Scientific American's Dishonest Attack
by Jim Hoffman
publishes Version 0.9 of this critique
6/03/05: 911Research publishes Version 1.0 of this critique
6/06/05: 911Research publishes Version 1.1 of this critique
7/13/05: 911Research publishes Version 1.2 of this critique
The editors of Scientific American followed in the footsteps of Popular Mechanics in exploiting a trusted brand in order to protect the perpetrators of the mass murder of 9/11/01. The column by Michael Shermer in the June, 2005 issue of Scientific American, titled Fahrenheit 2777, is an attempt to deceive the magazine's readers into dismissing the overwhelming evidence that 9/11 was an inside job without ever looking at that evidence. More specifically, Shermer attempts to inoculate readers against looking at the decidedly scientific refutation of the official story found on our website, 911Research, with a cluster of disinformation techniques including:
- Attributing to 911Research an obscure and unrepresentative statement that steel has a melting point of 2,777ºF
- Falsely implying that 911Research embraces a straw-man argument that the official account of the Twin Towers' collapses depends on the fires having melted steel.
- Contextualizing 911Research as nonsense by surrounding its mention with absurd claims, and racist ideas.
- It is one of only two sites Shermer mentions.
- It's the source of his 2,777 figure.
- It's the target of his mis-attribution of the straw man claim about melted steel.
- Its most persuasively argued claim -- that the Towers were destroyed through controlled demolition -- is the only point Shermer attempts to debunk.
[A]ccording to www.911research.wtc7.net, steel melts at a temperature of 2,777 degrees Fahrenheit, but jet fuel burns at only 1,517 degrees F. No melted steel, no collapsed towers.
- 1535ºC (2795ºF) - melting point of iron
- ~1510ºC (2750ºF) - melting point of typical structural steel
- ~825ºC (1517ºF) - maximum temperature of hydrocarbon fires burning in the atmosphere without pressurization or pre-heating (premixed fuel and air - blue flame)
Unable to locate the source of Shermer's of 2,777ºF in the over 500 pages of original material on the 911Research website, I accused him of lying. Previous versions of my essay noted:
Shermer's attribution of 2,777ºF appears calculated to discredit the site in the eyes of the casual reader. Even the reader who doesn't know that steel does not have a single melting point (since steel is a alloy whose melting point depends on its composition) is likely to conclude that 911Research chose 2,777 for numerological reasons and ignores physics, and will be very unlikely to type in the unnecessarily long URL www.911research.wtc7.net .
In correspondence dated 7/11/05, Shermer revealed the source of his 2,777ºF. He pointed out that a page containing a transcript for my slide presentation The Twin Towers Demolition contained the figure 1525 Celsius, whose Farenheit equivalent is 2777. This number was a typo, since the temperature it referred to was the melting point of iron, 1535ºC. The number 1525 appeared only two sentences after a link to the corresponding slide, which listed both 1535ºC, and its equivalent 2795ºF -- not 1525ºC, which appeared nowhere on the site outside of the typo on the obscure transcript page. Nonetheless, my earlier characterization of Shermer's statement as a "bold-faced lie" is unwarranted, and I apologize for my error.
In the above excerpt, Shermer implies that our argument for demolition is that the fires could not have melted the steel. In fact, 911Research nowhere embraces the claim that the melting of the structural steel was a prerequisite for a gravity collapses of the towers. What we do is debunk the claim made by apologists of the official story that the fires melted the steel. This claim appeared in several places, including an article in Scientific American itself, in which M.I.T. professor of civil and environmental engineering Eduardo Kausel states:
I believe that the intense heat softened or melted the structural elements--floor trusses and columns--so that they became like chewing gum, and that was enough to trigger the collapse.
The fire-melts-steel idea was also endorsed by structural engineer Chris Wise, who was quoted by the BBC as stating:
It was the fire that killed the buildings. There's nothing on earth that could survive those temperatures with that amount of fuel burning. The columns would have melted, the floors would have melted and eventually they would have collapsed one on top of each other.
In the article that quoted Wise and in other articles, the BBC ran the graphic to the right, which asserts that fires of 800ºC were "hot enough to melt steel floor supports."
For more information on claims by "experts" that air-aspirated hydrocarbon-fueled open fires can melt steel, see:
In the transcript mentioned above, the paragraph immediately following the source of Shermer's 2,777ºF debunks the column failure theory. Subsequent paragraphs debunk the truss failure theory. Thus it is difficult to imagine that Shermer's false attribution of the melted steel straw man argument to 911Research was accidental.
Following his misrepresentation of 911Research, Shermer gives a short narrative of the truss failure theory, featuring MIT Materials Sciences Professor Thomas Eagar, who gave us the zipper and domino theory. Shermer cites Eagar's article in the Journal of the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society, failing to mention that 911Research had long ago debunked that same article. Shermer, not one for facts, exaggerates the article's already fantastic claims, stating that "rugs, curtains, furniture and paper" ignited by the jet fuel "raising temperatures above 1,400 degrees F and spreading the inferno throughout each building." Compare Shermer's description of the "inferno throughout each building" to the photo on the right showing the South Tower moments before its collapse.
The claim that the Twin Towers were destroyed by controlled demolition is the only one that Shermer attacks, which he does with the following rendition of the zipper and domino theory:
Temperature differentials of hundreds of degrees across single steel horizontal trusses caused them to sag--straining and then breaking the angle clips that held the beams to the vertical columns. Once one truss failed, others followed. When one floor collapsed onto the next floor below, that floor subsequently gave way, creating a pancaking effect that triggered each 500,000-ton structure to crumble.
The errors in this passage include:
- The misrepresentation of the steel shelves that held up the trusses as "angle clips".
- The theory of sequential truss failure (Eagar's zipper) -- impossible given the cross-trussing and floor-pan connections.
- the theory of sequential floor failure (Eagar's dominoes) -- impossible since an intact floor would easily absorb the impact of a floor falling 10 feet.
- the suggestion that floor failures could progress to total collapse, when it would leave the columns standing.
- the idea that a steel-frame building can "crumble" without being shredded by demolition charges.
Shermer goes on explain the symmetry of the collapses:
Conspiricists argue that the buildings should have fallen over on their sides, but with 95 percent of each building consisting of air, they could only have collapsed straight down.
If buildings that are "95 percent" air -- virtually all modern office buildings -- can only collapse straight down, one has to wonder why demolition companies are paid millions of dollars to engineer straight-down collapses with hundreds of carefully placed and precision-timed explosives. Shermer fails to note that no structure before or after 9/11/01 has ever exhibited the phenomenon of top-down progressive total collapse, no matter what fraction of it was air. The non-repeatability of this phenomenon will trouble students of the scientific method, but not Shermer.
In fact, Shermer's entire method of attacking "conspiracy theories" is unscientific. Consider his language. Scientists almost never use universal quantifiers such as all to describe inexact phenomena. For being published in a magazine titled Scientific American, Shermer is fond of sweeping generalizations.
- The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking (as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics).
- All the "evidence" for a 9/11 conspiracy falls under the rubric of this fallacy.
- All the 9/11 conspiracy claims are this easily refuted.
- A single anomaly can undermine a well-established theory, as illustrated by the success of a single anomaly -- the Michelson-Morley experiment -- in overturning the well-established theory of ether.
- The unexplained anomalies of the official story are better described as a mountain than a handful.
- The official story is not well established in any scientific or legal sense, but only in the sense of being endorsed by corrupt government bodies, such as the 9/11 Commission, and unquestioningly embraced by nearly all media.
Shermer's approach is worse than unscientific -- it's fraudulent. He misrepresents his opponent's positions and attempts to associate them with nonsensical and offensive ideas. While failing to identify a single argument of the hundreds made by 911Research, Shermer fraudulently implies that our entire case rests on a straw man argument built on a single fact:
Such notions are easily refuted by noting that scientific theories are not built on single facts alone but on a convergence of evidence assembled from multiple lines of inquiry.
No melted steel, no collapsed towers.
For example, according to www.911research.wtc7.net, steel melts at a temperature of 2,777 degrees Fahrenheit, but jet fuel burns at only 1,517 degrees F. No melted steel, no collapsed towers.
One needs only to read the slides for my talk The World Trade Center Demolition to appreciate Shermer's disregard for the truth. In that talk, we refer to the vast bodies of evidence compiled on the 911Research site and apply them in multiple lines of inquiry, examining:
- The historical record on the effects of fires in steel-framed skyscrapers
- The evidence-destruction operation at Ground Zero
- The failures of the column-failure and truss-failure theories
- The unverifiability of the progressive collapse theory
- The Twin Towers' collapse features -- the symmetry, rapidity, blast wave, pulverization, and excess heat -- consistent only with controlled demolition
- Four proofs that the Twin Towers were destroyed through controlled demolition
David Ray Griffin's The New Pearl Harbor, which Shermer insults as "conspiratorial codswallop," takes a similar approach. Contrary to the column's implication, Griffin explicitly developed his thesis as a "cumulative argument" (p. Xiv), which he summarizes in terms of 24 different lines of inquiry (pp. 132-34).
Shermer's attack could hardly be more hypocritical. He pays lip service to the kind of cumulative argument known as inference to the best explanation, which requires the consideration of all the relevant evidence. But he avoids the vast bodies of evidence cited by skeptics like Griffin, and fails to correctly state even a single one of their arguments. Instead, Shermer embeds mentions of the works of serious skeptics within a tapestry of ludicrous ideas so as to discredit them through guilt-by-association. This approach has nothing to do with science and everything to do with sophistry.
Shermer's column exhibits many of the same propaganda techniques as the ambitious feature article in the March issue of Popular Mechanics by Benjamin Chertoff, for which Shermer professes admiration:
The single best debunking of this conspiratorial codswallop is in the March issue of Popular Mechanics, which provides an exhaustive point-by-point analysis of the most prevalent claims.
Comparing the two attack pieces is instructive. Both pieces mention a similar range of issues, with Shermer adding Jewish conspiracy rumors and UFOlogists to the mix. Both employ the following three deceptive techniques, but with different emphasis.
- The straw man argument: attacking a position falsely attributed to your opponent
- The reverse straw man argument: falsely attributing a straw man argument to your opponent
- Bracketing: mentioning a position of your opponent, but surrounding it with other positions so as to discredit it.
From these sites, you will discover that some people think the Pentagon was hit by a missile; that U.S. Air Force jets were ordered to "stand down" and not intercept Flights 11 and 175, the ones that struck the twin towers; that the towers themselves were razed by demolition explosives timed to go off soon after the impact of the planes; that a mysterious white jet shot down Flight 93 over Pennsylvania; and that New York Jews were ordered to stay home that day (Zionists and other pro-Israeli factions, of course, were involved).
It begins with the Pentagon no-plane theory and ends with the Jewish conspiracy rumor -- ideas with no supporting evidence, which most people will reflexively reject. Sandwiched between them are two valid ideas -- the lack of timely military response and the controlled demolition of the towers -- which Shermer attempts to further muddle with omissions and distortions: he fails to mention the non-interception of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon almost an hour after the North Tower crash, and misrepresents demolition claims by saying explosives were timed to go off "soon after the impact of the planes," ignoring the 102 minutes the North Tower stood after the impact.
The article as a whole echoes this structure. It opens with a mention of the "9/11 conspiracy book" by Thierry Meyssan -- the original source of the ill-grounded and now debunked Pentagon no-plane theory, and ends with an incredible theory of the fate of Flight 77's passengers, hinting at Operation Pearl, in which the jetliners are landed on a secret military base and passengers are herded onto one plane and the others are "electronically towed" out over the Atlantic Ocean for disposal. Such complex baseless theories require large numbers of operatives, which is probably their purpose: people are unlikely to believe a theory that requires the silence of hundreds or thousands of people, a point Shermer exploits. In contrast, 911Research speculates that the attack was executed by a team numbering fewer than the alleged hijackers: a feat made possible through computer automation and the exploitation of top-down military command structures. See Attack Scenario 404.
Shermer uses an array of deceptive methods to persuade the reader that challenges to the official story of the 9/11 attack are worthy only of ridicule and should not be scrutinized. His primary technique is to use hoaxes and unscientific ideas -- long promoted on the web and in videos -- to bracket the valid ideas that he seeks to shield the reader from. That Shermer went to such great lengths to thoroughly misrepresent the painstaking, scientific, evidence-based work of 911Research is a testament to the site's success.
Copyright (c) 911Research.WTC7.net 2005