Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Okay, “911debunkers,” Let’s Walk You Through It

Looks like we really managed to ruffle some feathers over at the debunker-wannabe blog, apparently un-ironically named “Debunking the Debunkers.” Get out your violins:

While repeatedly calling us '9/11 deniers', 'wannabes' and 'cargo-cult skeptics', and mocking me for quoting more of Shermer than I needed to, NR oversimplifies my arguments and engages in the usual fact-free straw man attacks.

And thus follows the usual moaning of those unable to defend a position: They claim that we characterized their arguments in an unfair fashion, that we portrayed their worldview unfavorably, and didn’t define terms in a way that makes their position look good – essentially. For reference, here is the post that got them in such a fuss – and now here’s the next refutation.

D911D starts right off by attempting to backtrack and re-characterize their stance on the “maneuvers” Hani Hanjour “pulled off” on 9/11. The author initially simply gives us

Hani Hanjour would need to have been superhuman to pull off the maneuvres he did. So number 2 definately [sic] applies to the hijackers.

While linking to one of his prior posts that includes, after an impromptu rant about some sort of unemployment difficulties he’s facing,

"Hani Hanjour, a man who was incompetant [sic] in a single engine Cessna, then executed a complex 330 degree downward turn, descending 6000 feet in two and a half minutes. He then entered a steep dive and descended a further 2000 feet in 40 seconds, pulled out of this steep dive at 500mph, overcame enormous G-Forces and knocked down five light poles in less than a second while maintaining the perfect trajectory required to hit the ground floor of a conveniently reinforced section of the Pentagon without touching the lawn. And he accomplished all this without being caught on any of the eighty plus cameras surrounding the Pentagon and without attracting the attention of the US air defence."

I think on some subconscious level I was being charitable by not trotting this out in the original post, because this generally speculative characterization of the plane’s maneuvers was pathetic. Hani Hanjour dipped the nose and the plane descended at a jaw-tearing 45 miles per hour (why, human beings themselves should fly apart at that speed!), then descended again at a face-melting 34 miles per hour and somehow managed to tip the plane back up to overcome the enormous pressure. Things are a lot less scary in perspective, I think. Hani Hanjour tipped the nose twice, and is thus a miracle pilot?

And, as usual, I think it goes without saying that the claim that Hanjour is naught but a flight-school dropout who was “incompetent in a single engine Cessna” is a lie by omission - he was, until he wasn’t.

In 1996, Hanjour returned to the United States to pursue flight training,after being rejected by a Saudi flight school. He checked out flight schools in Florida, California, and Arizona; and he briefly started at a couple of them before returning to Saudi Arabia. In 1997, he returned to Florida and then, along with two friends, went back to Arizona and began his flight training there in earnest. After about three months, Hanjour was able to obtain his private pilot's license. Several more months of training yielded him a commercial pilot certificate, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April 1999... Settling in Mesa, Hanjour began refresher training at his old school,Arizona Aviation. He wanted to train on multi-engine planes, but had difficulties because his English was not good enough.The instructor advised him to discontinue but Hanjour said he could not go home without completing the training. In early 2001, he started training on a Boeing 737 simulator at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Mesa.An instructor there found his work well below standard and discouraged him from continuing.Again, Hanjour persevered; he completed the initial training by the end of March 2001.

(source, quoting page 225 of the 9/11 Commission Report)

His instructor described him as “a very average pilot,” and, from the source cited above,

One 9/11 Commission footnote (to Chapter 7) is relatively positive. 170. FBI report, "Summary of Penttbom Investigation," Feb. 29, 2004, pp. 52¬57. Hanjour successfully conducted a challenging certification flight supervised by an instructor at Congressional Air Charters of Gaithersburg, Maryland, landing at a small airport with a difficult approach.The instructor thought Hanjour may have had training from a military pilot because he used a terrain recognition system for navigation. Eddie Shalev interview (Apr.9, 2004).

And, from pentagonresearch, "Despite Hanjour's poor reviews, he did have some ability as a pilot, said Bernard of Freeway Airport. "There's no doubt in my mind that once that [hijacked jet] got going, he could have pointed that plane at a building and hit it," he said."

So this is just a battle of the scare quotes.

In 9/11 denier land, this argument breaks even: “They” have quotes saying the maneuvers were undoable for Hanjour, “we” have quotes saying they were doable for Hanjour. By the denier standard of evidence, this argument is a draw. We have to throw up our hands (ed. note: Wrote “throw up in our hands” the first time. Viva Freud!) and walk away from the table. Fortunately, as a skeptic, I can do better: this kind of crap don’t matter. Who cares what various semi-authorities think about the relative talents of the pilots? Are we meant to conclude that there should’ve been something “likely” about 9/11? Should 9/11 have been a day without the weird, without the inevitable deviations from the mean? This entire line of reasoning is hogwash. What we know is that the positive evidence helps us establish who the pilots were.

Here, in fact, let’s play a thought experiment and grant the 9/11 deniers a premise. Let us falsely render Hanjour a doddering incompetent who couldn’t have flown a paper airplane over his desk. This changes nothing about what we almost certainly already know about Hani Hanjour’s life. 100% of the remaining evidence singles him out as a hijacking pilot, even if we let the 9/11 deniers escape with the obvious lie that he couldn’t have tilted a plane slightly for a brief period. The positive evidence - the records of his training, of his travels, his presence on the plane, his consorting with the fellow hijackers, the many people who came forward to volunteer information about his life (and those who were captured and forced to…) all stand. We know 9/11 deniers are deluding themselves when they make this particularly absurd argument. But even if they weren’t, they’d still be in a very deep hole.

So yes, D911D, you’re wrong on this point. In our previous post, in fact, you were merely wrong; now you’re dishonest.

He next attempts to use the highest form of standard of evidence in 9/11 denier circles – shite YouTube videos – to address the fact that he doesn’t understand how probabilities work. This was in response to a little aside I made about his hypocrisy in saying that skeptics “don’t bother to run the numbers.” Here’s the video he used:

This video is hysterical, so I recommend you give it a view. The presenter begins, in what appears to be a fully honest deadpan, with the following:

“What is the probability of the BBC predicting an unknown event in advance? …100,000.” We can scrap this one because the BBC didn’t predict jack in advance. And yes, it goes without saying, this guy didn’t calculate jack, either. No numbers were “run” here – but by now, it should be obvious we aren’t dealing with the most intellectually rigorous of folks here.

Next up, he asks, “what are the chances of cell phones working at high altitude in 2001?” This entire claim is a non sequitur, as SLC has addressed here. In general, this guy dishonestly calls air phones “cell phones” for most of his claim. Yawn. 2003 called, they want their arguments back.

And in claim three he simply lies. The majority of 9/11 Commission Report members did not “go public saying the investigation was a fraud.” Many members of the Commission complained that the Bush Administration was unhelpful and intrusive, but this guy simply lies about the substance of those complaints. And then he simply decides, “the probability of this one is less than one in a thousand.” That of course is a non sequitur response to the stated question, “how many public enquiry’s have [sic] had a majority of its members go public about fraud?” That question doesn’t even demand a probabilistic answer.

Oh, and have we mentioned, two of the three claims made so far don’t even have anything to do with the actual mechanics of 9/11? The implied theory in number one – of foreign journalists being paid off to start telling “the official story” even before it happens, because apparently the world’s most clever conspirators don’t know what a time zone is – would be completely unrelated to actually pulling off 9/11, and number three is even more obviously so – even if it weren’t a lie.

D911D, you’ve been lied to by people who want you to believe them. Isn’t this the sort of thing you should be angry about? Going to move on now, let me know if you need hand-holding through the remaining five claims.

After all, we now have something more fun to address: D911D’s truly tragic attempt at defending the “thermite” hoax, perpetrated once again by demonstrable frauds whom this author should be dead-set on refuting. He’s a “debunker” after all, dontchaknow.

I’m confused as to why we got the first link he provides, which doesn’t have a lot to say about our case for why the big thermite article is a fraud. It provides one particularly egregious overstep early on: It quotes an article saying that “Nanosized thermitic materials are being researched by the U.S. military with the aim of developing new types of bombs that are several times more powerful than conventional explosives” to argue that nanothermite “IS an incendiary and an explosive,” even though it is literally chemically impossible for that to be true unless you add something else to the thermite (Debunking 911 maths it out here). I’m honestly unsure how to address this claim but with the self-evident fact of how thermite behaves when it “goes off” – a process you can watch here and here). Thus, clearly, its “use in incendiary devices” is the exact same as its use in fireworks – as a pyrotechnic initiator.

Starting off your blog post with an obvious lie is not a good way to get taken seriously, and then trying to quote your way around the serious issues preventing your point from being taken seriously is at least as bad. The entire crux of their argument rests on the appeal to mediocre authority contained in the author’s quote of Jim Hoffman’s article, which reads thus:

These are all features of a nano-engineered material. It is not possible that such a material was formed as a by-product of the destruction of the Twin Towers...
Although these elements -- aluminum, iron, oxygen, and silicon -- were all abundant in building materials used in the Twin Towers, it is not possible that such materials milled themselves into fine powder and assembled themselves into a chemically optimized aluminothermic composite as a by-product of the destruction of the Twin Towers.

And when we go to the article itself, the evidence we find for Hoffman’s claim is… nonexistent. The author claims that the “particles” used to build the case were “very small” without saying how much larger or smaller they were than, say, the average particle found in the wreckage, or the size of other particles of similar chemical composition. You know, the only two things you would want to know to empirically verify that claim. He next says that “the particles are highly uniform in size and shape,” running into the exact same problem, plus another one: he doesn’t bother to provide any metric of uniformity! So no, they are not highly uniform in size and shape – there, an equally valid claim to Jim’s, per unit volume of empirical evidence. I think the closest Hoffman comes to trying to do original science in this regard is to try to come up with the chemical composition of his samples.

As such, it is scientific dishonesty to reject the fact that these are the normal components of the collapse site of a skyscraper. It is an impossible claim to make – and doesn’t even move an inch in the direction of our refutation.

They hint at what to me is the most important point – the ridiculous way in which the sample was gathered – in the second link, but only dig themselves deeper. To be clear, Jones did not gather any samples. People mailed him things, and he took them at their word. From the article itself:

It was learned that a number of people had saved samples of the copious, dense dust, which spread and settled across Manhattan. Several of these people sent portions of their samples to members of this research group. This paper discusses four separate dust samples collected on or shortly after 9/11/2001. Each sample was found to contain red/gray chips. All four samples were originally collected by private citizens who lived in New York City at the time of the tragedy.

And, even better, the original article gives us a map of where the samples were (supposedly) collected, showing that three of the four were uh, well, let’s just say they wouldn’t be the residue of a beam-melting job, that’s for sure:

At least this time they tried to be skeptics, unlike their other two claims. Okay, D911D, 2,300 words later, I have not reduced your fraudulent, dishonest, and/or downright absurd claims to “straw men.” Here they are, and there is why they are wrong. There is why your worldview is still, in fact, utterly false.

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