75: When scientists kill

December 2, 2012

We look to scientists to keep us informed about risks, such as: is this medicine effective? Is that level of toxicity harmless? How severe should we expect this upcoming storm to be? But when lives are at stake, tricky questions arise about how much responsibility falls on scientists’ shoulders to get those estimations *right* — and whether scientists should be punished if they fail. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia discuss a recent court case that shocked the world: A group of Italian scientists were sentenced to 6 years in prison for failing to effectively warn the public of an earthquake that killed over 300 people in 2009. Was this decision fair? And how should we decide where the boundaries of scientific accountability lie?