in the frame have an uncomfortable habit of turning out to be innocent.
We need to move away from a need to prosecute the alleged guilty parties, and instead look more closely at the motives behind the prosecutors. Today in Italy, Judge Marco Billi announced the earthquake manslaughter sentence, and also ruled that the defendants should pay €7.8m (£6.4m) in damages, with €2m to be paid immediately. This is a member of the Judiciary appeasing the mob with vengeance. It is not the Role of Law: it is the law of the jungle.
In the light of the verdict, Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Director of Medical Physics at the Royal Berkshire Hospital hit the nail square on the head: “If the scientific community is to be penalised for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavour will be restricted to certainties only – and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled.”
Amen to all of that. Down this road, book-burning lies.