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John Wheeler, WDAY, Published October 27 2012

Weather Talk: 6 Italian scientists convicted of manslaughter for forecast

Six Italian scientists were convicted of manslaughter and given prison sentences last week for issuing a statement of low earthquake risk shortly before a 6.3-magnitude quake killed 309 people in 2009. Prosecutors say the issue was not that the scientists missed a forecast but that they misled people by issuing a statement saying danger was low.

As a weather forecaster, this is disturbing to me for obvious reasons. In 28 years of forecasting and broadcasting, I have certainly missed my share of forecasts and, no doubt, have misled people in doing so. But weather, like earthquakes, is inherently hard to predict. If it were easy, there would be no need to update forecasts on the news several times each day, and there would be no competition between the forecasters.

When I do make a mistake, I learn and try to get better. But given the inherent unpredictability of weather, earthquakes, sports, markets and other highly dynamic processes, this Italian court decision seems to be based on anger and not on fairness. By Italian law, the sentences will not be carried out until at least one level of appeals is heard.

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