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Sending Scientists To Prison Helps Explain Why The Italian Economy Is In Trouble

October 23rd, 2012

First there was Greece, then Ireland and Portugal, and now Spain. The last of the PIIGS nations afflicted with massive sovereign debt is Italy. Massive public debts and annual deficits, its bonds periodically hovering at the seven percent dangerous  yield level on long term sovereign debt, the Italian economy is a basket case. As with the other  PIIGS countries, it is kept fiscally alive only due to massive Eurozone intervention, including the European Central Bank (ECB) and the disenfranchised German taxpayer. But with Rome, there is one other big reason for Italy’s economic woes. It’s judicial system is a joke.

An Italian court has just ruled that six geological scientists ( and an ex-official of the government) are legally culpable for failing to predict the deadly  2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, and sentenced each of them to serve six years in prison for manslaughter. Scientists going to jail for failing to predict an earthquake? What about astrologers and soothsayers? No, the Italian system is OK with magicians and wizards being unable to predict seismic phenomena, but if you happen to be a geologically trained scientist who fails to ascertain with exact precision future earthquakes, then you are going straight to jail. By comparison, Russia’s Putin sending Pussy Riot to a penal colony comes across as less ridiculous than this disgraceful display of warped humor by the Italian justice system.

The imprisonment of scientists harkens back to a time when magicians would be burned alive for failing to stop the Black Death during Europe’s Dark Ages. This issue, however, goes beyond ethics and scientific freedom, including the freedom to make mistakes in analyzing natural phenomena that unfolds independently of man’s will. Science and technology is about all that is left in a European economy which, like America’s has undergone thorough deindustrialization. In a Europe and America where bankers and financial speculators can destroy the global economy without any risk of criminal sanction ( though with the assurance of a taxpayer bailout) but where those working in scientific research can be imprisoned for failing to be infallible, the inexplicable decision by an Italian court will not encourage talented Italians to enter the scientific field.

How ironic it is that financial oligarchs and their enablers in public office, such as central bankers, can escape accountability for their role in creating the greatest economic and financial catastrophe since the Great Depression of the 1930s ( though many experts have demonstrated that the crisis now afflicting the global economy was eminently predictable) while seismologists and scientific researchers are sent to prison for lacking divine prescience. The Italian court’s judgment is supposedly based on the scientists failing to adequately assess the risk factors in engaging in the inexact science of earthquake forecasting. If the same court had applied the identical  verdict and sentence towards economists and financial advisors with similar faults in weighing risk factors in formulating their forecasts, perhaps it would not come across as so bizarre. However, by placing the blame for a natural disaster’s tragic outcome on scientists, Italy’s courts have offered an unexpected but very eloquent explanation for why the third largest economy in the Eurozone has become so dysfunctional. Quite simply, the power structure in Italy has gone completely mad.







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