Critique of Science's Perspectives on Vesuvius

Two recent perspective on Vesuvius published in Science [1] contain misleading and erroneous statements that are not only damaging the reputation of the magazine but also that of the volcanologists. An uninitiated reading these perspectives is led to believe that the staff at Osservatorio Vesuviano is the ultimate authority on Vesuvius and that the educational, cultural, and scientific works of other individuals and organizations on the territory and elsewhere do not count, are not worth reporting, or are nonexistent. The fact is that the people under the volcano are far better managers of the volcanic risk than the staff at the Observatory and that the VESUVIUS 2000 project objectives are well under way in producing many concrete results for the territory. The Observatory's unreliable evacuation plan is only gaining dust and from time to time is undusted to deceive the uncritical journalistic and scientific minds. In spite of being warned in my e-mail of 2 February 2003 Mr. Bohannon relied on hearsays instead of examining the facts which are fully and freely available on the internet, deposited in many libraries, town halls, and local school of the territory, and documented in countless articles of local and national newspapers. In both perspectives on Vesuvius published in Science its authors demonstrated an unforgivable disregard of VESUVIUS 2000 project objectives and its accomplishments. These authors have never given a seminar on volcanic risk to the population of the Vesuvius area or listened to their cries on the streets, in town halls, in churches, in social clubs, in schools, in private gatherings. Both Heiken and Bohannon's reports lack a clear understanding of the Vesuvius problem and how to solve it. Macedonio and his staff at Osservatorio Vesuviano are not interested in collaborating with myself and other individuals who for years have been working on the Vesuvius problem with no help from this institute which often likes to "borrow" our computer simulations of Vesuvius' eruptions to promote itself. The staff of Osservatorio Vesuviano and its collaborators hold meetings behind the locked gates for fearing of being confronted by the reality of the situation.

On two occasions I offered alternative views on Vesuvius to Science [2], but its editors reprimanded me with the words: "People continue to live near Vesuvius, as they continue to live in Southern California, and no amount of scientific argumentation will persuade many to change their minds". That Science considers my scientific arguments on Vesuvius useless while it glorifies the hearsays from others is very disturbing to me, since my technical and educational accomplishments far exceed theirs. Errors, false reporting, omitting, and belittling of important facts are never more dangerous than when they are offered under the cloak of science and much of the reporting on Vesuvius in Science has been of this nature. Science writers need to be reminded that very often the best ideas in science come from those outside of the so-called "reputable establishments" and that to discover the truth one must be vigilant and intellectually astute of paradigm shifts. The case in point is the Vesuvius evacuation plan which the mainstream volcanological community has accepted since 1995 in silence for fear of being criticized of its flaws and has wished that the problem will go away, while ignoring the interdisciplinary VESUVIUS 2000 project because it could not be easily assailed or copied. At the present time VESUVIUS 2000 is the only viable solution aimed at protecting the population and territory from future eruptions in the Bay of Naples. The difficulty of its realization steams not only from the damage being perpetrated by Osservatorio Vesuviano's diaspora plan and lack of many high quality science reporters and newspaper journalists to present the truth, but also of creating an autoregulation of the territory that requires sustained hard work of many volunteers, schools, associations, and other nonprofit scientific and cultural organizations.

Ever since the Greek immigrants populated the Vesuvius area in the 8th century BC, Vesuvius has been contributing to the growth of Western Civilization. The Romans readily embraced the Greek culture, the succeeding conquerors plundered the Vesuvius area, and it was not until the 17th century when the enlightened Bourbons succeeded in reawakening the roots of the old traditions that the area began prospering again. The catastrophic plinian eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 buried several Greco-Roman towns and preserved in miniature a culture that we are still marveling at today and using to teach future generations some Western traditions. The subplinian eruption in 1631 was considerably less powerful but much more devastating, simply because the territory was more populated [3]. From 1631 onwards and until 1944 the volcano was erupting almost continuously and displaying its smoke that regulated urbanization of the territory. When in 1944 Vesuvius stopped displaying its reassuring smoke the demographic pressure from Naples was reduced by surrounding this mountain with man-made asphalt and concrete and from many places on the territory the volcano cannot be seen anymore [4]. More than 100 years ago the Neapolitans constructed the first volcanological observatory (Osservatorio Vesuviano) in the world on the slopes of Vesuvius and demonstrated once more the brilliant roots of their culture.

Today, the Vesuvius area is speculated for profit and its culture will continue to decline as long as the volcanologists keep bragging and convincing the politicians to entrust the destiny of several million Neapolitans into their unreliable and culture destroying evacuation plan with Science magazine promoting this diaspora. The Science's perspectives on Vesuvius typify the volcanologists' approach to volcanic risk management and of writers who write anything in exchange of an interview from a state institution. These perspectives neglect to note that the volcanologists from the National Group of Volcanology (GNV) have politicized an unreliable evacuation plan for the Vesuvius area and have been refusing open scientific confrontation on this plan, have been using the state resources to protect the Italian and European Union politicians for assuming a direct responsibility for the territory, have been punishing economically and belittling those scientists such as myself and my group who operate independently on the territory, and have been promoting themselves as the only legitimate individuals in Italy capable of producing the necessary technology to protect the Vesuvius area population from future eruptions [5].

Before the Italian political upheaval in 1992/1993, the Italian volcanologists had to act more responsibly because they had little control over the Ministry of Civil Protection through which they were supported. In 1995 GNV became politicized when its leader was promoted to the post of the undersecretary for civil protection by the new center- left government with a strong base in Tuscany. The National Group of Volcanology thus became a political tool of the new regime and was given unregulated freedom to use the state's resources to decide who should receive volcanological research support, who should be permitted privileged posts in Italian universities and research centers, who should be permitted to develop new technology to protect the Vesuvius area population from future eruptions. What the leaders of this group could not control they tend to destroy, and having the economic resources and power of the press on their side through political connections they easily promote themselves and find weak scientists to support them within the domestic and international volcanological establishments. The past and current directors of Osservatorio Vesuviano have been hand-picked by this group for their loyalty and not for their scientific capability or capacity to serve the people around the volcanoes of the Bay of Naples.

In 1990 I proposed to GNV an integrated research on Vesuvius [6], which consisted of developing a Global Volcanic Simulator. The objective of this multidisciplinary project was to ascertain future volcanic events in the area and the effects of these events on the surrounding territory for the purpose of reorganizing and creating a safer environment that can confront future eruptions with minimum socio-economic losses. This project also called for a three-dimensional seismic tomography of Vesuvius with a resolution capable of ascertaining small-scale structures below the cone of the volcano. After considerable anxieties among the leaders of GNV and after showing them many preliminary results from complex computer simulations this group began to sponsor modeling and seismic tomography efforts in 1992 but soon terminated the former effort after its results began to appear in leading scientific journals [7]. The termination of GNV's support to develop a global simulator for Vesuvius also redirected the original objectives of the seismic tomography project. The integrated approach of physical modeling and seismic tomography aimed at the development of a new technological tool for the Vesuvius area was therefore transformed into disjoined non-interdisciplinary initiatives with reduced practical values. The results of seismic tomography quoted in the Science's perspectives on Vesuvius are therefore an outcome of ad-hoc experimentation which hoped to locate large batches of magma under Vesuvius while the physical modeling approach based on global simulation demonstrates that such large batches cannot exist in the superficial regions of the volcano [8]. The author of the first perspective also notes that the seismic tomography experiments were supported by 12 groups from the European Union (EU) without giving any credit to those who initiated this effort and for what reasons and without substantiating that European Union's research supports are aimed at creating collaboration among the Europeans and not necessarily achieving the objectives of scientific projects [9].

In April of 1995 I and about fifty other scientists approached the European Union with an interdisciplinary scientific proposal on Vesuvius, called VESUVIUS 2000 [10]. We invited over 200 Italian and European scientists but received no support from Italian volcanologists outside some from the Universities of Genoa, Naples, and Trieste. In October 1995 EU turned down a support of VESUVIUS 2000, because by this time (25 September 1995) the Italian government had an evacuation plan for Vesuvius that was hastily prepared by GNV's volcanologists and promoted within the government to counteract our initiative. On 26 September 1995 during an IAVCEI [11] meeting in Rome G. Luongo and I distributed a review of this evacuation plan to the participants and called for a scientific debate but neither its proponents non IAVCEI under the leadership of Heiken turned up for the debate. Since 1995 these same volcanologists are refusing any confrontation on the Vesuvius evacuation plan, hold their meetings behind the closed doors in Rome and Naples [12], count on the conformistic attitude of the scientific community to address the Vesuvius problem in its globality, use the politicized Italian domestic press and their power base within the government to shield themselves from critics, and "prevent" the European Union from supporting any project that conflicts with the Vesuvius escape plan because this would "offend" the government of a member state of this Union. And whenever somebody asks them as Mr. Bohannon did on the status of this plan they respond that it is constantly being improved. The reality is that this plan, as far as the Vesuvius area people and Berlusconi government are concerned, is dead.

Autoregulation of the territory is central to the free-market economic policies and on the VESUVIUS 2000 project [13]. Future catastrophes in the Vesuvius area can be prevented only if a secure environment can be created for people living around the volcano. Such an environment cannot be produced by evacuation plans which by definition are designed only for managing emergencies and spreading emergency "culture", but by information campaigns of risk education and provision of economic incentives aimed at achieving collaboration among different actors and reorganization of the territory. In a well-organized or secure environment people are aware of the danger and are confident that this danger can be averted, because they have been prepared how to behave in an emergency. A risk-conscious population is not told what to do or how to march under the command of a director but knows which actions it must take to safeguard its future. In the ideal situation the territory at risk should autoregulate itself and there should be a great deal of trust between the people and their administrators. All of these characteristics are currently lacking in the Vesuvius area, and its current evacuation plan cannot create them because it was not designed for this purpose. A plan which only provides an illusion of safety and where its architects and supporters keep sending messages that "everything is under control" while the population and responsible scientists are being kept in the dark what exactly is under control was not designed to produce security for the population but to control it through special interest groups for the purpose of extracting political and economic benefits from those with misfortunes. The basic premise of VESUVIUS 2000 is that a secure cohabitation of people with Vesuvius is possible and that this cohabitation can produce socio-economic, scientific, and cultural benefits to the population without bringing adverse effects to the environment. As such, this initiative does not aim at a massive escape from the volcano in the event of an emergency, but at preparing the people on the territory to confront the emergency with minimum cultural and socio- economic losses and selective evacuation that can be managed in 2-3 days time period [14].

According to Heiken's perspective on Vesuvius the National Group of Volcanology and Ministry of Civil Protection are providing "intense educational campaign focusing on volcanic eruptions and associated hazards for the regional cities". This represents gross distortion of facts and it only diminishes the credibility of volcanologists because there are very few of them who really work on educating the population around dangerous volcanoes and transferring recommendations to short-lived politicians whose tenure is inconsistent with periods of volcanic eruptions. In 1998 two or three volcanologists from Osservatorio Vesuviano and under the pressure from the Ministry of Civil Protection did attempt to convince about 50 educators from the Vesuvius area schools to promote their evacuation plan, but this effort was soon abandoned because these educators realized that this plan does not educate nor produce a socio-cultural development of the territory. My group (GVES) and others have been very active on the territory and I alone have delivered over 150 seminars in the Vesuvius area and produced educational books and other material [15]. This work far surpasses any initiative by Osservatorio Vesuviano, Civil Protection, National Group of Volcanology, or any other domestic and foreign groups of volcanologists for whom Vesuvius represents only an object to be used to promote themselves within Science and other magazines and gain access to privileged state positions. The superintendent of Vesuvius area schools even forbade the screening of a video produced by Vesuvius evacuation plan architects because this is considered to be culturally offensive. The Science perspectives on Vesuvius insult all of us who have spent years working on the territory, delivered lectures to tens of thousands of people on all levels of public life, written extensively on the subject in local, national, and international newspapers, while Heiken and his fellow volcanologists within the National Group of Volcanology, IAVCEI, and Osservatorio Vesuviano have hardly confronted the people of the Vesuvius area, produced any useful educational material, or demonstrated their ability to defend their Vesuvius diaspora plan [16]. They, however, know how to cloak the truth under the name science and use scientific magazines to promote their little achievements.

Science's perspectives on Vesuvius also state that the areas which will be affected by future eruptions are "best addressed by studying past eruptions and establishing an integrated monitoring network". Nobody can dispute the necessity of these measures, but they are not sufficient to prevent future catastrophes as far as the densely populated areas around volcanoes are concerned. Based on recent experiences with highly explosive eruptions of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in 1991 the significant precursors on the basis of which the scientists can issue evacuation orders are experienced only 2-3 days in advance [14] and evacuating about one million people from the Vesuvius area in this time period is simply impossible, given that over 80% of the people are uneducated about the risk, inadequacy of evacuation infrastructures, and impossibility of managing a working mass transport under high levels of seismic activity that usually accompanies large-scale eruptions. Under these circumstances no amount of study of past eruptions or instrumenting the volcano can avert a catastrophe and the only way to safeguard the population and prevent speculation of the territory is to reorganize it according to the methods of VESUVIUS 2000 [13].

Heiken's perspective on Vesuvius should have been a turning point of past failures on this volcano and after its deficiencies have been presented to Science, the Bohannon's perspective should have not repeated similar mistakes. That this had occurred after Mr. Bohannon and Science editors had been warned in an e-mail of 2 February, 2003 only demonstrates how little attention is paid to the facts. Bohannon's perspective glorifies Osservatorio Vesuviano's director Giovanni Macedonio while most of us working on the territory know that his loyalty to previous tenants of this institute prevents him from acknowledging VESUVIUS 2000 and thus working for the best interests of the population under the volcano. It is unfortunate that these perspectives were not produced to promote interdisciplinary scientific and nonscientific collaboration on Vesuvius and that at least a minimal information taken from GVES Internet site could have been used to promote VESUVIUS 2000 before printing the articles in Science. Italy is well-known to any responsible scientist for unfair and politicized scientific practices [17]. The Italian National Group of Volcanology with clients at Osservatorio Vesuviano and elsewhere is run by barons who recently took away the independence of the observatory and subjected it to the control of outside politicians (Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia in Rome). That this could be accomplished can only be viewed as a weakness of the Neapolitan scientists and the vanishing of Greco-Roman traditions in this part of the world that greatly contributed to Western traditions. VESUVIUS 2000 was structured to preserve these traditions and opposes Heiken and Bohannon's barbaric attempts to protect the interests of special interest groups which have little respect for Vesuvius area citizens, growth of volcanological science, or for the protection of the territory from future eruptions.

Computer simulations using a Global Volcanic Simulator of Vesuvius project a large- scale eruption in this century [8]. What we need to do is to start working as soon as possible on a lasting legacy to future generations, possibly as proposed on VESUVIUS 2000. The Vesuvius area has recently experienced a significant increase of earthquake activity which is being downplayed by the politicians because apparently they don't know what to do and are nonresponsive to the calls for actions [18]. This is unfortunate because we have on our disposal much of the technology and engineering to protect the people in this and other similar places around the world without the necessity of destroying their cultures and speculate with their lands. But before this can be accomplished it is necessary that the scientific community and its journals, and Science Magazine in particular, begin taking a much greater responsibility towards the society and the real scientists, and stop dismissing scientific argumentation as empty words. Science cannot flourish in the darkness; in order to make its growth possible one must be ready to fight indifference, belittling, and erroneous reporting at every step. And if some will be offended by this article, so be it; it is better to have the conscience clear than live a life full of straw.

Notes and References

[1] G. Heiken, Science 286, 1679 (1999); J. Bohannon, Science 299, 2020 (2003).

[2] F. Dobran, submitted to Science in 1994 and 2000.

[3] The death toll from the AD 79 eruption is estimated at about 2000, whereas from that of 1631 between 6000-10000.

[4] The Vesuvius area encompasses about 300 square kilometers and includes 18 towns with a total population of about 700,000. From 1860 to 1944 the population increased from 200,000 to 400,000, and from 1944 until today it doubled again (V. Di Donna, in Educazione al Rischio Vesuvio, F. Dobran, Ed. (GVES, Napoli, 1998), pp. 39- 48.).

[5] Franco Tonani from University of Palermo has for many years criticized GNV's policies and on many occasions was not even allowed to speak at its meetings. Based on documents Tonani (F. Tonani, Letters of April 13, 1997, and October 6, 1998, to Italian Parliament) and Luongo (G. Luongo, Il Giornale del Sud, May 5, 1998) argue that its leaders are projecting a false image of its mission and capabilities in front of the Italian functionaries and politicians because they falsely claim that this group includes the most competent individuals associated with volcanic risk management, that the government must listen only to it, and that it deserves an autonomous management of all volcanological resources. In reality this group is run by a handful of individuals whose membership is based on loyalty.

[6] F. Dobran, Proposal to National Group of Volcanology for a Volcanic Simulation Group (1990).

[7] F. Dobran, J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 49, 285 (1992); F. Dobran et al., J. Geophys. Res. 98, 4231 (1993); F. Dobran and P. Papale, J. Geophys. Res. 98, 14041 (1993); F. Dobran et al., Nature 367, 551 (February 1994); A. Neri and F. Dobran, J. Geophys. Res. 99, 11833 (1994); F. Dobran, Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei 112 (1994), pp. 198-209.; etc.

[8] F. Dobran, Volcanic Processes: Mechanisms in Material Transport, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers (2001).

[9] From 1992-1994 I coordinated a project (EV5V-CT92-0190) for the European Union (F. Dobran, Etna: Magma and Lava Flow Modeling and Volcanic System Definition Aimed at Hazard Assessment (GVES, Rome, 1995)) where some groups did not perform as required on the project but the Union continued to support them anyway.

[10] VESUVIUS 2000 Proposal to the European Union (GVES, Napoli, 1995).

[11] IAVCEI: International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior. Its president from 1994 to 1999 was Grant Heiken and before him was Paolo Gasparini who is an inner circle member of GNV. To become a president of IAVCEI one needs a strong endorsement of the past president. The current president is Steven Sparks.

[12] Most recently such meetings were held at the Civil Protection in Rome on 28-29 July 1998 and in Castel dell'Ovo in Naples on 28 October 1999.

[13] F. Dobran and G. Luongo, VESUVIUS 2000 (GVES, Rome, 1995); GVES Newsletter 4, No. 2 (GVES, Napoli, 1998); F. Dobran, in Educazione al Rischio Vesuvio, F. Dobran, Ed. (GVES, Napoli, 1998), pp. 11-23. VESUVIUS 2000 is also explained on the Internet: Its basic objectives are:

(1) Definition of the volcanic system of Vesuvius, and the eruption of 1631 in particular, for the purpose of developing a Global Volcanic Simulator capable of assessing future eruptions and their effects on the territory. For this purpose it is necessary to develop physical and mathematical models of magma supply and pressure buildup in magma chamber, magma ascent along the conduit(s) and interaction with its surroundings, structural stability of the volcanic cone, and mixing of the material ejected from the volcano with the atmosphere, leading to ash dispersal, collapse of volcanic column, and movement of pyroclastic, lava, and mudflows along the slopes of Vesuvius. The development of a physical modeling capability of the 1631 eruption serves to test the simulator and for accurately forecasting future eruptions.

(2) Assessment of the vulnerability of population and key industrial, cultural, and telecommunication structures and infrastructures in the Vesuvius area for the purpose of establishing most vulnerable areas as a function of different eruption scenarios. This also includes a medical assessment of volcanic products on the population and the interaction of these products with hazardous industrial environments, assessment of economic value and socio-economic impact on the territory before and after different eruption scenarios and planned interventions in the area. These assessments are necessary before any investments can be made in reorganizing the Vesuvius area.

(3) The development of a proper educational methodology for the Vesuvius area is fundamental for establishing new habits of mind conducive for the creation of security culture. Without such an education it is not possible to establish the necessary collaboration between different actors to work on common goals.

The ultimate objective of VESUVIUS 2000 is not only to produce a probabilistic risk assessment, or expected human, material, socio-economic, environmental, and cultural losses in the Vesuvius area due to future eruptions of the volcano, but also to discover methods of risk reduction through autoregulation of the territory and education of population. For this purpose it is necessary to organize seminars and workshops that bring together general population, experts, and local and national administrators, with goals to establish effective interdisciplinary collaborations or projects leading to the redistribution of productive and nonproductive resources on the territory. It is also necessary to produce sociological impact statements which identify possible behavior of the population as a result of personal and family danger and fear of property loss, prior, during, and after the eruptions; economic and territorial settlement impact statements that identify the value on the territory and possible population migrations before and following different eruption scenarios and urban-planning interventions; environmental impact statements which identify the effects of eruption clouds on the local and regional environments; educational material and a methodology for creating and maintaining a volcanic risk conscious population; volcanic risk mitigation guidelines for use by the population and local and national administrators, educators, and civil protection volunteers; and publications of activities and educational material dealing with the interdisciplinary issues of the territory. Making the population conscious about its environment can produce new opportunities because this requires a reorganization of the territory and only selective evacuation in an emergency which can be accomplished in 2-3 days notice.

[14] The eruptions of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 (D.A. Swanson et al., Science 221, 1369 (September 1983)) and Pinatubo in 1991 (EOS Trans., Amer. Geophys. Union 72, 545 (December 1991)) are similar to past eruptions of Vesuvius (H. Sigurdsson et al., Nat. Geogr. Res. 1, 332 (1985)) and for these volcanoes were predicted only 2-3 days in advance because of the absence of necessary precursors. The volcanologists of Vesuvius evacuation plan claim that they can predict the eruption at least three weeks in advance without producing any scientific proof, i.e. on the basis of which precursors (Pianificazione Nazionale d'Emergenza dell'Area Vesuviana (Dipartimento della Protezione Civile, Roma, 1995)).

[15] For a listing of public seminars and educational material see Internet: GVES regularly produces Newsletters in both Italian and English languages, and G. Luongo and I edited two books (G. Luongo, Mons Vesuvius (Stagioni d'Italia, Napoli, 1997); F. Dobran, Educazione al Rischio Vesuvio (GVES, Napoli, 1998)).

[16] The Vesuvius evacuation plan promoted by Dipartimento della Protezione Civile (Rome, 1995), National Group of Volcanology, and Osservatorio Vesuviano not only states that the volcanologists will be able to predict the eruption at least three weeks in advance (note 14), but also that one million people will be evacuated in a week, loaded into trains in Naples, and dispersed all over Italy. The plan does not consider the engineering reliability of this operation nor the socio-cultural consequences. The Vesuvius area and Naples do not have the necessary evacuation infrastructures nor a reliable mass transport. Their current systems become inoperative even under a light rain and during the high levels of seismic activity which normally precedes a large- scale eruption they will become useless. But even if the people can be loaded into trains there is no guarantee that they will reach their destinations all over Italy because this would produce undesirable socio-political and economic perturbations of many regions. Moreover, the evacuated territory would be impossible to control for months or years and would fall into the hands of speculators. The Vesuvius area culture would therefore undergo another dramatic transformation and further loss of Greco-Roman traditions in this part of the world.

[17] G.F. Bignami, Nature 366, 642 (1993); A. Abbot, Nature 367, 6 (1994).

[18] GVES associates have been requesting actions in the Vesuvius area since 1994. Numerous letters have been sent to the Italian Prime Ministers, their cabinet members, and Presidents of the Republic (S. Berlusconi, L. Dini, R. Prodi, N. Mancino, L. Violante, O.L. Scalfaro), Pope Paul II, European Union Presidents and its Commissioners, European Parliament, and many others (GVES Newsletter 4, 1 (1998)). Most recently (Il Mattino, 21 December, 1999) about 30,000 citizens from Torre del Greco sent a protest letter to the newly elected President of the Republic C.A. Ciampi calling for concrete actions on the territory.

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