About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Rationally speaking podcast: When scientists kill!

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?

Julia's pick: "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life"
Massimo's pick: "Ten of the greatest Philosophical principles"

Ian Pollock's "Risk and Blame" blog post


  1. Great podcast! Glad you liked my post.

  2. My understanding is that tremors don't increase the chance of an earthquake any more than weird animal behavior or radon gas or anything else does, because we can't predict earthquakes.
    The only effect the tremors might have had was to weaken the buildings, making them less safe in the event of an earthquake, but that's civil engineering, not geoscience.

    Scientists, like any professionals, should be punished if they commit malpractice, like using junk science or lying about risks, but where did the Italian geologists do that?

    There was a pseudoscientist named Giampaolo Giuliani who did warn of an earthquake 30 miles away near Sulmona. He was placed under investigation by prosecutors for causing alarm. Those residents who listened to him might have evacuated to the place where the earthquake struck.


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