Terrified of the earth moving under their feet, people turn to science to reassure them. When science’s best efforts prove to not be good enough, said people send the scientists to jail. That’s not going to improve the already shaky field of seismology. (See what I did there?) How are they going to make science in prison? And who should I talk to about the vague and useless weather reports I hear on the radio?
Through my slack-jawed speechless astonishment I was able to notice the detail that there is an appeal on the way and convictions “aren’t definitive until at least one level of appeal,” so by the time I close my mouth and blink a few times this will probably go away. Most judges I’ve had personal experience with (granted, it’s a small sample size) have been incredibly reasonable people, and I’m surprised that this one was so quick to condemn a bunch of guys who, as far as I can tell, were doing the best they could.
I can imagine a penalty stopping somewhere short of prison if they had acted maliciously, though that scenario is difficult to contemplate. Or if they’d made a mistake in their analysis. But earthquake prediction is far from a sure thing. It’s so not a sure thing that I feel a little dirty typing the words “earthquake prediction” like it’s a thing at all. It would be awesome if it was. We can’t even predict the weather yet, and we have shedloads of data and patterns and… The mind boggles.
Would they have been arrested for inciting panic if they’d guessed the other way?
People are in general slower to act on good science than they are to condemn bad science. This isn’t in itself a bad thing (sometimes people get it wrong, that’s why scientists are trained to believe a thing is hogwash until they’re convinced otherwise), but this is a step (or six) too far in the wrong direction.
Edited to add: There’s a more detailed and considered analysis of the entire debacle here.