In a decision sure to rock the scientific community, an Italian judge has sentenced six scientists and one former government official to six years in prison for failing to predict a 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people, the BBC reports. The seven, all members of the government-appointed National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were found guilty of multiple manslaughter because, according to prosecutors, they gave residents false reassurance before the quake struck—even though tremors had already been felt.
After the first tremor, one witness testified, his parents were afraid. "On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they told themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed." His father was killed. But the conviction outraged many scientists, considering how difficult earthquakes are to predict. "A guilty verdict could establish a dangerous precedent as far as scientific accountability is concerned," writes George Dvorsky on io9. The judge also ordered the defendants to pay damages and court costs; a lawyer for one says they will appeal.