Friday, May 30, 2008

The Invent Your Own Conspiracy Contest!

MSNBC reporter and famous television narrator Lester Holt, describing the tragic crane collapse that happened earlier today, just said that there were reports that the loud, crushing sounds of the crane breaking sounded like "demolition charges."

You know what this contest is about. Post your own conspiracy theory - who did it and why? Was it those devilish Zionists? Maybe the military-industrial complex? Was it "thermide" [sic], C-4, laser beams from space? Which war was the controlled demolition done to justify? You be the judge! Leave us your comment on this post!

Prize yet to be determined. Conspiracy theories will be judged on internal coherency and accurate spoofing of popular conspiracy theories and the conspiracy theorist mindset. This is an open contest, so tell all your friends!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

9/11 Denial: Out. Vaccine Denial: In. has apparently thrown its hat in with the vaccine-denial crowd. Two days ago it posted an article which seems to at least imply it agrees with the claims of its subjects, namely, that the military anthrax vaccine is ineffective (which is, of course, a lie.)

The following quotes from the article pretty much sum up the quality of the journalism involved.

They found it created thousands of adverse reactions and was unnecessary.

Meanwhile, thousands of service members have developed sicknesses, some extremely debilitating, that have been linked by them or others to one or more of the six-shot vaccine series or the annual boosters.

The vaccine has a long history of controversy over its safety and licensing dating back to before the 1991 Gulf War, and especially in the years after the conflict, when scores of service members taking it complained of adverse reactions.

What do "thousands of..." and "scores of..." have in common? They are not numbers. The author of this article is, for example, thousands of people. Specifically, point zero zero one thousands.

Of course, the CDC can provide us with some numbers, and, shockingly, the vaccine is completely safe and effective. They conducted a study that compared anthrax infection among blue-collar workers and found

In this vaccine study, 25 out of 754 unvaccinated workers got infected with anthrax, but only 1 out of 379 vaccinated workers did (92.5% protection).

The 92.5 % protection level was combined, for both cutaneous and inhalational anthrax infection. [...] In the mill-workers study, 5 unvaccinated workers developed inhalational anthrax, but no vaccinated worker did. Four of the 5 unvaccinated workers died of inhalational anthrax (80% fatal).

The article says "An initial scientific study in 1962 included an insufficient number of inhalation exposures of those working in goat hair mills to reach any conclusions of the vaccine's effectiveness" as a means of implying that the latest studies are also inconclusive, which is also a lie. The sample size is apparently in total 754+379=1,133, and its a general rule of thumb that so long as your sample size is greater than thirty you're going to get some sort of trend from which you can extrapolate sound conclusions.

But it gets better. The article goes on to state in no subtle terms the accusation that the domestic anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 were part of a conspiracy to help sell the vaccines.

That probe, says Fox News, recently identified three or four new suspects at an Army bioweapons lab intricately involved in helping to support the need for the mandated vaccine. They include a deputy commander, an anthrax scientist and a microbiologist. Curiously, at that point in time, the vaccine's continued use was being threatened by closer scrutiny from the US Department of Defense and other Bush administration officials. That review withered away after the attacks. However, the DOD then used the domestic incidents to claim the foreign threat was "real."


In October 1998, Dingle and Rempfer first became "Tiger Team Alpha." Col. Walter Burns...created the two-man team to investigate the history, safety and legality of the anthrax vaccine...After a couple of months' of intensive research, Dingle and Rempfer concluded the vaccine was improperly licensed, and potentially a health danger to the troops. Those findings are still supported by many today.

However, BioPort Corporation, now Emergent BioSolutions, the vaccine's manufacturer, insists the drug is safe and effective. That position is fully endorsed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Pentagon. Nonetheless, the manufacturer's health warnings and precautions are intricate, including what are characterized as rare, unproven serious reactions....

BioPort purchased the vaccine and its plant in 1998 from the former Michigan Biologics Products Institute, created in 1996 by the State of Michigan. That purchase inspired its own public flak.

Two of the purchasers were formerly part of the state operations. A third was former US Adm. William Crowe, first head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former President George H.W. Bush, then ambassador to Great Britain in the presidential administration of Bill Clinton. Crowe was said by ABC News to have acquired his interest without investing a penny of his own money....

...And it goes on like that. Relying on nonexistent numbers, hearsay, and an aside involving new suspects in the 2001 anthrax case as reported by the worst news channel on television, they have managed to fulfill pretty much every stereotype about the tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist you've got: the big bad pharmaceutical companies in cahoots with the military and the CDC conspired to attack Americans with anthrax to peddle unsafe vaccines to soldiers fighting wars prompted by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 - which, of course, these same people evidently also orchestrated. My pet cat Gwen is laughing her little feline behind off at the transparent absurdity of all this, and she walks into screen doors and eats dead bugs all day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Follow the money part 2

As mentioned in the earlier criticism of disingenuous fraud Frank Legge, the logical fallacy that drives a healthy fraction of conspiracy theory thinking is called cui bono: “who benefits?” whereby everyone who in the minds of conspiracy theorists has “benefited” from a tragedy must have had some stake in causing that tragedy. 9/11 deniers are lucky that the rest of the world is better at thinking than them.

There have always been snake-oil peddlers waiting in the wings to capitalize on the fears, doubts, and failures of logic of others, but all the evidence seems to indicate that the 9/11 deniers take the cake for their rapid-response marketing blitz to take the credulous for every penny they’ve got.

Fig. 1 – CDs, t-shirts, buttons, DONATIONS! Spread The Truth and save the day, for a price.

Fig. 2 – Hm, I wonder where all those t-shirts came from...

Fig. 3 – with a web address like, you’d think these guys would’ve been able to keep going for longer. Despite their evident sole purpose as a hawker of cheap DVDs and ad space for other frauds, this site has fallen apart and is “no longer accepting donations” (by “donation,” they meant, “buy our crap”).

Because the 9/11-denier movement is in dire straits as mentioned earlier on this Blog and most of their hallowed halls are now hollow wastes of bandwidth, it’s hard to gauge exactly how many of the most egregious con artists are still active. But there will probably always be at least one survivor. He is, after all, the master, the king of the televangelists, the Creflo Dollar of conspiracy theorists, the ever-loudmouthed right-wing nutjob...

Fig. 4 – Alex Jones and the orgy of really, really silly ideas that collectively form the content of

Yes, if there’s any singular chipmunk-cheeked, loudmouthed, Bill-O’Reilly-esque purveyor of hilarious ideas and cheap merchandise who has since been vaunted into quasi-fame for his ability to sustain a loud volume for sufficiently long periods of time, it is this one. Considering that pretty much every other 9/11 denier’s business ventures have failed completely, Alex Jones stands as the most consistent and lucrative of the bunch.

Thus, the evidence is clear. We know now who really caused 9/11. Ladies and gentlemen, the true culprit: Alex Jones. So simple, isn’t it? A multi-thousand-dollar city-state of chuckle-inducing rants against the UN, far beyond the wildest dreams of even the most ambitious yahoo with lots of absurd opinions. Alex Jones truth now!

I know, how stupid would you have to be to believe that, right?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Follow the money

What were some of the supposed reasons, conspiracy theorists claim, that the government destroyed World Trade Center 7? Something about destroying financial documents? Something about safeguarding a large number of corporations from potential SEC investigations? Their story changes every day – and not in that good, sciencey, “well, I guess new evidence has emerged” kind of way. More like, “well, we’ve already sold a DVD about this claim, so let’s try a new one…”

Now I’m a registered Democrat so you’re going to have to understand my bias here, but I tend to think government is more efficient than that. I think if the Securities & Exchange Commission wanted to destroy some investigation documents (because, of course, the SEC is very corrupt and never successfully prosecutes any large corporations who violate the law), I think they could do a little better than by causing $100,000,000,000 in property damage to do it.

For example, I found this nifty paper shredder at Office Depot for forty bucks.

Oh, but of course, the monetary incentive was great because of all the billions of dollars the arms industry made off of the Iraq invasion. That clearly called for a “false-flag operation” like 9/11 because people need to feel an imminent threat into their own lives before we attack a foreign nation; just like Slobodan Milosevic had to attack us on our own soil first, right?

Never mind that the Administration’s absurd (and knowingly false) case for invading Iraq was its greatest downfall and that, by establishing its premises as “Iraq aided and abetted terrorists” and “is building WMDs” damned them to failure. The war has put a $520 billion strain on the economy and cost Bush’s party the government in 2006. Anyone who looks at this and can honestly claim that Bush intended to gain from 9/11 is a nutcase – to put it politely. Did America’s foreign adventures require the most elaborate hoax in history that would’ve taken decades of work and trillions of dollars in cost, before and after? Somehow, putting “NO!!!” in bold size-72 font still feels like an understatement.

One of the last desperate claims 9/11 deniers have to resort to is “who profits?” Of course, a sane person simply needs to ask, “who profits in ways that required the most elaborate and expensive conspiracy hoax in history?” Do they honestly believe that arms manufacturers were so desperate for cash that they performed this impossibly-complex feat of trickery? The same people who couldn’t keep Iran-Contra under wraps for more than a week conducted the biggest secret operation ever with no one at all coming forward, or publishing a memoir, or going Robert Baer or John Perkins on their asses? Really?

You probably know where we’re going to with this next, but in our forthcoming second “follow the money” installment, we’ll take a look at who’s really trying to profiteer off of the worst tragedy in American history. And just to give you a little sneak peek:

This first little installment covered the people who were stupid. The second one will cover the people who were opportunists.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Frank Legge

There aren’t many leaders left in the 9/11 denier movement whose work hasn’t already been soundly refuted by various skeptics in both the mainstream and the Internets. There was one, however, about whom I could find surprisingly little information (despite the relative ease with which one can extract significant laughs from his arguments and hence relative schadenfreude one would experience in so doing). So, for your viewing pleasure (and to give CTANU a monopoly on the evidently-vast market for Frank Legge debunking), I give you Frank Legge.

When writing an earlier article about the flaming joke that is the Journal of 9/11 Studies I was unable to find any sources pertaining specifically to his version of a 9/11 conspiracy. This is surprising, because he’s one of the blatantly intellectually corrupt “editors” of that pitiful blog who has written about one sixth of its total content, the most of any conspiracy theorist author. Most of his articles are generally parroting the same nonsense that has been debunked elsewhere, including one named, without a hint of irony, “9/11 – Proof of Explosive Demolition without Calculations” (really). . A 9/11 denier argument bereft of useful facts. You don’t say.

The article I want to focus on is this one, “Conspiracy Theories, Myths, Skepticism, and 9/11: their Impact on Democracy.” In this overlong theater of the goofy, Legge plays the part of the “good skeptic,” taking a “critical look” at conspiracy arguments – deciding, of course, that you should uncritically accept every single one. He goes through five “skeptical techniques,” systematically bungling every one, making some humiliating errors about how each of these “techniques” works along the way.

I got through the first three and had to stop reading because of that awkward mixture of laughter and migraine I experience whenever I listen to conspiracy theorists bend reality back and to the left in a desperate attempt to backwards-rationalize their beliefs. So, grab your Butal, and gather 'round!

First, he begins his article with the best possible kind of scientific evidence: an anecdote. And what's it about? Well, of course, when you're trying to establish evidence for a conspiracy pertaining to 9/11, there's really only one thing you can argue about.


I have been involved with fats and oils in my work and for decades I watched the debate about trans fats. The work of Dr Mary Enig, and others, clearly showed that trans fats were harmful in the diet, yet this was not taken up by the authorities to guide the public as it should have been. On the contrary, powerful figures in the vegetable oil industry conspired to have this work suppressed. The myth created was that vegetable oils were healthier than animal fats, but this was far from the truth as most processed vegetable oil contains trans fats. I believe this has been the most devastating medical myth that has impacted modern civilization. Harvard University has published findings showing that tens of thousands of premature deaths have been occurring annually due to trans fats consumption in the USA alone. Resistance to change has been extraordinary: not until 2006 was any regulatory pressure applied to anufacturers in the USA to lower the trans content of dietary fats and oils.

In a similar way it now appears that the belief that high serum cholesterol levels are harmful may also be a myth, supported by drug manufacturers conspiring with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as there are papers which show that high cholesterol levels are usually associated with longer life.

First of all, I'm no doctor but I feel qualified in saying that Legge is endangering the health of his gullible readers by telling them that they have absolutely no reason to be concerned by their cholesterol level. I found that claim so disturbing (and transparently wrong, and an example of him engaging against the exact black-and-white thinking he accuses others of doing) that I almost forgot to laugh at the belief that this "myth" is the "most devastating medical myth that has impacted modern civilization." No word yet on whether or not Legge is an HIV-denier. Then his checklist of logical mistakes to make begins.

1. Occam’s Razor.

First he decides that Occam’s Razor means “the simplest explanation is right.” Which is wrong. As we all know, Ockham’s “do not multiply entities beyond necessity” is actually a qualifier for explanations, not a statement on an explanation’s ability to qualify. Theories that offer the most complete and consistent explanation of the facts are the right ones, not the simplest ones.

His argument here is worth pursuing, however, because it really gives you an idea of what his “skepticism” entails:

Civilian controllers are responsible for the lives of thousands of passengers - surely any suggestion that they should be burdened with misleading data would have been curtly rejected. How did Osama bin Laden manage to influence the minds of authorities so that this terribly dangerous component of the war game was permitted? The mere fact that equipment exists to insert signals for non-existent aircraft onto civilian air traffic controller’s screens is astonishing and deserving of scrutiny to discover who authorized and financed the installation. This equipment could not have been simple.

He incorrectly defines Occam’s Razor so that he can challenge it using absurd begged questions and glaring major unstated premises. We can’t be so kind as to accuse him of fallaciously engaging in illogical strawmannery. Nope – he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This is precisely how to identify “bad skepticism” – why, of course these questions about 9/11 are totally unanswerable by the facts. That’s why we’re skeptical! No, Frank. No.

2. “Common Sense.”

Anyone who tells you that “Common Sense” – a polite way of saying “go with your gut,” which is a polite way of saying “screw the evidence, believe what you want” – is a means of critical inquiry should set off every red flag you’ve got. And before you can even take the moment to process your cognitive dissonance, he drops another, er, I’m not sure what to call it:

The author George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four...

Christ, here we go.

…has his main character describe how he is battling to uphold belief in his own knowledge against the bombardment of re-written history. In the society where he lives the “heresy of heresies is common sense”. … Orwell could hardly have expected these words to be so specifically relevant today. One wonders whether those who refuse to consider evidence for the hypothesis that support was removed by explosive demolition are not already under the spell of Big Brother and re-written history.

I don’t think I’m the first to propose that there should be a new Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies pertaining to George Orwell. No, Frank, the people who actually know the laws of physics and how deductive argumentation work are not the sheeple you accuse them of being whenever they dare bring those nasty facts to bear against you.

3. Who benefits?

A common logical fallacy used by conspiracy theorists is the “who benefits” argument, known among logicians as the cui bono fallacy. Its basic premise is that whatever suspected party has the greatest motive, the greatest incentive, or the most to gain from the event is probably the cause of that event. Frank Legge dwells on it for more than a few pages, deciding its part of a valid argument in favor of his conspiracy theories.

Yep, it’s as stupid as it sounds.

A salient example that explains why Frank Legge is a fourth-rate arguer is Attila the Hun. Who would benefit the most from the death of Attila the Hun? Pick your favorite ethnic group in classical Asia Minor. Who killed Attila the Hun? ...A nosebleed. So much for cui bono.

And then he launches into false accusations about “inconsistencies” in “the official version” (“official” being conspiracy-theory lingo for “supported by evidence”). Indeed, his next two “skeptical techniques” aren’t even “skeptical techniques;” they’re titled “Inconsistencies” and “Deficiencies” respectively, which are positive assertions, not analytical techniques. You can do as I did: yawn, scroll through, and laugh at the arguments aborted by skeptical inquiry when they were first conjured in I’d say 2003 (“many samples of steel they examined only about 2% were found which had exceeded 250o C. At that temperature there would be no possibility of collapse – half the columns could be destroyed and the towers would still stand!“ is, in fact, an actual argument of his – this was the end of 2007 when he wrote this, not October 2001).

All of the sources at the beginning of this article soundly debunk every positive assertion Legge tried to make. Addressing those points was not the purpose of this article. The purpose of writing this is expose that one of the rulers-from-the-shadows of the 9/11 denier movement, a prolific compiler of some of the most absurd drivel and backwards thinking, is at his core a snake-oil peddler, a terrible logician, a corrupt pseudo-intellectual who gives himself positions of pseudo-authority to pseudo-publish his pseudo-theories. Which, of course, he generally just takes from others. Beats original thinking.

Frank Legge’s silly legacy illustrates two very important points about generating theories that attempt to explain the world. The first is that anyone can be stupid – for example, PhDs who edit fake academic journals. The second is that you can, in fact, use skeptical rhetoric for the wrong reasons. You can be both bad at it and dishonest at it. Which one is Frank Legge? Well, if he’s as litigious as many other 9/11 deniers, I probably shouldn’t offer my opinion. Oh, what the hell. You’re a fraud, Frank.