Friday, September 26, 2008

"Cargo Cult Science," by Richard Feynman

For everyone who has ever heard the Journal of 9/11 Studies Blog described as an "academic journal;"

for everyone who has ever listened to Richard Gage in hysterics over his attempts to outlilne his "scientific research into 9/11;"

and in honor of the fact that someone at our debate spent ten minutes afterwards trying to argue with me that science was not about using evidence and hypothesis evaluation to build models of events ("it's about thinking outside the box, he said whimsically, as the psychic healers drooled lasciviously behind him), I present you with one of the best outlines of what is science, and what is pseudoscience, Richard Feynman's 1974 Caltech commencement speech, later reread widely under the title

Cargo Cult Science:

During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas -- which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn't work, to eliminate it. This method became organized, of course, into science. And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It is such a scientific age, in fact, that we have difficulty in understanding how witch doctors could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked -- or very little of it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFO's, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth. And I've concluded that it's not a scientific world.

Most people believe so many wonderful things that I decided to investigate why they did. And what has been referred to as my curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I found so much junk that I'm overwhelmed. First I started out by investigating various ideas of mysticism and mystic experiences. I went into isolation tanks and got many hours of hallucinations, so I know something about that. Then I went to Esalen, which is a hotbed of this kind of thought (it's a wonderful place; you should go visit there). Then I became overwhelmed. I didn't realize how MUCH there was.

At Esalen there are some large baths fed by hot springs situated on a ledge about thirty feet above the ocean. One of my most pleasurable experiences has been to sit in one of those baths and watch the waves crashing onto the rocky slope below, to gaze into the clear blue sky above, and to study a beautiful nude as she quietly appears and settles into the bath with me.

One time I sat down in a bath where there was a beatiful girl sitting with a guy who didn't seem to know her. Right away I began thinking, "Gee! How am I gonna get started talking to this beautiful nude woman?"

I'm trying to figure out what to say, when the guy says to her, "I'm, uh, studying massage. Could I practice on you?"

"Sure", she says. They get out of the bath and she lies down on a massage table nearby.

I think to myself, "What a nifty line! I can never think of anything like that!" He starts to rub her big toe. "I think I feel it", he says. "I feel a kind of dent -- is that the pituitary?"

I blurt out, "You're a helluva long way from the pituitary, man!"

They looked at me, horrified -- I had blown my cover -- and said, "It's reflexology!"

I quickly closed my eyes and appeared to be meditating.

That's just an example of the kind of things that overwhelm me. I also looked into extrasensory perception, and PSI phenomena, and the latest craze there was Uri Geller, a man who is supposed to be able to bend keys by rubbing them with his finger. So I went to his hotel room, on his invitation, to see a demonstration of both mindreading and bending keys. He didn't do any mindreading that succeeded; nobody can read my mind, I guess. And my boy held a key and Geller rubbed it, and nothing happened. Then he told us it works better under water, and so you can picture all of us standing in the bathroom with the water turned on and the key under it, and him rubbing the key with his finger. Nothing happened. So I was unable to investigate that phenomenon.

But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe? (And I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked.) So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down -- or hardly going up -- in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress -- lots of theory, but no progress -- in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.

Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it some other way -- or is even fooled by the school system into thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels guilty for the rest of her life because she didn't do "the right thing", according to the experts.

So we really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas -- he's the controller -- and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school -- we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty -- a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid -- not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked -- to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can -- if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong -- to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will -- including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.

A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the subject. Nevertheless, it should be remarked that this is not the only difficulty. That's why the planes don't land -- but they don't land.

We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a little bit off because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of an electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bit bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn't they discover the new number was higher right away? It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of -- this history -- because it's apparent that people did things like this: when they got a number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something must be wrong -- and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number close to Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that kind of a disease.

But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves -- of having utter scientific integrity -- is, I'm sorry to say, something that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of his work were. "Well", I said, "there aren't any". He said, "Yes, but then we won't get support for more research of this kind". I think that's kind of dishonest. If you're representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you're doing -- and if they don't support you under those circumstances, then that's their decision.

One example of the principle is this: If you've made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish BOTH kinds of results.

I say that's also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don't publish such a result, it seems to me you're not giving scientific advice. You're being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don't publish at all. That's not giving scientific advice.

Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this -- it had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person -- to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know the the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This was in about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happened.

Nowadays, there's a certain danger of the same thing happening, even in the famous field of physics. I was shocked to hear of an experiment being done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator Laboratory, where a person used deuterium. In order to compare his heavy hydrogen results to what might happen with light hydrogen, he had to use data from someone else's experiment on light hydrogen, which was done on a different apparatus. When asked why, he said it was because he couldn't get time on the program (because there's so little time and it's such expensive apparatus) to do the experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there wouldn't be any new result. And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying -- possibly -- the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing. It is often hard for the experimenters there to complete their work as their scientific integrity demands.

All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on -- with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the corridor, and still the rats could tell.

He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers that clues that the rat is really using -- not what you think it's using. And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

I looked up the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running the rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn't discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic example of cargo cult science.

Another example is the ESP experiments of Mr. Rhine, and other people. As various people have made criticisms -- and they themselves have made criticisms of their own experiments -- they improve the techniques so that the effects are smaller, and smaller, and smaller until they gradually disappear. All the para-psychologists are looking for some experiment that can be repeated -- that you can do again and get the same effect -- statistically, even. They run a million rats -- no, it's people this time -- they do a lot of things are get a certain statistical effect. Next time they try it they don't get it any more. And now you find a man saying that is is an irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment. This is science?

This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology. And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of things they have to do is be sure to only train students who have shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent -- not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students who get only chance results. It is very dangerous to have such a policy in teaching -- to teach students only how to get certain results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific integrity.

So I have just one wish for you -- the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Debate Notes

Thanks to all the awesome people we met at the CFI debate for coming out to see us! Will was fantastically prepared and was a superb part of the debate, and it was great to meet Sheiban and our many supporters from JREF and CFI. CFI Ontario has been rather slow to put up video of the debate and I know that’s what people are eager to see, so I’ll keep badgering them about it. In the mean time, a few notes:

1. Conspiracy theorists opinions on the outcome...

My fantastic debate partner Will Mount has kept himself abreast of the response to the debate coming from the conspiracy theorist side, and has found quite a few gems of theirs, among them:

The Beverley Street gang of university students appeared to be a part of the
Sceptics Society gang with their foolish magazine.

The publishers according to my extensive research over the years are just a
bunch of people who get support from CIA to so-called debunk issues to steer
people away from what they can really do -- such as remote viewing, dowsing,
etc., etc.

A word of warning to conspiracy theorists: If you accuse your opponents of being “spooks,” you immediately forfeit your right to be taken seriously. This is true of the numerous accusations we get on Facebook to that effect, as well. Just to let y’all know: as soon as you go the “CIA SHILLS!” route, you basically set yourself up to get laughed at…a lot.

I went to the debate, too. I found the entire exercise futile, even
counterproductive. John Ray, the bright kid from Pittsburgh was a most
impressive performer with his instant recall of all-too familiar "debunker"
arguments, complete with eye-rolling affectations of exasperation at Doug's
review of high school physics. I found it truly depressing to see first
hand a young man with such gifts wasting them to uphold the lies of
tyrants--an admission John would surly consider "proof" of his victory. He
was all ego, no integrity. He had no interest in truth. As he asked one of
his facebook debunker friends after the debate: "So, do you think we won?"
 His friend's answer: "Oh yeah, but I'm biased." I thought to myself,
"Night of the Living Dead." Great recruit material for the NWO.

Will found many such backwards-phrased compliments. Here are a couple of great ones I found on the 9/11 denier boards of the “The Agenda” appearance:

It's the John Ray's of the world that we need to reach. These "intellectuals" enjoy getting lost in minutia, convenient speculation and fail to acknowledge real-world physics and see the bigger picture. It was annoying to listen to this guy and soft-ball questions he was given. He represents the truest form of those who are righteously self-ignorant. He is, in short, an obnoxious nerd who loves to be in the right and whose intellectual growth has been stunted by lack of common sense and emotional disconnect.

MacQueen walked into a shooting gallery.

The CIA came loaded for bear. 

The two 'journalists' had every single line from the official story to the letter and didn't have even a single question about the official conspiracy theory. The NY fellow was blinking constantly (a primary characteristic of lying). Both were absolutely unflinching and unfriendly.

They flawlessly hit all of the key OCT apologist points: 

- they were offended about suggestions that their children's friend's parents were not killed as the OCT says

-shaking their heads when MacQueen and Keefer were speaking

- saying 'my friend Michael is wrong' [as if it’s somehow “a CIA tactic” to call someone your “friend” and point out that they’re wrong…when they’re wrong…]

They were intimidating and (too) aggressive. Incredible. 

The show's host was so clearly part of the setup with his UFO survey results comparison, and 'won't make a comment about what that says about our show's viewers' (when he saw 72% said MIHOP in his survey), and then announcing future shows about 'what makes a conspiratorial mindset', and 'how we mourn, and move on'. 

The show was a total setup. Brutal, slick and psychopathic.

But no, seriously guys: a great way to turn yourself into a source of derision is to proclaim that anyone and everyone who disagrees with you is a “CIA shill.” But here’s another curious part of the response by 9/11 deniers…

2. Barrie Zwicker taped the entire debate but only put up one portion.

After the debate a very polite, very friendly man came up to the Q&A session and asked me about an article called Fourteen Points of Agreement With Official Government Reports on the World Trade Center Destruction, an agitprop piece that will be the subject of an upcoming entry. After the debate this person came up to me and spoke with me in a very constructive, very friendly manner about it.

I had a good discussion with this guy for about ten minutes without knowing it was Barrie Zwicker. At any rate, don’t worry Barrie, we’ll be talking about “Fourteen Points” in an upcoming entry!

It appeared that Barrie taped the entire event. Yet, afterwards, the YouTube account “nobodyparticularly” (who, it appears, is someone who is of a like mind with Mr. Zwicker) put up only one portion: Doug’s discussion of “evidence for a controlled demolition” (get ready for headache). It was the only portion of the entire debate where he took up all the ten minutes allotted to him; otherwise, it was anywhere from six down to two minutes. Barrie seems to have made this choice deliberately, and I have little right to complain as the CFI hasn’t uploaded its video yet itself, I just found it to be an amusing commentary on exactly how interested 9/11 deniers are in “advancing the conversation” (to say nothing of Professor Keefer’s last-minute bail-out). But this is all because…

3. Doug Plumb has a lot on his plate.

Doug is a candidate in the Canadian Action Party (its party platform can be found here) and his blog indicates a wide range of interests, as can be discerned by some of the “SOME QUESTIONS” he poses there:

5. If the war on terrorism is real, why is the US and Mexico border being left open? 
6. Why does the government allow so many Moslem's into the country if they are such a threat?
9. If you believe in Global Warming shouldn't you see what the nay-sayers have to say? You can watch Michael Coffman's "Global Warming or Global Governance" for free on Google video. Coffman left the UN because of corruption and the global warming hoax. He has a PhD in forest ecology.
12. What is going to be done with police services once everyone has the RFID chip? Once everyone has the chip will there be a need for police?
14. Wars, debt, poverty, G.M. foods, fluorinated water, among other things will always be with us. Who does parliament really work for?
15. Why do they put fluoride in the water? Wasn't that invented by the Russian communists and used in concentration camps by Hitler? Why is it in our water when its a topical treatment and can only do harm when swallowed?
20. Did the secret government in the USA kill J.F. Kennedy?
21. How could Alex Jones go on the air and talk about UN & Dyncorp sex slave operations, Halliburton Civilian Inmate Labour Camps built on US soil, and the missing 3000 children that were taken in Florida by their Child Protectioin Services if it wasn't actually true? Wouldn't Halliburton sue him - particularly with the fortunes people say he makes from his show? Why isn't Dyncorp sueing Alex Jones? (When surfing the internet you have to be able to tell the difference between conspiracy theories and hard fact)

Literally, the first thing Doug said to me – as soon as I walked into the room, put down my stuff, and shook his hand – was, “who paid for your travel?”

“Who paid for your travel?” Nice to meet you too, Doug. Afterwards he was very friendly and polite, but talk about an odd first impression. But suffice it to say, and many 9/11 deniers seem to agree, Doug is certainly interested in 9/11 (he has his own theories on “mini-nukes”), but he may not necessarily have been the “expert” t hey were hoping for. Frankly, I enjoyed the discussion and had a good time talking with Doug afterwards, but that’s a separate issue.

4. Where are we going from here?

Here’s some of the stuff coming up on our plates.
 1. A review of “Fourteen Points of Agreement.”
 2. A review – yes, a full freakin’ review – of the six-hour woo-woo Behemoth, “Ring of Power.”
 3. A written debate with Michael Keefer, who backed out of the live debate.
 Those are just some of the many things coming up on the horizon. Mr. Keefer has said he’d like to get the debate started in late October, so we’ll make sure to get the rest of these finished first. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Analyzing a Typical 9/11 Conspiracy Film

The purpose of this article is to examine a typical 9/11 conspiracy film and to deconstruct its flaws. To support its assertions this film uses copious amounts of bad science. This film assets that WTC 7 fell at “free fall speeds” thus it must have been caused by a controlled demolition. Lets have a look:


The first picture of interest is the reference screen that the author uses to determine scale for their calculations.

A few things of note: The Irvine Trust building that is used for scale is not particularly close to WTC7 and thus, using it as a source of scaling is flawed. This is especially true since the video is shot from and elevated location, this further skews our sense of scale. There is also nothing to indicate that its flooring system is similar to WTC7, this is another source or error. Also note that the video on the left, its indicator of the 21st floor does not correspond well with the scale on the right. The Irvine building is 23 floors tall and the scale on the left, if correct, would be lower than the 21st floor.


Even if the distance covered is correct, we already have a discontinuity in the calculations used by the video’s author. From the picture below the author times the fall to be 4.15 seconds.

The author then says that WTC7 fell 100 meters in 4.5 seconds.

The author then uses a “Science website” to calculate what the free fall times for objects falling 100 meters. In essence this science website is just using a kinematics equation to calculate the fall time. The equation to calculate the time of a falling object in free fall, vacuum is simply:

t= [(D*2)/a]^0.5

Where: D is the distance, a is the acceleration due to gravity, and t is the time.

The author then shows that an object falling in free fall will cover 100 meters in 4.5 seconds.

This is indeed true but this is also where the work by the videos author starts to seriously fall apart. As we showed earlier the video the fall time was 4.15 seconds. If the WTC 7 really did fall 100 meters in 4.15 seconds this would correspond to an acceleration due to gravity of 11.6 m/s2 . Earths gravitational acceleration is 9.8 m/s2 this corresponds to an 18 percent increase. At this point the videos author has lost most if not all footing. Nothing can sustain an accelerated fall over 100 meters without an enormous amount of energy to force it down. Additionally, during a building demolition with explosives, the building falls close but not above the rate cause by gravity. There is no forcing down by the explosives. Controlled demolitions operate by destroying the supporting columns of the building, which then allows gravity to tear down the building. What this means is, the videos scaling calculations are incorrect and misleading. The authors assertions that a building would not collapse at exactly free fall speeds is correct, but this statement in itself causes the whole premise of his video to fail. From his own calculations and numbers the buildings did something that is physically impossible and it causes me to believe that his work is not only flawed, but purposely misleading and doctored.


Perhaps the silliest and most obscene part of this video was when the author compares the free fall lab to the video, to show that the two fall at the same time. The first thing to note is that the author does not show how he scaled the video to match the program, this is a totally different frame from the first frame of the video showing the collapse. By not showing how he scaled the video, you can match the video to any speed of collapse. As we have shown previously the calculations and video scaling are already fatally flawed to begin with, this comparison is another case of serious misrepresentation and bad science.


The final frame of the video acts as a summary. Again, this contains serious flaws that are based on false assertions and bad science. The observation that the WTC 7 fell faster than the speed of gravity is phased incorrectly. Objects in vacuums do fall at the speed of gravity; this shows that the author has deficiencies in his understanding of the basic physics behind the collapse of WTC 7. As we shown before, the author’s calculations and scalings are flawed and incorrect. Any numbers used by the author are not accurate and cannot be trusted. The conclusion that the building was “pulled” down by a vacuum caused by a controlled demolition is totally incorrect. During a controlled demolition there is no vacuum that causes the building to fall. The building falls due to the structural supports being broken and the building then falls under the force of gravity. Furthermore the author indicates that a “large explosion” is heard 9.5 seconds before the collapse. If an explosion was present almost 10 seconds before the collapse it cannot be the source of energy needed to cause the building to fall at the supposed accelerated rate. After almost 10 seconds any force from that explosion would have dissipated and in either case, if a large explosion was the cause of the collapse, if anything, it would have slowed the collapse because of the upward force of the explosion.

In summary, we have shown that this video contains serious flaws in its calculations of the fall timing, scaling of the video and contains numerous continuity errors that make any of its mathematical and physics assertions dubious at best. According to the authors own calculations WTC 7 did things that are not only impossible from an engineering standpoint but also from a basic physics standpoint as well. This shows that the author has serious deficiencies in his understanding of basic physics and analysis. We have also shown that the authors conclusions are inconsistent and lack basic physical sense.

It should be also noted that the NIST has recently released a new study on WTC 7 which has shed new light on the collapse and has conclusively answered many questions asked by conspiracy theorists. The findings of this study is being used in new building codes concerning fires and impacts on structures. No where did any of the NIST’s reports does it show that WTC 7’s collapse was caused by a controlled demolition or that there was any strange phenomenon that cannot be explained through rational analysis.

In many ways this video is typical of the basic 9/11 conspiracy mindset. A slight inconsistency, based on a false observation is blown out of proportion. Bad science and engineering take over and soon enough a regular phenomenon has become a world class controversy that involves thousands of people in a multifaceted conspiracy. A conspiracy involving a controlled demolition of WTC 7 would have involved hundreds if not thousands of people, yet not one of these people, after 7 years has blown the lid on the biggest conspiracy of the century. By comparison, it is almost common knowledge that the Bush administration had spoken at length about invading Iraq during their fist national security meeting. This meeting would have involved less than several dozen people. In the case of science, the simplest explanation is usually the most correct one. In a simplistic way, a building burning uncontrollably for hours on end, damaged by enormous amounts of falling debris, falling under its own weight seems much more reasonable than, a multi million dollar, national conspiracy, involving thousands of people, through all levels of government, as proposed by shady internet videos.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

CRNU on "The Agenda!" ...And the whole “we have no idea what we’re talking about” thing

Our debate on Toronto’s popular current affairs program The Agenda went spectacularly and I had a lot of fun working with Jefferson Flanders. For those keeping score, general consensus among viewers so far is that the skeptics won, though after debates there are always things you wish you could’ve said better (the skeptics definitely let the conspiracy theorists off when it came to the ridiculous “war games” claims). These same viewers also brought up another point that is probably more important: no one on the show was in any way qualified to be saying what they were saying.

As one poster on the show’s forum wrote:

if you are going to do an oddball topic, at the very least please round up a credible panel of people with some real expertise. The only upside to this group was that it gives me a start on some new joke material. A religious studies instructor, a journalist and a blogger walk into a bar...

This is a trenchant (if sarcastically-phrased) insight that I’ve had to clarify many times. I’m not an expert and I hope none of my fellow skeptic friends are claiming to be experts (unless they are!). Michael Keefer and Graeme MacQueen aren’t experts, either – not when it comes to complex structural engineering, the physics of disasters, or the inner workings of the highest branches of government. I’m not an expert on any of these.

What I am an expert on, however, is knowing that something I just heard sounds fishy.

We live on a planet populated by believers in UFOs, tasseography, homeopathy, Bigfoot, free energy, estoerics, AIDS denial, telepathy, anti-vaccinationism; by people who believe there were government conspiracies to kill John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Tupac; by people who have at some point or another in their lives surrendered intellectually to Stalinism, theocracy, juche, personality cults, militias. If you lack the ability to simply say “HUH?” when you hear something that offends your sensibilities, your chances of passing on your genes on this planet are probably significantly diminished. That’s what Jefferson Flanders and I do: we go, “wait a second, that doesn’t sound right.”

It’s as much an indictment of the conspiracy theorists that their supposed “evidence-based” claims about the physics of 9/11 can evidently be fundamentally undermined by laymen, one of whom is a college undergrad. There were two main questions that popped up in response to our appearance on the show: the first was, “why are these guys qualified at all?” The second was, “why are we even pretending that these amateur conspiracy theories are worth fifty-two minutes out of our day?”

But that’s just an aside. The fundamental fact is that I went on this show and said what I thought was correct because I looked into the claims those guys made and found them to be utterly wrong to the degree that I could learn about them. You don’t need advanced degrees to feel like you’ve just listened to a ranting conspiracy theorist. You just need basic skeptical faculties to know when it’s time to speak up. I'm no expert – they have better things to do. I'm just some kid who happens to know when he's being had.

If someone defends themselves by claiming you're "not an expert," courteously remind them that that has nothing to do with whether or not they're utterly full of bologna.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The debate is coming up!

Just a quick reminder (with a major update to come this weekend about the drama swirling around our upcoming debate!) to tell all your Toronto friends to come see William Mount and John Ray from our awesome Facebook group engaged in a hopefully productive debate about what happened on 9/11!