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Sneakers Make Good Science

Goddard Space Center backs up Fowler’s test of Patuxent health

Bernie Fowler never gives up. On the sultry second Sunday in June, he waded for the 30th time into the brown waters of the Patuxent River. Linked hand in hand, the human chain walked into the rising water until the erect 93-year-old environmental champion at its center could no longer see his white sneakers. The measurement at that point gives the year’s Sneaker Index: 41.5 inches in 2017.
    A tie with 1999, that’s the fourth highest clarity reading in 30 years.
    Over the years, the retired state senator’s Sneaker Index has gained acclaim for poetic justice as a rallying point for environmental restoration of the all-Maryland river. Scientific justice was never claimed, given the many factors — from dogs playing in the water to last week’s rain — that can affect a random sample such as this one.

    Indeed, the Sneaker Index looks like an erratic picket fence, with its only clear truths the sharp decent after the transparency of the 1950s and the up-and-down ascent after the murkiness of the 1980s.
    Yet now the Goddard Space Flight Center has certified the Sneaker Index as pretty good science. Comparing Fowler’s Wade-in yardstick with measurements taken by two satellites, they found a match.
    Read more about the science at Or go to the source in Optics Express: