May 11 2010

Dialogue with a 9/11 Truther

Eric Carlson, a listener of the SGU, is also a self-described 9/11 truther. He has written an extensive, if belated, reply to our discussion of claims made by 9/11 conspiracy theorists back in September of 2005. For a change of pace I thought I would answer some of his points.

I will start by noting that Eric is quite respectful throughout and does what few people, in my experience, do – he admits legitimate points on the other side, rather than finding some way to dismiss every single point we make, valid or not.  For brevity I will not review the points on which he agrees with us. You can read them for yourself on his blog post. I will simply summarize/quote his points of contention and respond.

His first point has to do with melting steel. We pointed out that, while the temperatures of the fires at the WTC towers were not hot enough to melt steel, they were hot enough to weaken the steel sufficiently to cause the collapse. Eric admits this point, but then counters:

While the Skeptic present a strong argument based on the limited facts they present, they fail to note the existence of Molten Steel in the wreckage.  While the Skeptics may call this point anomaly hunting, the educated Conspiracy Theorists will demand that physical evidence be included in the analysis.

This is an assumed premise followed by a straw man. Eric does something I find extremely common among conspiracy theorists – prematurely assuming facts that have not been established. As they say in court (at least on TV), “Objection, assumes facts not in evidence.”

At the very least the “molten steel” argument is controversial, at worst debunked. The explanation for the apparent liquid metal in pictures and video is that it is melted aluminum from the jets themselves. Jet’s contain a great deal of aluminum, which would melt at the temperatures of the WTC fires, and that metal dripped down and could be seen in some video evidence. This is the explanation accepted by NIST engineers who have reviewed the evidence.

Further, while this is a bit of anomaly hunting on the part of conspiracy theorists, we never argued that evidence should not be considered in an analysis (that’s the straw man), just that you have to actually analyze the evidence.

He continues:

Another argument the educated Conspiracy Theorist will pose is as follows: There was a huge fireball when the planes hit the building and that means that a portion of the fuel load was depleted in the initial fire ball.  The remaining fuel in the building produced heat and heat rises, so the floors adjacent to the plane and above are the floors where up 90% of the steels strength may have been lost.  The remaining 70 or so floors were not on fire (WTC1 was hit on floor 93 and above while WTC2 hit on floor 81) and did not loose up to 90% of their strength yet provided virtually no resistance during the free fall collapse of these two towers.

The premise that “heat rises” is false, although a common misconception. Heat has no inherent tendency to rise. It will, in fact, radiate out in all directions. Relatively hotter air will rise above relatively cooler air, and this will carry a disproportionate amount of heat up to higher floors, but the fire would still radiate heat to the floors below. Also, steel is a really good conductor of heat, and so as the steel columns became very hot they would have conducted that heat up and down the columns. Remember – the heat resistant coating on the columns was brittle and was knocked off from the initial crash and explosion.

Eric then assumes another fact not in general agreement – that the floors below the initiation of the collapse provided “virtually no resistance during the free fall.” This one still amazes me – 9/11 conspiracy theorists claim the towers fell at free fall (or faster), and yet you can count how long it takes for the towers to collapse and see that they are falling slower than free fall. Also, debris in the videos of the collapse falling at free fall and you can see it falling faster than the towers themselves.

Further we must consider how massive these towers were – built right to the edge of our technology at the time. Once the structure failed there would be little resistance to total collapse. Again – truthers are assuming what they naively think should happen in a very unusual situation. I trust the engineers to make a more objective assessment and they have – the tower collapses are consistent with the damage done by the jets.

Next Eric objects to some points that we address that he says are not generally agreed upon by truthers. I acknowledge this – we addressed the points that were being made, without claiming that every truther, or even a majority of truthers, hold to that claim. Every belief system has a range of beliefs which often even split into identified subgroups. So every time I make a point that is applicable to sun sign astrology, a sidereal astrologer will cry,  “unfair, that’s not real astrology.” It is valid for Eric to point out that a particular opinion may be in the minority among truthers, but that does not mean we should not address it.

His final point has to do with the Pentagon video, about which he writes:

Conspiracy Theorists have only two points that are universally agreed to in regards to the Pentagon.  Point one is that the single video of the Pentagon crash (taken from a nearby convenience store) is poor quality.  And point two is that the Pentagon roof is ringed with video cameras and none of these cameras have had there recordings released.  While this is not proof; this is curios.
So, while the Skeptics say there is no proof outside the unreliable eye witness testimony, they fail to note the suppressed video from the 50 or so cameras mounted on the crash side of the Pentagon and facing the crash area.  While theses missing camera records are not brought up by the Skeptics, it is just these types of omissions that demand educated people be Skeptical of the official story.

Again – this is classic conspiracy theorist anomaly hunting. Where are the videos we think should exist. This is not evidence of a conspiracy, it just raises questions that coyly imply there is a conspiracy.

But there are very prosaic explanations for the lack of video. Surveillance cameras typically are low resolution and have a slow frame rate – to save on storage space. Further, imagine you are setting up a security perimeter around the Pentagon. Are you going to aim the cameras up at empty blue sky? Probably not. The cameras would be angled down to capture the grounds around the Pentagon. Anything other than a camera pointing in the distance in the direction of the plane flying in would have seen, at best, only a quick blur as the plane flew through its field of view. There is therefore no reason to expect that any surveillance camera had a useful view of the jet that crashed into the Pentagon.

There is an additional, although unnecessary, point to be made (as the camera angle point is sufficient here). The Pentagon is the nerve center of our Department of Defense. I imagine that there is a tremendous amount of secrecy surrounding the Pentagon and its security. It is therefore reasonable to assume that any video of the Pentagon that could potentially reveal such secrets, such as details of its defense, would be kept from the public. Since such video is unlikely to settle the 9/11 truther controversy, there would be little point to releasing it. Even the number and location of security cameras, and their field of view, can be considered a matter a security.


While I appreciate the respectful tone Eric took in his response, his points have been picked over before and all have been dealt with. After almost 9 years there is still no actual evidence of an inside conspiracy on 9/11 2001. Engineers and other experts have analyzed the evidence to death, and it is all compatible with the standard story. The truthers cling to whispy thin anomalies that do not amount to anything of interest.

Further, no mainstream journalist has tried to win a Pulitzer by exposing a cover up. The Democrats are now in charge, with a new administration, and they are not interested in exposing an alleged heinous plot of the previous Republican administration – even though tensions between the two parties are at an historic high. The only response I have heard from truthers on these points is to expand the conspiracy – they are all involved, both parties and the media.

Such grand conspiracies collapse under their own weight faster the the WTC towers.

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