New York City activist

February 23, 2008

Common a priori objections by “debunkers,” including arguments from authority and the “someone would have talked” and “too many people” arguments

Every now and then I get a wave of “debunkers” visiting this blog. They’re welcome to post here; I’ve learned a lot from them. But, in the future, I would like to try to avoid certain repetitious arguments, or at least confine those particular arguments to relevant threads such as this one.

There are some a priori arguments they almost always bring up in an effort to prove that there could not have been any government complicity in the attacks of 9/11. In recent debates here, those arguments got jumbled together with other, meatier issues in comment threads.

To avoid such jumbling in the future, I’ve decided to devote this post to the more common a priori arguments. I’ll then add a rule to my comment policy requiring that, in the future, these and similar a priori arguments be discussed only in comments below this post (or other posts on these same topics), rather than jumbled together with other, more substantive discussions.

In this post I’ll also provide a brief review of my debates with “debunkers” in general, for the benefit of “debunkers” visiting this blog for the first time. Some of the discussions we’ve had here have been very worthwhile.

The most common a priori arguments

The most common a priori argument is a claim that the culprits could not have gotten away with it. The usual form of this is the “someone would have talked” argument. Related to this is the “too many people” argument, the claim that too many people would have to have been in on the plot, or at least would have noticed something strange going on, thereby making it impossible to keep a secret.

Also common are arguments from authority, It is claimed that we should not question the experts who say that WTC 1, 2, and 7 all collapsed as a result of nothing more than two jet crashes and the resulting fires.

Also it is often claimed that there were no likely motives, either for government complicity in the 9/11 attacks in general or for the destruction of WTC 7 in particular. And, in my opinion, many 9/11 Truth activists don’t do the best possible job of stating the likely motives. I will try to remedy what I see as some deficiencies in that regard.

One type of complicity hypothesis, defended here

In this post I’ll be defending the feasibility of one particular type of hypothesis about possible government complicity in the 9/11 attack. The type of hypothesis outlined below would be categorized by Nicholas Levis as “LIHOP plus”:

There were real hijackers. Al Qaeda is a real organization, but heavily infiltrated by the FBI, the CIA, and intelligence agencies from various other countries around the world. The infiltrators likely include agent provocateurs as well as just plain spies. At least a few high U.S. officials had very specific and detailed foreknowledge, which might have come to them not only via the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, etc., but also via warnings from foreign governments, plus informal high-level channels such as, perhaps, the Bush / bin Laden family friendship. The attacks were aided and supplemented in various ways by one or more high officials and a handful of other people, e.g. by preventing FBI interference in the hijackers’ plot, slowing down the air defense system to allow the hijackers to reach their targets, and possibly by either demolishing the WTC buildings or at least supplementing the attack on the WTC buildings via bombs or arson.

I do not necessarily believe that any particular hypothesis along the above lines actually happened, but I do believe it to be a real possibility, one of many possible scenarios that might lie behind the 9/11 coverup. The point of this post is not to prove that anything in particular actually did happen, but merely to show that hypotheses of the above type are possible.

Could this sort of thing have actually happened? Or would it have entailed too many people, who would have talked? I’ll explore these questions below.

But first, I should note that not everyone in the 9/11 Truth movement agrees with hypotheses of the above type. Not everyone in the 9/11 Truth movement advocates the WTC demolition idea. Some focus only on air defense issues, warnings and foreknowledge, etc. On the other hand, there are many other people in the 9/11 Truth movement who hold a pure “MIHOP” view, according to which there were no hijackers, and the planes were just remote-controlled, or something. I will not be defending the latter view here.

I’m currently agnostic on the question of what was done to the WTC buildings. In this post, I will defend the possibility that the collapses of WTC 1, 2, and 7 could have been something other than purely natural consequences of the two jet crashes. (In this post, I won’t discuss the arguments against the purely natural collapse idea. I’ll discuss those in future posts.)

Letting the hijackers do their thing: People DID talk!

In my opinion, the only parts of the above “LIHOP plus” scenario that would need to have been known by more than a handful of people would have been (1) the foreknowledge by the FBI and by the intelligence agencies, and (2) the prevention of FBI and airport-security interference in the hijackers’ plot.

On these matters, lo and behold, there are people who have talked, such as FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds and others listed on this page of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition site. The Jersey Girls have reported that they were approached by quite a few other whistleblowers who wanted to be called to testify before the 9/11 Commission, but who were never called, for whatever reason.

Also there has been quite a bit of talk about Able Danger, a military intelligence program which is said to have identified at least some of the 9/11 hijackers over a year before 9/11/2001.

FAA whistleblower Bogdan Dzakovic has remarked, “Since 9/11, I learned to have less contempt for the terrorists than I do for the bureaucrats and politicians who could have prevented 9/11 but didn’t. They served in very pivotal positions of influence but due to gross incompetence or the fear of actually fulfilling their oaths of office to defend this country or possibly even something a bit more sinister, they failed to take any action. … Many of the FAA bureaucrats that actively thwarted improvements in security prior to 9/11 have been promoted by FAA or the Transportation Security Administration.” (Flying the deadly skies: Whistle-blower thinks the state of U.S. aviation security invites another attack by Bill Katovsky, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, July 9, 2006.)

Alas, whistleblowers too often don’t get listened to, as discussed in 9/11 whistleblowers ignored, retaliated against by Michael Hampton, who concludes, “It’s clear now to anyone paying the least bit of attention that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were completely preventable.”

One could argue that the problems here were (and still are) just incompetence, negligence, and cronyism. Perhaps. Then again, that very same incompetence, negligence, and cronyism, on the part of the relevant bureaucracies as a whole, could also have enabled a few people at the top to get away with a whole lot worse. More about this below.

Air defense failures: Hiding any interference?

Was something done to slow down NORAD’s response? Was something done to prevent the hijacted planes from being even intercepted, let alone shot down? If so, how many people would have been needed to accomplish that?

Not very many. On a matter such as air defense, where every second counts, it takes only a few lackadaisical people in top positions to slow everything to a crawl.

According to Chapter 1 of the 9/11 Commission Report:

The FAA, the White House, and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference before 9:30. Because none of these teleconferences – at least before 10:00 – included the right officials from both the FAA and Defense Department, none succeeded in meaningfully coordinating the military and FAA response to the hijackings.

Why were “the right officials” unavailable for so long? It was already obvious, by the time the second plane hit WTC 2 at 9:03 AM, that “America is under attack,” as Andrew Card imformed George Bush at 9:05 AM. By that time it was already known that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked too.

It is hard to believe that “the right officials” could genuinely have been that incompetent. Even if they really were just that incompetent, they should have been at least fired, if not prosecuted for negligence.

Everyone can see that “the right officials” were, at the very least, criminally negligent. That obvious fact cannot be hidden. The only question is whether their crime was something worse than mere negligence.

Had NORAD succeeded in intercepting any of the planes, there were only two people who could then authorize a shoot-down: the President and the Secretary of Defense. Both Bush and Rumsfeld were less than diligent about making themselves available for consultation on such an every-second-counts decision. (See my posts Bush at Booker School on the morning of 9/11 George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Myers: Their whereabouts on 9/11, and see the comment threads below these posts for more details.)

An even more important question is why no planes were even intercepted in the first place. Some people in the 9/11 Truth movement have speculated that someone may have deliberately created extra confusion for NORAD/NEADS, e.g. via false blips on their radar screens. If indeed something like that was done, it probably would not have been difficult to hide. It could have been done by just one person plus whoever gave that person access.

In any case, we do know that we’ve been lied to about the air defense failures. (See the section The lack of air defense in my post My main reasons for being suspicious about 9/11.) We just don’t know exactly what was covered up.

WTC: Hiding the planting of explosives, incendiaries, etc.?

Many people in the 9/11 Truth movement believe that other things were deliberately done to World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7, besides just crashing planes into the Twin Towers.

A common objection to this idea, by “debunkers,” is that the perpetrators’ activities could not have gone unnoticed.

But it seems to me that their work could easily have been disguised as some sort of maintenance or upgrade, provided that their entry into the building was suthorized by someone in a position of authority at the WTC complex.

Six weeks before 9/11/2001, Larry Silverstein became the new leaseholder for the entire WTC complex (except for WTC 7, which he already owned). Given the change in management, it was only to be expected that there might be some new contractors as well, or perhaps some special maintenance consultants. So, the entry of some new and unusual (but authorized) contractors would not have raised any eyebrows on the part of the security staff.

Any work involving the core columns could easily have been disguised as some sort of elevator work.

The perimeter spandrels could perhaps have been accessed via crawlspaces (ceiling chambers).

Any work involving perimeter columns would have been a bit more difficult to hide, because it would have required going into offices, meaning that the tenants would have known that there was some sort of work being done in their offices. But it could have been disguised as some sort of maintenance that required drilling holes in walls, such as electrical work, and it could have been done late at night when the office staff was absent.

I will assume that it was not necessary to access perimeter columns on every floor, but only on a minority of the floors, if indeed that was done at all. Thus the workers could easily have avoided those relatively few offices that were open 24 hours a day.

Whatever was done, it need not have required anywhere nearly as much work as a standard controlled domolition. The perpetrators need not have concerned themselves with various safety issues that are of concern to commercial demolition contractors. The collapse of the Twin Towers, and to a lesser extent WTC 7 too, spewed debris all over the place, damaging surrounding buildings, which is something a standard controlled domolition aims to avoid.

So I think it’s possible that the work could have done by as few as three or four people, maybe at most six or so.

(Reminder to “debunkers”: The point of the above is only to defend the possibility that the WTC collapses may have had a little extra help. I’m aware that my speculation does not prove that any such thing was actually done. Actual evidence for any such scenario is a separate topic, to be discussed in other posts.)

(P.S., 3/6/2008: The above is a summary of my replies to westprog99, originally in the comment thread following my post He oughta know better: Mark Roberts and the iron spherules, recently transplanted to my new post Hiding the planting of incendiaries, explosives, or whatever? Response to a common a priori objection. Comments on this topic should be posted underneath the latter post rather than here on this page.)

WTC: Why were no devices found in the rubble?

Another common objection by “debunkers” is that no remnants of explosive or incendiary devices were found in the rubble. Or, at least, no such remnants were noticed and publicly commented on.

In the first place, any such devices would most likely have gotten pulverized, along with nearly everything else.

Of course, they might not have all gotten pulverized.

Perhaps some remnants of devices were found, but people might have assumed that they were something else. A lot would depend on exactly what these devices looked like.

Another thing to consider is that the CIA was openly involved in the cleanup. The CIA had had an office in WTC 7 and searched the rubble during the cleanup, presumably to ensure that no classified documents went astray. (See the New York Times article The Intelligence Agency: Secret C.I.A. Site in New York Was Destroyed on Sept. 11 by James Risen, November 5, 2001. A copy of the printed version of this article is shown in the WTC 7 section of the video Loose Change Final Cut.)

If, by any chance, the CIA was in any way involved in the destruction of the WTC buildings, then, in addition to searching for classified documents, the same CIA agents could have searched for other things too, preventing those other things, too, from falling into the hands of other people. Those other things could have included … well, who knows what. Whatever the CIA agents might have been searching for besides papers, they had a perfect excuse to search the rubble thoroughly. And most likely they were around during pretty much the entire cleanup. How else could they have ensured that no classified documents fell into the wrong hands?

The CIA agents who searched the rubble might not, themselves, have known exactly what these mysterious objects were that they were searching for. They might have just been shown pictures and told to retrieve any objects that looked like thus-and-so, without being told exactly what those objects were. In that case, they would simply have accepted that they didn’t need to know what the objects were. I would expect that kind of compartmentalization to be commonplace in intelligence agencies.

Then again, the above hypothesis about CIA involvement in the cleanup might not have been necessary, if the devices themselves were sufficiently well-disguised.

Likewise, residues may or may not have been easily detectable, depending on what was used. For example, thermite leaves a residue consisting mostly of iron and aluminum oxide, both of which would have been present in the rubble anyway. So, to detect thermite residue, one would also need to look for other evidence, e.g. evidence that sufficiently high temperatures were reached in at least a few places.

(Reminder to “debunkers”: Again, the point of the above is only to defend only the possibility of an inside-job hypothesis regarding the destruction of the WTC buildings. I don’t claim to know what actually happened to the WTC buildings, or whether the CIA was in any way involved.)

Structural engineers and arguments from authority

A common response to WTC demolition hypotheses is: “Not a single structural engineer in the entire world agree with you! Every structural engineer in the entire world says that the WTC buildings collapsed solely due to jet impacts and resulting fires.”

First, that’s not true. There are some structural engineers who are members of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Admittedly, not very many yet, but we’ll see who else joins.

When that’s pointed out, a “debunker” will usually reply, “Well, every single one of the world’s other structural engineers, besides the very few listed on the AE911T website, agrees that the WTC buildings collapsed solely due to jet impacts and fire.”

Well, that’s probably not accurate either.

First, the majority of the world’s structural engineers have probably not studied the WTC collapses themselves, beyond reading the pronouncements of mainstream experts. Most structural engineers probably have not even read the entire NIST report, for example. And, as the “debunkers” themselves are fond of pointing out in other contexts (e.g. in response to the argument that no steel-frame skyscraper has ever collapsed due to fire), every building is unique, with its own strengths and vulnerabilities. So, a structural engineer would have to have studied the WTC buildings oneself in order to have an informed opinion about them.

If one is going to do a numbers comparison, it would be fair to compare only those on both sides who have actually studied the WTC buildings and the WTC collapses on their own, rather than just reading summary reports in trade journals.

Furthermore, it’s likely that there exist at least a few structural engineers who agree with AE911T but who hesitate to join, out of fear of having their full legal names published on a controversial website. (I myself have not joined AE911T for that very reason. I’m playing it safe in that regard, given how some 9/11 Truth activists here in New York have been personally harassed. I’m not a structural engineer, but I do have a different kind of engineering background. It wouldn’t surprise me if at least a few structural engineers preferred to support the 9/11 Truth movement in more anonymous ways too.)

However, as far as I am aware, the “debunkers” are indeed correct that the purely-natural collapse hypothesis is the unanimously accepted orthodoxy in structural engineering journals.

So the question now is whether the consensus in structural engineering journals should be considered infallible – or, at least, sufficiently close to infallible that no one, and especially no one outside the field of structural engineering itself, should ever presume to question it.

(P.S., 2/28/2008: The remainder of this section is mis-stated. See the P.S. after this section, and see the discussion in comments below this thread.)

Well, let’s consider what kind of a field structural engineering is. In their more honest moments, structural engineers will admit that their field is on a somewhat less sound scientific experimental footing than most other kinds of engineering. For example, this post in the JREF forum, by Newton’s Bit, ends with the following quote:

“Structural Engineering is the art of molding materials we do not wholly understand into shapes we cannot precisely analyze so as to understand forces we cannot really assess in such a way that the community at large has no reason to suspect the extent of our own ignorance.” James E Amrhein

The problem is this: In almost any other kind of engineering, complete prototypes of any given product are built and thoroughly tested before the product is mass-produced and sold. If structural engineering were like almost every other kind of engineering, complete prototypes would be built and thoroughly built and tested, not necessarily for every single building, but at least for every building of a new and unusual design. Alas, that would be prohibitively expensive. For skyscrapers, it’s common to build and test prototype floor assemblies, but not a prototype for the entire building.

If structural engineering were like almost every other kind of engineering, there would be frequent experiments in which buildings, of various different kinds, were built for the purpose of setting them on fire to see whether and how they collapse. Such experiments have been done occasionally (e.g. Cardington Fire Test: The Behaviour of a Multi-storey Steel Framed Building Subjected to Fire Attack), but not very often. There’s just not enough funding for such experiments.

Ditto for experiments involving other kinds of damage to buildings. Also, there has not been much experimental study of the phenomenon of progressive collapse, which is said to have brought down WTC 1, 2, and 7. (Regarding the rarity of such study, see, for example, The science of how buildings fall down by Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe, December 3, 2007.)

For more about this matter, please see my post Engineers were surprised by the WTC collapses, December 7, 2007.

Another problem is this: In a field with relatively little hard scientific data (compared to what one might expect in other engineering disciplines that have been around for a long time), there’s lots of wiggle room for as-yet-unfalsified hypotheses. And, given whatever wiggle room they may have, most people will wiggle in a direction which they see as beneficial to their careers, and which avoids any boat-rocking. This factor might well have inflated the consensus in favor of the official story.

Even one of the most knowledgeable and articulate “debunkers,” Frank Greening, has acknowledged that institutional bias can be a problem. He’s a co-author of the latest Bazant paper, but he is nevertheless highly critical of the NIST report. (See his fascinating post Confessions of a 9/11 Agnostic, on page 6 of the thread Debate! What debate? in the JREF forum.) As far as I can tell, he suspects a coverup, not of 9/11 being an inside job, but of possible flaws in the design of the WTC buildings. (See also this post of his in the JREF forum thread Another engineer criticizes NIST & FEMA.)

So, an orthodoxy in the field of structural engineering should not be regarded as beyond question.

At the same time, those of us who question that consensus should certainly not regard ourselves as infallible either. The collapses of the WTC buildings involved many factors that need to be examined cautiously and in quantitative detail, and on which too many people in the 9/11 Truth movement have jumped to premature conclusions. (See my post Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please.) We should not simply dismiss the orthodox view; we should at least try to understand it, to the best of our ability. And we should recognize that we ourselves do not have the final word. If we ourselves do not have the expertise needed to resolve the issues, we should encourage those challengers of the official story who do have at least some relevant expertise, but we should not endorse their views without question either. We should be willing to wait and see.

(P.S., 2/28/2008: In this and subsequent comments, westprog99 argues that structural engineering is, in fact, a “mature discipline.” See the ensuing discussion. It might have been more accurate for me to say, as I do in this comment, that the field of structural engineering is probably “mature” on the question of what is needed to ensure the safety of buildings under normal conditions, but perhaps not quite so “mature” on the question of how buildings of various diffeent kinds perform under various extreme conditions.)

The most likely main motive for complicity, by high officials, in the 9/11 attacks

In my long-ago post Reply to some folks at Screw Loose Change, one objection I did not respond to very well was this one:

4. If your whole plan is to attack Iraq, why not blame the attacks on Saddam? Wouldn’t that actually help to further your goals, instead of the nonsensical “frame Osama to attack a country that has nothing to do with our target” scheme?

I still stand by most of what I said in reply to that objection:

Perhaps because Al Qaeda already existed, and perhaps because making use of Al Qaeda was both easier and less suspicious-looking than cooking up a totally new CIA-front Iraqi “terrorist group” from scratch. Also, the point of the 9/11 attacks, from the point of view of the American perpetrators, probably wasn’t just to justify a short-term war against Iraq or Afghanistan, but to justify a century of “war on terror,” with a variety of targets. That would explain why the attacks had to be so exceedingly massive and dramatic, as well as explaining why the exact nationality of the terrorist group wasn’t too important, as long as they were Islamist and thus could be tied, in the American popular imagination, to just about any Muslim country that the administration might choose to go to war with for whatever reason.

But I would now add the following:

The most likely main motive probably had to do with Afghanistan, the country which was invaded almost immediately after 9/11. Before 9/11/2001, there were actual military preparations, not just a plan, to invade Afghanistan. However, if 9/11 had not happened, it would have been extremely difficult to sell the American public on the idea of invading Afghanistan, given what a meat grinder Afghanistan had been for the Soviet Union back in the 1980’s. (For documentation on the preparations for an invasion of Afghanistan, see the section on The war in Afghanistan in my post My main reasons for being suspicious about 9/11.)

This, the need to justify an invasion of Afghanistan is a likely motive for complicity in the 9/11 attacks, regardless of the reasons why the Bush administration wanted to invade Afghanistan in the first place. Most likely there were several different motives for the invasion. The relative importance of these motives can be debated.

One topic that has been debated quite a bit is the role of oil (and other energy sources such as natural gas) in U.S. foreign policy. Some interesting information on this topic can be found on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. (See especially this collection of pages on “energy security.”)

The Bush administration got lots of mileage out of 9/11, on more matters than just Afghanistan. It provided an excuse for the Iraq war too, and for torture, and for various curtailments of civil liberties. These other things could perhaps be seen as secondary motives, but the most likely primary motive was to provide an excuse for invading Afghanistan.

But why destroy WTC 7?

Various “debunkers” have asked what the motive could have been for destroying WTC 7 in particular.

Some people in the 9/11 Truth movement have speculated that the motive might have been the destruction of records. WTC 7 had a lot of interesting tenants, including the CIA, the FBI, the EEOC, and the SEC, any one of which might have had something that the perpetrators wanted destroyed.

To this, “debunkers” have had two responses: (1) If the point is to destroy papers, why not just use a shredder? (2) All but the most recent records were likely backed up somewhere anyway, so could not be destroyed.

My reply is that there’s a difference between (a) actually destroying records and (b) having a good excuse to lose records that one isn’t supposed to lose. The destruction of WTC 7 might have been good for the latter purpose, if not the former. Furthermore, in the event that the CIA was involved, they might have had something other than just records that they wanted destroyed.

Anyhow, there’s also another possible motive for the destruction of WTC 7. My guess is that, from the point of view of those who planned the destruction of the WTC buildings, there might have been a lot of unknowns, and that these unknowns were dealt with via redundancy.

The planners might not have known, for sure, whether the hijackers would succeed in hijacking the planes, and, if so, whether they would succeed in crashing into the buildings, and, if so, whether the resulting damage and fires (plus whatever devices might have been planted in the Towers, if any) would succeed in bringing the Towers down. In case the above did not fully succeed, then perhaps the collapse of a third skyscraper might provide the desired melodrama.

Given how WTC 7 was hit by flying debris, the planners may have decided, on the fly, to use that as an excuse for an allegedly “natural” collapse, and to time their remote-controlled devices accordingly, e.g. by first setting off incendiary devices on floors 7 and above to start the fires, and then waiting 7 hours to destroy the building by setting off incendiaries or explosives further down, say, on floor 5. But, in the event that WTC 7 had not been hit by flying debris, I’m assuming here that the planners would have had some sort of backup excuse for the collapse of WTC 7 – perhaps even bombs (or incendiaries) planted by a “terrorist.” But the collapse of WTC 1 and 2 provided a much better excuse, so they went with that one.

In addition, if the planners also wanted to destroy one or more specific offices in WTC 7, for whatever reason, they would have done so by two redundant means: First, by just setting the specific office(s) on fire. But the planners could not have known in advance whether fire fighters would succeed in putting out the fires in WTC 7. To deal with that uncertainty, demolishing the entire building might have been a backup means of destroying whatever offices the planners wanted to destroy.

Disclaimer: This entire discussion about WTC 7 is hypothetical, since I don’t claim to know what happened to the WTC buildings, let alone what the motives were.

My past interactions with “debunkers,” Round 1 (mostly just the usual a priori arguments)

For the benefit of “debunkers” visiting this blog for the first time, I’ll briefly review my past debates with “debunkers.”

I’ve had many such debates. Some have been very interesting and informative. Others have not been.

My first online interaction with a “debunker” was a post of mine on October 14, 2007, Chip Berlet and “conspiracism”, in which I critiqued Berlet’s use of the terms “conspiracism” and “conspiracy theory” to lump together two very different things: (1) beliefs about possible government wrongdoing and (2) beliefs about alleged centuries-old, world-micromanaging conspiracies such as “the Illuminati.”

Soon afterward, my blog was noticed by Pat Curley of Screw Loose Change. My first interaction with him and his blog is discussed in my post Reply to some folks at Screw Loose Change, October 20, 2007. In it, I responded to various objections. In a comment in reply to that post, “Nerd World Order” called my attention to a page titled The 9/11 Conspiracy guys are retarded, containing various other objections, to which I replied in my post Reply to “Nerd World Order” about the page “The 9/11 Conspiracy guys are retarded”, October 21, 2007.

The objections were mostly of an a priori kind, focussing mainly on things like the large number of people that supposedly would need to have been in on the plot, and the difficulty of keeping them all quiet.

I’ve already addressed many such objections here, above. For more such objections and my replies to them, see the above-linked posts.

In comments, two “debunkers” with the screen names “charlienneb” and “anonanonanon” also called my attention to papers dealing with some of the scientific issues.

After that, I didn’t hear very much more from any “debunkers” for a while.

Later, on November 13, 2007, in my post Wiesenthal Center slanders 9/11 Truth movement. We must avoid bigoted response, I noted that Pat Curley had commented on my earlier posts Taking responsibility for counteracting bigotry in our midst and Truth Action forum discussion about “bankers,” anti-Illuminism, and the religious right wing. Pat Curley wrote, “We have hammered the 9-11 Troofers for their continued association with Holocaust Deniers and other disreputable characters. So it is only fair to note when somebody makes an effort to clean house.”

I suspect that this observation, on Pat Curley’s part, helped make subsequent discussions on my blog a lot more productive.

My past interactions with “debunkers,” Round 2 (some very good, productive, substantive discussions!)

On November 20, 2007, I posted Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please, dealing with various scientific issues which, I think, have been oversimplified by many people in the 9/11 Truth movement.

Pat Curley noticed that post, leading to a second and bigger wave of “debunkers” posting comments on my blog. I responded to them, as well as to Pat Curley himself, in the following series of posts, which dealt primarily with the technical issues:

The above posts, and the comments following them (as of today), all dealt primarily with meaty scientific issues, not with a priori objections. I learned quite a bit.

Some real errors in Richard Gage’s presentation and on Jim Hoffman’s website were discussed. I notified both of them, and they both made at least some of the recommended corrections.

Some online 9/11 Truth activists were offended by my post Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please. I replied in On our need for more scientists: Reply to Petros Evdokas, December 8, 2007, and What happened in my life on 9/11/2001, December 10, 2007.

On December 12, 2007, I posted Reply to “9/11 Guide,” part 1 (to ref1). In the comment thread following that post, I persuaded ref1, the owner of “9/11 Guide” (a “debunking” site), to remove a defamatory statement about Kevin Ryan and also to correct some statements about Jim Hoffman.

My debates with “debunkers,” primarily ref1, continued in the following posts, which dealt primarily with non-technical issues, such as air defense:

All the above posts and the comments below them (as of today) dealt mostly with substantive (albeit non-technical) issues, not a priori arguments.

The following posts dealt with the controversy over what Francesco Cossiga did or did not say, an issue on which I suspect (though I have not yet definitely confirmed) that the “debunkers” are correct:

Comments on my blog from “debunkers” gradually died down during late December and January.

My past interactions with “debunkers,” Round 3 (a jumbled mix)

On page 4 of a thread in the JREF forum titled Hardfire News, “Brainster” (who I think is Pat Curley) suggested to pomeroo (Ron Wieck) that he invite me to participate a debate on his public-access cable TV show “Hardfire.”

I replied in my post Reply to debate invitation from Ron/pomeroo on JREF, January 19, 2008. At first I refused, because I felt that I hadn’t yet studied various topics in enough depth to do well in a televised debate. But then I tentatively voiced interest in appearing on the show, given that it would be limited to just one topic, WTC 7.

For a while, I then turned my attention to studying WTC 7 in depth. I began by re-visiting what I already knew. Among other things, I posted a review of Loose Change Final Cut – section on WTC 7, January 29, 2008.

I soon concluded that there was no way I could become enough of an expert on WTC 7 by the time of the show, in which I would be debating against Mark Roberts, a well-practiced “debunker” who had been at it for several years. I myself had been involved in the 9/11 Truth movement only since this past summer. I also felt that I needed to research further my response to the arguments from authority that I suspected Mark Roberts would rely on heavily.

(P.S., 2/24/2008: Mark Roberts has emailed me to tell me he has been researching “truther claims” only since April 2006.)

On January 30, 2008, I posted My decision about Ron Wieck’s show. My perception (perhaps incorrect) that Mark Roberts did not have a strong technical background and would rely heavily on arguments from authority led to quite a bit of controversy.

Once the above post was mentioned in the JREF forum, it led to a third wave of “debunkers” visiting my blog. Debates took place in comment threads following the posts listed below, in addition to comment threads threads following the three posts mentioned above.

At this same time, westprog99, one of the visiting “debunkers” from the JREF forum, also posted quite a few comments below the following older post of mine: He oughta know better: Mark Roberts and the iron spherules, January 3, 2008. (P.S., 3/6/2008: That comment thread, mostly off the topic of the post, has been transplanted to my new post Hiding the planting of incendiaries, explosives, or whatever? Response to a common a priori objection.)

I learned a lot from some of these discussions. Among other things, I’ve had to reconsider what I previously thought of as the single strongest argument for demolition of WTC 7, namely what I had previously thought of as the almost perfectly symmetrical nature of its collapse. I still think it’s unlikely that WTC 7 collapsed due to a purely natural fire plus structural damage due to flying debris. (More about this in subsequent posts.) But I’m now more of a “demolition agnostic” than before.

Anyhow, the comment threads below these posts were not nearly as focussed as my previous debates with “debunkers.” The comment threads rambled all over the place, with various a priori arguments jumbled together with highly technical discussions.

I would prefer not to have such rambly discussions again. I much prefer discussions focussed on particular topics.

So, having finished this post, I will add a rule to my comment policy requiring that, from henceforth, any and all a priori arguments by “debunkers” be posted only as replies to this post or to other relevant posts, not jumbled in with comments after posts dealing other topics.

P.S.: Discussion of these same a priori objections elsewhere

I’ve asked for feedback on this post in the Truth Action forum and in the “Skeptics” section of the Loose Change forum.

Most of the same a priori objections discussed here in this post, plus a few others, have also been discussed in the following Truth Action forum threads: Common Fallacies and Proposal for a Truthaction Collaborative Effort.

Some of them have also been discussed in the thread Programmed responses to 9/11 truth in the TruthMove forum.

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14 Comments »

  1. Thanks for the linkage.

    I can’t say for sure what extent the government played a role in 9/11, though I’m glad people are looking into it.

    What I can say for sure, and is utterly without question, is that the government has used 9/11 as an excuse to crack down on the American people and drag us kicking and screaming into our own American-style police state.

    That is where my personal interest lies: stopping the oncoming police state before we are all prisoners in our own homes.

    Comment by Michael Hampton — February 26, 2008 @ 12:17 am | Reply

  2. I think that the conclusions of those who have studied the collapses most closely, and have had access to all relevant data/testimony/blueprints/etc, should be given great weight. Not because of any kind of “argument from authority”, but simply from a common sense viewpoint. There’s simply no comparison between these folks, and anyone else who is far removed and lacking the necessary raw information, not to mention expertise.

    I think this is too easily dismissed by those questioning their reports, and unless they have some credible proof of corruption, they should treat the conclusions reached with much more respect.

    Comment by gary1son — February 26, 2008 @ 12:24 am | Reply

  3. I partially agree. I would say that one should at least be open to the possibility that “those who have studied the collapses most closely, and have had access to all relevant data/testimony/blueprints/etc.” both know what they are talking about and are being honest. Nevertheless I think it’s legitimate to entertain doubts. I think it’s also legitimate to express one’s doubts by encouraging those fellow doubters with at least some relevant expertise to work on building a case against the official story.

    Comment by Diane — February 26, 2008 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  4. Wrt the field of structural engineering: what structural engineers are very good at is telling what is needed to keep buildings up. The USA is full of tall buildings, subject to extreme conditions of wind and weather. They don’t fall down. That’s because structural engineering is a mature discipline. It was necessary to build a number of pyramids before chancing on the right configuration. The early cathedrals had numerous problems, which had to be fixed as they happened. Now, that’s not the case. Engineers don’t /need/ to test entire structures. They can build them with certainty that they will stay up.

    This means that they also know at what point they /can’t/ stay up. They know that structure X is sound, and will stay up – they also know that structure Y is unsound, and will collapse. There might be an intermediate stage Z – something that is unstable, but the collapse of which cannot be easily predicted.

    The reason that structural engineers are effectively unanimous about the WTC is that they recognise that the damage to the buildings, from fire and impact, was sufficient to bring it to a stage where it couldn’t continue to stand. That’s why I strongly doubt whether there are many structural engineers in disputation of the accepted truth. They would all start from the same knowlege base – that of many thousands of buildings, all standing because they all know the basis on which they are constructed.

    As to the mysteries of collapse – there are several reasons why this isn’t important. Engineers understand why buildings are unable to continue to stand. After that point, they aren’t that interested. Precisely how a building collapses isn’t going to be a matter of practical application. Buildings are designed to stay up, not fall down.

    Secondly, collapses are inherently chaotic events. A building can only stay up one way – with everything staying in place. That’s relatively easy to model. They can fall down in a huge variety of ways, with different pieces interacting. The role of the demolition engineer is not to understand the chaos, but to limit it, and to make a building fall in a relatively predicable manner.

    Comment by westprog99 — February 26, 2008 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

  5. westprog99 wrote:

    Engineers don’t /need/ to test entire structures. They can build them with certainty that they will stay up.

    Even buildings of a new and unusual design?

    It is my understanding that many buildings are “over-engineered” as a way of compensating for what would otherwise be a great deal of uncertainty. Is that not correct?

    What do you think this comment by “anonanonanon” (who is apparently a structural engineer)? (This comment quotes a conversation this page on Jim Hoffman’s site, about which “anonanonanon” had written, “The section literally flies in the face of 200 years of engineering theory and practice.”)

    As to the mysteries of collapse – there are several reasons why this isn’t important. Engineers understand why buildings are unable to continue to stand. After that point, they aren’t that interested. Precisely how a building collapses isn’t going to be a matter of practical application. Buildings are designed to stay up, not fall down.

    For the sake of safety, one would think it would be a good idea to design buildings to resist progressive collapse, so that people could more easily escape a building that is starting to collapse. So it’s not true that “precisely how a building collapses isn’t going to be a matter of practical application.”

    Comment by Diane — February 26, 2008 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  6. westprog99 writes, “Secondly, collapses are inherently chaotic events.”

    This is not necessarily the case. A building tipping over or a pancake collapse are not chaotic events. The “collapse” of WTC1,2 were different because explosive charges were used. The destruction was hardly chaotic, it was precisely time.

    westprog99 writes, “was sufficient to bring it to a stage where it couldn’t continue to stand.”

    This is not case. The official explanation is that the top portions of the buildings above the impact points pulverized the portions beneath the impact zone. This is a pile-driver effect, not a collapse.

    Comment by tanabear — February 26, 2008 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

  7. /All/ buildings are overengineered to some extent. They are built with a certain margin of error. That’s a universal feature of engineering.

    In fact, it’s the maturity of the field that allows new buildings using new and exotic materials and shapes to be built.

    Comment by westprog99 — February 27, 2008 @ 12:24 pm | Reply

  8. westprog99 wrote:

    /All/ buildings are overengineered to some extent. They are built with a certain margin of error. That’s a universal feature of engineering.

    True, but I was under the impression (perhaps wrong) that the degree of overengineering needs to be proportionately greater in structural engineering than in other kinds of engineering. Admittedly I haven’t yet looked into this issue deeply enough to quantify this impression. Do you think it’s wrong?

    In fact, it’s the maturity of the field that allows new buildings using new and exotic materials and shapes to be built.

    I can readily believe that the field is “mature” on the question of what is needed to ensure the safety of buildings under normal conditions. For that, the thousands of years of human civilization should provide more than sufficient data.

    However, what about extreme conditions, such as fire? I know that there has been a lot of progress since a century ago in designing, for example, skyscrapers that can survive a fire. However, do you think that fire codes are exactly what they should be? Or is it likely that they are in some ways too lax and in other ways significantly stricter than they need to be? The relatively recent vintage of experiments like the Cardington fire tests would seem to indicate that there are still likely to be quite a few surprises in this area, without more experiments of that kind on other types of buildings. If you don’t think that’s the case, I would be interested to hear why.

    Also, another thing that DOES seem to be relatively new, if my information is correct, is the study of progressive collapse and when it will and won’t be arrested.

    Comment by Diane — February 27, 2008 @ 6:03 pm | Reply

  9. tanabear wrote:

    A building tipping over or a pancake collapse are not chaotic events.

    They are indeed chaotic in the sense that you can’t predict where every piece is going to go. The general direction of motion may be predictable, and likewise some other general patterns, but a lot of the details aren’t predictable.

    The official explanation is that the top portions of the buildings above the impact points pulverized the portions beneath the impact zone. This is a pile-driver effect, not a collapse.

    The pile driver effect is said to have been the mechanism of the collapse (after collapse initiation).

    Comment by Diane — February 27, 2008 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

  10. The main reason that buildings need a larger margin of error than, say, electronic components, is that the cost of failure is so high, and that therefore there must be an effective 100% success rate. A wafer of electronic components might have a 50% failure rate, and that will be just fine – if over-engineering the components to ensure 10% failure doubles the price, that will lower profits. But even if houses cost half as much, a 1% collapse rate wouldn’t be acceptable. (At least in Western construction). Indeed, some areas need to be robust enough to have buildings that can cope with earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.

    Another element to consider is predictability. A construction company will do its best to ensure that all materials are up to specification – testing them on a unit basis – but there’s always some fluctuation. The building has to work even if all materials are at the lower end of what’s acceptable.

    Comment by westprog99 — February 28, 2008 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

  11. Is the “overengineering” in building construction intended to compensate only for expected variations in the strength of materials? Or, in a new and unusual type of building, is there also at least a moderate attempt to compensate for the possibility that a new and unusual type of building might also have new and unusual failure modes that nobody ever thought of before?

    I was under the latter impression. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Also I would be interested in your thoughts about experiments like the Cardington tests, as mentioned in a previous comment by me. Do you believe that similar experiments, involving other types of buildings, are not needed?

    Comment by Diane — February 28, 2008 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  12. Diane writes, “They are indeed chaotic in the sense that you can’t predict where every piece is going to go.”

    Predicting where every piece is going to end up, and having the collapse contradict basic laws of phyisics are two separate things. If someone were to watch a building tip over, as in an earthquake, there is nothing within that collapse that would surprise anyone, or contradict basic laws of physics. If a building began to tip over, then it turned to dust before it hit the ground, then obviously the laws of gravity would be inadequate to explain that event.

    Comment by tanabear — February 28, 2008 @ 10:28 pm | Reply

  13. tanabear wrote:

    If someone were to watch a building tip over, as in an earthquake, there is nothing within that collapse that would surprise anyone, or contradict basic laws of physics. If a building began to tip over, then it turned to dust before it hit the ground, then obviously the laws of gravity would be inadequate to explain that event.

    Skyscrapers behave differently from shorter buildings. Skyscrapers are much more massive, hence heavier. Skyscrapers are also taller, hence have more gravitational potential energy, and also much more weight per unit area of the building’s footprint, hence much more downward pressure on the lower floors.

    Buildings in general are not designed to lean. They are designed to stand up straight. When a building does lean, there is a danger that it may be torn apart by the force of gravity pressing the building down in a skewed manner.

    The taller and more massive the building, the greater this danger, other factors being equal.

    So it is only to be expected that when a skyscraper leans as far as the top part of WTC 2 did, it is in danger of being torn apart by the leaning. Thus it would not be a fundamental violation of the laws of physics for it to be shattered before it hit the ground.

    There are, in my opinion, good reasons to be suspicious about the collapses of the WTC buildings, especially WTC 7. However, many of the ideas about this that have been popularized in the 9/11 Truth movement have been overstated. (See my blog post Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please.)

    Comment by Diane — February 29, 2008 @ 4:46 pm | Reply

  14. (This comment is an edited pingback.)

    Three sections of my post above contain a brief history of my online interaction with “debunkers.” I decided that that history is interesting enough to warrant its own separate post, linked below.

    -Diane

    Pingback by A brief history of my interaction with official-story defenders, as of February 2008 « New York City activist — March 6, 2008 @ 9:48 pm | Reply


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