Disorder in the court! “There is no outcome research comparing the consequences of child-custody placement decisions based on expert testimony to those without expert guidance,” write Thomas Gionis and Anthony Zito Jr. of Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, in the Southern Illinois University Law Journal (Fall 2002). “Further, lawyers who regularly work with mental-health professional experts in child-custody cases commonly are not impressed with their expertise, and often do not regard their input as helpful in reaching appropriate child-custody determination.” Nevertheless, “judges and litigators have become dependent upon the expert opinions of mental-health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists.” Moreover, Illinois courts use at least four different standards for deciding when to admit expert testimony, which the authors say “leads to confusing, unpredictable, and often bizarre results.”

“The growth in population is outpacing the growth in commuters for the first time in 40 years,” reports Siim Soot, coauthor of “Commuting in the Chicago Area,” a recent report from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Urban Transportation Center. Between 1970 and 1990 the metropolitan Chicago population increased 4 percent, while the number of commuters increased by over 20 percent. Since 1990 the population has grown 11.4 percent, but the number of commuters has increased by just 6.9 percent.

Shape up, kids–my pet salamander can count better than that! Nature (May 3) reports on a study from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette showing that salamanders can distinguish between two fruit flies and three. Yet like babies and monkeys, they get confused when the number rises above three.

Life in the food-stamp lane. An April 22 press release from state senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Hunger Coalition, and the Anti-Hunger Action Coalition describes a recent nonrandom survey of 600 people in Cook County food pantries and soup kitchens, which found that one of the main reasons many hungry people don’t get food stamps isn’t complicated: “Applicants are turned away [from Illinois Department of Human Services offices] and told to return another day, which deters the working poor, persons with disabilities, the elderly and parents of young children from applying.”

Isolated wetlands–denied Clean Water Act protection in a 2001 Supreme Court decision–“perform many vital functions,” according to a report from the Illinois Natural History Survey (“Status and Functions of Isolated Wetlands in Illinois,” July 2002). “They act as reservoirs, trapping runoff and thereby reducing flooding. By reducing the velocity and volume of floodwaters, they also reduce erosion.” And they act as sediment traps and direct some runoff into the groundwater. According to the survey’s rough inventory, they make up about 12 percent of Illinois’ wetland acreage.

By the numbers. According to the Center for Impact Research (“Impact,” Spring/Summer), in 2001, 57 percent of North Lawndale adults were incarcerated, on parole, or on probation.

“I thank God my daughter, Hannah, was born in 2000, because by 2050 I am not sure her life would have been spared,” writes Patrice J. Tuohy in U.S. Catholic (June). “Hannah has Down’s syndrome, a genetic disorder that is easily detected at the first cell division. We discovered her diagnosis after a routine prenatal ultrasound revealed a heart defect common in babies with trisomy 21, or Down’s syndrome. From that moment on, Hannah’s life became expendable in the eyes of many in the medical community. ‘The hole in your baby’s heart will be difficult to repair, and she may have chromosomal defects. I would terminate the pregnancy,’ advised one doctor. Once an amniocentesis confirmed the diagnosis, another doctor warned us that keeping the child would put a tremendous strain on our marriage. And the geneticist cheerfully informed us, ‘You can still go to Kansas. They allow late-term abortions there.'”