Three-hundred-and-eight people died when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy in 2009. Seven experts have now been charged: it is alleged that they failed to sufficiently warn residents. A May 25 Associated Press story is available here.

The story raises some important issues for public policy forecasting. Would experts who over-forecast the likelihood and severity of a possible event be sued for cost of unnecessary precautionary actions including any loss of life (such as occurred when people chose to drive rather than fly in the aftermath of 9/11 - see Gigerenzer's "Out of the frying pan into the fire," Risk Analysis ,26, 347-351).

Given that the public faces costs both from policies that are based on under-forecasting and from policies that are based on over-forecasting, it seems reasonable to expect that policy makers require forecasts and uncertainty estimates from evidence-based methods. There is also uncertainty over the costs and benefits of possible policy responses, and evidence-based forecasts would seem to be critical information for responsible decision making.

Alternatively, political leaders could choose to inform the public of the likelihood of possible events with forecasts from well-documented evidence-based methods so that people could make arrangements that suited their individual situations.