Setting the record straight

John Weeks is what some people might call an obsessive. Over the past two years, he has spent weeks at a time traveling alongside the Mississippi River, photographing more than 300 of the bridges that span that mighty body of water, from Itasca to New Orleans.

His downtime between trips is largely devoted to cataloging information on each bridge, such as its age, construction material, daily traffic count, river elevation, and other factoids that, until last week, might have seemed somewhat superfluous to anyone but himself.

So Weeks is perhaps uniquely equipped to tackle some of the conspiracies that cropped up about the I-35 bridge collapse. And that is what he has done over at his website, Among the more entertaining new urban myths, along with Weeks' debunkings:

  • Numerology predicted this event. If you count the "I" in I-35 as a 1, then 1 + 3 + 5 = 9. Also, the date of the collapse was 8/1/2007. 8+1 = 9. And 2+0+0+7 = 9. Since nines are coming up over and over, the bridge must have been doomed. But there's nothing about the number "9" that would indicate a bridge collapse, Weeks writes. "Just adding digits to find 9 or any other number is contrived."
  • President Bush wants to fast-track the new bridge to be part of the NAFTA highway. Nice try, but Weeks points out: "The so-called NAFTA highway, which would run from Mexico to Canada, is I-69 ... The I-35 bridge is not critical for the movement of goods on a national scale."
  • Police are covering up the fact that large numbers of Somalis perished in the collapse. Perhaps this is a reaction to the unbelievable good fortune that more people weren't killed, but even a moment of thought is enough to debunk it. "Keeping it quiet would require preventing a large number of people from talking," Weeks writes. "This theory just doesn't make sense."
  • The collapse was caused by the alignment of the planets, which was the same as on the day in 1967 when the Silver Bridge collapsed in Ohio. An intriguing theory, except that it simply isn't true. "The planets were not in the same positions," Weeks writes. Besides, "planets simply cannot put enough force on anything to affect it here on Earth."
  • Russians report that they have evidence that this was caused by a secret US military sound weapon being tested at the nearby secret Rand Corporation physics lab. The answer to this one holds true for all the cockamamie theories you'll hear peddled by wild-eyed nuts over the next few months: "How is it that the conspiracy people got it but the reputable newspapers did not?"

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