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May 23, 2005

Fahrenheit 2777

9/11 has generated the mother of all conspiracy theories

By Michael Shermer

Noted French left-wing activist Thierry Meyssan's 9/11 conspiracy
book, L'Effroyable Imposture, became a best-seller in 2002. But I
never imagined such an "appalling deception" would ever find a voice
in America. At a recent public lecture I was buttonholed by a Michael
Moore-wannabe filmmaker who breathlessly explained that 9/11 was
orchestrated by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Central Intelligence
Agency as part of their plan for global domination and a New World
Order. That goal was to be financed by G.O.D. (Gold, Oil, Drugs) and
launched by a Pearl Harbor-like attack on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon, thereby providing the justification for war. The
evidence was there in the details, he explained, handing me a faux
dollar bill (with "9-11" replacing the "1," a picture of Bush
supplanting that of Washington) chockablock with Web sites.

In fact, if you type "World Trade Center" and "conspiracy" into
Google, you'll get more than 250,000 hits. 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). Books also abound,
including Inside Job, by Jim Marrs; The New Pearl Harbor, by David
Ray Griffin; and 9/11: The Great Illusion, by George Humphrey. 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.

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. 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.

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. "The planes
did not bring those towers down; bombs did," says
www.abovetopsecret.com. Wrong. In an article in the Journal of the
Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society and in subsequent interviews,
Thomas Eagar, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, explains why: steel loses 50 percent of its strength
at 1,200 degrees F; 90,000 liters of jet fuel ignited other
combustible materials such as rugs, curtains, furniture and paper,
which continued burning after the jet fuel was exhausted, raising
temperatures above 1,400 degrees F and spreading the inferno
throughout each building. 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. 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.

All the 9/11 conspiracy claims are this easily refuted. On the
Pentagon "missile strike," for example, I queried the would-be
filmmaker about what happened to Flight 77, which disappeared at the
same time. "The plane was destroyed, and the passengers were murdered
by Bush operatives," he solemnly revealed. "Do you mean to tell me
that not one of the thousands of conspirators needed to pull all this
off," I retorted, "is a whistle-blower who would go on TV or write a
tell-all book?" My rejoinder was met with the same grim response I
get from UFOlogists when I ask them for concrete evidence: Men in
Black silence witnesses, and dead men tell no tales.