What the scientists were asked to do is effectively the same as predicting who would win the lottery. This is just not possible - even if somebody still wins it every few weeks...
I am not going to name names on slashdot, but I really think that discussions should be based on facts and not on unfunded allegations as the ones you are bringing up here. It is not the people that are the problem, it is the system in Italy - as also evidenced by this very, very unfortunate court decision today.
I work quite a lot with scientists from Italy in my area (astrophysics). They are among the most dedicated scientists I know and are doing world leading science. They are also among the least well paid - which shows their dedication to science.
The former Italian government (under Berlusconi) tried for years to marginalize science and research in Italy and this is yet another blow to the scientific system in Italy. The result will be disastrous and lead to an even larger brain drain of highly qualified people from Italy than what Italy has already experienced in the past 10-20 years. Everybody can imagine what this means for the long-term future of Italy as a place of innovation and science, which has already been damaged badly.
I'd not blame NASA for this but rather congress, which tends to try to exert strong control over NASA, which in many areas really amounts to micro-managing projects, without Congress really understanding what it is doing...
...but if you want to buy a single drink, it's easier to say "a pint" or even "a 12-ounce cup" rather than "400 milliliters."
What's wrong with saying 4 deciliters?
or using what's done in most metric countries, namely use 250ml or 500ml ?