Centenary Magazine Spring '06

Author of 2001’s ‘Drowning New Orleans’ Attaway Fellow Brings News to Life

Mark Fischetti, a freelance science journalist and editor from Lenox, Mass., and contributing editor to Scientific American magazine, returned to Centenary for the second time as an Attaway Fellow in Civic Culture during the week of Feb. 6–10.

Fischetti spiced up academic discussions with a potpourri of topics such as avian flu, prescription medications, Freudian psychology, the debate over levee reconstruction in New Orleans, emergency preparedness in the U.S. and environmentally friendly SUVs.

He untiringly lectured in eight classes and presented two public talks, “New Orleans: Now What?” and “Beating Bird Flu.” His challenge to students at the Fischetti Memorial Ping Pong Tournament (aka “The Centenary Open”) was met with much competition. Despite his reputation for extraordinary finesse, Fischetti was decidedly defeated in the first round.

Fischetti may not be a current Ping Pong champion, but he recently gained international prominence when his 2001 article, “Drowning New Orleans,” in Scientific American discredited claims from FEMA and The White House that no one could have predicted the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. Since Fischetti had already predicted exactly what could (and did) happen, he appeared as an expert on CNN, NBC’s Meet the Press with Tim Russert, the History Channel, NPR News and other international media. He has just published “Protecting New Orleans” in Scientific American (Feb. 2006), which presents engineering solutions to protect the city and delta from future storms.

Fluent in other groundbreaking issues, Fischetti co-authored The New Killer Diseases (Crown, 2003), which included early warnings about bird flu, and Weaving the Web (HarperCollins, 1999), written with Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web. His 2002 article, “Why Not a 40-mpg SUV?” in Technology Review also presaged the current debate over how to improve the fuel efficiency of American-made vehicles. He also is co-editor of Scientific American Mind, a magazine covering the latest in neuroscience and psychology. In 2005, he received an honorary doctorate from Centenary. Fischetti is the first Attaway Fellow to be asked to serve a second residency.