Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Fake news, the FIU bridge collapse, and the broken news media.  §

I have been reading about the FIU bridge collapse on professional and academic engineering forums, and it drives home just how hopeless our press is, likely because our non-STEM college graduates can’t think their way out of a cardboard box.

The press can’t even get the basic bridge type right, much less anything about the failure. This despite the fact that (for example) preliminary design documents that outline the bridge’s major components and basic construction and stress model are matters of public record, and the fact that tons of academic and professional engineers are already drawing to a consensus about the nature of the failure (and it has little to do, at least in the direct sense, with cracks).

With all of this information public and readily available via a simple Google search, why are the press completely unable to even locate and read planning documents to learn that this was not a cable-stayed bridge, but a modified truss bridge designed to support its own weight without a central tower, and that in fact the “cable stays” shown in concept drawings were purely decorative, mere thin, hollow pipes screwed into place that wouldn’t hold (and weren’t capable of holding) any weight?

Why are they unable to locate the trade and industry publications and forums in which actual engineers have outlined the stresses and stress vectors operating on the various members in minute detail? It’s already been narrowed down to what is likely a failure either in the stress tensioner, tensioner blister, or lower joint of member #11—the latter being the most likely as without the second span and other construction in place, northward forces on this joint were massive, yet the steel reinforcement to transmit load into the bottom deck was minimal based on NTSB photos, not leaving much to counteract them (until the second span was installed to abut the first span’s north end). This led to a fairly clear shear failure at the joint, as demonstrated by the entirely intact edge of the collapsed lower deck at the north end, and the puff of white at that joint (as it shears) immediately before collapse in the released videos. Any press covering this? Nope, they’re still talking about cable-stayed.

Cable-stayed, stress testing (there was no stress testing event occuring, just routine monitoring by attached sensors as other work was being carried out), cracks that everyone ignored.

I’m not even an engineer but I can follow along with most of the math, and understand the analyses that the pros are making. And I certainly can read a public document that says this was not a cable-stayed bridge in any way, shape, or form, but was merely imitating one visually. Meanwhile I can’t count how many mainstream media articles I’ve read about this disaster than digress into summaries the history of cable-stayed bridges. Oops.

Basically, this is why the “mainstream media” is dying. There’s a kernel of truth in the “fake news” meme. That kernel is the fact that—whether due to poor education, hubris, or simple laziness—the press is either unable to do or to understand the most basic and obvious research in prepping their stories—research that we’d easily expect a high school student to do for a term paper. The result is complete misinformation and lots of articles quoting tweets from people who have no science or engineering training, weren’t present at the bridge at any time, have absolutely nothing to do with the bridge, but are in fact famous—and thus their mishmash of nonsense is treated as gospel.

It’s fake news all the way down, folks, not just in politics. If you want the real info, the internet is your friend. Get real records from real government agencies, and for information requiring expertise, visit the properties where real practicing professionals are and just ask them for their input.