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.


civil said...

Hey dude, how much money did you (or your sponsor, he he) pay to get top of my Google search for Frank Legge?
You must have some serious motivation for trying to discredit him, but you do seem strangely angry about the whole thing. I'm not sure why, can you enlighten me? May I suggest you try to answer his views logically and in a scientific manner, without the unpleasant comments. I am sure you will agree life is just too short for this kind of anger. Just a suggestion, I hope this can help you to relax a little. Kind regards.

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Grandmastershek said...

"civil said..."

Nothing of substance.

Hey dude....instead of parading around your well poisoning why don't you point out where his argument faltered? Stop using words you don;t understand (ie- science and logic).

Unknown said...

Are we supposed to be impressed by this article and do you acually think it has somehwo discredited frank Legge? ha! It smacks of desperation, which I am sure is a sign of something....

Lolamento said...

Legge wrote (may be wrong) technical arguments. You "refuted" with general epistemological arguments and irony.

May be Legge is wrong but I think you haven´t probed it.