Bridging the Psychological Gap

by jay howard 

Skeptics and Conspiracies

There is no consensus among skeptics, except by accident. And typically for different reasons. Skeptics are my people. I understand them. A real skeptic is not afraid to question authority, nor does a skeptic oppose an idea because it originates from an authority. Skeptics are professional doubters–not inclined to a supposition until reasons can substantiate it. It is the analysis of these reasons that sets critical thinkers apart from the advertising-prone masses.

Which is why it pains me to see skeptics defending the official narrative of the WTC collapses without turning a critical eye on the details at its core. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of “truther” theories concerning the various aspects, and let me be clear: several non-official theories are far more outlandish than the official story. For instance:

  1. The “No Planes” theory
  2. The Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) theory
  3. Any theory that denies the existence of Islamic terrorists hijacking planes
  4. Any theory invoking “remote controlled” airplanes

There are more nonsense “truther” theories as well, but the point is clear: all theories must be judged on their merits against objective standards. The problem is that once a single “truther” theory is demonstrated to be false, that becomes ammunition to shoot down all “truther” theories, thus vindicating the official theory by default. This is called “ground clearing” and it does little to buoy the official theory, only to distract from actual analysis of the official theory.

The WTC7 collapse is, by far, the most powerful prima facie evidence against the official theory–pointing not to any particular conclusion, but most poignantly to the fact that something about the dynamics of the collapse of building 7 is not being understood or explained correctly by the experts commissioned to do so. For many skeptics of the official theory, the video of WTC7 collapsing at around 5:20 pm that day was the wake-up call to investigate further. Yes, WTC1 and 2 looked strangely energetic and not simply a “collapse,” but we could always chalk that up our collective lack of context of the scale of the destruction. WTC7, however, was never hit by a plane. It suffered falling debris from the north tower and fires on several floors, but as yet, there has been no good explanation for why the internal structure gave way–nor especially how it failed in the particular way it did: as if it had all supporting structures severed simultaneously. (That’s 58 perimeter columns and 25 core columns failing on several floors at precise intervals such that the building fell at free fall speed for some amount of time greater than 0 seconds.) There is simply not a clear explanation of how even a multi-story fire, even over several hours could induce that type of failure.

And yet, there are skeptics who in good faith, attempt to dismantle any suspicion surrounding the WTC7 collapse. The article published in Skeptic Magazine (9/11/2006) by author Phil Mole (the conspiracist in me laughs) attempts to close the door on any doubts surrounding any government involvement of any aspect of the attacks that day.

Initially, Mole asks us to doubt the similarities between conventional controlled demolition (CD) and the collapses of WTC 1 & 2. He makes a case for structural damage as root cause of the collapses based on the disparity between CD and the WTC collapses and anticipates the response to his argument:

A conspiracy theorist may counter that the buildings were rigged to begin falling from the top down, but what are the chances that those planning such a complicated demolition would be able to predict the exact location the planes would impact the towers, and prepare the towers to begin falling precisely there?

The chances of predicting which floor the planes would hit is without argument so unlikely as to be impossible. Even if someone went through the trouble to wire the buildings, hope the aircraft get hijacked without incident, etc. how could they know which floor the planes would hit? But this is a lazy case for dismissal. It’s lazy because it assumes two things which aren’t very likely:

  1. The planners were unable to predict that issue and plan for it, and
  2. Technology does not exist to easily overcome this:

Remote control: A remote control detonator is much like a wire command detonator except without the wire. Its done by radio signal. The range of the transmitter and the number of frequencies it is capable of working on varies according to price. The receivers can be set to any frequency the owner wishes.

Radio detonation devices have been around for decades. Combined with emulation software, in the hands of a professional, they can play Beethoven on a structure. The ability to detonate from any given floor would be a requirement of this operation. What fool would leave that to chance? One thing can be postulated with confidence: if there was an actual plot to facilitate the destruction of the towers we can be sure it would be perpetrated by professionals. Mole’s case for dismissal is hardly serious.

But Mole’s just warming up.

The first plane struck the North Tower (Building 1) between the 94th to 98th floors and hit it head on, burrowing almost directly toward the core of the building. The second airplane struck the South Tower between the 78th and 84th floors, but sliced in at an angle, severely damaging the entire northeast corner of the building.4 Compared with the North Tower, the South Tower sustained damage that was both less evenly distributed and significantly lower on the building’s frame, requiring the weakened point to support more upper building weight than the corresponding crash site on the North Tower. This explains both the tilt of the building as it fell toward the weakened corner, and the fact that the South Tower fell first despite being struck after the North Tower was struck.

Here Mole speaks anecdotally to explain the 58 minute collapse of WTC 2–the last hit but the first to fall. And admittedly, 58 minutes seems a short amount of time. But so is the 102 minutes it took for Building 1 to fall. And even the 8 hours it took for WTC 7 to fall seems exceedingly fast and violent compared to the damage done. But this is just a feeling. The point remains: comparing the fall times of these buildings as “slow,” “medium” and “fast” does little to clarify the official explanation, nor, more importantly, does it help to clarify the mechanisms that actually caused the collapses.

Secondly, Mole employs an “is-ought” argument for nature of the destruction witnessed. This is indicative of an uniquisitive thought process that essentially says “well, of course it happened that way!” Even though the South Tower was the second building hit and was hit at an incidental angle compared to the North Tower, Mole makes a perceptional argument, saying in essence, “intuition does not serve us well in this situation because the South Tower, although hit later and less directly than the North Tower, was a more catastrophic blow by virtue of the asymmetrical damage–not in spite of it as would seem more in line with basic physics.” As in much of the NIST literature regarding the collapses, the theoretical cart is put before the forensic horse.

After giving birth to that turd of a non-argument, Mole moves on to the issue of the fire temperatures upon which so much hinges:

… most agree that the temperature probably reached 1,000° Fahrenheit and possibly higher than 1,800° F. Flames of this temperature would be far short of the approximately 2800° F needed to melt steel, but they would have been sufficient to severely reduce the structural integrity of the metal.

My emphasis. This central tenet of the official story acknowledges that the only fuel sources in the WTC complex at the time in any real volume were hydrocarbon sources, wood, paper and plastics ignited by kerosene. With this acknowledgment comes the additional requirement that the fires be hot enough to cause the massive and violent structural damage we all witnessed that day. To this end, supporters of the official theory have made much use of misunderstanding the difference between gas temperature and material temperature. Mole is no exception:

Even if we assume temperatures of no higher than 1,000° F during the fire, we would still have more than enough reasons to expect damage severe enough to result in eventual collapse.

Temperature of what? After reading this, I cannot help but picture Mole in a wide-collar, polyester suit and a fake-ass smile waving a brochure for a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. No thanks, Phil. First and foremost, what temperatures is Mole referring to? Gas? Surfaces? It is poor science to say the least, to conflate the maximum temperature of a heat source with the maximum temperature of a material that may or may not have been exposed to that source. This point is so basic, I feel like making it explicit will insult your intelligence. Yet, Mole writes his piece with authority, as if his word puts the issue to bed once and for all.

Office fire simulations conducted by Underwriters Laboratories under the direction of NIST found that temperatures went above 1000F for only a few of the tests, and when it did, it could not sustain it for much more than 8 or 10 minutes. They used a variety of materials but through the course of testing found that the surrogate material combinations of wood, paper, plastic and hydrocarbon fuels were irrelevant to the outcome of the tests: a little over 1000F for about 10 minutes was simply as hot as they were going to get.

The one factor which affected the outcome most was material arrangement. Several simulations broke down the furniture and various surrogates into piles. Not surprisingly, the heat curve went higher, but for a shorter amount of time than the undisturbed, more fuel-scattered tests. The results support Eagar and Musso’s original estimates of a maximum gas temperature of about 1100F, but with the added knowledge that these temperatures could not have been sustained for more than about 10 or maybe 20 minutes at most.

Furthermore, NIST acknowledges early on that of all the steel they sampled (which amounted to approximately 1% of all the steel) the hottest exposure temperatures they could document were about 250C or just under 500F. Yet it seems Mole, as well as NIST, must presume the existence of higher temperature-exposed steel despite the fact that the only steel in the official record found to have gotten hotter was the mysteriously melted steel reported in the FEMA/BPAT Appendix C report:

Evidence of a high temperature corrosion attack on the steel, including oxidation and sulfidation with subsequent intergranular melting, was readily visible in the near surface microstructure.

It is unclear why supporters of the official conspiracy theory are so incurious about these samples. Given that one sample is definitely from WTC 7 and the other sample is either from WTC 1 or 2, this cannot be dismissed as an isolated event. Given that there are first-hand account of molten steel, these samples seem to fall into the category of corroborative evidence for such. Unsurprisingly, Mole is neither willing to mention the FEMA/BPAT study nor take the accounts of eye witnesses seriously:

… the sources in question are informal observations of “steel” at Ground Zero, not laboratory results. To many people, any grayish metal looks sufficiently like steel to call it “steel” when speaking informally. To actually establish that the substance in question is steel, we need analytical laboratory results using atomic absorption (AA) or another suitable test. It seems far more likely that the metal seen by the contractors was aluminum, a component of the WTC structural material that melts at a much lower temperature than steel and can look superficially similar to it.

My emphasis. But we do NOT need to take anyone’s word for the melted steel recovered by the FEMA/BPAT team, yet there is not even an acknowledgment of its existence by Mole. Why not? And how “superficial” is the similarity of molten steel to molten aluminum? And so, with a couple of passing comments, Mole washes his hands of any and all considerations of molten steel or iron.

So, I have to ask Phil Mole: Why didn’t you consider all the evidence surrounding molten steel and iron when you were dismissing the non-official accounts of what happened to the WTC complex? Why didn’t you consider the FEMA/BPAT report or the USGS report which contained evidence of extremely high temperature reactions? Why not take into account all the evidence before making a judgment in regard to the legitimacy of non-official theories of the collapses?

Until you make yourself clear, we can only assume.

I am not the first to respond to this, as it has been more than 2 years since the article first appeared in Skeptic Magazine, however, my objective was to make these issues accessible in a quasi-Socratic method, that is, by allowing the reader to make up his own mind when presented with unpolished facts