When I was young (long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…), I remember lots of folks making jokes about the Italian military. “Why did all of the submarines in the Italian navy sink during World War II? Because they kept forgetting to close the screen doors.” That sort of thing. Anyway, the Italian government has long been a joke as well–what have there been, something like 729 Prime Ministers since 1945? The current government, wishing to demonstrate to the world that it can be funnier than Saturday Night Live (admittedly, not difficult to do these days), has decided to prosecute a team of seismologists for being unable to do the impossible. According to Fox News:

Italian government officials have accused the country’s top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

A shocked spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) likened the accusations to a witch hunt.

“It has a medieval flavor to it — like witches are being put on trial,” the stunned spokesman told FoxNews.com

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

Earthquakes are, of course, nearly impossible to predict, seismologists say. In fact, according to the website for the USGS, no major quake has ever been predicted successfully.

“Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake,” reads a statement posted on the USGS website. “They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.”

According to a judge, the scientists were guilty of…not knowing exactly what was going to happen when:

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake, reported the Italian daily Corriere della Sera

In doing so, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public,” the judge said.

They gave “imprecise, incomplete, and contradictory information.” About the possibility of an earthquake. Well, duh. Kind of the nature of the business–like judges and bureaucrats sticking their noses into matters where their ignorance is darker than the largest black hole.

Next up: the Italian government exhumes and burns at the stake the body of pseudoscientist Raffaele Bendandi, who died in 1979, but whose (incorrect) prediction of an earthquake in Rome on May 11 scared thousands of Romans badly enough that they left town, or went to work for the government. If you can call this working.

(Hat tip: Kevin.)