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60 Minutes Newest "Expert" is Sinking Faster Than New Orleans

Surprise, surprise, 60 Minutes put a thinly researched controversial report on the air and based the whole thing on an "expert" of questionable veracity.

On the surface, Professor Tim Kusky might appear to be a legitimate person to interview for the controversial story that New Orleans will sink into the sea on 90 years. The problem is that even after the slightest research, he appears to have studied it very little. In fact, his own web page lists his research interests as "Tectonics and Geodynamics, Structural Geology, Precambrian Geology and Crustal Evolution, Evolution of Orogenic Systems, RemoteSensing and GIS, Tectonics and Mineral Deposits.

Did he ever study New Orleans? Has he written any papers on the Mississippi Delta? On what did he base his theory which became the centerpiece of the 60 Minutes piece which was even titled "New Orleans is Sinking."

From the Times-Picayune

On Monday, "60 Minutes" posted a response on its Public Eye Web page, in which Pelley defended the report to CBS's ombudsman.

Pelley told the ombudsman "that '60 Minutes' called the Geological Society of America to check out Kusky's claims. '60 Minutes' was put in touch with three scientists, Pelley says, all of whom backed Kusky's argument. One even said he was being too conservative in his estimate concerning how quickly the city would sink, he adds." [More unnamed "experts" from CBS- Sound familiar? -ed]

In an interview Monday, Kusky said his projection of the city becoming an island was "based on a statement made by the director of the U.S. Geological Survey" in 2000. [He based his whole report on a single statement? ed]

But University of Texas at Austin geology professor Charles Groat, who was then director of the U.S. Geological Survey, flatly disagreed with Kusky's conclusions.

Groat said Kusky relied on "an offhand comment that has often been repeated" that was included in a University of New Orleans magazine piece that compared New Orleans to Atlantis.

"No, no, no," Groat said of Kusky's island image. "You've got a lot of things between the city of New Orleans and the edge of the sea, and they're not going away."

He said that in an ultimate worst-case scenario -- if global warming were to raise sea level several dozen feet-- the city might be flooded, but such a scenario is not thought to be realistic by many scientists.

So, some guy at a conference makes an offhand remark that if sea levels were to rise SEVERAL DOZEN FEET that New Orleans will be in trouble and 60 Minutes reports that people should pull out of New Orleans because it will sink in the next 90 years. Good journalism if I've ever heard it. Not!

I've heard all my life that if "The Big One" hits California that it will break off and fall into the sea... Is 60 Minutes going to report that as fact too? And urge people to leave?

Just when you thought that it couldn't, it gets worse for the professor:

Roy Dokka, a Louisiana State University geologist who developed subsidence estimates as part of efforts of the National Geodesic Survey to set height benchmarks throughout south Louisiana, said that if Kusky relied on their past estimates of subsidence to predict the future, he missed the warning in his subsidence paper that past estimates cannot be used to predict the future.

If anything, Dokka said, in the past decade, the rate at which land is sinking in south Louisiana slowed considerably.

"If he's using NOAA's NGS data as his guide, I'm the co-author for that subsidence paper and it says explicitly in there that rates are not constant over time," Dokka said. "The measurements we've made of subsidence for the last 10 years show subsidence slowed by half..

We know now that the professor (by his own words) did not look at the science, he based his findings (cough) on a single statement. But as I outlined earlier, to make that 90 year prediction, sinking would have to accelerate incredibly quickly.

But what exactly were 60 Minutes "experts" qualifications?

Some scientists have questioned Kusky's credentials for making his statements.

Kusky said Monday that he has conducted no basic research in Louisiana's coastal wetlands.

"I've worked down there a number of times, mostly field trips with my students, showing them what people are doing," he said. [Bourbon Street doesn't count Professor ;-)]

His expertise actually is in hard rock geology, especially the study of ophiolites, hard rock that was once part of mid-ocean undersea plates, but was thrust up onto the edge of continental plates.

So 60 Minutes takes a guy who has never researched the topic, who only heard one passing statement about a hypothetical and then runs a story saying that people should pull out of New Orleans and the government should not allow them to rebuild.

Priceless, just freaking priceless.

It amazes me that after their "handwriting expert" 60 Minutes would run this piece and it amazes me even more that this professor, who clearly knew he was so out of his element, would make such ridiculous statements on camera.

And where did the number "90 years" come from? Why not 100? On what did professor base this very precise number? We'll never know. My suspicion it that the professor knew it would make a more compelling story than if he said 100. It was more about the Hollywood lights than science.

All of this could have been avoided of course if CBS's Scott Pelley had asked Kusky one simple question, "Have you ever studied New Orleans geology?" Of course that would be called journalism and 60 Minutes appears to actively avoid such messy endeavors.


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Comments (29)

Hmmm.Based on my s... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

Based on my scholarly research troweling around in my backyard, and the experience gained from picking up after my neice's dog, I can estimate with certainty that New Orleans is going to fly into outer space on a giant electric guitar along with the City of Boston while the Earth explodes.

Within the next 900 years.

Contact CNN immediately!!

Seems that 60 Minutes has t... (Below threshold)

Seems that 60 Minutes has transitioned from handwriting expert to handwringing expert.

Maybe they're just hoping t... (Below threshold)

Maybe they're just hoping to really depress the NOLA real estate market so they can jump in and buy some property then have FEMA build them a vacation home.

Next CBS will be dynamiting... (Below threshold)
kbiel:

Next CBS will be dynamiting levees in New Orleans to "dramatically demonstrate" what could happen there a la NBC's report on Chevy pickup trucks.

I've worked with a few medi... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

I've worked with a few media people in my past and one thing was constant...tremendous stupidity. I don't mean lacking intelligence in order to live, but in various areas. EXTREMELY superificial knowledge, but they where it like Emperor's Clothes of superiority.

They assume the public is just like them, or even more stupid--if that is even possible. Will Farrel's role in The Anchorman wasn't terribly far from the mark....giving them a bit more credit and intelligence than most posess.

One day, perhaps after years of trying very hard, and elevating themselves several orders of magnitude higher they might---just might---scrounge to a level of respectability on par with used car selling lawyers who sue children and old grandmothers just to watch them cry...before turning them into the IRS with forged tax returns. After all, they are already good at forging...

Is 60 Minutes going to r... (Below threshold)
Sean:

Is 60 Minutes going to report that as fact too? And urge people to leave?

God I hope so, just so there are fewer people driving the freeways. It would be nice to be able to travel the 17 miles to work in less than 45 minutes. (That's on a good day with no accidents and clear skies.)

Thanks for the reminder of ... (Below threshold)
edmcgon:

Thanks for the reminder of why I quit watching 60 Minutes.

Thanks for the reminder of ... (Below threshold)
edmcgon:

Thanks for the reminder of why I quit watching 60 Minutes.

Mary Mapes' utter lack of a... (Below threshold)

Mary Mapes' utter lack of a robust epistomology coupled with this report tells me that TV producers are really just stenographers, doing little more than "Experts Gone Wild" seeing what ill-credentialed hack can give the most shocking assessment.

The story was unbalanced. I... (Below threshold)

The story was unbalanced. It seemed to start from the premise of "New Orleans is not worth rebuilding" instead of looking at things from an objective viewpoint -- or, at least, an alleged objective viewpoint. Everything that is wrong with the story could be gleaned from when the National Guardsman was asked, "would you relocate your family over there?"

"...Yes."

"That was a long pause."

That was an unbalanced story.

Jeepers, you'd think CBS wo... (Below threshold)

Jeepers, you'd think CBS would have learned its lesson by now. Who's doing their fact-checking, anyway, the 3 Stooges?

Ah, yes, fair and balanced.... (Below threshold)
RA:

Ah, yes, fair and balanced. Notice how much time the opposing view got. They really dug deep on this one.

60 Minutes?? Are they stil... (Below threshold)
crapbuffer:

60 Minutes?? Are they still on the air?

CBS: The Tin Foil Hat netwo... (Below threshold)
Maddog:

CBS: The Tin Foil Hat network, or more accurately - THe TiN FOil HaT NEtwoRk, Hosted by Dan (I'd RATHER be wearing a tin foil hat) Rather.

Heh.

Mark

You know...this is disgusti... (Below threshold)
Brian R.:

You know...this is disgusting and typical of 60 minutes. Americans everywhere you realize it is not news but just bunk. They spew it every chance they get to keep up the ratings.

The only problem is that hick idiots will start writing their congressmen and saying why are we spending money to save New Orleans.

America is going to lose part of its heritage and its culture if we don't save that city. I don't know if you all have noticed but Bush came down and said he would do "whatever it takes" "as long as it takes" .... well I am from there and the GOP and Bush have TOTALLY abandoned us. We are rotting away. Nothing is being done to save the city. Nothing is being done to give us confidence. In fact, Louisiana has been presented with a bill for 3.7 billion dollars for FEMA assistance and the House has actually cut our wetlands protection budget by 50% since the hurricane. They truely don't give a damn. Write Congress if you want our city to survive.

Once more an entire report ... (Below threshold)
J Darby:

Once more an entire report is discredited on hearsay and speculation, thus distracting from the larger issue. How many times in the history of the US has a major city been completely evacuated? Doesn't that tell you there may be a major issue here? How did the 60 Minutes story turn into a partisan thing? BTE, I like the real 60 Minutes (under Hewitt) and don't think much of Scott Pelley.

>Once more an entire report... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Once more an entire report is discredited on hearsay and speculation,

Ahem, hearsay and speculation FROM THE GUY'S OWN MOUTH? He himslef said he's never studied it and he based the whole thing on a single comment. EXACTLY how much more proof do you need?


>thus distracting from the larger issue. How many times in the history of the US has a major city been completely evacuated?

Ahem -again- Can you say TWICE in the last 3 months. Did you forget Houston? Should we pull everyone out of Houston too?

Heh- Now that I think about it, Miami evacuated for Wilma, that would be 3... Should we abondon Miami?


>Doesn't that tell you there may be a major issue here?

Yes, there is a problem, you need to think before you type.

Paul, I'm just trying to fi... (Below threshold)
epador:

Paul, I'm just trying to figure out the downside of evacuating Miami permanently, or Houston, for that matter... ...as long as all the non-English speaking folks evacuate to a non-English speaking country...

Paul: Not sure what the "ah... (Below threshold)
J Darby:

Paul: Not sure what the "ahem" means. Those cities were not evacuated anywhere even close to the extent that NO was, and were not rendered uninhabitable in an unprecedented way. And I'm not sure where I advocated "abondoning" any city including NO, I love the place (and not just Bourbon Street) and would be quite sad if it didn't return to its former self. You sound angry. BTW, check your facts on what he said and didn't say. And check your hormones b4 u type.

Perhaps the motive is that ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Perhaps the motive is that they really, really think what Louisiana needs is more floating gambling barges. Or just more gambling.

More gambling (barges, floating or otherwise) will help convince people they are buoyed up even when they may be stuck in the mud.

Something like that...

Suggestive hints to anyone ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Suggestive hints to anyone who builds on the beach, in a flood plain, beneath sea level, in the middle of water:

houses on stilts, houses on barges and don't cry out for public bails when the place is gone due to ocean waves, rivers running, seas encroaching, water level rising...you knew it when you built/bought/rented it, now it's gone, so move on and figure out on your own how to do it.

Otherwise, patiently accept the lectures that go along with the public bails, if and when the public offers them.

I saw a report on New Orlea... (Below threshold)
doctorj:

I saw a report on New Orleans local news last night. It was an interview with a Prof. Stone of LSU. He has spent 25 years studying coastal erosion of the Mississippi delta. He said the report was completely biased and, in so many words, that Prof. Kusky was wrong and unqualified in the field. Now who should I believe. Steve Pelley or Dr. Stone? I wonder.

And extreme gullibility. U... (Below threshold)
Mikey:

And extreme gullibility. Ultrahypermegatotalgullibility. And they want us to trust their opinions. "Look! We have a three scientists and two military men, all of whom were forced into early retirement for undisclosed reasons."

I am not an expert but I pl... (Below threshold)
denmul:

I am not an expert but I play one on TV!

> Those cities were not eva... (Below threshold)
Paul:

> Those cities were not evacuated anywhere even close to the extent that NO was

Sigh- New Orleans only has about 1 million poeple in the whole town. More than 2 million people evacuated Houston for Rita, you nitwit.

>You sound angry.

Yes, I'm angry.

I'm angry that jackasses you like get to vote, drive and reproduce.

But most of all I'm angry that jackasses like you tell me that I need to check my facts.

BTW you're about an inch away from 1 week for $50

TYPO- 1 week OR 50 b... (Below threshold)
Paul:

TYPO- 1 week OR 50 bucks

Most of those who evacuated... (Below threshold)
Aubrey:

Most of those who evacuated "Houston" were actually residents of the area between Houston and the Gulf (Houston is about 50 miles north of the Gulf). Most residents of the city and the northern suburbs, including thousands of Katrina evacuees, did not evacuate. Of course, there were those who reacted to the coverage of Katrina and fled, some right into the path of the storm. The only significant problem Houston had that weekend was a shortage of gasoline, and we were mostly back in business on Monday morning.

Again, selective "facts". U... (Below threshold)
J Darby:

Again, selective "facts". Use percentage when it works for your position, actual numbers when they do. As Aubrey points out, (as have my relatives in Houston and Pasadena) life is back to normal mostly in the great state of TX but for the LA refugees. And they are happy to help them. And you chose not to address my comment about the unprecedented state currently of NOLA.
Its unfortunate when the only way you can attempt a cogent argument is thru personal insults. I only checked this site because someone who visited one of my blogs recommended it as a way to discuss alternative points of view. He/she was wrong. You should have a header saying "any points of view which do not support my own will be met with personal insults, temper tantrums, and double secret probation!" I don't know what your $50 deal is, but I'd gladly pay it if it went to a fund for a class on critical and cognitive thinking for you.
Short of that I don't plan to return, plenty of other real intellectual forums out there. My guess is that you'll deep-six this post.

>life is back to normal mos... (Below threshold)

>life is back to normal mostly in the great state
>of TX but for the LA refugees

I imagine that it is, given that Rita did not have any serious effect on the areas surrounding Houston other than to make people mad and arrest a couple of over-eager looters before the storm made landfall elsewhere. But how are they doing over in Jefferson County, Cameron, Vermilion and Calcasieu Parishes where it actually hit? Rita didn't hit Houston; it hit the border area which had some small towns, and was more on the LA side than the TX side. Not to mention that the east side of the storm, the LA side, is the side with the most force. So TX had almost no damage from Rita, compared to LA. Small wonder they've gotten over it. That's not exactly an apples to apples comparison that you're using.




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