Predicting earthquakes is shaky business at best, but that detail isn't stopping Italian officials from prosecuting a group of prominent scientists over their failure to do exactly that. Six scientists and one government official face charges of manslaughter for allegedly failing to provide adequate warning of imminent disaster to locals after the region was struck by more than 400 low-magnitude tremors in the months preceding a major quake. The group of experts met in 2009 to analyze the risk posed by the seismic activity, but didn't find cause to raise alarm. Six days later, a major quake devastated the central Italian city of L'Aquila and killed 309 people, reports the AFP.
Among the defendants are some of Italy's top scientists in the field. "You cannot put science on trial," says a defense lawyer, citing his client's statement during the expert panel meeting that "one cannot rule out a major quake." The group has gained the wide support of the scientific community. But "no one expected to be told the exact time of the quake," says a doctor who lost his wife and daughter in the quake. "We just wanted to be warned that we were sitting on a bomb." The trial opened today, and the BBC notes that seven defendants face up to 15 years in jail. (Read more earthquake stories.)