Saturday, October 15, 2005

My terrible failure

No, not at life, or blogging (we'll take those up at a later date) -- I've failed miserably at the Republican Loyalty Quiz:
Your score is 0 on a scale of 1 to 10. You are a pure, unabashed, die-hard Democratic loyalist. You are appalled by the way Republicans are transforming America into a theocratic, corpo-fascist police state, and you'd walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit if it meant casting a deciding vote for a Democratic president. In your view, there is no higher form of patriotism than defending America against the Republican Party and every intolerant, puritanical, imperialistic greed-mongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which it stands.

That seems about right.

[Via Paryngula]

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/15/2005 11:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Joke of the Day

Ed Brayton on Dispatches from the Culture Wars has the Joke of the Day, from Bill Maher.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/15/2005 11:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Changing the term

It seems as if many Presidents who serve two terms fall apart completely in their second go-round. Liberals and progressives, and other decent folk, despise Bush, of course, and rightly so, but who can deny that in his first term he (and Rove) at least had a firm grip on the reigns of power (too firm) -- now, it seems as if they can't even stage a photo-op without mucking it up. Something similar happened to Clinton in his second term as well, thanks for Newt Gingrich's Contract With America and a concerted Republican/right-wing effort to bring him down. Nixon, of course, screwed up during his first term, but it was in the second term that he made many strategic and tactical errors which allowed his enemies to reveal his true nature and force him into resigning.

Maybe it's time to consider changing the President's term of office. We already made an adjustment by limiting him or her to two terms, perhaps we should change the length of the term to 6 years and limit everyone to a single time in office. There are pros and cons (6 years of a bad President is a lot of years; 6 years may not be enough to strongly influence the course of government), but it's worth thinking about.

Update (10/17): Another proposal discussed here is to change the term of Supreme Court Justices so that they no longer serve for life:
"I think there is a widespread feeling on both the right and the left that everything surrounding the Supreme Court and the appointment of its members is broken and needs to be fixed," said Northwestern University Law School professor Steven G. Calabresi, a founder of the conservative Federalist Society and coauthor of a fixed-term proposal.

In a recent article, Calabresi and Northwestern colleague James Lindgren documented the tendency of justices to linger longer as the court's prestige and power have grown in the last decades.

From 1789, when the Supreme Court was established, through 1970, the average justice spent 14.9 years on the bench. The justices who have retired since 1970 served on the court an average of 26.1 years — nearly twice as long. Likewise, prior to 1970, the average justice retired at age 68. Since 1970, that's jumped to almost 80.

Calabresi, Lindgren and other critics believe this lengthening tenure fuels the rising political conflict over Supreme Court nominations in two distinct respects.

Details on the various plans (or, rather, ideas) for fixing the length of service are in the article. I think a Constitutional amendment would be necessary.

[Via Kevin Drum]

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/15/2005 02:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kitzmiller: Reading the signers

A week or so ago the Discovery Institute, the primary organization promoting "Intelligent Design" (a version of creationism) as an alternative to Darwinian evolutionary theory, filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief [PDF] in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, where some parents in Dover, Pennsylvania are suing the local school board for trying to insert a religious doctrine into the science curriculum.

The press release announcing the amicus brief said:
Eighty-five scientists have filed an Amicus Brief in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial asking the Judge to "affirm the freedom of scientists to pursue scientific evidence wherever it may lead"and not limit research into the scientific theory of intelligent design. Not all the signers are proponents of intelligent design, but agree "that protecting the freedom to pursue scientific evidence for intelligent design stimulates the advance of scientific knowledge."

The signers of the brief, identified as “Amici curiae” include such notable scientists as Dr. Philip Skell of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Lyle H. Jensen a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Dr. Russell W. Carlson Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Executive Technical Director, Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia.


The brief reads in part:
Amici curiae are scientists who oppose any attempt to define the nature of science in a way that would limit their ability to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Since the identification of intelligent causes is a well established scientific practice in fields such as forensic science, archaeology, and exobiology, Amici urge this Court to reject plaintiffs' claim that the application of intelligent design to biology is unscientific. Any ruling that depends upon an outdated or inaccurate definition of science, or which attempts to define the boundaries of science, could hinder scientific progress.

Amici are professional scientists who support academic freedom for scientific research into the scientific theory of intelligent design. Some Amici are scientists whose research directly addresses design in biology, physics, or astronomy. Other Amici are scientists whose research does not bear directly upon the intelligent design hypothesis, but feel it is a viable conclusion from the empirical data. Finally, some Amici are skeptics of intelligent design who believe that protecting the freedom to pursue scientific evidence for intelligent design stimulates the advance of scientific knowledge. All Amici agree that courts should decline to rule on the scientific validity of theories which are the subject of vigorous scientific debate.

On Panda's Thumb, Timothy Sandefur does a good job of digging into the meat of the argument made in the brief (as do some of the commenters), but I wanted to take a look at the people who signed it.

One of the first things I noticed (also noted by Reed Cartwright in the comments thread on Panda's Thumb) is that many of the signers do not actually list their current institutional affiliations, simply the place where they received their degrees. Usually when academics sign petitions or public statements such as this, they list their name and the institution they are connected to. Many times, especially if the cause is controversial, a disclaimer will appear at the bottom saying that the affiliations are listed for identification only -- meaning that the signers are speaking for themselves, and not as representatives of their institutions.

In this instance, 38 of the 85 signers of the amicus brief, about 45% of them, do not list any current connection to an institution. This makes it impossible to determine whether those people are actually working scientists or not, since we know absolutely nothing at all about them except where they received their advanced degrees and what field they received them in.

Of the remaining 57 who do list their institutional connections, there are several references to colleges that I was not familiar with, so I went looking at their websites.

Two of the signers, for instance, are professors at Biola University, which describes itself as "a private Christian university ... based on evangelical Christianity". Two others are on the faculty of Huntington University, whose website says it is "an evangelical Christian college." Then there's Dordt College, a "private, Reformed, Christian college" which offers a "biblical, Christ-centered education;" Northwestern College (not to be confused with Northwestern University), which "takes a Biblically Christian ethical and moral position and is theologically conservative in doctrine;" Grove City College, a "top-ranked affordable Christian College;" Malone College, whose mission is "to provide students with an education based on biblical faith;" and Union College which believes it "develops an eternal perspective with assurance in Christ" in its students, who should "operate from a Christ-centered perspective."

In all, 9 of the 57 signers who showed their affiliation (about 16%) are on the faculty of Christian evangelical or Bible-centered colleges -- which leads one to believe that perhaps the signers are not quite as unbiased as the Discovery Institutes press release implied they were -- and, in fact, that turns out to be the case.

A little bit of research led me to determine that fully 72 [Note: Corrected from 73 -- Ed] of the 85 signers were also signatories on the Discovery Institute's "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," in which they state:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.

In other words, almost 85% [Note: Corrected from 86% -- Ed] of the signers of the "friend of the court" brief in Kitzmiller are fundamentally opposed to Darwinian evolutionary theory. They're not neutral scientists or scholars urging caution on the judge in the name of academic freedom, they're advocates for the intellectual position being taken by the defendants, the very one which is the bone of contention in the case.

(The signers of the "Dissent from Darwinism" are supposed to be "400 eminent scientists," but in fact, just as with the signers of the amicus brief, almost half of them do not list any institutional affiliation, making it, again, impossible to determine their credentials.)

How partisan the list of signers of the amicus brief are can perhaps be gleaned in part by the fact that three of them are, surprise!, Fellows of the Discovery Insitute's Center for Science and Culture (one of them a Senior Felllow), and another is the Center's Program Director! -- and yet there's no indication of any kind that they are anything but "professional scientists" trying to help a judge through a thorny matter. (However, it should be noted that one of the Discovery Insitute Fellows on the list is Dean H. Kenyon, the co-author of Of Pandas and People, the "intelligent design" textbook at the center of the case, whose identity is certainly known to the judge. Forrest M. Mims and Jonathan Wells are the other Fellows -- Wells is the Senior Fellow -- and Stephen Meyer is the CSC Program Director.)

Although the DI's press release makes a big deal about one of the signers being a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and another being a member of the National Academy of Sciences, in fact the AAAS has about 8400 Fellows and the NAS has about 2000 Members, so what's interesting is not that these two signed, but that they were the only ones who did. If "Intelligent Design" really has a substantial following in the scientific community, surely they should be able to find at least a handful of AAAS Fellows or NAS Members to sign, shouldn't they?

Finally, for what it's worth, I note that Forrest M, Mims, who's listed as an "Atmospheric Researcher," is primarily a popular electronics writer, and that the institution he lists as his affiliation, the "Geronimo Creek Observatory" is described on his website as "an open field near Geronimo Creek in South-Central Texas."

Update: Ed Brayton has more on the legal arguments made in the brief on Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Update to this update: I posted a pointer to this post on Dispatches from the Culture War, and Ed Brayton and Dave S. expressed some objections to my arguments:
  • Ed thought that it was "a mistake to point out that many of the signers of the brief are affiliated with Christian universities. It simply has no relevance and it sounds an awful lot like an ad hominem."

    I considered this before I made the post, but decided to go ahead. The institutions I pointed out explicitly tout themselves as "evangelical" or "Bible-centered," which seems to me to be a significant fact and worthy of dissemination, given the relationship of the evangelical movement to the propagation of creationism. Other institutions -- such as Virginia Intermont College (see below) and Baylor University, which are explicitly Christian, but not evangelical or Bible-centered, were not included.

  • Both gentlemen objected to my argument that signing the DI's "Dissent from Darwinism" meant that the signers were "fundamentally opposed to Darwinian evolutionary theory."
    The statement in question does not require opposition, fundamental or otherwise, to evolutionary theory. Indeed, even Richard Dawkins could honestly sign that statement. It is Discovery Institute hype that says that that statement amounts to "dissent from Darwinism"; it does us no good to repeat that hype, since it is fundamentally dishonest.

    This is correct as far as it goes, but rather misses the point. The "Dissent" is indeed so vaguely worded that almost anyone could sign it in good conscience, but only those who live in a vacuum, entirely unaware of the purpose of the Discovery Institute, would sign it without knowing the propaganda value of the statement and to what ends it would be used. If any of the signers have disavowed their affiliation with the statement, and the use the DI has put it to, I'm unaware of it, but I will look into it. However, in the absence of any such information, the signers need to be held accountable for what they signed and the uses to which it was designed to be put.

Clearly, there is very little that can be determined about the people who signed the amicus brief from the bare list of names and affiliations which is the raw material I had to work from. It would be preferable, of course, to do an in-depth search for the writings and expressions of each person individually to evaluate their relationship to the "intelligent design" movement, or even to interview them personally, and perhaps I can make some inroads into at least the former over time -- but bear in mind that all the judge was presented was the list of names and the Discovery Institute's assurance that they were all "professional scientists who support academic freedom," with the clear implication that they had no axe to grind in the case at hand. I think the information I provided shows that, at the very least, this is not the case.

Update: I wanted to add a few other things that I didn't manage to squeeze into the original post:

  • Aside from the 7 evangelical or Bible-centered Christian college I listed above, and the "Geronimo Creek Observatory," there were three other institutions I was unfamilair with and looked into:

    1. Virginia Intermont College is "affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia. However, we encourage freedom of religion." Their website doesn't in any way tout it as Christian, evangelical or Bible-centered.

    2. Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (NEOUCOM), with its odd name and acronym, is "a community-based, state medical school" with no obvious reigious connections.

    3. Tennessee Tech University "is a public, co-educational and comprehensive university," also without apparent religious orientation.

  • Of the 57 signers who provided current affiliations, 8 are listed as "retired" or "emeritus."

  • The 13 signers who did not also sign the "Dissent from Darwinism" are:

    • Richard Anderson (Asst Prof Env. Science and Policy, Duke Univ)

    • Mark A. Chambers (no affiliation given)

    • Lawrence DeNejo (no affiliation given)

    • Kenneth A. Feucht (no affiliation given)

    • Charles M. Garner (Prof of Chemistry, Baylor Univ.)

    • Curtis Hrischuk (no affiliation given)

    • Lyle H. Jensen (Prof [Emeritus], Dept of Biological Structures and Dept of Biochemistry, Univ. of Wash., Fellow AAAS)

    • Christian M. Loch (no affiliation given)

    • John Rickert (no affiliation given)

    • Paul Roschke (Prof., Dept of Civil Engineering, Texas A&M)

    • David W. Rusch (Senior Research Scientist, Lab for Atmospheric & Space Physics, Univ. of Colorado)

    • Theodore J Siek (no affiliation given)

    • Arlen W. Siert (no affiliation given)

    I'll be taking a closer look at these 13, especially the five who provided their affiliations, to see if they have any other connection with the Discovery Institute, creationism or the "intelligent design" movement.

Incidentally, it was very difficult to find on the web the number of Fellows of the AAAS -- I ended up having to call them and ask. The figure they provided (about 8400) is necessarily rough. They elect a couple of hundred of Fellows every year, and have been doing so for quite a long time. Obviously, they can't keep close track of which Fellows are still active or alive.

Update: As I mentioned above I would do, I did some preliminary digging, using Google, on the 13 signers of the amicus brief who were not also signers of the Discovery Institute's "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" statement. I ran variations of each name along with key words like "intelligent design," "creationism," "Discovery Institute," "evolution," and "Darwinism" to see what would come up. The results were middling:

  • Kenneth A. Feucht (no affiliation given) appears on a list of scientists who doubt the connection between HIV and AIDS, where he's listed as "Surgeon, Anatomist, Cell Biologist, Puyallup, Washington." (He's also listed elsewhere as "FACS," which I believe means "Fellow, American College of Surgeons.")

    On another site he posted a message in which he objected to the inclusion of the following question on a National Science Foundation survey designed to test people's knowledge of science:
    Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (T/F)

    Feucht's objection was on religious grounds, and he complains:

    The essense of this test implies that evolution is such a fundamental notion, it is as obvious as the center of the earth being hot, or the earth taking a year to go around the sun.

    Clearly, here speaks an anti-evolutionist.

  • Charles M. Garner (Professor of Chemistry, Baylor University) is an organic chemist. He's also "one of the few hard scientists at Baylor who supports [William] Dembski's work" at the Michael Polyani Center at Baylor. The Polanyi Center is an outpost of the creationist/intelligent design movement, and Dembski is one of the movement's most prominent public represetatives. (He was later fired as director of the center.)
    According to Garner the center is approaching the study of evolution from a perspective that counters that of most scientists. He said the center studies theistic evolution, which "uses the facts of evolution but also involves God in the crucial points along the way." The alternative, according to Garner, would be atheistic evolution that has "no dominance by God, it is strictly the properties of chemistry and physics that can account for all these things."

    Garner seems clearly to be a disbeliever in Darwinian evolution.

  • Chris Hrischuk (no affiliation given) is the author or co-author of a paper or essay titled "The Compatibility of Science and Christianity", which one person glossed this way: "A Christian is a more consistent scientist." Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find the paper on the web.

  • Finally, there's Theodore J. Siek (no affiliation given), who wrote in a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer
    Intelligent design is a logical conclusion based on scientific observation. Devout evolutionists, creation-research groups, and intelligent-design groups scientifically examine the same evidence but arrive at different interpretations.

    Whatever one believes to be ultimate reality is a matter of faith and religion. The religion of absolute naturalism is promoted in most institutions of higher learning in our nation. This means we are not to apply logic, reason and scientific observation if it leads to the conclusion that there must be an intelligent designer/creator to explain all of what we observe empirically. It is not "teaching religion" to state that intelligent design can explain what we see. To lecture on who the designer or creator is would be teaching religion and hence would not be appropriate in public-school teaching of science. However, forcing an atheistic view of nature with no mention of the alternative interpretations is akin to religious indoctrination and unfair to students and teachers who accept a creator.

    To me and many scientists, the intelligent-design movement is based on scientific observations and is a logical conclusion necessitated by the inability of absolute naturalists to explain how irreducibly complex life evolved and/or developed without miraculous intervention.

    Without a doubt, Siek is an adherent of intelligent design.

Of the 13 people in question, I was able to find information about four, only one of whom was one of the five with listed affiliations. As far as I can tell from what I've seen so far, there's nothing to suggest that the other nine people are believers in "intelligent design" or creationism, or are in any way connected with the Discovery Institute.

If any other avenues of investigation occur to me, I'll post a pointer to my results here.

Finally: One more thing before I close out this post. In my continung colloquy with the folks at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I learned that at least one person who signed the Discovery Institute's "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" did so without understanding what the organization is about, that its purpose is to displace Darwinian evolutionary theory. He's Bob Davidson of Bellevue, Washington, and he now says his inclusion on the list is a mistake:

"It's laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution," he says. "There's always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there's no real scientific controversy about it."

Davidson began to believe the institute is an "elaborate, clever marketing program" to tear down evolution for religious reasons. He read its writings on intelligent design — the notion that some of life is so complex it must have been designed — and found them lacking in scientific merit.

It's worthwhile keeping in mind that it's certainly possible that people can sign such statements without being entirely aware of what they mean and to what purpose they will be put. If they later determine that they disagree with what they've signed, or the way it's being used, it's incumbent on them to publicly disagree and disavow their signature, just as Davidison has done.

In the case of the amicus brief, given its nature and length and its legal ramifications, it seems unlikely that someone would sign without knowing what they were doing, but I suppose it's possible. If anyone reading this has any information about any of the amicus signers having qualms about have done so, please let me know.

One further thing: I intended to note at the time I posted the original entry, but neglected to do so, that one of the signers of the amicus brief, John A. Bloom, who is listed as Professor of Physics at Biola University, is not on the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences there. He's listed on the faculty for "Christian Apologetics," which is "designed to help students from all academic disciplines to contend for the faith." The Faculty also includes Philip Johnson (as a "Regular Visiting Professor of Cultural Apologetics"). Bloom is also the "Director of the M.A. Program in Science and Religion," and is listed on the faculty of that program, along with William Dembski (a leading creationist, listed as a Visiting Lecturer) and Paul Nelson (Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture). Presumably, as the Director of the Program, Bloom is in some respect responsible for Dembski and Nelson's inclusion on the faculty of his program.

Update (10/24): I received today a letter from Forrest M. Mims III dated 22 October, which reads, in part:

In your effort to discredit advocates of Intelligent Design, you got it wrong. I used to be primarily an electronics writer, but I have not written a book about electronics in several years. Because you visited and linked to my web site (, you know that. The dates are there.

Since writing all those electronics books, I have concentrated on atmospheric research. You also know this, for my peer-reviewed science papers are also listed on my web site.

I have established a dialogue with several leading skeptics over the Intelligent Design issue, most recently during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While we totally disagree over many issues, our discourse is always cordial. And none of them have ever attempted to misrepresent my background.

As for Geronimo Creek Observatory, many meteorological observatories are located in open fields.

The remainder of the letter -- the full text of which is available here -- lists the various projects connected to the "Observatory".

I'll note that Mr. Mims is incorrect is his assertions about what I "knew" from visiting his website.

Update (10/24): This post is definitely vying for the award as my longest of all time, but I thought it was important to add this:

Today the judge in the Kitzmiller case struck down a second Discovery Institute amicus brief, but not the one discussed here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/12/2005 10:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, October 10, 2005

Quotes, the cosmos and floppy brains

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

"I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."

"You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."

"Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

"Here's looking at you, kid."

Those are the first 5 of the American Film Institute's list of 100 most memorable movie quotes.

My new quote for the day isn't from the movies, it's from Carl Sagan's 1980 TV series, Cosmos, recently digitally remastered and reanimated for the Science Channel:

"We wish to find the truth, no matter where it lies. But to find the truth we need imagination and skepticism both. We will not be afraid to speculate, but we will be careful to distinguish speculation from fact."

This is closely related to another of my favorite Sagan quotes:

Keeping an open mind is a virtue - but, as the space engineer James Oberg once said, not so open that your brains fall out. Of course we must be willing to change our minds when warranted by new evidence. But the evidence must be strong. Not all claims to knowledge have equal merit.
The Demon-Haunted World (1995)

I've always found this to be a useful piece of advice in going about and interpreting what's happening in the world. It's delicate balance we have to maintain. Too much wonder, too vivid a sense of imagination, and we start seeing things that aren't there: ghosts, gods and conspiracy theories; too little wonder, a mind that's closed to new possibilities, and we can't connect the dots and see the bigger picture from the smaller bits of data we come across. If we're too skeptical, nothing gets through our preconceptions and prejudices, if we're not skeptical enough, our brains can fall out.

It's a hard thing, knowing how much of this and how little of that is needed, a recipe we spend most of our lives perfecting. There's a broad range of values that are sufficient to survive and prosper in human society, but a much narrower scope is needed to see the world clearly enough to really understand it.

More Sagan quotes here.

Update: Let me add another quote, nothing to do with either movies or Carl Sagan, but I don't feel like adding another entry for it. In the September 25th issue of the New York Times Magazine, Stephen Colbert describes the purpose of The Daily Show:

We're just trying to ease the pain of people who feel the world is going insane and no one is noticing.

(No link, because the Times seems hell-bent on making itself irrelvant to people in the online world by making us pay for pretty much all their content. What maroons. I think you'll be able to pin the decline in the influence of the paper to that choice.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/10/2005 04:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Why did the floodwalls breach?

Guardian (UK):
Hoping to prevent past mistakes during the rebuilding process, civil engineers gathered in New Orleans to determine how Hurricane Katrina breached the city's levees, flooding 80 percent of the Big Easy.

The central issue they grappled with: Did Katrina overwhelm the city's flood defenses with a torrent they weren't designed to contain? Or did faulty construction or maintenance cause them to burst open at water levels well within their capacity?


Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said the barriers were never intended to withstand a storm as powerful as Katrina. Congress had instructed them to build a network of levees and floodwalls that could withstand a Category 3 storm similar to Hurricane Betsy, which flooded New Orleans in 1965. Katrina was a Category 4 hurricane when it hit, so it would be expected that floodwaters would pour over the levees.

That is evidently what happened on the east side of New Orleans, where an earthen levee was overwhelmed in numerous places by floodwaters surging in from the Gulf of Mexico. But farther west, along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals, engineers have seen few signs that the water ever got high enough to pour over the storm barriers.

Now, experts are asking if the levees failed because the floodwaters rose above them, or if they crumbled when the water was still well below their tops. The issue is critical because engineers do not want to repeat mistakes when they rebuild New Orleans' flood defenses.

Because taller levees need broader bases, the earthen mounds along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals are topped with concrete walls that are designed to increase the barriers' height without taking up land in adjacent neighborhoods. Up to 11 feet high, the walls are anchored to the ground by steel sheets driven into the earthen levee.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, Army Corps of Engineers officials hypothesized that parts of the wall had been undermined as the flood poured over them, cascading down the barrier's landward side like a waterfall. The force of the falling water would have scoured out dirt along the wall's foundation and undermined it.

Many of the levee breaches appear to have happened that way, said Raymond Seed, a University of California, Berkeley, civil engineer who headed the National Science Foundation team.

``That was a very common mode, and one lesson there is to prevent the erosion,'' he said. ``I anticipate a number of wall sections will be armored for that in the future.''

But Paul Kemp, a professor at the Louisiana State University School of the Coast and the Environment, and a number of colleagues are convinced that in many locations the water never reached the tops of floodwalls.

They appeal to evidence such as the bathtub ring-like high-water mark that can be seen in many places, indicating that the water never rose more than partially up the walls. They point out that the water never got over the levees along Lake Pontchartrain, where the walls are the same height.

Computer simulations of Katrina performed by researchers at the LSU Hurricane Center also suggest the water never rose high enough to pour over the walls, though in some places it could have gotten close.

A number of engineers suspect a process known as heaving undermined the floodwalls in the London Avenue and 17th Street canals. The pressure exerted by water in the canals would have squeezed soil out from underneath the floodwalls. In some places, Seed said, entire sections of levee embankment appear to have moved as much as 35 feet.

Washington Post:

Louisiana's top hurricane experts have rejected the official explanations for the floodwall collapses that inundated much of New Orleans, concluding that Hurricane Katrina's storm surges were much smaller than authorities have suggested and that the city's flood- protection system should have kept most of the city dry.

The Army Corps of Engineers has said that Katrina was just too massive for a system that was not intended to protect the city from a storm greater than a Category 3 hurricane, and that the floodwall failures near Lake Pontchartrain were caused by extraordinary surges that overtopped the walls.

But with the help of complex computer models and stark visual evidence, scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center have concluded that Katrina's surges did not come close to overtopping those barriers. That would make faulty design, inadequate construction or some combination of the two the likely cause of the breaching of the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals -- and the flooding of most of New Orleans.


On a tour Tuesday, researchers showed numerous indications that Katrina's surge was not as tall as the lakefront's protections. They showed a "debris line" that indicates the top height of Katrina's waves was at least four feet below the crest of Lake Pontchartrain's levees. They also pointed out how the breached floodwalls near the lake showed no signs of overtopping -- no splattering of mud, no drip lines and no erosion at their bases. They contended that the pattern of destruction behind the breaches was consistent with a localized "pressure burst," rather than widespread overtopping.

The center has also completed a computerized "hindcast" of Katrina, which has confirmed the evidence before their eyes. Their model indicates that most of the surge around the lake and its nearby canals was less than 11 feet above sea level, and that none of it should have been greater than 13 feet. The Army Corps's flood-protection system for New Orleans was designed to handle surges of more than 14 feet above sea level.

"This should not have been a big deal for these floodwalls," said oceanographer G. Paul Kemp, a hurricane expert who runs LSU's Natural Systems Modeling Laboratory. "It should have been a modest challenge. There's no way this should have exceeded the capacity."

The center's researchers said it is too early to say whether the breaches were caused by poor design, faulty construction or some combination. But van Heerden said the floodwalls at issue -- massive concrete slabs mounted on steel sheet pilings -- looked more like the sound barriers found on major highways. He also suggested that the slabs should have been interlocked, and that the canals they were supposed to protect should have had floodgates to keep out water from the lake.


The Corps has not identified the contractors who built the floodgates that failed; Paul Johnston said there will be a full investigation into the breaches.

Congress authorizes flood- control projects -- after receiving recommendations from the Corps -- and the Corps oversees their design and construction.

John M. Barry -- who criticized the Corps in "Rising Tide," a history of the Mississippi River flood of 1927 -- said that if Katrina did not exceed the design capacity of the New Orleans levees, the federal government may bear ultimate responsibility for this disaster.

"If this is true, then the loss of life and the devastation in much of New Orleans is no more a natural disaster than a surgeon killing a patient by failing to suture an artery would be a natural death," Barry said. "And that surgeon would be culpable."

Stupid and Wrong has more.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/10/2005 02:23:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Scopes II

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is covering the "intelligent design" trial in Dover, PA on this weblog.

Via Tristero posting on Hullabaloo in Digby's absence. He provides this quick and easy summary of why intelligent design" shouldn't be taught as science, for those who may be confused about the issue:
1. The theory of evolution proposed by Darwin and elaborated over the past 140 years or so is as close to proven fact as anything in science.

2. Despite an incredibly expensive marketing campaign to convince an unsuspecting public, and its lawmakers, otherwise, there has been no original research in "intelligent design" published in respected science journals. That's because none of the IDiots has done a stitch of science that can withstand peer review.

3. "Intelligent Design" clearly is nothing more than creationism with big hair and thick lipstick, tarted up to look like science. In fact,, in a new edition of an infamous creationist textbook, "the word "creationism had been replaced by 'intelligent design,' and 'creationist' simply replaced by 'intelligent design proponent.' ". Also, see here.

4. Therefore, since there is no science to "intelligent design," and since it is clearly a religious belief, there is no reason under the sun why it should be taught in public school science classes. It would make more sense to teach astrology.

I'll disagree with his final remark -- it makes no more sense to teach astrology as science than it does creationism, in whatever guise it takes. I suppose he means that there is, or at least at one time there was, an observational component to astrology: the heavens had to be watched and charted to be understood, and indeed the information that astrologers amassed became the foundations of the science of astronomy. But the system that astrologers developed to explain what was going on, and the influence on earthly events they ascribed to heavenly bodies, is pseudo-science, pure and simple, and, to make it worse, the observational data that astrology began with is now entirely out of sync with the real-life observable universe.

So -- no creationism, no astrology, just science in science classes, please. And since American students consistently rank at the bottom in knowledge of math and science when compared with students from the rest of the world, more science, too, please.

Update (10/11): Wesley R. Elsberry is also posting about the trial on Panda's Thumb.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/09/2005 02:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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