Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No, It’s Not

“A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” is the new post over at AE911T that appears to argue that the debris that fell from the Towers on 9/11 “accelerated” as it penetrated the surrounding buildings, and that engages in some classic confirmation bias (and/or lyin’ with photographs!). Its nothing new, and the only reason it feels worth commenting on is because its stated aim is to “open the minds of skeptics.” Hey, we’re all skeptics here, so let’s see what we’re in for!

Another way to open the minds of skeptics – without getting technical at all – is to compare the other WTC buildings that did not actually collapse to the three that collapsed completely. Show the following photos to your stubborn interlocutor. Ask him or her to notice how severely damaged these other buildings were by the debris from the Twin Towers, yet substantial portions remained upright. And ask “Why?”


Ergo, “why did one of the peripheral buildings suffer a full collapse, while others only mostly collapsed (and had to be torn down later due to irreparability)?” Stunning, guys. Let’s break it down further: “I know 9/11 was an inside job because some buildings were damaged more than others.” My skeptical faculties, they cannot cope with the genius.

Here’s the thing. When there a lot of something happens in a measurable (“localized”) area, that something tends not to happen evenly. People who read this blog already know what stats geeks we are but, hey, 9/11 deniers, there’s this thing called a distribution. (For the rest of us, there are also these things that influence the spread of falling debris like initial impact point, wind speed, wind direction…)

This particularly vapid argument does not require getting down into brass tacks; it is enough to point out its statistical naivety and its obvious disingenuousness (I mean, do we really think Michael Cook doesn’t know this?) and to remind people about the macro-level apparent disorder that characterizes our universe. People who are better-qualified to address the engineering and technical specifics of why, say, WTC 7 outright collapsed and WTC 3 only mostly collapsed are welcome to, but to me this is a non-argument.

And besides, what did 9/11 deniers expect? For every tower in the complex to collapse? Why is one peripheral collapse more or less “suspicious” than two? Would five collapses have been more plausible? Why? What is the argument here?

Briefly consider with these questions in mind the next act of their shtick.

Consider the impact that WTC 3 must have sustained for it to have been damaged as it was. Material from the Twin Towers was coming down with enough force to penetrate as many as about sixteen floors of this building. Yet, the lower floors stopped the debris, and a total collapse, well before ground level, and most sections stopped the damage far higher than that. How could any “collapse” in Building 7 – which would have had nowhere near the momentum that the falling Twin Towers material did – have continued through the entire structure of WTC 7? How could any such destruction (regardless of what started it) possibly have kept accelerating, through scores of heavy, mostly undamaged columns and hundreds of structural interconnections? Shouldn’t Building 7’s collapse have decelerated and stopped even sooner than the free-falling heavy structural steel members that were stopped by the lower portions of WTC 3?

This one took me a couple of re-readings to digest fully. Mostly because Cook apparently seems to barely know what the word “accelerating” means (or is at least using it dishonestly in the hopes that you don’t know that acceleration can be both negative and positive), but also because of the transparent falsity of his argument. Why do we expect the steel kicked out of the main towers to have “more momentum” than the falling WTC 7? p=mv, anyone? Sure the building didn’t have as far to fall, but WTC 7 itself was order of magnitude heavier than the debris that crippled it structurally – all we need to know why it eventually collapsed.

Cook pointlessly references “acceleration” to make a misleading point about the falling steel “falling at a rate that was changing” – enough to warrant the word in the Cook book – and then blatantly messes up his physics concerning the “momentum” of various falling objects. I don’t foresee this claim getting too far into the “Movement” and there should be no mystery as to why.

1 comment:

Arthur Scheuerman said...

There apparently is a real collapse resistance difference between residence buildings (Building 3 a hotel) which have small area rooms (more walls to resist collapse by providing alternate load paths) and large open area buildinngs which require long span floors and less deviding walls which can resist collapse.

NIST pointed out the hazards of espansion and contraction problems in long-span steel beams and girders when subjected to fire.