The 9/11 Meta-Truther Conspiracy Theory

Date:  September 11th, 2001.
Personnel:  Unknown [designate A], Unknown [designate B], Unknown [designate C].

A:  It's done.  The plane targeted at Congress was crashed by those on-board, but the Pentagon and Trade Center attacks occurred just as scheduled.

B:  Congress seems sufficiently angry in any case.  I don't think the further steps of the plan will meet with any opposition.  We should gain the governmental powers we need, and the stock market should move as expected.

A:  Good.  Have you prepared the conspiracy theorists to accuse us?

B:  Yes.  All is in readiness.  The first accusations will fly within the hour.

C:  Er...

A:  What is it?

C:  Sorry, I know I'm a bit new to this sort of thing, but why are we sponsoring conspiracy theorists?  Aren't they our arch-nemeses, tenaciously hunting down and exposing our lies?

A:  No, my young apprentice, just the opposite.  As soon as you pull off a conspiracy, the first thing you do is start a conspiracy theory about it.  Day one.

C:  What?  We want to be accused of deliberately ignoring intelligence and assassinating that one agent who tried to forward specific information -

A:  No, of course not!  What you do in a case like this is start an accusation so ridiculous that nobody else wants to be associated with the accusers.  You create a low-prestige conspiracy theory and staff it with as many vocal lunatics as you can.  That way no one wants to be seen as affiliating with the conspiracy theorists by making a similar accusation.

C:  That works?  I know I'm not the brightest fish in the barrel - sometimes, hanging around you guys, I feel almost as dumb as I pretend to be - but even I know that "The world's stupidest man may say the sun is shining, but that doesn't make it dark out."

B:  Works like a charm, in my experience.  Like that business with the Section Magenta aircraft.  All you need is a bunch of lunatics screaming about aliens and no one respectable will dream of reporting a "flying saucer" after that.

C:  So what did you plan for the 9/11 cover conspiracy theory, by the way?  Are the conspiracy theorists going to say the Jews were behind it?  Can't get much lower-prestige than anti-Semitism!

B:  You've got the right general idea, but you're not thinking creatively enough.  Israel does have a clear motive here - even though they weren't in fact behind it - and if the conspiracy theorists cast a wide enough net, they're bound to turn up a handful of facts that seem to support their theory.  The public doesn't understand how to discount that sort of "evidence", though, so they might actually be convinced.

C:  So... the Illuminati planned the whole operation?

B:  You know, for someone who reads as much science fiction as you do, you sure don't think outside the box.

C:  ...okay, seriously, man.  I don't see how a theory could get any more ridiculous than that and still acquire followers.

(A and B crack up laughing.)

B:  Hah!  What would you have done to cover up the Section Magenta aircraft, I wonder?  Blamed it on Russia?  To this day there are still people on the lookout for hidden aliens who overfly populated areas in gigantic non-nanotechnological aircraft with their lights on.

A:  So what did we pick for the 9/11 cover conspiracy, by the way?

B:  Hm?  Oh, the World Trade Center wasn't brought down by planes crashing into it.  It was pre-planted explosives.

C:  You're kidding me.

B:  Seriously, that's the cover conspiracy.

C:  There are videos already on the Internet of the planes flying into the World Trade Center.  It was on live television.  There are thousands of witnesses on the ground who saw it with their own eyes -

B:  Right, but the conspiracy theory is, the planes wouldn't have done it on their own - it took pre-planted explosives too.

C:  No one is going to buy that.  I don't care who you bought out in the conspiracy-theoretic community.  This attack would've had the same political effect whether the buildings came down entirely or just the top floors burned.  It's not like we spent a lot of time worrying about at what angle the planes would hit the building.  The whole point was to keep our hands clean!  That's why the al Qaeda plot was such a godsend compared to the original anthrax plan.  All we had to do was let it happen.  Once we arranged for the attack to go through, we were done, we had no conceivable motive to risk exposure by planting explosives on top of that -

B:  Don't take this the wrong way.  But one, you don't understand conspiracy theorists at all.  Two, they bought the aliens, didn't they?  And three, it's already online and the usual crowd of anti-establishment types are already snapping it up.

C:  Are you joking?

B:  Honest to Betsy.  People are claiming that the buildings fell too quickly and that the video showed ejecta corresponding to controlled demolitions.

C:  Wow.  I don't suppose we actually planted some explosives, just to make sure that -

A:  Oh, hell no, son.  That sort of thing is never necessary.  They'll turn up what looks to them like evidence.  They always do.

C:  Aren't they going to, um, suspect they're pawns?

A:  Human nature 101.  Once they've staked their identity on being part of the defiant elect who know the Hidden Truth, there's no way it'll occur to them that they're our catspaws.

B:  One reason our fine fraternity has controlled the world for hundreds of years is that we've managed to make "conspiracy theories" look stupid.  You know how often you've ever heard someone suggest that possibility?  None.  You know why?  Because it would be a conspiracy theory.

A:  Not to mention that the story would be too recursive to catch on.  To conceal the truth, one need only make the reality complicated enough to exceed the stack depth of the average newspaper reader.

B:  And I've saved the dessert for last.

C:  Really?

B:  Yeah.  You can go totally overboard with these guys.  They never notice and they never suspect they're being used.

C:  Hit me.

B:  We've arranged for them to be called "truthers".


I hereby dub any believers in this theory 9/11 meta-truthers.


I, Eliezer Yudkowsky, do now publicly announce that I am not planning to commit suicide, at any time ever, but particularly not in the next couple of weeks; and moreover, I don't take this possibility seriously myself at the moment, so you would merely be drawing attention to yourselves by assassinating me.  However, I also hereby vow that if the Singularity Institute happens to receive donations from any sources totaling at least $3M in 2010, I will take down this post and never publicly speak of the subject again; and if anyone asks, I'll tell them honestly that it was probably a coincidence.

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This controversy reminds me of an astronomy professor of mine. He was semi-obsessed with showing that the moon landing was not faked, to the point of conspiracy-nut enthusiasm, despite supporting the status quo. He'd go off on long anecdotes in class about how he saw some light at such and such a latitude at a certain time, which showed unquestionably that there must have been a man-made vehicle at such-and-such a point. Then, he said one thing that stuck with me: if it were faked, that means there are at least hundreds, more likely tens of thousands, of low- and mid-level government employees who are keeping their lips absolutely, perfectly sealed.

That was all the argument I ever needed to hear to dissuade me from crackpot government conspiracy theories. Once an event reaches a certain magnitude of size, cost, and planning, P:Everyone stays quiet rapidly approaches zero. The payoffs and probability of a guilty conscience are simply too high with a large enough N.

An even more unassailable bit of evidence, for me, is that Russia never claimed it was a fake, despite having the obvious capacity to verify (just by training their best telescopes on the landing site, and probably a dozen other ways) and the obvious benefit to them if they could show America had faked it.

No conspiracy short of a One World Government could have pulled off a fake moon landing— and if a conspiracy were powerful enough to orchestrate a fake Cold War, one wonders why they would have even bothered with PR stunts.

Then, he said one thing that stuck with me: if it were faked, that means there are at least hundreds, more likely tens of thousands, of low- and mid-level government employees who are keeping their lips absolutely, perfectly sealed.

I've always disliked this argument. We do know of programs with tens of thousands and more employees who have kept quiet and regard their silence as a great and honorable accomplishment.

They are the employees of the US federal government's black budget, a >$50 billion annual sink about which the public knows next to nothing whatsoever, and probably never will because records are easily destroyed when they are secret.

If we are lucky, we may get some bare descriptions of what happened, decades after the fact. For example, you've heard of the sick abuses of MKULTRA (which we only know even this much about because the coverup missed some documents), but MKULTRA was only one of many projects being run by the CIA technical division. What do we really know about the MKULTRA programs overseas, like MKCHICKWIT or MKDELTA? Where are all the whistleblowers there, hm? And these were some of the most evil programs around, literally direct descendants from the Nazi medical torture experiments. If ever there was something to whistleblow on, poisoning an entire French town with LSD would be it.

And then there's the spy satellites, in their endless billions of dollars and thousands of engineers & programmers. The KH-13 in 1995 was thought in the open literature to be >2 billion USD, ballooned to >4 billion by 2007 and who knows where it is these days? (By the way, just part of the full software set was estimated at >3 million SLOC; how many programmers worked on that and have kept utter silence?)

So, I regard it as an extremely weak piece of evidence. Not non-zero, but so close as to be almost entirely irrelevant and outweighed by anything else.

I believe my principle stands. Your counterexamples are very different in several important dimensions.

You are forgetting context. This is not a covert operation, centered principally around CIA agents or other professionals committed to stealth and secrecy. Nor is it on some issue so obscure that you would have trouble getting a journalist to understand it if you leaked. This is a massive operation that would have involved a large number of scientists and technicians (and just civilians, generally), with several major observable events (i.e. the launch). I'm sure it also involved numerous corporations who had to build materials and keep some form of records. If any one of the doubtless hundreds of important players had come forward with any substantial, credible evidence or testimony demonstrating that the whole thing is a ruse, I imagine it would not have been hard to find a willing medium to communicate such.

Also, programs like MKULTRA have almost no visible effects. That is, no one working on MKULTRA would see it on TV with their family. No one involved would really realize that a ruse was being pulled. This is not at all true of something like a moon landing; numerous civilians would probably be aware of the fact that the government was trying to pull a fast one. It's much easier to keep something secret when the people involved don't know it's newsworthy.

In other words: is it likely that there are particular government programs about which the public remains entirely ignorant? Yes. For any specific, conspicuous, high-profile government program or event involving large numbers of civilian participants, is it likely that the government managed to fool the public and then maintain perfect silence? No, no it is not.

This is not a covert operation, centered principally around CIA agents or other professionals committed to stealth and secrecy.

? A fake moon landing would be the very blackest of black programs/SAPs. Of course the people working on it would be committed to stealth and secrecy.

This is a massive operation that would have involved a large number of scientists and technicians (and just civilians, generally), with several major observable events (i.e. the launch).

I've already pointed out that the satellite programs like KH-13 involved at minimum thousands of scientists/technicians/civilians. So your point must solely be 'my heuristic is valid when there is high profile media coverage'.

But what about the constant media coverage of nuclear explosions and the media assurance to civilians that there was nothing to fear, even though the scientists suspected or knew that the fallout really was dangerous? (You may remember the settlements made a few years ago to Nevadans). High profile events (nuke tests aren't subtle), thousands of involved civilians, etc. Yet...

I'm sure it also involved numerous corporations who had to build materials and keep some form of records.

Yes, no doubt the corporations who consume $50 billion every year in the black budget, and who have consumed similar amounts every year since the Cold War started, have kept meticulous records. For all the good that has done the rest of us...

This is not at all true of something like a moon landing; numerous civilians would probably be aware of the fact that the government was trying to pull a fast one.

A Noble Lie as part of the Cold War against those genocidal atheist Communist foreigners. Where were all these civilians blowing the whistle in things like the Tuskegee experiments? (Murdering a bunch of black people would seem to not need be broadcast on TV before someone says to themselves, 'Hey! Isn't this insanely cartoon-cackling evil?') The Tonkin Gulf? How many of the Plumbers (all civilians, all cognizant of their criminality) blew the whistle?

For any specific, conspicuous, high-profile government program or event involving large numbers of civilian participants, is it likely that the government managed to fool the public and then maintain perfect silence? No, no it is not.

I feel as if this is a good example of disagreements being dishonest. I've stuck only to highly mainstream, well-established conspiracies and systems of evil in just America, and haven't even touched upon the ones which haven't been definitively proven (even though basic logic tells me that some of them are probably true), but your position remains the same as ever. Someone is being intransigent here.

On review, I will admit my original point was framed somewhat imprecisely. I did not mean to imply that it is highly unlikely that the government can manage to keep any large projects secret. I meant (as I think was obvious from the context) that it is very unlikely that the government would be able to keep something as large-scale, civilian-intensive, public, and high-profile as faking a series of moon landings secret for four decades. This probability is particularly low considering the alternative of, "They just did it." As my original point was a rather offhand comment, I did not bother going into this level of detail.

Someone is being intransigent here.

I will confess to not really giving a damn about the details up to now, because I thought my point was rather obvious. I see there's a bit of an inferential gap. In short, I think you vastly underestimate the prior improbability of your own claim, and vastly overestimate the relevance of your counterexamples, all of which are substantially different on numerous dimensions. I'll spell things out in greater detail.

[Having taken two minutes to look at wikipedia, there does seem to be rather solid evidence of its veracity, what with the fact that there is experimentally observable apparatus on the moon where Uncle Sam says we landed. That's besides my point, since it was strictly on the implications of massive government conspiracies being unlikely.]

There are pretty much exactly two possibilities: (1) the events are true as they were told to us, or (2) there was an elaborate conspiracy involving, on the one hand, whoever faked the actual video, and, on the other hand, whoever built all of the equipment to fake the launch, and every single significant person involved to this date has remained dead-silent. Other evidence is of course relevant to the ultimate question, but I'm sticking to my specific claim.

It seems fair to assume that if the moon landing were not technically feasible, some reputable scientist would be able to point this out. Therefore, if it is technically feasible, the simpler explanation is that things happened as claimed - what's the benefit of faking it, and burning enough money to actually do it, when you could just actually do it? The conspiracy theory requires, in addition to a massive, complex conspiracy, the total silence of people who would likely have realized the equipment they were making would not work, or who were not actually making equipment.

People wouldn't be driven to blow the whistle due to moral concerns - they'd be driven to do so for pure self interest. They'd become rich and famous if they had credible evidence. This is absolutely not the case for any other conspiracy you have named. That is an enormous distinguishing fact that you haven't appreciated. None of the examples you gave were such that people stood to become rich or famous by blowing the whistle. And the Cold War is over, and still no one came forward, so patriotism is a pretty unlikely explanation.

More importantly, every single one of the counterexamples you've given is a non-story. It's a lot easier to convince my spouse I'm not cheating by saying nothing than it is to do so by explaining on how I went on a luxurious tour across South East Asia, complete with video and tchotchkes. In every example you cite, it isn't that the government told us a story that happened, and that then got proven wrong. It's that the government didn't tell us there was a story, and then people figured out there was. (And how long did "Nuclear testing is perfectly harmless" last in practice?) There was no serious public question of, "Is the government honestly studying syphilis, or is something else going on?"

Getting the government to run a conspiracy of this magnitude with no credible leaks of any kind, despite massive personal incentives to leak, requires a whole lot of things to go exactly right. Actually landing on the moon, after developing a robust space program and spending enough money to develop landing on the moon and launching giant rockets into space and having videos of people landing on the moon, is not nearly so unlikely.

TL;DR of my other response to this:

"The government, in the case of a very large and public project with substantial corroborating evidence, has in fact lied to us and the whole thing is fabricated" is an extraordinary claim that requires substantial evidence in the absence of major leaks. Or, at least some evidence. Without clear and powerful supporting evidence, it is rational to assume this claim is wrong, because it is really, really complicated and requires a lot of things to go right.

I don't think any of your counterexamples contradict that.

Once an event reaches a certain magnitude of size, cost, and planning, P:Everyone stays quiet rapidly approaches zero.

I wonder if there is data/examples supporting this, e.g. a list of failed conspiracies due to someone not being able to stay quiet (or any other relevant reason). Of course we'd also need a list of successful fairly large conspiracies too..

Well there is the case of Kurt Sonnenfeld who was the official FEMA videographer at ground Zero. He has fled to Argentina and published a book about the whole issue: http://www.voltairenet.org/article160666.html

As a historical example you have Israel's nuclear program and there was exactly one whistle blower, Mordechai Vanunu and he was hunted down and thrown into prison for that. So imagine the amount of people involved in a nuclear program and yet you find only one who speaks out. The thing is, people who are in the know also know why they have to keep quiet and the consequences they will face if they do otherwise.

Lets imagine that some hypothetical government agent starts speaking, how could he prove his point? And even if he could wouldn't that speak against him because if he was involved why didn't he say so earlier or do something against it? He probably would be dismissed as another lunatic.

EDIT: There is also the ringworm affair that happened in the 40s and 50s in Israel and is still controversial and a lot of people have kept quiet about it for decades.

You would expect a second whistleblower to step forward after the whistle has already been blown?

I don't understand, why doesn't Sonnenfeld just put up his video on the internet?

You might want to be careful citing Sonnefeld. But perhaps he's being framed.

You are probably talking about this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ringworm_affair

It doesn't outright deny it but mentions that the israeli government has paid compensation to those affected and it has a link to this article which goes more in depth about the whole issue:

http://web.israelinsider.com/Views/3998.htm

Who is to say that those employees were actually involved in the conspiracy? They were just being used by the conspiracy! Flight controllers receiving "telemetry" from a computer/simulation in a basement somewhere, unbeknownst to them, etc.

The 100s of low level employees involved weren't a problem - hell, the 10s of thousands of them weren't. They bought the story just like the rest of us! :P

Maddox mentioned the same thing in his rant against the 9/11conspiracy.

I respect the point-by-point rebuttals people make, but do they work? Maybe to keep people away, but how effective are they at making someone stop believing something ridiculous? In my experience, not very. And when people get fanatical in the direction of truth, that seems to make others cautious of believing it too. Did you have any classmates that ended up believing the moon landing was a conspiracy?

Did you have any classmates that ended up believing the moon landing was a conspiracy?

I sincerely doubt it, but I doubt anyone thought it was going in to the class. This was many decades after the moon landing.

Did you happen to see that episode of South Park? It turns out that the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are all government agents trying to make the government seem more competent than it actually is. ;)

Beat me to it! It's also a great episode to watch from a Bayesian standpoint, because throughout it, you see people having to radically shift their views because they see extremely improbable evidence.

Since you've already spoiled it, I want to highlight one scene in particular: Kyle, Stan, and a Truther guy are taken to the White House, where Bush and his cabinet (falsely) admit to having orchestrated 9/11 and then execute the Truther (which later turns out to be fake too). All Kyle can do is respond with, "REALLY?", more incredulous each time.

Link again, thanks Jayson_Virissimo for posting it.

As Napoleon reportedly said, P(incompetence was the cause | bad things happen) > P(conspiracy was the cause | bad things happen).

There is no non-conspiracy hypothesis regarding 9/11. No one thinks it was an accident. :)

Ha, touche. Now there would be quite the prospiracy-Truther position--advocating the view that it was all just an accident...

As Napoleon reportedly said, P(incompetence was the cause | bad things happen) > P(conspiracy was the cause | bad things happen).

There is no non-conspiracy hypothesis regarding 9/11. No one thinks it was an accident. :)

Actually a lot of people think that the non-prevention of 9/11 was an accident due to incompetence and specifically a lack of data-sharing among intelligence agencies. Of curse, there was a lot of guilt-induced hindsight bias at the time. Meanwhile, some of the conspiracy theorists were claiming that the government could have stopped the attack but decided not to. In this case, incompetence seems the likelier cause, like Napoleon said.

the non-prevention of 9/11 was an accident due to incompetence and specifically a lack of data-sharing among intelligence agencies.

The name for that is "expected consequences", not "an accident".

I'm curious if the donation total for 2010 has been been calculated yet?

Off hand, what is the prior probability that SIAI takes in 3 million this coming year?

Low enough that I didn't much expect to have to take the post down by accident, high enough that I could still honestly say afterward that it was probably coincidence.

The googler invasion that results from this will be ten times worse than influx following the Knox discussion.

I used to work with someone, when I lived in Europe during the Cold War, who did something very similar to exactly what Eliezer has described.

I doubt that it was done for 9/11, as it doesn't seem to fit with the profile of what/when/where they would use this sort of counter-intelligence, but the theory behind it is absolutely founded.

Usually, it was so that everyone would be looking east when something very wrong was going to be happening in the west. Every time I hear about the Dancing lights in the sky that are claimed by the ignorant to be UFOs, yet the military says "No, those were just Hi-MAT (Highly Maneuverable and And Tactical) flares" (I'm pretty sure they changed the names since 1986) I believe that they were flares... But, I wonder... "What was on the opposite side of the sky that they wanted everyone looking at the flares for?"

It is amazing some of the things that they do in Mil-Intelligence and that spooks get up to (course, spooks have really been trying to get back in the game since the end of the Cold War...). So, as my own contribution to the meta-conspiracy:

It was all CIA spooks who were doing a budget op in order to get themselves re-funded after loosing most of their funding at the end of the Cold War. They knew all about the High-Jackers, and even covertly arranged to get them into the country so that they could go to flight school...

I could go on, as I so love a good conspiracy tale... There should be a whole genre of fiction based upon conspiracies (I don't mean as real conspiracies, but stuff that most sane people would know is based on a conspiracy theory... The nuts are going to think everything is a conspiracy anyway)...

You missed a critical factor. Volume. It's not about making up one single ludicrous claim. If you really want to distort the discussion you put 100 different ludicrous claims out. If the noise is greater than the amount of real evidence, truth won't come to light.

I almost made such a point myself, in the post I made on the subject. This was the essence of what I learned about counter-intelligence when I worked in Europe during the Cold War... "The Noise to Signal Ration must be kept high enough that those without the appropriate filter will have no clue as to what is going on."

The goal for the Counter-Intelligence agent is to make others think that they have found the correct filter.

So this seems like the most logical thread to bring this up in. There's now a suggestion that the towers were brought down in part by thermite that was inadvertently created by a combination of the airplane hulls and the water from the sprinkler systems. (Yeah, you probably weren't expecting that sentence to end as it did...)

This looks wrong to me simply because the quantities seem to be too small unless they happened to be in exactly the right places with near perfect mixtures. But this does worry me in that if this was a major part of what brought down the towers then this indicates a substantial failure of rationality if this was actually necessary. I strongly suspect that this is not going to go anywhere. But if it does, it should worry us that engineers and laypeople looking at this essentially dismissed truthers claims that this looked like a thermite fire.

Ok. Faster than light neutrinos, potential contradiction in Peano Arithmetic, and now the WTC may have been brought down by thermite. Quite an interesting last few days.

The only catch is that aluminium & water isn't a thermite reaction.

In fact, "thermite" isn't mentioned anywhere in the AFP story and SINTEF press summary linked in that BoingBoing post. The "thermite" hook seems to be made up from whole cloth.

Hmm, that's a good point. BoingBoing may have added the word, but I think they are sort of justified. The primary reaction of aluminum thermite is iron oxide and aluminum which seems to be one of the reaction types being talked about here. But you are right, this is only marginally like thermite, especially if the primary reaction is the water and aluminum and the rust reaction is only secondary.

Edit: Also, whether or not this should be termed thermite (you've convinced me that BoingBoing's terminology is unjustified) the idea that there may have been a much hotter reaction than jet fuel and burning paper is still pretty far from the standard story.

Just curious, but didn't those buildings really come down faster than they should've, assuming structure was intact?

The explanation I've heard is that once few of the top floors fall on one of the floors below them, the effect is sort of like it was being hit with a hammer, all the supporting columns of each floor below snap instantly as they are hit, so it's almost free fall from then on.

Be careful not to explain data that turn out to be false. IIRC (someone else could look it up if they were really interested) the "free-fall" part is bogus, the free-fall time was 9 seconds and the actual time was 15 seconds or something like that.

I don't know why you were downvoted but you are asking the right question.

I'm puzzled over why the comments in this thread are being downvoted, as well. I can't help the feeling that there's more "we'll downvote things that we disagree with" going on in this community than there should be - this is far from the first place where it has looked like that.

I'm puzzled over why the comments in this thread are being downvoted, as well. I can't help the feeling that there's more "we'll downvote things that we disagree with" going on in this community than there should be - this is far from the first place where it has looked like that.

I'm not particularly puzzled (9/11, cultural identity, arguments are soldiers, etc). But I certainly disapprove of downvotes of Jonii's question in particular. It is the right kind of thing to ask, just so long as the asking is not rhetorical.

Indeed. Jonii wasn't even expressing support for a conspiracy theory, he was simply asking for clarification. (And even he was expressing support, that wouldn't by itself be reason for a downvote, for as long as it was well-argued.)

The wrong way to profess a controversial claim is to just assert it or even worse assume it in some other claim. The right way is to give arguments. What is considered correct in the community is very much relevant to how one makes an assertion. The problem isn't that controversial claims are being made, but the irresponsible way they are being made.

I don't have an objection to the way PlaidX's comments have been voted down when they've clearly contained faulty reasoning. I do have an objection to people being voted down for making honest questions.

I don't object to these comments being downvoted: 1 2 3 4. The first one is unfoundedly dismissive about evidence opposing one's own argument, the second presents evidence against one's own argument (even in failed demolitions, buildings don't actually fall over) and tries to present it as evidence for the argument, and the third claims to provide links to original sources without actually doing so. The fourth is making a bold claim that contradicts scientific research, without really backing up that claim in any way.

I do object to these being downvoted (this list includes some that don't have a negative karma now, but did before): 1 2 3. The first asks an honest question, the second seems to provide a reasonable answer to the question presented, and the third makes a perfectly valid query.

I'm ambivalent on these being downvoted: 1 2. The first one is made in a tone that is possibly a bit too confident and it does feel like it's grasping at straws a bit, but then the first two sentences do make a very valid point. The second is implicitly throwing its support behind the conspiracy theory interpretation without backing it up any more, but then it is drawing attention to the fact that the parent was needlessly downvoted. It's also good to express that some particular question might be important, but at the same time it would again be nice if a better explanation would have been given regarding why it's important.

On the second list, I agree about the first comment, disagree about the last (the answer to the question as stated should be obvious: improbable a priori, so the valid question needs to be more specific), and partly about the second (the first part of the comment is informative, but the second part talks of black boxes not surviving "conveniently" and speculates on stuff that requires more support and sounds dubious without it (passenger lists).

Kaj, I agree with your general sentiment but disagree with your specific opinion on my comment:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/1kj/the_911_metatruther_conspiracy_theory/1cy6

The fourth is making a bold claim that contradicts scientific research, without really backing up that claim in any way.

You are

  • begging the question
  • committing the mind projection fallacy
  • denying the fact that a video is evidence

I wasn't denying that a video is evidence: "the building collapsed as if imploded" part wasn't the bit I objecting to. I was objecting to the fact that you admitted there being a study which explained why the building collapsed that way, but then you just said "AFAIK the collapse pattern is not consistent with this claim", without providing anything to support your claim. If there are trained engineers saying that this collapse pattern does fit one that would be caused by structural damage, then you can't just say you disagree with them; you need to explain why you're right and they're wrong.

I don't understand how I'd be begging the question or committing the mind projection fallacy in this.

but then you just said "AFAIK the collapse pattern is not consistent with this claim", without providing anything to support your claim.

Well I understood the video to be supporting my claim. IIRC the study claimed that one central column was damaged and caused the collapse. IMHO this cannot explain how any building can collapse in basically free fall speed. Saying "it collapsed because of fire/structural damage/planes" is a zero information theory that can explain any outcome, therefore it is also unscientific because it cannot be falsified. It is the phlogiston theory of 911.

I don't understand how I'd be begging the question or committing the mind projection fallacy in this.

The whole issue of the dispute is how to explain the collapse of the buildings. If you say "we have scientific research that explains it" well, you are begging the question. And you are also projecting your mind because all you know is that there is a paper written by some people who claim to provide a scientific explanation of the collapse. That doesn't mean that the paper really is a scientific explanation. Again, that is exactly the point being disputed.

You could as well say "The 911 commission has scientifically explained it all, no need for further discussion."

Well I understood the video to be supporting my claim. IIRC the study claimed that one central column was damaged and caused the collapse. IMHO this cannot explain how any building can collapse in basically free fall speed

The video shows that the building collapses. You didn't previously say that it was just one column that was damaged, only that there was "structural damage". Damage to just one column causing such a collapse does sound a bit counter-intuitive, but then it would be hardly the first thing in physics that would be a bit counter-intuitive. And if you only specify "structural damage", as you originally did, then it certainly isn't obvious that structural damage couldn't cause such a collapse, so the video didn't support your original claim.

Saying "it collapsed because of fire/structural damage/planes" is a zero information theory that can explain any outcome, therefore it is also unscientific because it cannot be falsified.

It can be falsified: by showing that sufficient structural damage couldn't have been caused by the conditions surrounding the collapse.

The whole issue of the dispute is how to explain the collapse of the buildings. If you say "we have scientific research that explains it" well, you are begging the question. And you are also projecting your mind because all you know is that there is a paper written by some people who claim to provide a scientific explanation of the collapse.

Umm. You were the one who brought up the study, which you said provided an explanation. Not me. If somebody uses the word "study" in such a context, I'm going to assume that it was a scientific one unless there's reason to assume otherwise.

Sure, the paper might only claim to be scientific, even though it's actually written by people who don't understand the science involved, or even by people who are purposefully misleading others. But if you're going to claim something like that, you need to back it up. You still haven't provided any evidence for why the study would actually be flawed or unscientific, other than stating that you don't know how damage to a single column could cause such a collapse. You say the science of the paper is the very thing being disputed, but you haven't said anything to make people believe that there is a valid dispute in the first place.

Saying "it collapsed because of fire/structural damage/planes" is a zero information theory that can explain any outcome, therefore it is also unscientific because it cannot be falsified.

Bzzt. The hypotheses are capable of explaining different counterfactual outcomes: if you could repeat the experiment (so to speak) with structural damage but no fire, with fire but no structural damage, or with planes and all their effects but a certainty of no explosives, you might falsify some. In any case, you obviously know that the "official story" includes far deeper theories:

IIRC the study claimed that one central column was damaged and caused the collapse.

People are being downvoted for their contrarian view, how ironic.

Just so long as you are ready to accept an answer of 'no' once you look into the relevant engineering theory.

Count me as one of the meta-truthers - more or less. As George Carlin said "When you've got a bunch of people with similar backgrounds, similar social scenes, and similar interests, who are out of touch with contemporary society, you don't actually need a formal conspiracy to have the same effect."

To be honest though, I don't mind living in a dystopia. It's a lot more interesting, right? I mean, if you could actually trust the cops to perform their jobs with dignity, and politicians to serve the community rather than their own interests, how boring would that get?

Haruhi fanfiction by Eliezer? You, sir, just delivered Christmas a few days early.

Indeed, that fanfic was pretty good.

(I know about Haruhi Suzumiya from that wiki that ruins your life, although I haven't actually watched the series.)

The point about the buildings not needing to fall was always my favorite objection.

I do like one 9/11 theory, that flight 93 might have been shot down. Here's a piece on it from Stuart Buck (occasional OB contributor) on the idea, dating back to Oct '01.

http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/1001/1001flight93.htm

Add to this Rumsfeld's odd slip that the terrorists "shot down" the plane over Pennsylvania (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6Xoxaf1Al0) and I think p=.5 that that plane was shot down and the authorities took advantage of the calls that were made to put forth a more palatable scenario.

See, now that is at least plausible (on the surface, I know nothing of details). I can very easily see a responsible military officer making that call and deciding to keep it a secret.

There were lots of unexplained bits about Flight 93, including the many local residents who saw a fighter plane immediately before/after the crash. See this video, and don't miss the interview with John Fleegle at about 2:30 (and especially 4:30), and then the interview with Susan McIlwain at 5:08 through about 7:00: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM9CXo29syo

Yes, it's by and large a conspiracy-minded video from unreliable sources, but the interviews with local residents were real, and there's no good reason to ignore what these people say.

Why is it that conspiracy-minded types always link to videos instead of written sources?

The interviews with local residents were done on video. You'd prefer a written transcript to being able to assess the residents' believability for yourself?

And I'm not a conspiracy minded person at all; every other conspiracy re: 9/11 is absolutely idiotic, but Eliezer is right in noting that if someone did try to shoot down Flight 93 (as would have been readily feasible given the timeline), it would be more politically palatable to say that the heroic passengers did it all themselves.

Not trying to imply that you were; just noting that it's kind of a pain.

At least in retrospect, it would have been beneficial for Bush to be able to show he was capable of ordering planes shot down. But that may not have occurred to the administration until much later.

Another oddity, besides the debris from Flight 93 found miles away, the second airplane that local residents saw before the crash, the lights flickering in local business and homes, etc: The C-130 -- described by one Pentagon witness as looking like a "Navy electronic warfare aircraft" -- that admittedly was on the scene of both the Pentagon crash and the Flight 93 crash. http://www.unansweredquestions.org/timeline/2002/minneapolisstartribune091102.html

Alone this doesn't prove anything, but isn't it odd that on a day when all of these supersonic F-16s supposedly can't reach any of the hijacked aircraft in time, a single C-130 comes across two of them? I.e., the C-130 just happens to cross paths with the Pentagon plane, and then rather than landing and getting the heck out of the way, it just continues on a pre-existing flight path (as if nothing had happened) that just accidentally happens to intercept the flight path of a second hijacked aircraft?

Is there reason to think someone would feel the need to cover that up? Shooting down the plane seems like the kind of decision most Americans would be fine with.

Do also consider the fact that even if the story of flight 93 occurred exactly according to the official story, the heroic passengers saved zero lives. Jets had been scrambled. Shoot down orders had been given. The flight was not going to hit its target.

Yes, the passengers may have been heroes in the sense that they did not "freeze up" and tried to save themselves or (possibly) others.

Yet the most popular story presented by the press and government, and lodged in the public consciousness, is that the passengers prevented a final strike.

Realistically, they may have prevented a fighter pilot from having to commit an act that could have scarred him emotionally.

So, yes, I am confident the event was "spun." The question is to what degree.

I don't really know, but I suspect that many would be horrified by the deliberate use of American military force against American civilians, no matter how good the argument for it. (Arguably, it would actually be use of force against the terrorists with inevitable civilian casualties, but I suspect many wouldn't see it that way, and many who did would still be horrified.) And all a cover-up requires is that someone judge the same way (or just think it likely enough), justified or not.

The really big problem with that theory is that one can hear sounds of struggle and the terrorists saying, "Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?" just before the plane entered a steep dive into the ground. If the plane had been shot down, the terrorists wouldn't have reacted in the same way, and the flight path from that point on would have been significantly more erratic.

As long as we're on the subject, my latest fictional piece is here. One of those story ideas that got stuck in my head and wouldn't leave until I wrote it. The philosophical depths thereof wouldn't be new to this audience, but it might serve for those who know aught of Suzumiya Haruhi. I'll delete this notice shortly.

Wow. I hadn't heard of the series but that piece caught my attention. I've just ordered all the books.

I'm afraid you'll find that the books are nowhere near as good as Eliezer's writing. This should probably not surprise you, though.

..for the love of god, Eliezer. You cannot be serious. Stopping there?

It's a rare talent to stop at the right time. Skilled art teachers for small children can produce surprisingly good paintings by applying it well. Without it, one gets Atlas Shrugged, or Lord of the Rings the movie, which whatever their artistic merits, could have been considerably improved just by ending them earlier.

The first time I read Atlas Shrugged, the final chapter was missing. I was blown away when I was leafing through a friend's copy a year or so later.

Such a better place to end the book.

The story is certainly more powerful because he stopped when he did, but it's missing any sense of closure.

Your mileage will vary on what the correct tradeoff is, there. Personally, I find this kind of ending very unsatisfying. It makes me want to write fanfiction.

I'm afraid you'll find that the books are nowhere near as good as Eliezer's writing. This should probably not surprise you, though.

I just read the first three. I'm inclined to agree. If I didn't know better I'd call the books the 'fanfic'.

..for the love of god, Eliezer. You cannot be serious. Stopping there?

Tell me about it.

Eliezer kudos for you to touch such a hot iron! There is at least one professor in the US who lost his tenure because of his contrarian views in regard to 911.

IIRC, I think that case was about a lot more than just his contrarian 9/11 views, although I suppose they were instrumental in shining a spotlight on him bright enough to reveal all the other ways in which he was a fraud.

ETA: Okay, found his name: Ward Churchill. Intro matches my summary:

In January 2005, Churchill's work attracted publicity, with the widespread circulation of a 2001 essay, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. In the essay, he claimed that the September 11, 2001 attacks were provoked by U.S. policy, and referred to the "technocratic corps" working in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns".

In March 2005 the University of Colorado began investigating allegations that Churchill had engaged in research misconduct; it reported in June 2006 that he had done so. Churchill was fired on July 24, 2007, leading to a claim from some scholars that he was fired over the ideas he expressed.

So he was officially fired for research misconduct, but that misconduct would probably have gone unnoticed if not for his look-at-me-I'm-a-contrarian spiel.

Note: If you have a cushy job predicated on fraudulent work you've done in the past, and ethics don't trouble you, try to keep a low profile, moron.

No. There is physics professor Steven Jones, he was forced into retirement for his view on 9/11.

Wikipedia entry.

Jones' interests also extend to archaeometry, solar energy, and, like many professors at BYU, archaeology and the Book of Mormon. For example, he has sought radiocarbon dating evidence of the existence of pre-Columbian horses in the Americas, and has interpreted archaeological evidence from the ancient Mayans as supporting his faith's belief that Jesus Christ visited America.

...

On September 22, 2005 Jones presented his views on the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and World Trade Center 7 at a BYU seminar attended by about 60 people. Pointing to the speed and symmetry of the collapses, the characteristics of dust jets, eyewitness reports of explosions down low in the buildings, partially vaporized beams, molten metal in the basements which was still red hot weeks after the event, and the notion that no modern high rise had ever collapsed from fire, Jones suggested that the evidence defies the mainstream collapse theory and favors explosive demolition, possibly by the use of thermite or nanothermite.

Amazing. These are identical thought processes.

I hope you're congratulating me for touching the hot iron rather than picking it up, metaphorically speaking?

I don't get the difference, sorry I'm not a native english speaker. I googled "hot iron" but didn't find information to clarify it.

Getting associated with a low prestige topic can lower someone's status even if they are on the side that isn't stupid. (See OvercomingBias.)

If picking up a hot iron can be considered to be advocating a stigmatised contrarian position then even just mentioning the topic without advocating for it could perhaps be considered 'touching the hot iron rather than picking it up'. (I think Eliezer made this up on the spot by expanding on the metaphor that you provided.)

If this is the case, yes I don't think that he picked it up. He just touched it in a clever way making people think about it. I suppose he is in the know but doesn't want to be open about it and it's the right thing to do in his position, living in the US. Btw, AFAIK this metaphor is widely used, no?

Btw, AFAIK this metaphor is widely used, no?

Don't know. I don't think I have heard it before but it sounds like the kind of thing that is a popular metaphor.

It seems that I unknowingly got influenced by my german background where this metaphor is quite common.

Even if it isn't quite the same as the actual conspiracy, what is the probability from known evidence that Bush actually liked the fact 9/11 happened due to the political opportunities it gave him?

It doesn't tie directly with this story, but several years ago (I didn't date the note I jotted) I wrote:

Of course, if there really is some vast conspiracy out there, it is to the conspirators' advantage to have everyone automatically discount "conspiracy theories".

Mostly from reading Hogan's "The Mirror Maze", Fellows's "Operation Damocles", and especially Chalker's "A War of Shadows" within a relatively short time.

Comments about 9/11 "cover-up" theories belong here. Hint, hint.

But the people who are wrong on the internet are wrong over there!

Replying to Jonathan_Graehl in the other thread:

Evidence of how the alleged demolition was accomplished is best eliminated by demolishing the building?

No, I'm saying this METHOD of committing the crime allows the evidence to be more easily cleaned up, much as a murderer would chop a person into small pieces. They don't commit the murder to conceal the murder, that would be idiotic.

Ironically, what you find to be an ironic coincidence sends the signal that you're inappropriately excited by cute but totally non-causal coincidences.

I don't see how that's ironic, and I don't care about signaling. If I did, I would not admit to believing 9/11 was an inside job at all.

I love how the fact that you're not able to reconstruct the exact process of the collapse working backward from the rubble is taken as further evidence of a conspiracy that cleverly anticipated your forensic efforts, by creating difficult-to-interpret rubble (do you really think a tall building can fall over in such a way as to leave things intact? that's a lot of energy), and "quickly" disposing of rubble ("quickly" means nothing - compared to what? initially they hoped to find survivors, later work may have come quickly so folks could have the feeling of doing something about the catastrophe).

When an airplane crashes, the wreckage is preserved in painstaking detail, often re-assembled in warehouses in exactly the configuration it was found at the crash site, in order to determine exactly what went wrong.

You would think that when a 47 story skyscraper spontaneously collapses, a wholly unprecedented event, that this engineering failure would be investigated even MORE thoroughly. But instead, it's simply melted down in blast furnaces, over the objections of the victims' families and, among others, fire engineering magazine, which said something like "this destruction of evidence must stop immediately".

If you're referring to WTC 7, it didn't spontaneously collapse, it collapsed because of a fire. There was 91 000 liters of diesel fuel stored in that building for generators. Anyway, a few years ago a similar university building collapsed in Netherlands I believe. Even if it didn't, just because something happens the first time, doesn't mean the official report is wrong. A lot of things happen the first time, like a nuclear plant has exploded only once in history.

The NIST report states that fuel had nothing to do with the collapse.