The conviction of seven Italian geological and disaster experts for their negligence in failing to predict the 6.3 magnitude quake in 2009 in the small town of Aquila has shocked the scientific community. Many are wondering whether the Dark Ages have returned to Italy. Galileo rarely trends on Twitter, yet Monday’s verdict by a three-judge panel had many alluding to his 1633 heresy conviction by the Catholic Church because he questioned whether the sun actually circled the earth.
If the earth is not the center of God’s universe, neither are scientists. Their concerns about scientific freedom and how the verdict will silence research are a little overblown and exceptionally righteous. The verdict, instead, should be understood as a celebration of science. Society has come to believe that science can help citizens make judgments about where to live, how to act, and whether to evacuate. Unlike in the time of Galileo, society has come to accept the value of evidence and deduction. The court’s ruling is a reminder to the scientific community that along with their god-given skills comes a certain amount of civic responsibility.