Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Getting Schooled

Tim, whose blog I read regularly and whose voice I greatly respect, has a lot to say about Prof. van Heerden. As an engineer, Tim has every right to a voice on this one, and I'm feeling quite schooled right now.

It seems I was too deferential to van Heerden. It seems he really was talking about engineering issues that he shouldn't have been talking about, and Tim does a nice job of pointing out the problem.

Still, some stories don't really have a clear good guy and an obvious bad guy. I'm still doubtful about the intentions of those LSU administrators who tried to shut van Heerden up. And I'm still glad when ANYBODY talks about the criminally negligent work on levees here, whether they're an engineer or not.

If van Heerden is a reckless media hound, however, I guess we need to know that. On the other hand, a couple of vice chancellors (one of them a communications guy) aren't the right people to be telling him to pipe down. A properly qualified representative from a professional engineering organization ought to do the talking.


Anonymous said...

Seems like his PhD in Geology would be pretty applicable to soil structure in and underneath levees. He is also the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. I’ll keep listening to him.

MikeMoser said...

I have wondered a bit about some of his pronouncements; but on the other hand. The ACOE has spent months telling the media thorough its spokespeople that the levees were 'overtopped in New Orleans' instead of admitting that their cheap design failed in its first test and scoured a hole 30 below sea level to flood 80% of the city. So, a little hyperbole might just be necessary to keep the media dialogue going until the final report came out and admitted [in the passive voice] what we all knew in October.

We were short sheeted.

As far as LSU being weasely, it is an interesting tale. However, think about what would have happened if he were suddenly dismissed at anytime in the postK months. The national media would have gone berzerk. If there is one thing they think that they understand, it is that Louisiana is the kind of place where the truth might not set you free.

Tim said...

Mr. Clio, thanks for the kind words. What other readers of your blog need to understand is that it does not matter whether Prof. van Heerden is right or wrong--even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The issue is simply that he presents himself to the public as an engineering expert, and that's illegal in Louisiana and every other state in the union. The same safeguards apply to the practices of law and medicine. Only recognized professionals can present themselves to the public and give advice in these areas.

Now on the matter of free speech, you're damn right Prof. van Heerden and anybody else has the right to knock the Corps and complain about the failed floodwalls and the overtopped levees. The Internet is still buzzing with theories of how things failed and recommendations of how to fix them.

I seriously doubt anything the professor says or does will in any way affect federal funding at LSU. Such funding and research grants come from many different departments and agencies of the federal government and I doubt that anyone in Washington cares who is complaining about the Corps or FEMA when they sit down to review research funding proposals.

And no one should worry that without Prof. van Heerden we might get hoodwinked. The team from UC Berkeley including Ray Seed and Bob Bea has done an excellent job of helping keep the heat on the government and its shortcomings. They released their findings a week before the official IPET report and were widely quoted in news accounts in their disagreements with the IPET report.

Again, thanks for the link and the compliments. Keep up the excellent blogging!

mchebert said...

My predilections still lean towards van Heerden. I am a doctor and let me assure you that many, many people offer medical advice without M.D.s. Turn on any national news broadcast, turn to the health section or any newspaper and you will see "Health reporters" and "health experts" (e.g. Mackie Shilstone, Meg Farris) who offer health advice without medical licenses.

Actually, I don't mind. If a person can read and think critically he or she is fit to draw conclusions about health. I only ask that these people make it clear that they are not doctors and that a doctor's opinion should be sought for any questions.

Same here. Van Heerden is just calling it as he sees it, and this is his right. The certified engineers failed us so badly in Hurricane Katrina that I think we could use an outsider's point of view.