Robert Todd Carroll
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Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Issue # 20
January 18, 2003
(Past issues posted at http://www.skepdic.com/news/)
1) New or revised entries in The Skeptic's Dictionary & Skeptic's Refuge
Since the last newsletter I have
Alison Bevege from Australia wrote to ask if I could work my "skeptical magic on the following ridiculous claims?" The claims in question involve a litany of absurdities regarding September 11th, including the claim that American Airlines flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon. Where that flight and its passengers are remains a mystery to these conspiratorially gifted timewasters (perhaps it's been commandeered to area 51?). The Internet has its share of these folks, but apparently the main source for 9/11 conspiracy theories is France and the main deceiver is Thierry Meyssan's L'Effroyable Imposture [The Appalling Deception] (2002).
Fortunately, the latest issue (vol. 9, # 4) of Skeptic magazine has a review by L. Kirk Hagen of this appalling book. Hagen's review is called "French Follies - A 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Turns Out to Be An Appalling Deception." I won't go into all the details but one common claim of the paranoid conspiracy theorists (PCTs) is that there was no debris left by flight 77 and no hole in the Pentagon that fits where the plane hit. One Internet PCT writes: "The last time I looked at the real world, a solid object could not pass through another solid object without leaving a hole at least as big as itself." First, the Boeing 757 didn't pass through the Pentagon. Secondly, the last time I looked at the real world when a plane weighing more that 70 tons and traveling over 300 mph while carrying over 10,000 gallons of jet fuel crashes into a something as solid as the Pentagon, the plane disintegrates. (Remember, the mass of this object is distributed over a great amount of space. It's not concentrated in the nose and the wings, which is what the PCT folks seem to be assuming.) However, this PCT has an answer for that fact: It's been proven impossible (he doesn't say how) and it contradicts the notion that bodies were identified by DNA evidence. He also equates "disintegrate" with "incinerate," so that explains in part his belief there couldn't be any DNA evidence to evaluate. Also, shock of shocks, there are contradictions in the eyewitness testimony! Some of it was even fabricated! Hence, there must be a conspiracy and a cover-up.
Meyssan finds it appalling that flight 77, which struck the Pentagon at 9:43 a.m., was unaccounted for for some 40 minutes as it flew 300 miles over Ohio. Hagen points out that there were thousands of planes that had taken off from or were approaching airfields on the Eastern Seaboard. "It is remarkable that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) acted as quickly as it did," says Hagen. "As early as 9:17 a.m. it closed all airports in the New York City area, and by 9:40 a.m. halted all air traffic nationwide. Controllers had been monitoring Flight 77 as it approached Washington, and had even warned the White House." Meyssan, by the way, claims flight 77 was shot down by a missile. Some Internet PCTs claim it was indeed a plane that hit the Pentagon, but a small plane loaded with explosives.
Gerard Holmgren has posted "An analysis of the physiscs [sic] of the pentagon [sic] crash on Sept 11, 2001." It is quite elaborate and begins by giving all the physical dimensions of a Boeing 757 and a Byzantine set of calculations as to how big a hole such a craft should have put in the Pentagon. Shock of shocks, Mr. Holmgren couldn't find any public listing of the the physical dimensions and structural properties of the Pentagon. Needless to say, I don't have them either, but I can guarantee you that the Pentagon is not built like a barn or a billboard, where, as we have all seen in the movies, a plane leave a visible impression of its wings and fuselage upon passing through. Nevertheless, Mr. Homgren is certain there should be a much bigger hole in the Pentagon than he can decipher from photos, and he has links to many, many photos. He does many calculations, but his conclusion is based on the assumption that the plane should have left a bigger footprint. None of his calculations can show that, unless he also assumes the plane did not disintegrate upon impact.
Holmgren then goes on to do many more calculations of burning points of metals, DNA, etc., to prove that no DNA could have been identified because it would have melted. Again, this assumes all the bodies stayed neatly jammed in a small area where the hottest fire raged and were thus incinerated. This is gruesome, but disintegration was not only of the airplane and the small parts that were disbursed widely were not just metal parts. Now, I have no idea whether DNA was identified (Holmgren says that "authorities" say that 63 of the 64 people aboard were identified by DNA testing), but it seems obvious to anyone with common sense that it would be possible to do such testing on the disbursed body parts. Holmgren's argument assumes everybody was incinerated. My guess is that the rest of his arguments make lots of unwarranted assumptions as well and I'm not going to waste any more time on them.
Alison writes: "I am trying to argue with one of these (PCT) morons but I don't have your skills." My advice is not to argue with them. They have no interest in examining all the facts and only give the appearance of truly wanting to find out the truth about these matters. I suggest, however, that anyone being confronted by the 9/11 PCTs consult Hagen's scathing critique of Meyssan's tabloid best-seller (in France, anyway).
***Martin Wagner thinks there is a scam out there taking advantage of lonely men.
I plan to add some new stuff, but I don't think I'll have anything to add to Martin's comments on "speed seduction." I think he's said all we need to know about this subject.
Several readers have asked why there is no entry on "God." The original entry I had on that topic, which I removed some time ago, focused exclusively on the Judeo-Christian God (JCG). Now there is a short entry on gods.
Kimberly Winston, a reporter for the online magazine ReligionLink (www.religionwriters.com ), a Pew-funded service for reporters in the secular press who cover religion, contacted me about being a source for writers on miracles. "Specifically," she asked, "can you address why people believe in miracles? Why so many miraculous claims turn out to be untrue? Why people choose to believe in them anyway?"
I wrote back that
I finished my reply by telling Ms. Winston that I'd be happy to expand on any of these notions or go deeper into the subject. To my surprise, she enthusiastically agreed to put me on the list of sources reporters can contact. I'll let you know if any do.
The program for The Amazing Meeting sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation has been published. Check it out. I hope to see some of you there (in Ft. Lauderdale, January 31-February 2). I'll be speaking on Saturday night.
The 11th European Skeptics Congress will be held in London, September 5-7, 2003. According to organizers, "We are keen...not to rely too heavily on lectures from individual speakers, as we want to encourage a lively audience interaction. To this end we hope to have some debates on controversial issues....We shall strive to avoid presentations that ‘preach to the converted’. Hence we shall try to include broader topics that invite divergent views, even amongst sceptics."