November 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 8

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Science Policy


Statement on Conviction of Italian Earthquake Scientists

Below is a statement issued on October 25 jointly by the National Academies of Science and the Royal Society (UK) about their position regarding the six Italian scientists who have been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six-year prison terms for providing advice prior to the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009:

Joint Statement Regarding the Recent Conviction of Italian Earthquake Scientists

by Ralph J. Cicerone, President, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Sir Paul Nurse, President, The Royal Society (U.K.)

science policy

The case of six Italian scientists sentenced to be jailed for failing to warn of the L’Aquila earthquake in Italy in 2009 highlights the difficult task facing scientists in dealing with risk communication and uncertainty.

We deal with risks and uncertainty all the time in our daily lives.  Weather forecasts do not come with guarantees and despite the death tolls on our roads we continue to use bikes, cars, and buses.  We have also long built our homes and workplaces in areas known to have a history of earthquakes, floods, or volcanic activity.

Much as society and governments would like science to provide simple, clear-cut answers to the problems that we face, it is not always possible. Scientists can, however, gather all the available evidence and offer an analysis of the evidence in light of what they do know. The sensible course is to turn to expert scientists who can provide evidence and advice to the best of their knowledge. They will sometimes be wrong, but we must not allow the desire for perfection to be the enemy of good.

That is why we must protest the verdict in Italy. If it becomes a precedent in law, it could lead to a situation in which scientists will be afraid to give expert opinion for fear of prosecution or reprisal. Much government policy and many societal choices rely on good scientific advice and so we must cultivate an environment that allows scientists to contribute what they reasonably can, without being held responsible for forecasts or judgments that they cannot make with confidence.

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Persistent Pay Gap Affects Women Just One Year Out of College

An American Association of University Women (AAUW) report shows that millennial women new to the workforce are paid 82 cents to men’s dollar. Women are paid less than men are even when they do the same work and major in the same field. The AAUW report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, also found that 20 percent of women working full time one year after graduation devote more than 15 percent of their earnings to paying back college loans. Among all full-time workers, women are paid about 77 cents for every dollar paid to men—a figure that hasn’t budged in 10 years. While the disparity is narrower among young, college-educated, full-time workers, the persistent pay gap suggests that educational achievement alone will not fix the problem. Graduating to a Pay Gap finds that nearly one-third of the pay gap between college graduates one year out cannot be explained by gender differences in education and employment. For more information, visit www.aauw.org/graduatetoapaygap/.

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NIH Videos Demonstrate Behavior’s Role in Personal Health

The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) recently released four videos, each under seven minutes in length, highlight outstanding behavioral and social science research on mindless eating, risk-taking, diabetes management, and the evolution of skin pigmentation. The videos, called Research Highlights, are available on both the OBSSR website obssr.od.nih.gov/video/ and the NIH YouTube channel and feature prominent researchers describing their work and its implications for society. The OBSSR mission is to stimulate behavioral and social sciences research throughout NIH and to integrate these to improve the understanding, treatment, and prevention of disease. For more information, please visit obssr.od.nih.gov.

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