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The state against science

Italian scientists are accused of spreading a disease that kills olive trees and threatens an economic industry and a rich cultural heritage

A landscape of olive trees in Italy. Photo: Kite_rin / Shutterstock
A landscape of olive trees in Italy. Photo: kite_woman/Shutterstock

Dr. Daniel Mader, Angle, Science and Environment News Agency

On April 6, 2009, an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale shook the Italian town of L'Aquila, killing 308 people. Most of the people were killed due to the collapse of buildings that were not built to earthquake-resistant standards, were not properly reinforced, or were constructed carelessly. Italy looked for scapegoats to blame for the results of the disaster and found them in the form of six Italian seismologists and one government official, who were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. In the verdict it was determined that they spread wrong information, underestimated the value of the danger and thus contributed to the deaths of the citizens.

The verdict sparked protest and great interest in the scientific community, because today it is not possible to predict earthquakes with absolute certainty, and therefore the trial and conviction of the scientists were seen as completely ridiculous and absurd. And here, a new affair that arose recently puts the scientists on the defendant's stand again, and raises the suspicion that Italy is in the midst of a witch hunt against scientists.

This is how the story unfolded: about two years ago, an invading pathogenic bacterium originating in America arrived in the olive groves in southern Italy. This bacteria is called Xylella fastidiosa and it moves from tree to tree with the help of spittlebugs (nymphs of cicada species). When the aphid infects an olive tree, it is impossible to cure the tree or contain the disease and it spreads further. Therefore, in order to try and prevent the spread of the disease, the authorities in southern Italy destroy infected trees and every olive tree within a radius of 100 meters from the infected tree, and spray against insects that may transmit the bacteria.

By the way, the severe olive disease has not yet arrived in Israel, but as with many other invasive species - it is probably only a matter of time before we see it here.


Conspiracy theories

Olives are of course big business in Italy: they are important to the Italian economy and culture. Therefore, the destruction of olive trees is very painful for Italians. The Italian farmers, anxious about their future, came out against the agricultural restrictions that try to contain the disease. As part of this struggle, conspiracy theories are flourishing in Italy which claim that scientists are responsible for the escape of the harmful bacteria from the laboratory to the olive groves. The situation is so tense that recently a police investigation was opened to check whether scientists are indeed responsible for this agricultural disaster.

First, the researchers checked whether a scientific workshop held on the subject of this pathogenic bacterium was responsible for the spread of the bacterium. A brief inquiry proved that the strains of bacteria presented in the workshop are different from the strain that is spreading in Italy.

At the same time, various non-governmental organizations filed complaints with the European Union and the police about the scientists' performance. In their opinion, the scientists are not doing enough to solve the crisis. These complaints were dismissed by the European Union.

Currently, there is no evidence to support that scientists are responsible for introducing the disease to Italy and Europe. The accepted theory is that the bacterium arrived in Europe in a shipment of ornamental trees from Costa Rica (the origin of the strain spreading in Italy is in Costa Rica). The Italian scientists, who have been working feverishly for two years in attempts to eradicate the disease, feel hurt by the public persecution and the police investigations against them. Knowing modern Italian history, no doubt they fear that the case of L'Aquila may repeat itself.

Why, in the case of the olive disease, do the Italians not go against the importers of the ornamental trees, which most of the evidence points to as the source of the disease? Why don't they protest against the government's incompetence in supervising the importation of plants and animals into the country? What is the source of the anti-scientific atmosphere in Italy? Is it possible that it originates from the Catholic religion which is rooted in Italy and which often conflicts with science, or maybe it is simply difficult for people to understand how there can be a problem and it is not solved in a short time?


The fault of the scientists

Today, in the days of social networks, it is very easy to fall in love Public campaigns that are driven by emotion and sprinkles of manipulated information. In this day and age, the opinions and feelings of people who are not knowledgeable in a certain field seem equal to the words of experts in the field. For now it seems that the scientists are mainly to blame for failing to convey their messages to the public in a clear and direct manner. What is the punishment they so deserve? We will wait and see.


More of the topic in Hayadan:

10 תגובות

  1. The disease has been "circulating" for two years. Good scientists should have found a solution to eradicate the disease at this time. The point is that it is very convenient to sit in the ivory towers instead of walking around the agricultural areas and checking what is happening. So who do the farmers turn to please for miracles?

  2. In Italy, the mafia controls the local government and a large part of the central government, and also has a lot of influence in the judicial system (a judge who cannot be influenced is simply murdered). No Italian believes in the establishment and the scientists seem part of the establishment. These are the results. Here, too, tycoons control the government and criminals the justice system. We are already seeing results for this. Judges disqualify a former prime minister even though the same judges concluded that he received envelopes of money. Criminals are not prosecuted, even when bystanders are murdered in accounts liquidations and the police have evidence, and even when a hired killer missed the target and killed a woman who was sitting on the beach in Bat Yam, he was sentenced to only 8 years because he had no intention of murdering her! (In the USA he would be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole. No hired killer would get away with less). And now it turns out that it is also possible to get away with killing a cyclist even though the police recommended prosecution. So while we still have a lot to learn from the corruption in Italy, we are headed in the right direction.

  3. I ask the workers' committee to calm down. Not everything is so simple, certainly not in the case of the defendant de Bernardinis (whose sentence was reduced, not canceled). I refer to his quote: The government official, Bernardo De Bernardinis – deputy chief of Italy's Civil Protection Department at the time – is reported to have advised worried residents to go home and sip a glass of wine. He even specified what kind: "Absolutely a Montepulciano."
    I want to say, just as there was no unequivocal information about an imminent earthquake, so there was *no* unequivocal information that there would not be one, and if so, the reassurances issued by the scientists and officials were necessarily unfounded, and even likely to have caused damage (to those people who )

  4. Maybe they are still angry about Galileo 🙂 (the earth will be returned to the center)
    The truth is it also somewhat connects to some sentence about the murder of a British student who was there
    In which they accused some American student and her Italian boyfriend who in the end came out eligible but only just
    After they rotted in prison there for 4 years that in any reasonable country it wouldn't even have gone to the indictment stage,
    Anyone who digs into the evidence sees that reasonable logic was not there, but emotions and prejudices were a lot,
    All kinds of strange theories that are based on the imagination of the claim and not on solid facts that couldn't be either
    Impede negligent lab work,
    Any chance of getting to the truth was lost in advance, it took the legal system there more than 5 years to acquit them,
    And the sad joke is that the only murderer still got a discount from life imprisonment to 16 years
    After he testified against the 2 students, there is no doubt that he made his life's work, what murderer wouldn't do that,
    Such things can be read in many countries, but in countries where emotions and prejudices rule
    Logic and science are moving aside and this has a price.
    Medieval Witch Hunter Secretary The problem is that in an important country of the European Union,

  5. Someone - where in the article does it state that the accusers are religious or in the name of religion?
    Right now you are persecuting the religion just like in Italy they are persecuting the scientists - making accusations against the innocent.

  6. For the "original": maybe the one who: "His mother is a scientist or that he is a scientist and has no other profession".

  7. Even in our holy land, in every disaster that happens, there are rabbis who know who to blame, for example, the earthquake happened because of the pride parade, and other such nonsense.

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