Alfredo Rossini, public prosecutor for the city of L'Aquila, Italy, seems to think so. He is investigating seismologists and city officials on charges of manslaughter for not adequately warning the citizens of L'Aquila that a devastating quake would strike on April 6, 2009.
Hundreds of people died in the magnitude 6.3 tremor, so it's understandable that people are angry. But this is insane.
In the days leading up to the quake, city officials and scientists gathered to discuss a spate of smaller quakes (magnitude 4.0 or less) in the region over the course of the previous six months. They concluded that there was no reason to believe that a big quake was imminent. And they could be charged for manslaughter as a result.
If there was any reason to believe that seismologists could predict an earthquake, Rossini's logic - and that of whatever civic authority is backing him - might make a shred of sense. But it doesn't. Scientists are simply unable to make confident predictions about earthquakes beyond the most general terms (though many have claimed to).
For example, researchers recently predicted there is about a one-in-three chance of a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake in the next fifty years along the Cascadia fault. That's about the best we can do right now:
While it's true that small earthquakes like those experienced in the L'Aquila area prior to April 6 can be "foreshocks" - that is, precursors to the main shock - this is just a matter of semantics. No one knows what's a foreshock and what's just inconsequential Earth jitters until the big one hits.
As such, the individuals under investigation are as blameless as you or I with regard to the quake and the terrible damage and loss of life it caused. Anything less than their complete exoneration would be absurd.
You have to wonder whether there's something in the water in that part of Italy. It wasn't three months ago that researchers studying there claimed that frogs predicted the April 6 quake and skedaddled from their mating grounds in search of safe haven.
Maybe Rossini should throw them in jail for hopping away without warning the townsfolk first.