911 Puzzling

Someone bent my ear again on 911 conspiracy theories, and I've had jigsaw-puzzle-solving fun digging through the details.  Also, I feel we should consider evidence for even pretty crazy-sounding claims when the evidence offered meets high enough standards.  To his credit physicist Steven Jones has published papers meeting such standards:

I conclude the twin towers probably held big chucks of hitech pyrotechnic materials quite uncommon in office buildings.  And a few hundred pounds of this stuff spread around the pillars of a single floor might well bring down a tower. 

BUT, I am unpersuaded by claims that plane crashes could not have induced the towers falling as they did, the sounds heard, the warnings voiced, etc. (E.g., hear him and him.)  Aside from the above findings, the match between simple theory and observation seems about as close as we should expect, given this complex and unusual situation; it would be crazy not to expect a few anomalies between simple predictions and what we saw.

 So I see two main scenarios to consider:

  1. Huge buildings known to include CIA offices happened to hold big chunks of hitech pyrotech when the planes hit.
  2. Someone conspired to make planes, by themselves able to topple towers, hit the floors where very-well-protected pyrotech was hidden, and then triggered that stuff just when buildings might have fallen anyway.

Without some further concrete evidence, scenario #1 seems to me overwhelmingly more likely.

This post made me reflect again on why moderate uncertainty here feels like "uncanny valley."  If I told everyone there was a 10% chance of something they thought pretty crazy, nine times out of ten, it would confirm that I'm crazy.  One time out of ten I'd be vindicated, but even then folks might say I was crazy but lucky. 

Or hindsight bias might make them think it should have seemed pretty likely.  I'm acutely aware that the few of us who predicted the web when others called it crazy get little credit today; in hindsight the web seems inevitable.

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  • gwern

    > Huge buildings known to include CIA offices happened to hold big chunks of hitech pyrotech when the planes hit.

    How big chunks are we talking, exactly? The papers didn’t cover this when I skimmed through. Larger than CIA offices could plausibly have for destroying all classified materials?

  • Roland

    WTC 7 wasn’t hit by any plane, yet collapsed:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD06SAf0p9A

  • http://michaelkenny.blogspot.com Mike Kenny

    Interesting. It almost seems like one should make some predictions, say 10 sort of crazy ones, say them enough to be able to cite them if one or two happen, but not be so insistently repetitive that when 8 or 9 predictions don’t happen, everyone remembers and makes fun of you. Maybe there’s a sweet spot of remember-ability for cynical types to exploit! Make crazy predictions not too memorable, but not too forgettable either. ;)

  • J

    This 22 second video shows a “random” bystander explaining what happened.

  • http://m.reddit.com/user/ithkuil Jason Livesay

    I don’t know what you guys call this in the bias business, but this is a case where one conclusion just isn’t socially acceptable because it contradicts fundamental beliefs. The official 9/11 story has become part of our accepted American mythology. The same way someone deeply embedded within a pro-life group can’t come to the conclusion that abortion should be legal, anyone who wishes to remain inside of the sane group and avoid being instantly assigned to the ‘conspiracy theorist crazies’ group must come to the ‘sane’ conclusion that the towers fell simply because the planes/debris hit them.

    So I would say there is a 100% likelihood that Robin Hanson will avoid being assigned to the conspiracy theorist crazies group by coming to the ‘sane’ conclusion.

  • Roland

    Jason,

    you make a good point. Another thing I noticed is that Robin is making the mistake explained in
    The Importance of Saying “Oops”. He is conceding as little ground as possible with each incoming evidence but he wasn’t able until now to recognize that there is a fundamental problem with the official version.

  • Roland
  • http://xenobiology.blogspot.com James Andrix

    What bothers me is the idea that the planes brought the towers down being coupled with the idea that the kind of ‘controlled demolition’ required to bring the towers down would have taken many people and months of preparation.

    The standard story is that it only took a small conspiracy and no specialized explosives. Why is another small conspiracy and some more standard issue explosives so much more unlikely?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    Note the asymmetric commenting – a few pro-conspiracy buffs are eager to comment, while the far more numerous skeptics find the subject too boring to comment.

    Roland, I’m well aware.

    gwern, I haven’t seen that calculation.

    Jason, are you really accusing me of having excessively conservative beliefs overall?

    James, since we know the planes hit, we’d need to explain two coordinated conspiracies.

  • mitchell porter

    a few pro-conspiracy buffs are eager to comment

    Including those with rival theories. Damn it, can’t you all see that Iraq was behind it and the US government covered it up, because they’d already covered up Iraqi involvement all the way back to 1993, and so the final war against Saddam had to be justified by other reasons? :-)

  • frelkins

    @Robin

    too boring

    No, we don’t find it too boring – we find these conspiracy theories sad. We hope these troubled conspiracy folks find a better way to accept what happened, grieve, and move on in a healthy way.

    As one listed in the 9-11 Health Registry myself, who worked for a company that lost 4 colleagues and 1 ex-colleague when the Towers fell, as one standing on the street corner in that ticker-tape parade from Hell as the desperate threw themselves from the roof, I understand the common psychological need to find an “answer” to the events of that day.

    The facts are clear to those of us who were actually on the ground that day, and who worked and lived in the area around the clock for months beforehand. My co-workers, and many other innocent people, were murdered by Islamicist ideologues, hijackers who flew planes into the buildings at the behest of Al Qaeda.

    I know that many people, used to the psychological shadow of the American hyperpower, have deep, nearly unspeakable barriers to admitting this. To admit this means we were vulnerable to a small out-group. This is profoundly painful to many, to admit the weakness of our in-group.

    We hold our place in our in-group by maintaining its superiority at all costs; as human beings, our in-group’s status is quite important to us. So it is easier to argue that in fact we were not vulnerable from “the outside,” from mere “rag-tag cave-dwellers,” that we perversely had to “do it to ourselves.”

    Conspiracy, while strained, and bolstered only with the most absurd stretches towards plausibility, offers more comfort – it allows America to retain its power. It is a strange but strong way to signal a continued belief in the superiority of America.

    But it does so at the expense of justice. And if justice – which comes only from knowledge of the truth – is not our highest moral value, then we have gone far astray.

    My colleagues and those like them who were murdered do deserve such justice. This means that the planners of the attacks must be captured and go before the Hague for their crime against humanity. To argue for these worthless conspiracy theories, while salving dark tribal needs, serves only to divert attention and resources to delay justice.

    As Robin has so often and eloquently noted, self-deception is a great force. We deceive ourselves with true sincerity and much effort; then use that sincerity to deceive others. So we can see, using Robin’s own principles, why and how 9-11 conspiracy theorists come to ardently believe the false, and evangelize their falsehoods.

    But Robin also teaches the love of truth against all forces. While the conspiracy sirens sing in our ears, we at OB must steel ourselves to bear crushing and sorrowful truths, no matter how painful. Sing away. I will not be deceived; I have tied myself to the truth of what we who were there all experienced that day together.

  • Roland

    Note the asymmetric commenting – a few pro-conspiracy buffs are eager to comment, while the far more numerous skeptics find the subject too boring to comment.

    Robin,

    that’s asymmetric valuation. Those who believe the official story are skeptics, the others are conspiracy BUFFS(a pejorative). Robin, the official story is as much a conspiracy theory(“it was Bin Laden”) as the alternative explanations. Also consider that those who promoted the official version were the same who claimed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, what later proved to be false. Why would you believe them?

    One problem is that you are operating under different basic assumptions than myself. IMHO most so called terrorist actions are in fact false flag operations to win public support for government policies. Once you realize this the pieces fall into place.

    I provide two links from wikipedia:
    False flag as a pretext for war
    Interesting to note is that governments only admit the authorship decades after the fact.
    Operation Northwoods

  • MissedCall

    ‘Also consider that those who promoted the official version were the same who claimed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, what later proved to be false. Why would you believe them?’

    This, itself, is a logical fallacy. I will concede that everyone who promoted the WMD theory also accepts the official 911 theory, but not everyone who accepts the official 911 theory promoted the WMD theory. That aside, the bigger problem is that because someone lied, even about what might be considered a related incident, it does not mean that they are always lying.

  • Roland

    MissedCall:

    When I wrote about the promoters of those two theories I was thinking more about key people in the government. Lying about “What might be considered a related incident”? man those are part of a bigger government agenda which btw was planned much before 911. You have to look at the big picture. Sure, I concede that the official 9-11 version could still be true, but once you realized that they lied in regard to WMD maybe it’s time to question the government and listen to the skeptics.

  • Doug S.

    The biggest problem that I have with the “controlled demolitions” theories are that, well…

    How the hell did they, whoever they are, know the date and manner of the 9/11 attacks far enough in advance to set up a controlled demolition?

    Besides, haven’t you seen that South Park episode? The 9/11 Truth movement is run by government agents trying to trick everyone into thinking that the government actually runs things! ;)

  • http://healspiel.blogspot.com adina

    Jason, according to your logic, there is no way Robin could possibly develop an informed opinion, upon assessing the evidence, because one position is more popular. Isn’t equally possible that you cannot possibly maintain an accurate position on the matter, because you will tend favor ideas that are edgy, “against the grain,” and point to a large-scale conspiracy? Psychoanalyzing away the need for or usefulness of weighing evidence is most convenient for the side with lots of passions, but less evidence.

  • http://thedailyotaku.blogspot.com MissedCall

    @Roland,

    Fair enough. I had no problem with your broader logic. Just wanted to point out what I felt was an overstatement.

    @Doug,

    Usually the people who support the controlled demolitions theories (and I don’t count myself among them) assume that the attacks were also staged.

    @all,

    We hear a lot about the steal, the jet fuel and the paper/office products. What about everything else? From the gasses in the thousands upon thousands of fluorescent lights to the aluminum ducts that ran through the building, it seems like (and I didn’t slog through all of the documents Robin referenced, some had page numbers 300+) These other materials get over looked in how they could have contributed to the end result. Even if, in the end, these other materials don’t account for everything and some explosive materials (as in Robin’s 1st scenario) would still be necessary, the lower the quantity of materials need the easier it is to accept their presence. (I’m sure that reflects a bias on my part.)

  • Roland

    @Doug:
    How the hell did they, whoever they are, know the date and manner of the 9/11 attacks far enough in advance to set up a controlled demolition?

    Doug, are you talking seriously here? The people who planned the plane crashes are the same who set up the demolition.

  • David

    This is ridiculous. Everyone knows it was the Trilateral Commission.

  • http://thedailyotaku.blogspot.com MissedCall

    ‘This is ridiculous. Everyone knows it was the Trilateral Commission.’

    /I like what you did there. Although…

    Just want to remind everyone of this passage from the post Roland linked us to earlier, ‘Theories must be bold and expose themselves to falsification; be willing to commit the heroic sacrifice of giving up your own ideas when confronted with contrary evidence; play nice in your arguments;’ It’s particularly that last one.

    At the risk of stating the (beyond) obvious, everyone’s got very strong emotions about this topic, it’s easy to get heated. I was nervous posting at all. I think that all of us showing a little more caution than we otherwise would, all of us playing a little nicer than usual, wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

  • http://www.positiveliberty.com Jason Kuznicki

    There’s a much stronger reason why the Truthers are eager to comment and the rest of us aren’t. It’s simply that most of us realize gains from the division of labor, while the Truthers have opted not to.

    I don’t happen to trust my knowledge of structural engineering, chemistry, and inside CIA information well enough to make an informed comment. I leave that to professional engineers, chemists, and intelligence analysts. This is much like I do with medicine: On anything important, I ask my doctor and almost always follow his advice.

    Truthers, however, have no such qualms. They appear to believe themselves experts in engineering, chemistry, and the inner workings of the CIA. The result is that they end up with an inferior output.

  • noavail

    when you call your mother on the phone do you say ‘hi mom, this is robin hanson’?
    there are other things more glaring than thermite but who cares? i don’t.

  • nawitus

    ‘The facts are clear to those of us who were actually on the ground that day, and who worked and lived in the area around the clock for months beforehand.’
    That doesn’t seem to follow. Witnessing the events doesn’t introduce you to any relevant information not available to the general public (other than the fact that the planes really did hit the towers, something that the ‘fringe’ conspiracy theorists don’t seem to agree).

  • Fenn

    “everyone’s got very strong emotions about this topic”

    And this is where the topic truly fits into OB, in my opinion.

    A couple of buildings, gone. Roughly the number of people who die in motorcycle wrecks a year, gone.

    Histrionics, still here.
    Lotta troops, over there.

    We’re suckers, alright. No matter who knocked ‘em down.

  • TGGP

    BUFFS(a pejorative)
    It’s usually used as almost the opposite, in my experience: someone unusually interested and knowledgeable about a subject. The kind of person to ask if you’d like to learn more.

  • Stephen

    “Theories must be bold and expose themselves to falsification; be willing to commit the heroic sacrifice of giving up your own ideas when confronted with contrary evidence; play nice in your arguments;”

    @conspiracy theorists: Can you think of any event or piece of evidence that would cause your theory to fail instead of simply morphing to accommodate it?

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    If you’d really put that one at 10%, is there any way we can bet on this?

  • Mikko

    Robin,

    Does anybody believe the original official version about the Iraq government involvement? I think it is a bias to believe that there is some static “official version”. It only means that you believe anything the government says is true at any point. This can hardly be said to be rational, because nobody believes the original version anymore.

    If you belive something else, make it explicit.

  • http://users.ox.ac.uk/~ball2568/ Pablo Stafforini

    Robin, I would have thought that the well-documented human tendency to engage in conspiratorial thinking even when there is demonstrably no evidence of conspiracy would give you strong reason to distrust your inclination to disbelieve the official story about 9-11, even after exposing yourself to the relevant literature on this question. There is also the issue concerning the epistemology of disagreement; I can think of very few other areas where epistemic superiors agree so unanimously as they do here. Finally, note that the factors generating the asymmetry in the posting of comments that you correctly identify above are also likely to generate an asymmetry in the production of arguments: for every physicist arguing for conspiracy, there are dozens who can’t be bothered to argue against it. The fact that nearly all the experts have argued against conspiracy shows how overwhelming the discrepancy really is.

  • David

    /I like what you did there.

    Not sure what you mean. I’m just using my Bayesianism, that’s all. If controlled demolition brought down the towers, then there is a nonzero probability that the explosives were always there; installed during construction. Does “CIA” by default have a higher value than “David Rockefeller/Trilateral Commission?” They were good buddies, after all. And I have an equal amount of proof for my assertion.

    One the other hand, if one has prior knowledge that wood, plastic, and most organic materials have an adiabatic flame temperature of ~1950 C, hot enough to melt metals, or even if one simply stops to consider that the Chinese were melting iron in the 5th century BC using charcoal, then the cited papers might not have as big an impact on one’s reasoning.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p011570116d5b970b Josh

    Richard Muller, the author of this “buckling” argument (http://muller.lbl.gov/ [Link: "Analysis of the Terrorist Attack"] ) seems authoritative to me, and his explanation of the physics involved matches my naive intuitions.

  • Sigivald

    Mikko said: Does anybody believe the original official version about the Iraq government involvement?

    Well, if you’re talking about the WTC attacks, the official version is “the Iraqi government was not involved at all”, and I think pretty much everyone believes that.

    (As to the original post and links, I should point out that #2’s actual paper suggests “Data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicate striking spikes in levels of benzene, styrene, and several other products of combustion” … which has no relation to the “thermite” suggested by #3 (where “thermite” here means “any combination of aluminum and iron” – and thermite is not an explosive).

    Likewise, the “unreacted thermitic compounds” suggest the opposite of a demolition charge – in that, one would expect to not find lots of unreacted thermite, as the fact of it burning would be the cause of the collapse. (And since thermite is not an explosive, it’s not so that one would expect it to eg “blow up and send out a cloud of unburnt/unburning thermite dust”.) Note that the abstract in that case makes no guesses of any sort as to the origin of the compounds – but knowing that a steel-frame building with lots of aluminum in it collapsed (in the process creating a huge amount of metal-on-metal friction and energy), it seems far more plausible that they’re a result of the collapse physics than that they’re “evidence of demolition”.

    A similar caveat must apply to the “but there were globules of molten stuff” paper – even if we bracket concerns with methodology and source, that the dust had “150 times as much globular iron as household dust” sounds more incriminating than it is, given that it was, again a steel framed building that just collapsed in an energetic way after being hit by an… aluminum aircraft in an even more energetic way.)

    And to back up Josh, this article has stood the test of time very well, explaining exactly how the very specific structure of the WTC towers combined with mere uneven heating from kerosene fires is more than sufficient to explain structural failure and collapse.

  • Mikko

    Sigivald,

    Well, if you’re talking about the WTC attacks, the official version is “the Iraqi government was not involved at all”, and I think pretty much everyone believes that.

    You missed my point. You state the current official version. The question I asked was: does anybody believe the original official version. Many people used to believe it, including me.

  • Grant

    I for one would like to see a post on all the true conspiracies out there. We seem more biased against government conspiracies, but find all conspiracy theories to be rather wacky. However, there have historically been conspiracies in government, with significant affects (e.g., Gulf of Tonkin, the Iraq War). These conspiracies have been extremely destructive, yet we don’t often even acknowledge them as such. Why don’t we think 9/11 could have been something similar?

    I’m skeptical of 9/11 conspiracy theories because I think its unlikely so many different people within different government agencies could undertake such a large operation without any sort of leaks. Successful conspiracies generally have to remain small.

    Also, I’m not familiar with nano-thermites, but thermite is simply a mixture of aluminum and iron oxide (rust). I would think there would be an abundance of those two materials within the building, and the jet fuel would create high enough temperatures to ignite it.

  • Doug S.

    If you were going to take down the Towers in a controlled demolition, why bother staging a kamikaze plane crash? Wouldn’t it be simpler and easier to stage an incident like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in which an actual bomb was used? That way, if anyone finds evidence of explosives or some such, then, well, duh, it was from the bomb the terrorist used!

    On the topic of true conspiracies in government:

    The largest government conspiracy in history, of which I am aware, is the Manhattan Project. Each person you add to a conspiracy increases the chances that someone is going to disagree that the secret conspiracy should be kept secret and spill the beans. The way you can have a secret shared among so many people is if almost everyone would agree that the secret should be kept secret. Not one person involved revealed the secret to the Germans, because, among the general population, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would want the secret revealed to the Germans. On the other hand, it would be much easier to find someone willing to share the secret with our allies in Russia, and the details of the Manhattan Project were, in fact, leaked to Russia.

    If the average person would consider a specific conspiracy to be “evil”, then you’re simply not going to be able to make that conspiracy out of a large number of average people, and most government employees are average people.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    AFAIK the US Government never explicitly alleged Iraqi involvement in 9/11; they just said “Iraq” and “9/11″ in close proximity over and over again, after which a majority of the US population came to believe that Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    I compliment Robin on actually estimating a probability for the two theories (9/11 facilitated by U.S. government vs. not).

    What we are trying to do here is come to conclusions about the causes of events we only saw at a distance. We cannot come to certain conclusions about this. If we want to be rational, we have to estimate. It is irrational to believe with total certainty that yes, the U.S. government facilitated this, or no, that it didn’t.

    My estimation is 75% no government involvement, 25% Bush and his buddies helped it happen.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    With regard to the “uncanny” valley, it seems to me that the problem is similar as that in voting. Suppose your private ranking of candidates is 60% for candidate A, 30% for candidate B, and 10% for candidate C. Even if the voting system was such that you were able to express a vote structured as 60-30-10, I believe there’s some mathematics somewhere which shows that this is not what you should prefer. If your internal ranking is 60-30-10, you will maximize the desirability of your outcomes by voting 100-0-0. I think.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    Doug, yes, faking a bombing would seem easier.

    Grant, it would be great if historians could give us a rough estimate of how often war-inducing transgressions were created by conspiracies on the harmed side.

    Sigivald, one might expect a few but not most, charges failed to trigger. Mere crash energy and ordinary materials seem by themselves insufficient to create high enough temperatures to create large quantities of molten iron. And the nano thermite found is clearly not just an accidental mix of aluminum and iron.

    Pablo, until I looked into details I didn’t know exactly where experts agreed. There are plausible biases both ways here.

    Paul, I didn’t say I put it at 10%.

  • David

    Mere crash energy and ordinary materials seem by themselves insufficient to create high enough temperatures to create large quantities of molten iron.

    You should read up on how a blast furnace works before coming to that conclusion.

  • Roland

    @denis bider et al. regarding the use of numbers.

    If you are pulling the numbers out of thin air they are totally useless. I also disagree with the thinking on historical basis like: 10% of the war pretexts were conspiracies so the probability in this case must be 10%.

    Folks, we have sufficient detailed data about what exactly happened to be able to screen off similar incidents. Let us reason based on that.

  • JD

    There are some oddities about Flight 93, such as the local residents who claim to have seen a fighter jet right after the crash, or to have heard a missile. See http://gnn.tv/videos/viewer.php?id=62&n=2

  • JD

    Agreed with the commenter who pointed out that if someone wanted to use demolitions on the Twin Towers, it would have been incredibly pointless and stupid to involve a set of hijacked planes . . . The hijackings might have failed for any number of reasons (incompetence, lack of opportunity, flight delays, detection by the authorities, someone spilling the beans, or a pilot who fought back), and hence the planes might not have crashed in such a way that the towers’ collapse was plausible.

    And anyway, terrorists had already tried to set off a bomb in 1993, so the most obvious and most plausible plot would just be to set up demolitions in the towers, set them off, and then claim that the terrorists came back to finish the job. Why add in the stupid complication of a set of hijackings, if your real plan is to use explosives?

  • And

    If you ask me, the best evidence isn’t the technical details of the collapse, building 7, the supposedly unrecoverable flight recorders etc, but rather the administration’s attitude toward the investigation. Barrie Zwicker has a good piece on it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g5xGU_uCks#t=5m38s

  • http://m.reddit.com/user/ithkuil Jason Livesay

    Robin, I don’t think that what I said implies that you have overly conservative beliefs. I thought that I was clear enough in my point which was not about your beliefs or really intended to just be specific to yourself or this particular issue.

    I’m saying that in this type of case, regardless of what the rationalization is, a significant number of people are going to think you are deluded or completely insane if you decide that 9/11 was ‘an inside job’. Of course we should all be skeptical — such a conspiracy would mean that the world was even more unbelievable than most come close to realizing.

    The next idea is that knowing people will think we are crazy is definitely going to affect our conclusions (generally formed more subconsciously/emotionally than logically, but that is another discussion about people in general and not a personal accusation) and therefore our rationalizations.

    Its just impossible to overcome the bias of wanting to be sane. In order to come to the “crazy” conclusion, you have to first modify your world-view to completely reclassify all of the crazy 9/11 conspiracy theorists as insightful 9/11 truth bearers. Then you have to accept that you will now be classified as a crazy conspiracy theorist.

  • Martin Å

    Rethink the scenario without planes, where the terrorists used only explosives to bring down the towers. Wouldn’t that raise a number of questions? Like, how could they place all these explosives without being seen? Then you would immediately have a suspicion against the ones responsible for the towers.

    With the current official story there is no connection between the towers and the terrorists before the moment of impact. Isn’t that a valid reason for using both planes and explosives? Using the planes could even have two purposes: Hiding the fact that there were explosives planted (to make sure the towers collapsed) and having all newsmedia in the world broadcasting the collapse in realtime.

    With both planes and explosives there are of course a number of other questions without answer. How did they synchronize the operation? How did they make sure the planes would hit with good enough precision? But just because you don’t have answers to these questions you can’t falsify the theory that both planes and explosives were used in bringing down the towers.

    I am from Sweden and have no emotional involvement in the matter, although I find it very interesting. I have not made up my mind of what I think really happened. I just know that there are a number of peculiarities surrounding the event.

  • http://wonderboyinmonsterland.wordpress.com WonderboyInMonsterland

    @ Robin

    As you are aware, the World Trade Center was a complex of buildings. Of the three destroyed on 9/11 (Towers 1, 2 and 7) only WTC7 had a CIA office in it and this building was not destroyed until much later in the day.

    So, to follow your first scenario through:

    The sample that was collected by a Manhattan resident about ten minutes after the collapse of the second WTC Tower (i.e. at approximately 10:40am) probably contained traces of nano-thermite in it because a different building, which would not collapse for another six hours (at 5:20pm), had a CIA office in it.

    Bravo on a tremendous leap of logic.

    And let us not even get into why a CIA office would even have such explosives in it, let alone ‘big chunks'(10-100 tonnes according to one of the paper’s authors.)

    You should rename this site “Overcoming Insanity”.

    With regard to some of the other nonsense on here:

    @ Jason Kuznicki

    “It’s simply that most of us realize gains from the division of labor, while the Truthers have opted not to.”

    I suggest you take a look at some of the qualification on show here.

    @ Grant

    “I’m not familiar with nano-thermites, but thermite is simply a mixture of aluminum and iron oxide (rust). I would think there would be an abundance of those two materials within the building, and the jet fuel would create high enough temperatures to ignite it.”

    That makes as much sense as saying, “I am not familiar with nano-apple pies, but there was enough apples and pastry in that building…”. Nano-thermite is engineered.

  • David

    I don’t consider Steven Jones or his paper a credible source. He is co-founder and co-editor of the “Journal of 9/11 studies,” which published the paper. Calling the journal “peer-reviewed” is an abuse of the term. Other work by Jones starts with his belief that Jesus visited America and–lo and behold–he finds supporting “evidence.” This paper follows a similar pattern.

    In reality there is plenty of historical evidence of plain old forest fires burning hot enough to melt steel rails, collapse metal bridges, etc. No jet fuel or nanothermites required. Two giant fires burining 1000 feet in the air, and later one immense fire–I smelled it 7 miles away on 112th St.–70 feet underground, with all sorts of plastics and other fuel loads, plus endless sources of combustion air from underground tunnels, but Robin lets Jones get away with comparing the fire to a typical house fire and citing air temperatures that are clearly averages over large area.

    The mysteries are not fed by evidence but by ignorance. This paragraph from the Springerlink paper illustrates the mindset:

    The characteristics of these un-extinguishable fires have not been adequately explained as the results of a normal structure fire, even one accelerated by jet fuel. Conversely, such fires are better explained given the presence of chemical energetic materials, which provide their own fuel
    and oxidant and are not deterred by water, dust, or chemical suppressants.

    In other words, WTC was not a normal fire, so it was probably nanothermites. And those hoofbeats I hear must be zebras, not horses.

  • http://wonderboyinmonsterland.wordpress.com WonderboyInMonsterland

    @David

    “I don’t consider Steven Jones or his paper a credible source.”

    Well The Open Chemical Physics Journal obviously does. Are you also saying you do not consider this a credible journal? If not, why?

    “Calling the journal “peer-reviewed” is an abuse of the term.”

    Are you implying that the Open Chemical Physics Journal does not employ standard peer-reviewing procedures? What evidence do you have to support this claim?

    It is difficult to grasp what you actually do believe. Are you claiming that Jones et al did not find active thermitic material in the WTC dust? Is he therefore lying? Are all his colleagues and the staff of the Open Chemical Physics Journal engaged in a massive conspiracy to make you believe they found something that was not there?

    The rest of your post is irrelevant to the subject – but what the hell…..

    You start off with the very bold assertion that:

    “In reality there is plenty of historical evidence of plain old forest fires burning hot enough to melt steel rails, collapse metal bridges, etc. No jet fuel or nanothermites required.”

    Unfortunately you forget to reference even one.

    Undeterred, you go on to offer some highly credible olfactory-based evidence (perhaps Jones should have gone with the more provocative title: “New evidence possibly challenges what David thought he smelled on 9/11″) and assert that “Robin lets Jones get away with comparing the fire to a typical house fire and citing air temperatures that are clearly averages over large area.”

    Without wishing to defend Robin (whose own take on the issue was also weak) he did at least appear to have grasped what the most significant issue is- something you have clearly failed to do (the clue is in the title David). Failing to grasp this point you allow yourself to get bogged down in irrelevant technicalities.

    You then give us the Zen-like insight that “The mysteries are not fed by evidence but by ignorance” and site a paragraph which you obviously have not fully understood. For your benefit I will highlight the important part:

    The characteristics of these un-extinguishable fires have not been adequately explained as the results of a normal structure fire, even one accelerated by jet fuel. Conversely, such fires are better explained given the presence of chemical energetic materials , which provide their own fuel and oxidant and are not deterred by water, dust, or chemical suppressants.

    “In other words, WTC was not a normal fire, so it was probably nanothermites.”

    No, in other words “There were nanothermites present, so it was probably nanothermites.”

    “And those hoofbeats I hear must be zebras, not horses.”

    To assume zebras when you hear hoofbeats is illogical, for you are attributing the effect to the least probable cause. But if someone produces a scientific paper proving that zebras were present at the time of the hoofbeating, your refusal to acknowledge this because “Horses could have made that noise” is just ignorant.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    David, did you actually read any of the Jones papers?

    Wonderboy, I didn’t claim the thermite came only from WTC7. I don’t assume I know where all the CIA offices were; the point is that there could be a lot of strange organizations with offices there. We have to judge the relative likelihood of two a priori unlikely hypotheses.

  • JD

    Rethink the scenario without planes, where the terrorists used only explosives to bring down the towers. Wouldn’t that raise a number of questions? Like, how could they place all these explosives without being seen?

    Nonsense. It would be incredibly easy to craft a story: They were disguised as electricians doing routine maintenance. That story would be FAR easier to pull off than a string of fake hijackings that had no real point other than to be a decoy for the real reason the buildings crashed.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p00e551b9414f8833 Psy-Kosh

    Hrm… The thermite thing is something that needs to be explained. That doesn’t necessarally mean “the gov’t did it”, but it is still something that needs to be explained.

    Wait, thermite is basically a mix of aluminum and iron oxide, right?

    So big steel frame building, big aluminum aircraft crashing into it… Any chance that the “thermite” that was found didn’t exist as thermite prior to the attack? ie, that it was, well, just a mix of, well, bits of plane and bits of building? (or is that a really stupid idea on my part?)

  • Ben Phillips

    I find the controlled demolition theory extremely dubious. Both towers were over 3 times taller than the largest building ever brought down by controlled demolition. Wiring them with explosives would require large amounts of people, materials, and time. Furthermore, if anything goes wrong with the demolition then the conspiracy is basically completely exposed (ex: some of the explosives could have failed to go off, the timing could have been off and the towers could have collapsed at a different rate than that predicted by our knowledge of physics, bad timing could have caused a part of the tower to fall sideways instead of vertically, etc.). If this happened, then the consequences would be catastrophic for the conspiracy planners.

    I also propose that the probability of a conspiracy being discovered goes up exponentially in relation to the number of people involved. The number of people required for this conspiracy would have been quite large.

    The controlled demolition theory is not a rational theory to default to when the primary theory has holes.

  • David

    @Robin,

    Yes, I read them and found them extremely unpersuasive. All three throw out some dazzling stuff, analysis of the iron spheres or the chips in minute detail; then come the conclusions. The first paper leaps to the conclusion that the process that produced the spheres must be the process that produced the collapse. There were hot fires, other people said so too, not a new result, yet the vast majority of the paper’s content. Exothermic reactions could explain it, so could nuclear reactions, or gnomes with blowtorches, or a configuration of a massive amount of organic materials burning with wind or chimney driven draft conditions.

    The second paper is more of the same: much ado about VOCs, and temporary flareups in the fire (with spikes in detected VOCs), then, essentially, “could just be the fire found new stuff to burn–but it could be thermite!”

    The third paper is kind of interesting, but the conclusion is so weak. Turns out the chips aren’t like any thermite you can find, they ignite at a much lower temperature. So they’re probably “superthermites,” of which none were available for comparison.

    These guys started out way back saying thermite was responsible for the cut columns at Ground Zero, now that that’s over, and it seems thermite is over too, we’re on to super-thermites, the properties of which are unknown even to the paper’s authors. They’re throwing every thing at the wall to see what sticks.

    So yeah, I read the papers.

    @The other guy

    Well The Open Chemical Physics Journal obviously does. Do they? The paper was accepted. That doesn’t confer legitimacy on any other Jones paper. The paper’s title is provocative but its conclusions are weak, most of the content is analysis of the chips, which turns out not to match known thermites. I’d like to see a different team analyze the samples, or even better, different samples, because yeah, I don’t trust them.

    Are you implying that the Open Chemical Physics Journal does not employ standard peer-reviewing procedures?

    No. I am stating outright that the Jounal of 9/11 Studies does not.

    It is difficult to grasp what you actually do believe.

    Maybe for you.

    Are you claiming that Jones et al did not find active thermitic material in the WTC dust? Is he therefore lying? Are all his colleagues and the staff of the Open Chemical Physics Journal engaged in a massive conspiracy to make you believe they found something that was not there?

    I consider the probability they are lying to be small but not zero. It’s more possible that they are sincere but very mistaken. Peer review is not all that good at stopping fraud, and does not stop crappy papers from being published either. And neither the reviewers nor the staff of the journal need to be involved in any conspiracy for the study to be false. Reproducibility of the results by an independent group would be a good thing.

    The rest of your post is irrelevant to the subject

    No it’s not. It’s relevant to the first two papers more than the third, which seems to be your focus.

    Unfortunately you forget to reference even one.

    Um, is that the standard we’re holding blog comments to? Can’t you just google it? I don’t think it’s a very bold assertion. Normal organic materials plus plentiful oxygen can produce temperatures sufficient to melt iron. Just ask Bessemer, or Huntsman.

    And by the way, I did smell the burning pit at ground zero from miles away, days after 9/11. And so did lots of other people. It’s called an aside, dude, you don’t have to be a prick about it.

    No, in other words “There were nanothermites present, so it was probably nanothermites.”

    But the paper doesn’t say that. The authors don’t know what nanothermites look like because the’ve never seen any.

  • Bill
  • http://wonderboyinmonsterland.wordpress.com WonderboyInMonsterland

    @ Robin

    “Wonderboy, I didn’t claim the thermite came only from WTC7.”

    And I never claimed you did. I simply pointed out that by saying:

    “1. Huge buildings known to include CIA offices happened to hold big chunks of hitech pyrotech when the planes hit.”

    You were implying that that more than one building contained CIA offices (plural on buildings) and that CIA offices were a reasonable explanation for the presence of “big chunks of hitech pyro” (otherwise this is superfluous information).

    “I don’t assume I know where all the CIA offices were”

    Good, because you clearly don’t.

    “The point is that there could be a lot of strange organizations with offices there.”

    I suppose there could be many things such as the New York lair of Dr. Evil perhaps? the headquarters of ‘Nano-Explosives R Us Ltd”maybe ? But this is meaningless speculation unless you tell us more about these ‘strange organisations’ and what evidence you have that they were renting office space in the WTC on 9/11.

    “We have to judge the relative likelihood of two a priori unlikely hypotheses.”

    No, you are choosing between two hypotheses which explain the findings of the paper: one of these hypotheses is coherent (though admittedly disturbing), the other is very weak.

    Hypothesis 1: Nano-thermites were found in the dust because persons unknown placed them in all three buildings of the WTC to aid in (or cause) the destruction of the buildings on 9/11.

    Who could have has access to such nano-thermite technology? and how could they have placed it in the buildings?

    Hypothesis 2: Nano-thermite was found in the dust because the CIA (in WTC7) and ‘strange organisations’ (in WTC 1&2) just so happened to be stockpiling it. Though these nano-thermite may have aided in the building’s destruction they were neither intentionally placed to do so nor necessary to explain it.

    Who are these organisations? Is it reasonable to suggest they could have had access to this technology? Is it reasonable to say that they would have been storing it (possibly independently of one another) for innocent (i.e. non 9/11 related purposes) in WTC offices? Is it reasonable to conclude the WTC buildings would have collapsed even if this nano-thermite had not been present? Is it reasonable to assume that the CIA and “strange organisations” would be allowed (i.e. contrary environment health laws) to store significant quantities of advanced explosives in buildings containing civilian workers? If not, if it reasonable to assume that the CIA and “strange organisations” would have broken this law? If so, is it reasonable to say the media should be showing an interest in this story as it evidences gross violation of public health codes? etc.

    Since you appear to favour the later, I can only conclude that you do so not because you are unintelligent, but because you are inflicted by the most fundamental bias in reasoning “I don’t want this to be true therefore I will interpret the data in anyway I can so as to imply that it is not – even if that interpretation is unreasonable”.

    This bias is so strong that it can cause a seemingly rational mind like yours to speculate on the existence of “strange organizations “ in order to not have to consider other “conspiracy theories” Give then name and nature of your blog, this is unfortunate.

    The problem you now face is that since a) you obviously pride yourself on your ability to hold to ‘reasonable interpretations’ of reality, and b) you have set yourself for this ability to be scrutinized by other rational thinkers (why else would you have such a site?) this bias has been pointed out to you by myself and others (Jason notably – though you seem to have misinterpreted what he was saying).

    As I see it, you must at some level realise that your explanation of the Jones’ paper is unreasonable and are therefore left to choose (possibly subconsciously) between two paths:

    1.Cognitive dissonance : attempting to hold two contradictory view at the same time. In your case these two conflicting beliefs would be “I am a reasonable person who holds to a high standard of logical ad scientific vigour when explaining all phenomena with which I am presented” and “When I was presented with the Jones paper the reasoning I employed to explain it was not only incoherent, it was demonstrably absurd”. I believe employing this strategy will be sufficient in the short-term, but cause you many problems in the longer-term.

    2.Admitting to yourself that you are failing to be rational, have the courage to go where your reason takes you, draw the appropriate conclusions from the evidence presented to you, and take the necessary actions.

    Personally, I’d always choose an upsetting yet coherent “conspiracy theory”, over a reassuring yet preposterous “coincidence theory”, but I guess we all have to ‘overcome bias’ in our own ways, and at our own pace.

    Good luck with your journey.
    —————————————————————————————-

    Or to put all this another way:

    Wake up and smell the humus Robin!

    The nanothermite were in the WTC because someone put them there – and the most reasonable explanation as to why someone would put 10-100 tonnes of highly specialised explosive in three civilian buildings is ‘to destroy them’.

    Now we obviously don’t who did it this, but your position of “Yes there were explosives in the building, but since we don’t know who or why it is unreasonable to assume that the explosives had anything to do with the destruction of the WTC or were intended for any such purpose” demonstrates either a knowing obfuscation or a complete leave of your senses.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    Wonderboy, let us agree that these three rates are low: 1) fraction of prime office space in rich nations destroyed in violent attacks, 2)
    average percentage of such space used by organizations stockpiling advanced pyrotechnics onsite, 3) fraction of violent attacks on such places caused in secret by “friendlies”, using secret method of destruction differing from the apparent one. If you have any data comparing these rates, and their intersections, I’m all ears.

  • theo

    It is not like Steven Jones is biased or anything.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    I unpublished an 870 word comment by WonderboyInMonsterland, which was a long story with some allegorical moral. You are welcome to publish links to longer stories elsewhere, but that is too long for a tangential comment.

  • http://wonderboyinmonsterland.wordpress.com WonderboyInMonsterland

    @Robin

    “You are welcome to publish links to longer stories elsewhere, but that is too long for a tangential comment.”

    Thanks. For those interested, my long story with some allegorical moral can be found here.

    Perhaps Robin you could post some guidelines on how long comments should be and the form you would like them to take?

  • http://wonderboyinmonsterland.wordpress.com WonderboyInMonsterland

    @ Ben Phillips

    re “The controlled demolition theory is not a rational theory to default to when the primary theory has holes.”

    You base this conclusion on the following:
    1.The unprecedented nature of the demolition.
    2.The possibilty of something ‘going wrong’
    3.The difficulty in wiring the building and therefore the number of people needed to be involved in such a ‘conspiracy’

    What’s interesting about this is that though have you set the ‘controlled demoliton’ theory up to a high evel of scrutiny (which is good, if one wishes to be rational) you have failed to apply this level of logic to the ‘planes alone caused the building to collapse theory’ (or, in your words, ‘primary theory’).

    If we go through your points with reference to this ‘planes only/primary theory':

    1. Prior to 9/11 how many sky-scrapers had collapsed as a result of plane collision (WTC1&2) or localised fires (WTC7)? All these events were unprecedented yet you accept them.

    2. You say:
    “some of the explosives could have failed to go off the timing could have been off and the towers could have collapsed at a different rate than that predicted by our knowledge of physics, bad timing could have caused a part of the tower to fall sideways instead of vertically, etc”

    Do you not find it odd that an uncontrolled event such as the impact of a plane into one side of a building, or the outbreak of fire in only a certain area, should have produced collapses that were vertical and (in the case of WTC) symmetrical?

    What you fail to acknowledge is that the towers did collapse “at a different rate than predicted by our knowledge of phyics” should one accept the “planes only hypothesis”. Without wishing to go too much into the details, you may want to consider:

    - WTC7 collapsing at free-fall speed (a fact now acknowledged by NIST), symmetrically and into it’s own footprint, implying that all its supporting columns were removed virtually simulteaously – incompatable with localised fires.(http://www.youtube.com/watch v=V0GHVEKrhng&feature=related)

    - The uniform downward acceleration of the upper portion of WTC1 generating insufficient force to destroy the building beneath it, suggesting something else was needed to create the necessary energy. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG2y50Wyys4)

    3. All we can do is speculate as to the number of people needed to rig the three buildings with explosives.

    Not being a demolition expert I am not qualified to comment. All I can say is that Danny Jowenkwo (a Dutch demolition expert) is on the record as saying it would take 30-40 men to have wired WTC7 – but that was if they had been forced 9/11 after the collapse of the other towers (note. Jowenkwo was not implying anything machiavellian, simply if WTC7 had to be imploded for safety reasons). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3DRhwRN06I&feature=related

    In conclusion, I agree that the ‘controlled demolition’ hypothesis is currently weak. However, the only suggested alternative – the ‘planes only hypothesis’ – has been completely discredited: it fails to explain explain either the collapse sequences of the buildings, or the presence of nanothermites in the dust.

    Infact the only things this ‘official conspiracy theory’ has going for it, are that it was the first theory to be offered, it is government-endorsed, and it has been parrotted unreflectively for the last eight years.

    Personally, if forced to choose between a weak theory and an insane one, I’ll take ‘controlled demolition’ every time.