On March 31, 2009, after experiencing a swarm of tiny seismic tremors, the town of L’Aquila, Italy, turned to seven earthquake experts for insight on “the big one.” The Italian Seismologists, which included scientists, engineers, and a government official from the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, told the community that the chance of a major earthquake striking in the near future was unlikely—but that it could not be completely ruled out.
Bernardo De Bernardinis, then vice director of the government’s Civil Protection Department, said “there was no danger” posed by strong quakes in the area. Less than a week later, a 6.3-magnitude quake devastated the town. It left 309 people dead, another 1,500 injured, and hundreds of buildings demolished.
The then courts accused the scientists of falsely reassuring the community, which left many unprepared for the earthquake. In 2011 the court charged the “L’Aquila seven” with providing incomplete information on the likelihood of a destructive quake, and claimed that the group was at fault for the more than 300 deaths.
As you might imagine, the conviction triggered outcry from the scientific community, many of whom said that the deaths were the result of scientific miscommunication and that the government used the men as scapegoats. But Monday after seeking an appeal, six of the seven Italian earthquake experts have been acquitted of all charges. Bernardo De Bernardinis was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to two years in prison, instead of six.