Solzhenitsyn and the Italian earthquake case

“The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, June 8, 1978

Suing because you tripped on an unmarked crack in the sidewalk is child’s play. In Italy, you can now hold someone legally accountable for not putting a proper warning sign on a crack in the earth’s crust:

In a verdict that sent shock waves through the scientific community, an Italian court convicted seven experts of manslaughter on Monday for failing to adequately warn residents of the risk before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

If you think preventative medicine is driving up health care costs, just wait and see what preventative geology or meteorology will do to FEMA’s budget. Like doctors performing medically unnecessary C-sections to avoid lawsuits, unnecessary evacuations of major cities will become a common CYA maneuver on the part of bureaucrats with no incentive to accept any risk. Apart from the visible financial demands such an arrangement will place on nations already on the brink of fiscal ruin, the hidden implications of a frightened scientific community could still be worse:

“It’s a sad day for science,” said seismologist Susan Hough, of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s unsettling.”
That fellow seismic experts in Italy were singled out in the case “hits you in the gut,” she said.

If the gut is where courage is stored, the metaphor is apt. The risk of public mockery and the scorn of peers will always make a number of innovative thinkers hesitant to stick their necks out, but the threat of jail time will surely cause a dramatic spike in the amount of potential scientific pioneers who choose safer career fields. Continue reading