Many seismologists around the world say that criminalizing the Italian panel's assessments will have a chilling effect on science. Sheila Jasanoff, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government who studies the role of science and expertise in politics and the law, told me that, though the Italian trial is an extreme example, public scrutiny of how scientists convey low-probability, high-danger situations is not in itself unreasonable. Nor is it unprecedented. Jasanoff said the trial in L'Aquila called to mind the fallout caused by research about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, in the U.K. In 1989 a scientific advisory group reported that it was unlikely that BSE could be transmitted to humans. Through the early 1990s, government ministries reassured the public that it was safe to eat homegrown beef. As it happened, BSE was transmissible to humans. After dozens died from BSE, the British government launched an inquiry, rather than prosecute, Italian-style. The inquiry's report, released in 2000, criticized scientists and civil servants alike for not adequately communicating that what's unlikely is not impossible—for failing to admit openly that they could not rule out the risk of transmission.