Archive for the 'Conspiracy Theories' Category

Jun 23 2014

9/11 Conspiracy Debate – Part II

Published by under Conspiracy Theories

This is the second of a four part written debate between myself and Michael Fullerton, who believes that the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was not due to the official story of damage from the impact of commercial jets, but rather the result of a controlled demolition. His initial post is here. This is my first response. Another round will follow in the next two weeks.
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Part II – The Collapse of the Twin Towers was the Result of the Commercial Jet Impacts

by Steven Novella

When Michael first contacted me he challenged me (as he apparently has other skeptics before me) to a live debate on the topic of the collapse of WTC1 and WTC2 on Septermber 11, 2001. I offered instead this written debate, as I feel the written format is better suited to a technical debate, where references and facts can be checked.

Let me begin my first response by reviewing what appears to be the common ground between our two positions. Michael and I both agree that commercial airliners struck each of the Twin Towers on 9/11, resulting in explosions, burning jet fuel, and structural damage to the towers. We also agree that some time following these impacts, each tower collapsed.

We disagree on the best scientific explanation for these collapses. Michael supports the controlled demolition hypothesis. I accept the consensus of expert opinion that the collapse of the towers was due to the structural damage and weakening of the steel supports caused by the impact of the jets, the burning of the jet fuel, and the subsequent fires that burned through the buildings.

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Jun 16 2014

9/11 Conspiracy Debate – Part I

Published by under Conspiracy Theories

This is the first of a four part written debate between myself and Michael Fullerton, who believes that the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was not due to the official story of damage from the impact of commercial jets, but rather the result of a controlled demolition. My response will follow next Monday, and another round of responses with one post per week.

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Part I – The Collapse of the Twin Towers was a Controlled Demolition

by Michael Fullerton

Dr. Steven Novella has graciously agreed to a debate on which explanation of the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers (WTC 1 and WTC 2) on 9/11 is more scientific, the official US Government explanation or the controlled demolition explanation. I will argue that the controlled demolition explanation is more scientific. Dr. Novella will presumably argue that the official US Government explanation is the more scientific explanation. We have both agreed that no logical fallacies are to be used in this debate.

It’s very important to recognize this courageous act by Dr. Novella. It takes a strong character to put your reputation on the line and discuss such controversial and highly emotional issues. Good skeptics though must recognize when the scientific method proves their beliefs undeniably wrong.

I want to begin by asking all readers a question. Are you smarter than a 5th grade science student? Why? Because, starting as early as kindergarten, elementary school students learn that when you have two competing explanations you are supposed to favor the explanation which has the most supporting evidence. They are taught that an explanation with no supporting evidence is an explanation you cannot ever accept as true. By grade 5 at least, students are taught the scientific method. They learn that you must have evidence before putting forth an explanation for a phenomena. They learn that if you start with only a belief you are not doing science. They learn that if you ignore evidence that does not fit with your belief you are not doing science. Portraying something as science when it is not, is pseudo-science. People that claim to follow the scientific method but do not are pseudo-scientists.

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110 responses so far

Jun 03 2014

More 9-11 Anomaly Hunting

Published by under Conspiracy Theories

It’s been almost 13 years and the nonsense shows no sign of stopping. It is still amazing to me – thousands of direct eyewitnesses saw two passenger jets plow into each of the twin towers. Further, there are countless videos from multiple vantage points clearly showing these events.

Also keep in mind that after the first jet hit the North Tower, media attention descended onto the towers. The media was in full force when the second jet hit the South Tower. In addition, many personal video cameras were up and running. It is therefore an extensively documented event.

In the face of this overwhelming direct eyewitness and corroborating video evidence, who could deny the basic fact that two jets struck those two towers that morning?

Well, this guy, for one. I know this is beating a dead horse, but I think it is useful to have occasional reminders of the extent to which people can deceive themselves into absurd conclusions. It should also be noted that, while apparently declining in more recent polls, belief in a 9-11 conspiracy remains high. Averaging all surveys, less than half of those asked accept the standard explanation that 9-11 was an Al Qaeda plot.

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May 20 2014

New Study Shows Fluoride Safe

Public controversy over the safety of fluoridation programs continues, in some towns leading to successful resistance to water fluoridation. As a public health issue, the scientific evidence for risks vs benefits should be at the core of this debate. A new study sheds significant light on this question.

Some anti-fluoridation activists will latch onto any claim they feel supports their opposition (common behavior in any context), and this leads to a great deal of nonsensical conspiracy-mongering. My favorite is the claim that public water fluoridation is all a plot to allow companies to cheaply dump industrial waste into the public water supply.

These sorts of claims distract from the real issues, and in my opinion does a disservice to the anti-fluoridation movement. I don’t mind the existence of opposition movements, even if I disagree with their position. They can serve a useful function in driving public debate and keeping the powers that be honest and transparent.

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Apr 04 2014

Answering Conspiracy Theorists

Published by under Conspiracy Theories

We like to categorize and apply labels. This can be helpful in wrapping your mind around complex reality, as long as you avoid the pitfall of allowing labels to become mental straitjackets.

I often discuss various  categories of people who are failing, in one or more important ways, to apply critical thinking. These categories are not meant to be dismissive, but rather to help understand various styles of thinking that lead people astray. For example there are deniers, true-believers, ideologues, and cranks.

Perhaps the most interesting category is the conspiracy theorist. I also find them to be the most consistent in their style of reasoning and argument. I do wonder, however, how much of this consistency is due to and underlying reasoning style and how much is culture. When I get the same fallacious argument over and over again, is that because they are all reading the same source material?

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Feb 21 2014

Pareidolia Watch – Mercury Edition

I only have time for a quick entry today, so here is any easy one - another example of pareidolia unrestrained by reality testing. Pareidolia is the tendency for our brains to match known patterns to random sensory noise, most commonly applied to images. The most familiar image to the human brain is the human face, and so perhaps the most common experience of pareidolia is the seeing of a face in the clouds, in a rust stain, tree bark, tortilla shell, a hillside, or on NASA photos of other worlds.

The Face on Mars is a famous example. Low resolution images of the Cydonia region of Mars showed an apparent face, although the image was lit from the side so half the “face” was missing, and the nostril (which added to the overall illusion) was just data loss from the image. Later higher resolution images showed the face for what it was, just another natural formation.

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Oct 03 2013

Politics, Science Rejection, and Conspiracy Thinking

Even among self-identified skeptics and critical thinkers, there is the full spectrum of political ideology, and this varying world view does seem to color certain opinions. In my experience in the community, most skeptics eventually get to a similar place with regard to politically-charged scientific topics (logic and evidence do hold sway in the end), but they certainly start in different places. There is also the occasional skeptic who, while displaying critical thinking in most areas, retains a sacred cow or two associated with their political world view.

A recent study explores the issue of political worldview, conspiracy thinking, and the acceptance or rejection of certain scientific topics. Stephen Lewandowsky et al published the study in PLOSOne, The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science

The study essentially looks for association between a free market ideology, conservatism, and conspiracy thinking as these world views relate to acceptance or rejection of vaccine safety, global warming, and acceptance of GMO (genetically modified organisms). A number of interesting and not-so-surprising findings emerged.

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22 responses so far

Jul 18 2013

Revenge of the Conspiracy Theorists

Skeptics have their work cut out for them. We are up against irrational forces that are becoming very savvy at turning the language and superficial tactics of science and skepticism against science and reason. We are not just debating details of evidence and logic, but wrangling with fully-formed alternate views of reality.

An excellent example of this was recently brought to my attention – an article using published psychological studies to argue that conspiracy theorists represent the mainstream rational view while “anti-conspiracy people” are actually the “paranoid cranks.” The article, by Dr. Kevin Barrett (Ph.D. Arabist-Islamologist) in my opinion nicely reflects how an ideological world-view can color every piece of information you see.

He starts out reviewing an article by Wood and Douglas which examined the comments to news articles about topics that are the subject of conspiracy theories. Barrett summarizes the study this way:

In short, the new study by Wood and Douglas suggests that the negative stereotype of the conspiracy theorist – a hostile fanatic wedded to the truth of his own fringe theory – accurately describes the people who defend the official account of 9/11, not those who dispute it.

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Jan 17 2013

Sandy Hook and Online Harassment

Published by under Conspiracy Theories

I was half expecting that this conspiracy theory, that the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was a hoax, would die on the vine, it’s so transparently absurd, but it appears to be gaining traction. I guess I should never underestimate the ability of conspiracy theorists to twist reality.

As I discussed last week – some conspiracy theorists are claiming that the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook either never happened or is a government hoax, designed to provide public support for gun control. As with all grand conspiracies, this one collapses under its own weight – literally an entire town would need to be involved in this conspiracy.

The conspiracy theorists have nothing to offer but anomaly hunting. For example, in this video it is claimed that one of the shooting victims is seen after the shooting with President Obama – this is offered as “absolute proof” of a hoax. However, the girl in the later video is simply the younger sister of the victim.

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Jan 10 2013

Sandy Hook Conspiracy

Published by under Conspiracy Theories

That’s right – there is already a conspiracy theory alleging that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was actually a conspiracy, that it either did not happen at all, or happened very differently from what is being reported. James Tracey, an associate professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, runs a conspiracy-mongering blog in which he calls into question the official story of what happened at Sandy Hook.

It is the usual conspiracy fare – anomaly hunting combined with the usual logical fallacies. It is interesting, however, to see it applied to an event that, for me, happened right next door and when I personally know some of the people involved. I guess that makes me part of the conspiracy.

Before I delve into his claims, it is interesting to note that Tracy teaches a course called, Culture of Conspiracy. This raised an interesting possibility for me. Does he run such a course because he is a conspiracy theorist, or is his conspiracy theorist persona (including his blog) all part of a radical teaching strategy? What better way to teach about conspiracy theories than to simulate one yourself (a meta-conspiracy)? If the latter, I wonder how long he plans to keep up the charade before revealing what he is doing.

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