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Giampaolo Giuliani, a senior Italian nuclear researcher, claims he detected the recent earthquake which killed 150+ Italians, by radon gas emissions. He was silenced by Italian government officials, which assured citzens no earthquake would occur.  (Source: The Times Online)

Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's civil protection agency, insists that there is "no possibility of making any predictions on earthquakes." Many in the seismology community support his statements. There is currently no widely proven technique to detect earthquakes weeks or months before.  (Source: AP)
Scientist warned people to evacuate the area a month before

In the realm of disaster stories, real life ones don't get much more tragic -- or much stranger -- than that of the earthquake that rocked the town of L'Aquila in central Italy on Monday, approximately 100 km northeast of Rome.  While many regions have earthquake-proofed their buildings, L'Aquila was woefully unprepared for the earthquake.  Many buildings collapsed and over 200 people are reported to have died.

However, there is a bizarre side to this tragedy, as well.  A month before the quake, Giampaolo Giuliani, a researcher at Italy's National Institute of Nuclear Physics, warned citizens of the coming quake, only to be silenced by the government.

Mr. Giuliani supports a controversial theory that radioactive gas, radon, is released before major quakes and by detecting its levels, major quakes can be predicted.  Sure enough, during a series of minor tremors in March, Mr. Giuliani detected the release of radon. 

He and his colleagues traveled the area, speaking through a megaphone, trying to warn citizens of what he believed to be a coming quake.  The locals became very angry and called the police.  Mr. Giuliani was detained and admonished for scaremongering.

Among senior seismologists in Italy, Mr. Giuliani was met with little sympathy.  Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, denounced Mr. Giuliani and his colleagues as "imbeciles who spread false information".  He pointed out that Mr. Giuliani also reportedly believed in other outlandish means of prediction, such as linking seismic activity to phases of the moon, and the earth's alignment to Venus.

On March 31, the civil protection agency held an emergency meeting.  At the meeting, the agency sought to reassure concerned citizens, stating, "The tremors being felt by the population are part of a typical sequence ... (which is) absolutely normal in a seismic area like the one around L'Aquila."

They added, "It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake."

The rest is now history, as the tragedy unfolded early this week.  Mr. Giuliani has since spoke with the press and expressed his outrage.  He states, "I want apologies from Boschi (Enzo Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology,) and Bertolaso (Guido Bertolaso, the civil protection chief), on behalf of all those who died today.  My prediction unfortunately proved correct."

He continues, "We have been able to predict these kinds of events for 10 years.  Over the last three days we were seeing a sharp increase in quantities of radon, over and above the level that is safe."

Yet, Mr. Bertolaso is steadfastly standing his ground, stating, "(There is) no possibility of making any predictions on earthquakes.  This is a fact in the world's scientific community."

Mr. Boschi also denounced the claims, stating, "Every time there is an earthquake there are people who claim to have predicted it.  As far as I know nobody predicted this earthquake with precision. It is not possible to predict earthquakes."

He blames Italy's culture, stating, "We have earthquakes but then we forget and do nothing. It's not in our culture to take precautions or build in an appropriate way in areas where there could be strong earthquakes."

Among the internationally community, some seismologists are backing the government's view.  Most current earthquake detection systems are designed either to predict long-term probabilities, or to detect a major quake seconds before its happening, not months or weeks before.  States Ross Stein, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey in California, "You can always find individual cases where one of those phenomena has preceded an earthquake but they're not reliable."

However, just when you think the claims can be laid to rest, he adds that there is evidence that trapped gases "played a role" in the major earthquake in the Italian region of Umbria in 1997.  He adds that while he doubts the method, that radon-based detection could one day be used if shown to be accurate.



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Who would blame the Italians?
By fatedtodie on 4/7/2009 9:47:41 AM , Rating: 1
So some guy claims to have "detected" an earthquake days before it happened, even though this has never been done. Also just because the random chance that it did occur now he is a genius? Occam's Razor came into effect for the Italians and they just happened to have gotten the earthquake as well.

It is just like the stock brokers that claim they predicted the recession, when they did not.

Or a more perfect example, Seventh Day Adventists (if you don't get how they fit please look up how they started, it is a a funny story involving a "prediction").

This guy was a crackpot that just got lucky end of story.




RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 4/7/2009 9:51:11 AM , Rating: 2
I'm inclined to believe you. I probably would have called the cops on him too :)


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By quiksilvr on 4/7/2009 1:41:46 PM , Rating: 5
His approach in warning the public may have been misguided, but that doesn't mean you ignore someone that presents data stating that increases in the amount of radon may have a link to earthquakes. And either way, if tremors are felt in the area, EARTHQUAKE PROOF THE DAMN PLACE! Why take chances? Small tremors today mean high chances of earthquakes in the future.

And further more, why was he denounced for claiming that the moon and Venus have relationships to earthquakes. That makes SENSE. The gravitational pull from those planets effects everything on Earth. From the waves to the weather, it is a feasible explanation as to why certain earthquakes occur.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By ZmaxDP on 4/7/2009 2:34:57 PM , Rating: 2
It does if the correlation is so low that it is questionable if there is even a relationship between the two. There are a lot of geologists and seismologists who believe that Radon gas levels are completely un-related to seismic activity that results in earthquakes. These are still theories too, but to call the linkage between earthquakes and radon gas anything but a very tenuous theory is pretty foolish.

As for the other two, while it does make sense that gravitational forces of that magnitude would have some effect on the crust and the various layers under it, these have just as tenuous of a relationship with earthquake prediction as anything else does. We know historically where these bodies have been relative to earthquakes dating back over a thousand years, and even charting back that far there is no conclusive data to suggest a relationship. It made sense for several hundred years that the earth was flat. That doesn't mean it is.

Earthquakes are one of those forces of nature we have very little understanding of. We know far less about what triggers an individual earthquake than we do about what triggers an individual tornado or hurricane. Yet, they are far more erratic (no seasonal relationship, no consistent warning signs, no buildup period we know of) and far faster in their effects. About the only thing we do know is that certain geographical areas are more prone to earthquakes.

As they pointed out in the article, this area has been experiencing major earthquakes for longer than we've been building buildings, so the real "crime" is the refusal of the government to update building codes to a level that makes these events safer for their populace. As for "earthquake proofing" the place, this shows you don't know that much about the forces involved or the expense required to make something truly "earthquake proof". There is no such thing currently in existence, and I'm not sure we even have the materials required to deliver on that design goal. A reasonable amount of earthquake resistance would go a long way towards reducing the loss of life in these areas, so to that extent I agree with you as do the various government entities mentioned in this article.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By samoya22 on 4/7/09, Rating: -1
By rdeegvainl on 4/7/2009 9:54:02 AM , Rating: 2
Did you get your little factoid about adventists off House? Do you know that guy was quite out in left field even for adventists, and that many thought he was completely wrong?


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By Proteusza on 4/7/2009 10:19:22 AM , Rating: 4
The thing is, yeah, he predicted an earthquake in an area known to be geologically active, that had small tremors in March - hardly rocket science.

Still, I think its foolish that he wasnt taken more seriously. Evidently, the idea of radon gas being a possibly precursor to a quake is not as outlandish as it would seem, and even if he couldnt predict the exact date or magnitude, perhaps the Italian government could have saved some lives by temporarily relocating schools or providing extra emergency resources.

In fact, perhaps what is more worrying is how many casualties were caused - I'm sure most Italian seismologists would have agreed that an earthquake was coming sooner or later, why not take some pre-emptive action?

I dont think the quake validates his theories - sample size is way too small! - but the fact that he was ignored and silenced shows a dangerous neglect for "unpopular" science. His ideas and warnings should have been discussed by his peers and the government, and independantly verified, not swept under a rug.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By Moishe on 4/7/2009 10:45:27 AM , Rating: 2
If someone says vaguely that there may be an earthquake in this area "soon"... What do you do? There is a threshold where a warning is really not actionable.

So you spend millions of dollars relocating schools... for how long? What if they're relocated for 5 weeks and then someone says... "Ahh, well, he must be wrong." Boom, relocated back home, and next week it happens.

Having some general sense of predictability helps, and it seems like scientists are saying that basically earthquakes are not predictable.

I can see them placing extra emergency resources on a whim because nothing but the cost to move them is spent. Those resources won't save lives though, except to *maybe* provide a better rescue.

I think the quote about not building correctly in earthquake prone areas is pretty spot on. Just like we scoff at folks who build a standard house on the coast and then have their house washed away, Italians should build earthquake proof buildings in any area that is prone to earthquakes.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By Screwballl on 4/7/09, Rating: 0
RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By Proteusza on 4/7/2009 11:13:02 AM , Rating: 4
I never said he was a genius - I said he was a scientist who had conducted independent research and arrived at the conclusion that an earthquake was not only inevitable but imminent.

What should have happened, is that they should have examined his work on its own merits. Then they could have a better reason for refuting it. Refuting it because it scares people is just stupid. Had they done that, they would now be able to say, "We examined his work, but it wasnt noteworthy - his methods were not scientific or verifiable. We gave due diligence to his warning, but came to the conclusion that his prediction offered insufficient accuracy to be useful in any capacity."

Instead of at least looking at it, they ignored it, and it is for that reason that the Italian scientists and government officials involved should hang their heads in shame.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By ZmaxDP on 4/7/2009 1:56:25 PM , Rating: 2
And I suppose you know this how?

This isn't a "new" discovery. Radon gas has been analyzed as a possible predictor of earthquakes for over 30 years and found woefully lacking. In research conducted over those 30 years, elevated levels of Radon were only measured on major fault lines in 5% of major earthquakes. Equally, higher levels of the gas have been measured even more frequently with no associated earthquake at all. The FACTS of the matter are that his "research" did not require an independent review because the premise was already KNOWN to be faulty (hehe - funny). This just happened to be one of those 5% of the time that radon was present in elevated levels prior to an earthquake.

One of the other things he noted in his report is that the "pre-shocks" were also a predicting factor. This has been proven false over an even longer period of time. Major earthquakes happen far more often without any warning tremors than with, and as anyone in a fault zone will tell you, small tremors hardly ever mean a major earthquake is coming "soon". They're just minor shifts in the crust.

Despite his prediction methods being thoroughly debunked in the scientific community, you still have no clue what they actually did with his report. They may have done exactly as you said, asked him to kindly shut up about it since you can't use these measures to accurately predict earthquakes, and had him go off with a loudspeaker anyway. You don't have a flipping clue what their process was, so how about dropping the baseless accusations?


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By TSS on 4/7/2009 11:08:51 AM , Rating: 4
thing is politicians fear but 1 thing: losing their job.

with quakes, it's easy: current concensus is we cannot predict them. so you never evacuate for a quake.

if the quake doesn't happen, the scientists who predicted them are crackpots, if the quake does happen, quakes cannot be predicted. so the people won't get mad.

now, if you evacuate a town and nothing happens, the people are going to be very angry for costing them loads of money for nothing. this counts for way more then evacuating and have something actually happen (which makes the next time it happens and you don't do something, all the worse).

the point at which this'll stop and politicians will start ordering evacuations is when we are able to predict stuff happening with 100% accuracy. in other words, when we can take the responsibility off the politicians.

it may sound harsh but no politician is going to risk his job for a mear 200 deaths (risk assessment, i mean).

in my oppinion, new orleans is a good marker for when goverments react. anything that's bigger then the new orleans disaster they will try to prevent, anything less they'll deem acceptable. for the simple reason that alot of people where very angry on how bush handled it.... but he didn't lose his job over it. and that's what matters.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By JediJeb on 4/7/2009 5:06:58 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with a lot of what you said, but that last part about Bush not reacting to Katrina, well as far as taking a proactive stance to the incoming hurricane, that really should have fallen on the local and state governments first. The national weather service did its job of warning them it was coming, but the local government really didn't take it seriously until the very last moment, when it was too late. I'm not sure if the local people didn't take it seriously or if they just weren't warned properly but most didn't react fast enough either. Not counting those who physically could not get out, but those who had the means even if it was on foot, but stayed anyway.

As for this scientist's prediction, it seems something happened here even if it was just luck. The statistic above about Radon being related to 5% of major quakes, is that "5% of major quakes have high Radon readings", or" 5% of high Radon reading are related to major quakes"? There is a huge difference in those two statements, if the first is true then a high Radon reading can be closely associated with major quakes, if the second it true then it can not. Many scientific discoveries were met with doubt when first proposed, because they changed the whole view of how thing work, but later turned out to be true. Just like saying if there is smoke there is fire, you can't always say that because there is fire there is always smoke, because some fire does not produce smoke( like buring hydrogen, you only produce water vapor ). Yes a smoke detector is a good idea because it will help warn you of the fires that do produce smoke, yet it won't warn you of the ones that don't.

If the next time high Radon levels are detected a major quake follows then the possibility of this being a method to detect SOME quakes may not be so laughable.


By Aloonatic on 4/8/2009 5:05:01 AM , Rating: 2
He was on the radio here yesterday and it seems that he was both miles and months out.

The theory about radon gas release is well known and used in the mining industry quite a lot too.

To say that his "information" should have been taken more seriously is silly really. What were they supposed to do, evacuate the area? He didn't even get the location right so you may even have evacuated people into the area that was actually the epicentre.

He's just trying to make himself out as some radical maverick scientist who's on the fringe to get himself some publicity and funding.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By pwnsweet on 4/7/2009 11:15:49 AM , Rating: 2
I liked everything about your comment except the unnecessary stab at Seventh Day Adventists.


By Mojo the Monkey on 4/7/2009 4:55:27 PM , Rating: 2
I thoroughly enjoyed the stab at that wacky cult.


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By eeto on 4/7/2009 11:17:59 AM , Rating: 2
Hundred yrs from now, our kids would think we are very stupid for saying that its "unpredictable", hahaha.

Whenever someone makes a claim, no matter by guess or gut feeling, you just hope it won't come true cause afterwards you'll just take the blame for not taking it seriously... "see i warned you!"


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By drycrust on 4/7/2009 1:16:20 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you too. To tell everyone to evacuate their homes and give up their jobs for an unknown period of time based upon a theory "which is considered controversial" is asking a lot of people. But the fact is the local building codes were years out of date, and there is several thousand years of evidence to show that poor construction + strong earthquake = collapse. While this scientist is blaming the government and the police, the real culprit is the layabouts at the local council who didn't insist upon buildings being built to withstand an earthquake. Italy has a rugged terrain, and it doesn't take a genius to realise rugged terrain = terrain formed by earthquakes = need for earthquake building code (yes ... I know ... America stores it's nuclear waste in a mountainous region ... ).
In New Zealand there was a guy who was doing weather forecasts based upon the moon's orbit, and he states that earthquakes are related to the orbit of the moon, the distance it is from the earth, and when it transits from one hemisphere to the other. I wasn't able to find what the moon phase was in Italy at the time of the earthquake, but this link suggests strong evidence base upon the moon cycle:
http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Outreach/AboutVolcanoes/...
As I see it, if the "radon emissions before an earthquake" is correct, then it is likely they are caused by the earthtide.


By Reclaimer77 on 4/7/2009 3:35:07 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I agree with you too. To tell everyone to evacuate their homes and give up their jobs for an unknown period of time based upon a theory "which is considered controversial" is asking a lot of people.


Exactly. If he had it pinpointed within a week or a few days time, then bingo. But a MONTH ? What were these people supposed to do with themselves while they put their whole lives on hold waiting for a quake that might never happen ?

The fact that people willingly, and knowingly live in California, which could break off into the freaking ocean at any moment ( lol ), is a pretty good indicator of how serious people take these kinds of things.

I'm an Italian American, and my heart bleeds for these people, but these accusations are just silly. I also spent a big part of my life living in New Orleans, so I have a perspective on this that many might not have. And my perspective goes a little something like this..

STOP
BLAMING
PEOPLE
FOR
NATURAL
DISASTERS

thank you !


RE: Who would blame the Italians?
By swizeus on 4/7/2009 1:34:25 PM , Rating: 2
Actually what this guy said based on a fact that is still controversial (the politic part takes place here). It is not based on faith alone....

Radon gas is real time monitor able and he's not guessing with feeling and faith alone... so the advent is just purely different


Lucky guess?
By phattyboombatty on 4/7/2009 9:51:01 AM , Rating: 4
Whether it was a lucky guess or an informed, scientific prediction, the government still looks like a giant ass for assuring the citizens that they were safe mere days before hundreds die.




RE: Lucky guess?
By AntiM on 4/7/2009 10:25:22 AM , Rating: 3
It wasn't a guess. The man knew there was going to be a major quake and went to rather exteme lengths to warn people.

quote:
They added, "It is useful to underline that it is not in any way possible to predict an earthquake."


When will people learn not to make such quotes??

quote:
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."

Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895

quote:
"Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances."

Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and father of television


RE: Lucky guess?
By Moishe on 4/7/2009 10:47:35 AM , Rating: 2
A guess that is not based on reliable, confirmable, and re-creatable data is still a guess. It may be right, but governments need more than gut feelings or unconfirmed/un-agreed-upon data before they make a bunch of changes.


RE: Lucky guess?
By AntiM on 4/7/2009 11:18:31 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
A guess that is not based on reliable, confirmable, and re-creatable data is still a guess. It may be right, but governments need more than gut feelings or unconfirmed/un-agreed-upon data before they make a bunch of changes.


His prediction was based on the presence of elevated levels of radon gas. That is re-creatable, and may be confirmed at some point through research. It may not hold true for all geographic regions, but it certainly has some merit.

We don't always know where tornados will strike, but the conditions that are favorable for their development are known. Therefore, at least a tornado "watch" can be issued.


RE: Lucky guess?
By MozeeToby on 4/7/2009 11:52:58 AM , Rating: 2
There's a lot of very big differences between a Tornado Watch and an Earthquake Watch.

First is time scale; a Tornado Watch lasts at most a day, an Earthquake watch could last for months.

Second is accuracy; people have been trying to predict Earthquakes for decades (centuries?), including through the monitoring of Radon gas. It just isn't accurate enough to be useful.

Third is behavior; you know what people do when there's a Tornado Watch? Just about nothing. At most, they make sure to leave the TV or Radio on so they hear the warning if it happens. That's not going to help when the watch lasts for weeks and any warning given is going to be 30 seconds long.


RE: Lucky guess?
By Titanius on 4/7/2009 12:04:08 PM , Rating: 3
The fact of the matter is that he predicted an earthquake using his technique, and it happened. Personally, I would start asking myself questions as is logical to do at this point; questions like: "How does your technique work?", "Can I see the data that led you to predict an earthquake?", "Can this technique actually provide a good source of knowing when an earthquake hits?".

Ok, let's say he got lucky and I admit he was right, can you do it again? If he uses his technique to predict another earthquake and that second earthquake happens, then I will know he is telling the truth and his technique works.

But I have an objective view on anything I am not certain about, unlike the subjective scientists that are ready to disapprove him, call him a crackpot and state over and over (while metaphorically plugging their ears): "lalala, Earthquakes can't be predicted, lalala!"

Give the man a chance to prove his technique before casting him aside. If his technique fails to provide accurate predictions, well then condemn him. Ask questions first before shooting!!!


RE: Lucky guess?
By ZmaxDP on 4/7/2009 2:11:08 PM , Rating: 2
Been done, for 30 years.

I swear, every arm-chair seismologist on these forums seems to think this guy has some "late-breaking" research on earthquake predictions. He's a quack, albeit a well timed quack. Each and every one of his prediction methods have been researched and disproven over several decades of data in the worst case, and over several centuries of data in the longest case. NONE of his factors are causal. Radon gas emissions aren't caused by earthquakes, they are caused by other changes in the earths crust including temperature, crust composition, etc... there has been correlation of less than 5% for elevated radon levels and earthquakes. The same goes for "pre-shock" tremors. Each and every one of the questions you mentioned was asked, re-asked, and asked yet again by HUNDREDS of research teams across the entire WORLD during the 70's and 80's. Seismologists are perfectly aware of the scientific method, and don't need us to remind them.


RE: Lucky guess?
By majorpain on 4/7/2009 10:53:15 AM , Rating: 2
So true!!


By mjcutri on 4/7/2009 10:38:23 AM , Rating: 2
It's easy to make tons of predictions and then when one comes true to state that you predicted it correctly. The problem is the accuracy of your predictions. If you're making hundreds or thousands of predictions, and one comes true, how do people know when to believe you?




By Dribble on 4/7/2009 10:55:38 AM , Rating: 2
You've read the inquirer too?


By wordsworm on 4/7/2009 11:11:24 AM , Rating: 3
The problem with your argument is that this guy did his loony toon end of the world prediction just the one time - about a month before the end of the world came to about 200 people.

As to the other guy, any idiot could see this economic meltdown coming soon. It was inevitable, and lots of people had predicted it.


Premonitions
By Regs on 4/7/2009 10:42:43 AM , Rating: 2
"The novelist Mark Twain predicted that Halley's Comet would be seen on the day of his death, just as it was when he was born. Twain died on Halley's 1910 appearance on May 18."

What is scarier, predicting the unproven but inevitable , or having concrete evidence that it exists? If we had evidence that the devil was real, I'd be crapping bricks right now and deleting about....100 gigs or so off my hard drive.




RE: Premonitions
By Moishe on 4/7/2009 10:49:38 AM , Rating: 2
Funny... you think the devil cares about what's on your hard drive? :)


RE: Premonitions
By tedrodai on 4/7/2009 11:15:43 AM , Rating: 2
I think he infers that would be proof of other supernatural things, therefore he would prefer not to meet the devil in the afterlife.


Old Science
By siliconvideo on 4/7/2009 10:02:04 AM , Rating: 2
And this is the same country that "jailed" Galileo Galilei. New science is always fought by the old scientist.




RE: Old Science
By djkrypplephite on 4/7/2009 10:43:24 AM , Rating: 2
Nobody expects the inquisition!

No really though, they pulled one of those here.


a stopped clock is right twice a day
By mattclary on 4/7/2009 11:11:37 AM , Rating: 2
But, the release of gasses does have a certain logic to it...




By jjmcubed on 4/7/2009 7:27:14 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, there seems to be a small rumble whenever I release gas as well...

Sorry, couldn't help myself...


I'm italian
By axias41 on 4/7/2009 6:02:55 PM , Rating: 2
There are some errors in this article: the scientist was wrong with the time and the place, predicting 1 week early and 50 kilometers south of where it really happened.

The question is not if the earthquake can be predicted or not, but why a lot of new buildings collapsed. We have the laws, but no one control how they are applied.




By ThePooBurner on 4/8/2009 4:59:38 PM , Rating: 2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_storm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2003/earthqua...

I would suggest combining all the different methods together into a new synergistic model and seeing how well it works to predict. To say it is impossible is ridiculous. We just haven't found the possible way yet. The program i linked to the summery of was very good and showed his model to be accurate in many instances even with epicenter zones where the epicenter would most likely be, and was when comparing the model to real world quake histories. The only problem is that his model just says where it will be, it can't predict when it will be. But if we know where it will be we can/should start monitering those areas for data so we can start building reliable "when" models.




Radon gas?
By chagrinnin on 4/7/2009 6:39:57 PM , Rating: 1
I just released a little. Woke the cat.




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