Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Los Angeles Times Finally Discovers Mike Davis And His 'Facts' Are Frauds! (except they only got the second part right!)

Back in the distant reaches of time - about ten years ago, in fact, I launched what was at the start a one man war against Mike Davis and his latest book - 'Ecology of Fear'. This was at a time when everyone from Business Week to the LA and New York Times was praising him for his command of the 'facts'; facts I easily proved - hundreds of times over - were often complete fiction.

Ecology of Fear's central premise was that it was more dangerous to live in Southern California than almost any place in this country. I, however, pointed out that the biggest environmental dangers to human life in this country were from extreme changes in heat and cold - and real hurricanes and real tornadoes - none of which we suffer from in Los Angeles. This was an argument which no one paid much attention to.

So it is quite... satisfying... for the LA Times to today finally discover that I was also completely right on that point. See the attached link above or the article below for details.

Now as far as where Mr. Mike Davis is today, he recently left his position at UC Irvine and is now hunkered down at the UC Riverside. But Davis no longer teaches geography or urban planning or history or political science or anything that directly applies to the subjects of his constant stream of books. Instead, Mike Davis now occupies a position for which his books such as 'City of Quartz' and 'Ecology of Fear' and 'Victorian Holocausts' have proven him eminently qualified to hold.

Mike Davis is now a professor of - drum roll, please ... creative writing.

Disaster area? Southern California has it made in the shade

The region is actually one of the safest in the country, researchers say. Extreme heat and cold are far more deadly than earthquakes and wildfires.

By Thomas H. Maugh II and Mary Engel

December 17, 2008

Southern California may think of itself as disaster-prone, alternately bemoaning and reveling in its status as earthquake-, wildfire- and mudslide-plagued.

But it seems a reality check is in order: The region is actually one of the nation's safest -- at least in terms of human lives.

The natural hazards that bedevil us are small potatoes compared with those in other parts of the country, researchers said Wednesday in releasing a disaster map of the U.S.

Extreme heat and cold, flooding and tornadoes are the deadliest natural hazards, and they strike most frequently in the Gulf Coast, the northern Great Plains and the Mountain West, researchers reported online in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

"There is a public perception that the risk of dying in earthquakes and hurricanes is higher than that from everyday hazards," said Susan L. Cutter, a respected health geographer at the University of South Carolina who led the study. "Most people say earthquakes are big events that kill lots of people, but they don't. The same is true for hurricanes."

Heat waves, extreme cold and flooding "don't garner as much attention in the news, and may not be as catching to the eye for publicity . . . but the risk associated with them over the course of a year is quite high," said Tricia Wachtendorf, associate director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

"Because of their frequency, they are going to be impacting a greater number of people," she said.

Most studies of natural hazards have tended to map one type of disaster, making it difficult to compare relative risks, Cutter said. There also have been conflicting claims about which natural hazards caused the most deaths.

To attempt to get a handle on the issue, Cutter and graduate student Kevin A. Borden used data from two national databases for the period 1970 to 2004. They identified 19,958 deaths from natural hazards and mapped them on a county-by-county basis.

Heat and drought together were the greatest hazard, accounting for 19.6% of the total, followed by severe summer weather at 18.8% and winter weather at 18.1%. Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes combined accounted for less than 5%.

Mortality was greatest in the South, where most people were killed by severe weather and tornadoes. In the northern Great Plains, heat and drought were the biggest killers. In the Mountain West, winter weather and flooding caused the most deaths, and in the south-central U.S., floods and tornadoes posed the biggest risk.

California is lucky because "we don't have lots of severe weather," said Kimberly Shoaf of UCLA's Center for Public Health and Disasters. "Although we have heat, it is constant heat.

"It's not the temperature itself but the difference between the average temperature and the heat extremes" that is dangerous because it catches people unprepared, she said.

As for the wildfires that sweep through the region with alarming frequency, they create the perception that Southern California is particularly disaster-prone -- but fires claim relatively few lives.

Earthquake preparation has gone a long way to mitigate the risks in a seismically unstable area. California has "done a great deal in terms of its emergency management and risk reduction, has been very proactive, so it doesn't surprise me that the number of deaths has been fairly low," Wachtendorf said.

Charlie Sardou, interim communications manager for the greater Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross, wasn't surprised that the nation's earthquake capital ranked low on deaths from natural disasters.

He said California's strict building codes protected the state from the huge losses seen in countries with more vulnerable structures.

But the number of deaths is just one measure of a disaster, Sardou said. A large quake would damage homes and businesses, close freeways and all but shut down Los Angeles and other cities.

"The bigger question is what would happen to the quality of life here in Southern California for some time afterward," Sardou said. "The total amount of damage could be many, many times greater than, say, a [Hurricane] Katrina."

Added Jay Alan, spokesman for the state's Governor's Office of Homeland Security: "We do face obviously the potential of a major disaster in the form of an earthquake or a tsunami. Those are things Kansas doesn't have to worry about."

But even for property damage, earthquakes rank low in the overall scheme of things.

"Floods tend to be No. 1 for everything because they happen frequently and affect large areas," Shoaf said. "We had two flooding events this year where the entire Midwest was covered. . . . The property damage for that is huge."


Sean said...

Now, the LA Times article you post makes no mention of Mr Davis or his book. So what you are claiming isn't quite accurate. It is a long time since i read Ecology of Fear, but i always remember that the book was more about the fear of apocalypse than the actual apocalypse anyway.

Brady Westwater said...

Uh, the fact they did NOT mention MIke Davis was my entire point. The article proved that MIke Davis' central thesis - that LA had the most unsafe natural environment in the country turns out to be 100% incorrect - but that the LA Times, which had extensively that debate between us, totally missed that connection.

As for your remembering that the book was really about the fear of the apocalypse, that is the opposite of what he was saying. His point was that no one but him realized how unsafe Los Angeles though he did, as usual, a few times contradict himself with all of his made up facts.

My favorite section is when he quoted an article he had supposedly written - but which was likely written by a student - as a source for a chapter - and then Davis said the exact opposite in the book from what he had said in the article.