Friday, March 21, 2008

A. K. Dewdney at the 9/11 Denier Evening (Part 2)

For part 1, go here. For the intro to this series, go here.

After discussing the cell phone calls, Dewdney moved on to another area far from his expertise: the collapse of the World Trade towers.

He showed a picture of one of the towers with an arrow pointing to part of it, with a caption reading "Molton [sic] steel pours from side of WTC 1". The resolution of the picture didn't allow me to conclude that anything molten at all was pouring out, certainly not molten steel. If anything was pouring out, why couldn't it have been molten aluminum? Aluminum melts at 660° C, while steel melts at 1370-1550° C.

Dewdney went on to discuss the collapse of WTC 7. He repeated the long-debunked falsehood that Larry Silverstein, who leased WTC 7 from the Port Authority, admitted that WTC 7 was brought down by controlled demolition. Silverstein used the word "pull" and Dewdney repeated the falsehood that "pull" is demolition slang for "bring down a building by controlled demolition". As Debunking 9/11 Myths explains in detail, this is not the case. The word "pull" was referring to the decision to remove firefighters from the building. Dewdney claimed that Silverstein "changed his story", when in fact Silverstein simply clarified what he meant.

If the expressions "pull" and "pull it" (not, I emphasize, "pull it down") are slang for controlled demolition, then the 9/11 deniers should have no problem providing a citation to a book, newspaper, or magazine article where this expression is used as the 9/11 deniers claim. I have searched myself, using the New York Times index, and Lexis/Nexis, but so far have failed to produce a single citation supporting the deniers' claim. On the other hand, "pull" can and has been used in the context of removing firefighters from a building. See here, for example, where accounts from 9/11 firefighters both use this word.

As an academic, Dewdney had a professional responsibility to provide his audience with the alternative (and widely-accepted) explanation for Silverstein's remarks, and not to repeat falsehoods about the meaning of "pull" without supporting evidence. (I'll also point out that Graeme MacQueen, a self-described expert on the analysis of texts, spoke after Dewdney and did not see fit to mention that there was any controversy about the textual analysis of "pull".)

Dewdney went on to discuss the Shanksville and Pentagon crash sites. He claimed that every other plane crash has produced large amounts of debris, but these crashes did not produce any. This is a falsehood in two ways. First, there have been plane crashes without large amounts of easily-visible debris, namely, this 1997 crash in Indonesia. (See the comments for a picture of some of the debris.) Secondly, the Shanksville crash certainly did produce debris, and some of it can be seen here.

Dewdney thinks that Flight 93 did not crash, but was shot down by an A-3 Thunderbolt. As evidence, he points to a "mysterious white twin engine jet aircraft" seen around the crash site. But this "mysterious" plane has already been identified, as Dewdney should know: it was a "Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the VF Corporation" and it had been contacted by the FAA to examine the UAL 93 crash site and mark its position.

To conclude: Dewdney's performance was extremely disappointing to me. His presentation was filled with falsehoods, and his alternative scenarios ludicrous. Apparently I am not the only one to think so; even some 9/11 skeptics have effectively disowned Dewdney's claims. When people on your own side think you've gone too far, it's time for some serious self-analysis.

Yet Dewdney's presentation was praised by the other presenters, including Richard B. Lee and Graeme MacQueen. Why do they think this farrago of falsehoods deserves praise?

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." (often attributed to Mark Twain, but may really be due to Charles Haddon Spurgeon).


Eamon Knight said...

Geez, I used to like Dewdney's writing (eg. SciAm column). Too bad he's jumped the shark.

Unknown said...

Here's the half-tricky thing when dealing with 9/11 denialists concerning molten metals: they're intelligent enough to figure out that molten aluminum at temperatures of ~660°/700°C are not bright orange but still a bit metallic and reflective. Of course, they ignore that aluminum glows orange at higher temperatures which are still well below the melting point of steal and if in fact molten steel (iron) were present, we would have yellow/white-hot aluminum along with it.

Of course, we're talking about conspiracy theorists here, who are only willing to probe as far as confirming their crazy ideas.

Alex said...

Thank you for the excellent coverage of this event, Mr. Shallit. I've found your commentary to be both accurate and insightful.

With that said, I must point out that the claim about GA flight 152 is in error; there was a decent amount of wreckage recovered, as can be seen in this photograph. Metal aircraft cannot "disappear", but they can fragment into thousands of smaller pieces.

Crash scenes primarily differ in number of fragments, and the size of the debris field. For instance, a slow-speed crash tends to result in fewer but larger pieces, which remain in the general vicinity of the impact area. The vast majority of crash scenes fall into this category since most accidents occur right after takeoff or right before landing. On the other hand, a high-speed impact will generate a much larger number of small fragments. Depending on the angle of impact, these fragments may remain localized, or may be spread over a large area. In the case of UA93, the high speed of the aircraft and the low angle of impact resulted in a large debris field spread over several kilometers of forest. Those who say that no debris was recovered at Shanksville are basing their claims on the fact that very little debris was left at the actual point of impact.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Thanks, Alex. I'll be the first to admit that I have very little first-hand knowledge about plane crashes and their aftermath; I have to rely on sources that seem believable to me. I have revised the text to take into account your correction.

lawchick said...

Thank you, Mr. Shallit, for your excellent coverage of this falsely promoted and falsely presented "debate".

It is important to call out conspiracy fantasists such as those involved in this presentation when they put forward lies as truth, biased opinions as "research", unsupported accusations as "fact", and when they distort reality to fit their conspiracy fantasies. This is particularly important when those involved are purporting to lend credibility to their views by resort to their academic accomplishments, despite the fact that they are opining on matters far outside their fields of expertise.

Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Heh, after a short read I see you're trying to spin "denier" as "truther" that all the "duhniers" have left? I see wy you take 12 hours to edit out people who want to point that out...

Absurd..a road apple of an article.If you want to defend the (real) criminals of 9-11 you should consider the consequences of doing's a CRIME dude.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Moron:

I don't edit anything out.

We know who the real criminals of 9/11 are. Bin Laden is dead.

Read The Looming Tower.

And, your failure to actually address any substantive arguments is noted.