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Scientists convicted for not ‘predicting’ an earthquake…
Posted: 24 October 2012 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I agree that if the doctor says it’s unlikely to become cancerous or there’s only a 1% chance of cancer, that allows me to make a more informed decision.  If a seismologist says that it’s safe to return to my home, that isn’t the same as saying something like, “probably safe because it’s unlikely that there’ll be another quake immediately”.  In the first case I return; in the second I’m much more liable to say, “Let’s take what we need and camp out in the back yard.”

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Posted: 24 October 2012 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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macgyver - 24 October 2012 08:51 AM

If you ask a physician iwhether you need to be concerned about an abnormal lump and the physician says don’t worry about it and it turns out to be cancer then yes you are right but if you ask a scientist to make a prediction about something that is inherently unpredictable and he gives you a risk assessment then his only responsibility is to give you the best risk assessment he can with the available data.

Of course, so if he didn’t give the best risk assessment he could he has some responsibility for the decision I made based on his assessment.

A risk assessment is just that. Its a risk assessment not a guarantee.

Of course, sorry but please don’t talk to people as if they are stupid.

An event that has a 1/1,000 chance of occurring can still occur.

You don’t say.

If an expert says the event has a 1/1,000 chance of occurring or he converts that to a more understandable “unlikely event of occuring”, and then the event occurs the assessment wasn’t wrong.[

Wow.

There is a hurricane taking aim at the east coast of the U.S. as we speak. If NOAA predicts it will most likely miss us and then it veers off course and hits the coast are we going to imprison the meteorologists at NOAA?

Well, in your example is it true that it will most likely miss us or not?

If it is true, obviously the example is of no interest. What we should do if it isn’t true is the tricky bit.

Stephen

[ Edited: 24 October 2012 09:24 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 24 October 2012 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Well there are several problems with this argument. First we dont have a transcript of what was said. Everything I have read so far depicts the scientists statements as relatively measured and thoughtful. There are claims to the contrary but I have seen nothing to support that. Claims from victims after the fact are very suspect since they are distorted by time, loss , and anger. I would discount any evidence or testimony that was given after the fact.

Even if a scientist did indeed say that it was 100% safe to go back home and there was zero chance of an earthquake within x-period of time and the earthquake did then happen within that period of time you still have to place some responsibility on the people who took that advice. No one put a gun to their head. Any reasonable person knows that these things are inherently difficult to predict. These were grown adults who made a choice. They were given information but its their responsibility as it is for every adult to weigh the information before you and make your own decision.

From what i have read there was a citizen of the town who was running around making daily predictions of a massive earthquake down to the date and time. All of his predictions were wrong but he had people scared to go inside any building. This created a difficult and potentially dangerous situation in itself. Its may be reasonable to propose that had there not been an earthquake ( and the odds were much greater against than for one at the time), that there was a greater risk by allowing these fears to persist and forcing people to remain outdoors. The scientist had a moral obligation then to squelch those fears to the best of their ability.

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Posted: 24 October 2012 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Any reasonable person . . .

  You’ve nailed the problem, Mac.  From both the fact that they went back into their houses, and that they convicted the scientists, it’s obvious that that city was peopled by morons.  tongue rolleye

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Posted: 24 October 2012 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 October 2012 09:21 AM

There is a hurricane taking aim at the east coast of the U.S. as we speak. If NOAA predicts it will most likely miss us and then it veers off course and hits the coast are we going to imprison the meteorologists at NOAA?

Well, in your example is it true that it will most likely miss us or not?

If it is true, obviously the example is of no interest. What we should do if it isn’t true is the tricky bit.

Stephen

I dont really understand the “attitude” and you didnt really counter my arguments so I will ignore the first part of your post.

The hurricane example is an exact corollary to what happened in Italy. You can’t judge the scientists by the aftermath since the future was unknown at the time. If a scientist makes a risk assessment as in the case of this hurricane he can only give his best guess. Are you implying that if he/she predicts the hurricane will miss the coast and then it does not then we should hold him/her criminally liable? No one would ever go into this field of study if they were always at risk of going to jail for doing their job correctly and then where would we be? I woiuld hate to have to rely on the farmers almanac for my weather forecasts.

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Posted: 24 October 2012 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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macgyver - 24 October 2012 09:35 AM

I dont really understand the “attitude”

The attitude was the result of you stating the obvious as if I might not understand it in the first place.

and you didnt really counter my arguments so I will ignore the first part of your post.

Your arguments are against a straw man. Hate using that philosphical jargon, but in this case it’s the best way to put it.

The hurricane example is an exact corollary to what happened in Italy. You can’t judge the scientists by the aftermath since the future was unknown at the time.

Of course and I’m sure nobody is arguing you can.

If a scientist makes a risk assessment as in the case of this hurricane he can only give his best guess. Are you implying that if he/she predicts the hurricane will miss the coast and then it does not then we should hold him/her criminally liable?

This completely misses the point. Was the scientists risk assesement right or not?

No one would ever go into this field of study if they were always at risk of going to jail for doing their job correctly and then where would we be?

Of course but this just goes without saying. The question is over what to do if the scientist didn’t do her job correctly.

I dunno the answer b.t.w I just picked up on the fact that you are missing the point and that people shouldn’t simply be personally responsible for acting on bad advise from experts, clearly the experts do have some responsibility.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 October 2012 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Stephen, I’m sorry you felt my comments were condescending. they weren’t meant that way, but responding to your argument, who is going to be the judge of whether the scientist did their job? We are dealing with issues where there will always be differing opinions on the risk. Are we going to drag scientists through the horror of a court trial to determine that whenever the public feels angry enough? Even if the scientist wins the case he’s lost because his reputation was dragged through the mud and he faced the real possibility of jail time. We deal with this all the time in medicine. There is often more than one way to treat or diagnose a problem. After the outcome is known its easy to play Monday morning quarterback and the lawyers have no problem finding “experts” willing to whore themselves for the sake of a dollar and give completely unjustified and contrasting opinions. The same would happen here.

If there were a case of complete malice on the part of the scientist that would be a different situation. For example, if he told people things were safe knowing there was a high probability of disaster because he wanted to cause death and destruction then I think a criminal case is warranted but anything short of that becomes very murky. It would cast a cloud over the entire field and force scientists to pull back from any efforts to assess risk in these situations. It would be a huge loss to society.

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Posted: 24 October 2012 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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macgyver - 24 October 2012 10:05 AM

We are dealing with issues where there will always be differing opinions on the risk. Are we going to drag scientists through the horror of a court trial to determine that whenever the public feels angry enough?

I shouldn’t think so.

I was only responding to the idea that people should take personal responsibility for taking expert advise and pointing out that it seems the expert does have some responsibility.

I was just saying it’s not as simple as you seemed to think.

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Posted: 24 October 2012 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Nothing is ever simple but there is nothing in the press reports of this event to suggest that there was any justification at all for charging these men with a criminal offense and if the reports are even remotely accurate then this was a travesty for these men and for science and society as a whole

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Posted: 24 October 2012 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 October 2012 10:32 AM

I was only responding to the idea that people should take personal responsibility for taking expert advise and pointing out that it seems the expert does have some responsibility.

I would like to get back to my earlier question though about the NOAA personnel. Their situation is virtually identical. How would you propose that we handle the inaccuracies that invariably arise in their reports and warnings?

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Posted: 25 October 2012 04:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Interesting article HERE by security expert Bruce Schneier on this case. Also includes links to a longer article on liability for weather forecasters.

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Posted: 25 October 2012 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Thanks for the link Doug. the article on weather forecasters is scary.  I really think the problem is the legal system. We need to change our mindset and stop viewing the courts as the way to decide all dispute. To lawyers, this is just another day at the office, but law suits are unimaginably destructive even when the defendant wins. In addition, cases are often decided by people who are ignorant of the subject matter and in no position to make an informed decision.

There needs to be something akin to a good samaritan law covering these sorts of situations. As a physician if I pull over to help an injured motorist and my actions are later determined to have been something less than perfect I am protected against a law suit unless i do something particularly egregious. This protects society as well as the physician since doctors dont have to worry about someone second guessing their best efforts after the fact when the outcome is known. That should be the standard we hold scientists to. Only egregious actions should ever result in any personal liability on the part of the scientist.

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