ANSA web news titled “‘No L’Aquila quake risk’ experts probed in Italy in June 2010” gave a shock to the Japanese seismological community. According to the website, for the previous 6 months from the L’Aquila earthquake which occurred on 6th April 2009, the seismicity in that region had been active. Having become even more active and reached magnitude 4 on 30th March, the government held the Major Risks Committee which is a part of the Civil Protection Department and is tasked with forecasting possible risks by collating and analyzing data from a variety of sources and making preventative recommendations. The committee did not insist on the risk of damaging earthquake, and 6 days later, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake attacked L’Aquila and killed 308 people. The following year on 3rd June, the prosecutors opened the investigation after complaints of the victims that far more people would have fled their homes that night if there had been no reassurances of the Major Risks Committee the previous week.

Lessons from this issue are significant. Science communication is now in currency, and more efforts are made to reach out to the public or policy makers. But when we deal with disaster sciences, it contains a much bigger proportion of risk communication. A similar incident happened with the outbreak of the BSE back in the late 1980’s. Many of the measures taken according to the Southwood Committee are laudable, but for one – science back then could not show whether or not it was contagious to humans, and is written in the committee minutes that “it is unlikely to infect humans”. If read thoroughly, it does refer to the risk, but since it had not been stressed, the government started a campaign saying that “UK beef is safe”.

In the presentation, we review the L’Aquila affair and also introduce similar issues from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. We would like to suggest how scientists should behave when faced with giving advice on the ongoing phenomena whose future situation cannot be forecasted scientifically, and how science communication should be done in ordinary times to help the emergency situation.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Risk communication on earthquake prediction studies
Possible pitfalls of science communication

Satoko Oki   Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo

Kazuki Koketsu   Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo

ANSA web news titled “‘No L’Aquila quake risk’ experts probed in Italy in June 2010” gave a shock to the Japanese seismological community. According to the website, for the previous 6 months from the L’Aquila earthquake which occurred on 6th April 2009, the seismicity in that region had been active. Having become even more active and reached magnitude 4 on 30th March, the government held the Major Risks Committee which is a part of the Civil Protection Department and is tasked with forecasting possible risks by collating and analyzing data from a variety of sources and making preventative recommendations. The committee did not insist on the risk of damaging earthquake, and 6 days later, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake attacked L’Aquila and killed 308 people. The following year on 3rd June, the prosecutors opened the investigation after complaints of the victims that far more people would have fled their homes that night if there had been no reassurances of the Major Risks Committee the previous week.

Lessons from this issue are significant. Science communication is now in currency, and more efforts are made to reach out to the public or policy makers. But when we deal with disaster sciences, it contains a much bigger proportion of risk communication. A similar incident happened with the outbreak of the BSE back in the late 1980’s. Many of the measures taken according to the Southwood Committee are laudable, but for one – science back then could not show whether or not it was contagious to humans, and is written in the committee minutes that “it is unlikely to infect humans”. If read thoroughly, it does refer to the risk, but since it had not been stressed, the government started a campaign saying that “UK beef is safe”.

In the presentation, we review the L’Aquila affair and also introduce similar issues from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. We would like to suggest how scientists should behave when faced with giving advice on the ongoing phenomena whose future situation cannot be forecasted scientifically, and how science communication should be done in ordinary times to help the emergency situation.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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