The Political and Legal Risks of Being a Scientist

By Michael Edmonds 23/10/2012

Fighting for funding and tenure, dealing with publish or perish, the life of a scientist can be a trying one. And now it looks like we need to add to this list the risk of being prosecuted in the courts by those who take exception to a scientist’s findings. Climate scientist Michael Mann has been attacked using the US court system and now six Italian scientists have been convicted of providing “false assurances” prior to the L’Aquila quake of 2009 which killed over 300 people.

Another case of a scientist being persecuted for their findings is that of Olga Zelenina, a Russian chemist who has been charged with complicity with drug traffickers when her analysis of the opiate content of poppy seeds showed that they had a much lower content than the prosecution in a drug trafficking case would have liked.

This increase in the use of litigation and political bullying of scientists should be a concern to the scientific community, but there only seems to be a limited response. GNS’s response regarding the Italian scientists is weak and noncommittal. They should be very careful in adopting such a position when some of the charges laid against the Italian scientists could just as easily describe their response to the Christchurch quakes

Prosecutors said the defendants were guilty of a “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers of seismic activity undermining the protection of the population.””

Would it be considered a Godwin to paraphrase,

“First they came for the climate change scientists and no one spoke up; then they came for the seismologists and there was silence;……”


0 Responses to “The Political and Legal Risks of Being a Scientist”

  • It is interesting to see that the head of the Italian Risks Commission has resigned, along with two senior colleagues, saying that it is now impossible for the commission to do its job. What Italy will now get is NO advice on earthquake risk (and probably also flood risks and every other kind of natural disaster), to the detriment of all its citizens.

    NZ scientists need to provide a strong response to this – it is not for the good of anyone, in Italy, NZ or anywhere in the world, to have scientists frightened to do their jobs.

  • Marcus, the problem here is that they did not do their job. They made false claims of assurance which was contrary to the evidence and history. They told people to forget about the ongoing tremors reassuring them that nothing would happen.

    GNS Science says it highlights the need for the clear communication of science and earthquake risks to officials and the public.

    “Despite decades of research into earthquake processes, the ability to predict earthquakes remains elusive. The Italian case is really about the ineffective communication of science,”