Archives for earthquakes



What’s Wrong With Punishing Bad Predictions?

In the heat of a Presidential campaign, it can be hard to pay attention to other news. But a small-seeming story out of Italy yesterday has, to my mind, the potential to shape the future as much as a Presidential election.

As reported by ABC, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and elsewhere, an Italian court has convicted seven earthquake experts of failing to appropriately sound the alarm bell for an earthquake that wound up killing more than 300 people in L’Aquila in 2009. The experts received long prison sentences and fines of more than $10 million.(Addenum: Roger Pielke Jr. discusses the “mischaracterizations” of the verdict.)

There is of course the chance that the verdict will be thrown out upon appeal, discredited as an emotional response to a horrible tragedy.  Read More »



Italian Seismologists Charged with Manslaughter for Not Predicting Earthquake

In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction,” we talk about the incentives behind making predictions, and how wrong predictions often go unpunished, which is why people make so many of them.

But recent news out of Italy seems to take the premise of punishing bad predictions a bit too far. From the New York Times:

Seven Italian seismologists and scientists went on trial on manslaughter charges on Tuesday, accused of not adequately warning residents of a central Italian region before an earthquake that killed 309 people in April 2009. Prosecutors say that the seven defendants, members of a national panel that assesses major risks, played down the risk of a major earthquake’s occurring even though there had been significant seismic activity near L’Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region, in the months before the quake.

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Hurricane Shopping in NYC: And Then There Were But Keychain Flashlights Left

A weird week in New York City is only getting weirder. On Tuesday, for the first time since 1884, earthquake tremors were felt in the Big Apple; which, not surprisingly, came with no warning from earthquake prognosticators. Now, NYC is bracing for its first hurricane since 1985. (Any readers game for trying to calculate the odds of NYC getting hit by an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, I’d love to see your estimates.) As I write, I’m watching out my window as people in the building across the street tape their windows. Which reminds me, I need duct tape!

Now that the MTA has announced that all NYC public transportation will be shut down beginning on noon Saturday, people are out in force doing some last minute hurricane shopping. So we decided to venture out and do a little reporting on what’s left, and what’s not. Read More »