Jan 12 2007

Conspiracy Theories and the JFK Headshot

Below is an exchange between me and an e-mailer responding to this article I wrote about conspiracy theories. Although the specific topic is about the assassination of JFK, and in particular the head wound, you can see many of the elements common to all conspiracy thinking here. (To help, the e-mailer’s writing is in italics)

Laurie Philips

For a society supposedly formed to promote science and reason, I find your dismissal of the “back and to the left” evidence against Oswald in the JFK assasination astonishing! You seem to refute the idea by suggesting that the “jet” of brain matter coming out of the front would have more momentum than the bullet coming in the back… even though the matter recieves its momentum solely from the bullet! Therefore, the limiting case is no movement at all, where all the bullet’s momentum is transferred to the matter. It certainly could not gain more. What were you smoking when you came up with that one??? Please don’t spread such an obvious falsehood around, somebody might believe you.

There’s all kinds of other evidence, but it’s entirely irrelevant to prove that the official story is wrong. It doesn’t matter if you find a video of Oswald hanging out of the 6th story window with a rifle, firing away… Momentum is always conserved, there must have been a shot from in front of JFK therefore at least another shooter, therefore a conspiracy.

My Response:

Thank you for your interesting e-mail. Allow me to address some of your claims.

First, I agree that it is not necessary to prove an alternate theory in order to disprove an existing one. The two are logically distinct. However, I never claimed otherwise. Further, the inability to propose a plausible alternative is damning, and if rejecting the standard explanation requires, by necessity, facts that are highly implausible, that also argues against such rejection. Regarding JFK and 9/11 I submit that the conspiracy theorists have neither disproved the standard explanation of these events, nor have they put forward a credible alternate theory or evidence to support such an alternate. They have also failed to deal adequately with the problems that arise from the existence of any conspiracy.

Your argument regarding momentum and the JFK head shot is not valid. The primary error you make is that the bullet exited the front right temporal skull. So, it did not transfer all of its momentum to JFK’s head. It, in fact, transferred very little of its momentum. What it did do is compress the skull contents which then shot forward out of the skull, propelling the head backward. Most of the momentum of the bullet and the skull contents continued forward – pushing the head backward. (To be clear, the bullet would have only transferred its momentum to the skull if it stopped in the skull and did not pass through – a rather blatant error in your reasoning.) The physics of this has been worked out extensively and vetted by forensic, neurosurgical, and physics experts, and replicated experimentally. Only conspiracy theorists continue to promote the myth that only a bullet from the front could have forced the head backwards.

Since I am a physician, I will give you a link to a good medical review of the details of the headshot. http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/medical.htm The evidence and arguments on this site are valid. Note that the bevelling evidence by itself proves a shot from behind.

Laurie responds:

The beveling is indeed interesting. However, I have heard the testimony of the doctors who first saw JFK and who all said that the wound at the back of the head was an exit wound. I’ve also heard that the body was tampered with. Beveling would be very easily changed. Regardless, this is not as important as the Zapruder film. Tampering was certainly possible, however unlikely you might think. But, I am yet to see how a bullet entering from the back could possibly cause a head to move backwards. Please could you show me where this has been demonstrated? I’m intrigued. Even a screw-around video suggests otherwise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrvCrYu8p3Y

All the objects move in the same direction as the bullet. The harder objects moving the furthest. The presence of a skull would make this even more pronounced, not reverse it… When I neglected to mention the skull previously, this was to err on your side. To show that even when you ignore momentum that would be transferred from a very fast moving dense metal ball into a very dense structure such as bone. Twice. Your theory still doesn’t stand up. To suggest that a bullet passing through a skull would exert no force on the skull is ludicrous! Punch yourself in the head, see which way you go… As you can see from the previous video. A bullet manages to transfer momentum to a banana, how is a skull so incredibly different?

Also, another point which you fail to notice is that the way Dealey Plaza is built means that the book depositary is on the right side of JFK’s head, only just approaching directly behind towards the end of the knoll area. However, at no point does it stand on the left hand side. Therefore, you’re saying that a bullet entering from the right or directly from behind can cause movement back and to the left. Now, as I understand it, you are suggesting the jet that comes out of the exit wound is responsible for propelling the head backwards. Yet, there is no possible way for the exit wound to point forward and to the right. Therefore, you would require a third hole. I really don’t understand what your theory is here. This quick sketch crudely shows what I mean.

And all this has to be put into context. JFK had just ’caused’ the Bay Of Bigs fiasco. Was moving to break up the CIA, pull the troops out of Indo-China and scrap the federal reserve. This would have been incredibly good for the American people and the people of the world, but a complete disaster for the military industrial complex, intelligence services and the people who make a huge profit on wars (not to mention jeapordising the CIA gun/drug trafficking profiteers). This points to a very simple alternative theory and I believe Oliver Stone’s film gets the broad points correct for all his little failings. Oswald was involved in a plot somehow, but probably didn’t know exactly what would happen. He was then set up to take the fall. The “investigation” started from the official story and worked backwards in order to crowbar the evidence into justifying it. It’s not just that the killing was all too convenient for the people I think were behind it, it also fits the evidence. I really don’t see why anyone would take an irrational, random theory that doesn’t fit the evidence over a logically driven theory that does. As for the problems with a conspiracy… This needed very few people to do the actually killing and a handful more to organise/misdirect the cover. It wouldn’t be difficult to find people who wanted rid of JFK given the context described above and everyone would have a vested interest in keeping quiet afterwards. Really don’t see much of a problem.

And my response:

Regarding JFK and the headshot, you misunderstand my position. You are assuming that the bullet traveled through the center of JFK’s head. Rather, it entered right of center in the occipital lobe and existed through the right temporal lobe. So the angles work out fine for Oswald’s sniper nest.

Here is an interesting link: http://www.jfkmurdersolved.com/headshot.htm. The site is pro-conspiracy, but just look at the slow motion video. It shows JFK’s head move forward slightly from the initial impact, then a spray of matter in front on him followed by his head flying back. This perfectly fits with a single bullet from the back. Incidentally, in order to make the facts fit a multi-shooter hypothesis, this website suggests that two bullets hit within 1/1000 of a second of each other. Quite absurd.

Regarding momentum, your arguments are still not valid. The bullet did transfer a small amount of momentum to JFK’s head (hitting your head is not a good example, because your fist bounces off). But this transfer was minimal compared to the jet of material flying out of the front-right hole in JFK’s head.

The beveling is conclusive, and it would not have been easy to fake. You cannot just dismiss this evidence because it does not fit your hypothesis. The initial opinions of an exit wound were hasty and not made by forensic experts. They should not be considered definitive. While the later more detailed analysis was definitive.

Here is a good site with more info: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/head.htm

Regarding motive – this is not compelling. Every president virtually at every point in their presidency will have enemies and those who would benefit from their death. The fact that Kennedy had enemies does not mean he was assassinated by them. And the only ones shoe-horning evidence are the conspiracy theorists. They also make highly selective use of evidence, and employ, as you did, the convenient dismissal of all inconvenient evidence as faked.

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