Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Techy Tuesday Special - Conspiracy Theories and Reality

Call this one the 9/11 edition.

Back on the 11th, I seriously contemplated writing something about how foolish the conspiracy theories sound based on even the smallest amounts of knowledge of construction techniques.  Add in knowledge of metallurgy of the level that a working blacksmith or welder gets, this video says plenty, let alone the knowledge of a working civil or mechanical engineer and they seem even sillier.  The way things fail is the subject of a high level mechanical engineering study usually called fracture mechanics.  I have a little exposure to it from an undergrad required elective, but it's a specialized area that I wouldn't pretend to qualified to talk about.  The only thing I can say with self-assurance is that when things are breaking, or exploding, they don't necessarily follow the neat, tidy little order that many would assume.  As I've commented before, humans tend to think in straight lines, and Euclidean geometry; God tends to think in partial differential equations. 

Why didn't I write the piece?  Basically, I think it's a waste of time.  One of the key elements of conspiracy theories is that the people who believe them tend to believe them with a faith that won't be swayed.  People often say that if someone argues against the conspiracy theory, that person must be part of the conspiracy!  Their minds are shut, they are convinced of what they want to be convinced, and contrary evidence will not be examined.  Did you notice that I just said I don't feel qualified to talk about the complexities of fracture mechanics?  You'll note that hasn't stopped the "9/11 truthers" from saying plenty about things they're not qualified to write about. 

Today, I ended up at Fred Reed's place, Fred on Everything, and he had a great piece on this very subject.  Go read.  In that piece, Fred links to the Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society's December 2001 analysis of what happened in the buildings.  It's definitely a good read.  They in turn link to an updated summary from late 2007 at the same journal.  I believe this was one of the main sources for the famous Popular Mechanics examination of what happened. 

So this is not being offered here to dissuade the conspiracy theorists because that's impossible; rather it's being offered for my more rational readers who find Fred funny and a fun guy to read.  The remainder is for the readers who might be interested in the details that have been teased out of the available data. 
Although it's not related to 9/11, this is the British De Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet.  The Comet 1 crashed too often and the airplane's windows were determined to be the cause.  Mechanical analysis showed that the square windows caused concentrations of stress from the flexing of the aircraft in those corners; what we now call stress risers.  You'll note (if you haven't already) every jet you get on today has rounded window corners.  This is why.


  1. Although we didn't study the problem, this particular British plane failure was discussed in one of my engineering classes back in 1985ish (I cant remember if it was in my structural or materials class). The memory I have from the discussion is this was why the British didn't have much of an aeronautics industry. This problem took long to find and crushed the reputation of the company and the country for plane manufacturing. A lesson to put to heart as an engineer...

  2. Same issue with the 727's, and why that one Hawaiian Airlines top peeled off inflight. Square windows...

    John in Alaska

  3. The 1951 film, No Highway In The Sky, delves into metal fatigue. I remember seeing it on late night TV a very long time ago.
    My father described metal fatigue as "the coat hangar effect," and demonstrated what he meant by bending a nearby coat hangar until it broke. Practical physics and metals engineering around the kitchen table.

  4. You have a very good point about conspiracy theorists and how they won't look at facts.
    I've noticed a disturbing trend among conservatives where they are increasingly anti-knowledge and anti-learning. I've seen 2 different blog posts recently where someone freaked out over nothing and I replied with a quick explanation of why it was nothing. Instead of responding to what I posted, in the one case I was called a government agent and the other I was told that to be a true patriot you had to recognize that 9/11 was an inside job.
    Liberals do this do an extent also by holding certain 'scientific' principles as sacred and ignoring any problems with it(global warming is the big one here, but it applies to others too) but to me it isn't anywhere near the same extent as what conservatives are doing - if it keeps building, it will continue to split conservatives from society (and many of these conservatives are already withdrawing from society into like minded enclaves) and eventually make them irrelevant - not a trend I want to see, but I'm not sure how to change it.

  5. There are conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories. To lump them together as though they all eminate from emanate from tin foil hat kooks is to miss the mark by a mile. Flight 800 didn't blow itself up. The OK city bombing was not a mere two tons of Amfo AND one person cannot mix two tons or more of AMFO; we did not get the truth from this and the speed with which they dispatched the evidence implies someone important was involved. The Waco siege did not have to end with all those innocent children killed and if they simply wanted to arrest Koresh that would have been easy to do in Waco. JFK was not killed by one man and probably Oswald was a patsy. Comey didn't absolve Hillary of her crimes because she was innocent he did it either for money or promises of future appointments OR because he woke up one morning with the head of his favorite horse in bed with him.

    1. True story. The Left has used "conspiracy theory" as a clever means of invalidating just about anything they wish to deny or which might cause people to stop and examine whatever truth might exist in the claims being made.

      There are definitely occasions like Waco - where much of the structures and material at the scene was _immediately_ removed, before independent forensic examination could be made - that lends credence to some of the theories put forth about why and _how_ it all ended in such a horrible loss of life.

      I have a friend (former LEO as am I) who knew Horiuchi, and swears he was devastated when he shot Vicki Weaver. He is unable to explain, however, how a trained sniper could "accidentally" hit her precisely in the "sniper's triangle" from _less_ than a hundred yards by "accident". Nor could he explain why the FBI agents at the scene felt it was appropriate to call out "What are you making for breakfast, Vicki?" - knowing she was dead, if her death was the accident they claimed it was. (Yes, they might have done it simply to get Weaver to do something foolish, like stepping out of the house , guns blazing and cursing them, but it is unlikely they would have done that had it been the "horrible accident" that Horiuchi later claimed it was.)

      We need to re-take control of the English language and force the Left to stop perverting it, changing it into their own sick image. Too many people buy into their crap, simply because they don't know any better and can't reason their way past it.

    2. Thanks Reg T. In line with your first paragraph, before becoming part of Obama's inner cadre, Cass Sunstein had two claims to fame: his book "Nudge", about how the so-much-better-than-you government elites could nudge you to make better decisions than you make on your own when you listen to your inner Homer Simpson. His other claim to fame wasn't a book, but a committee working paper that dealt with conspiracy theories. He said the government should "cognitively infiltrate chat rooms, online social networks or even real-space groups" to discredit those theories. He also said that even if the conspiracy theories were true, these wise and wonderful government wizards should work to destroy the conversation.

      Are there conspiracies? You bet your ass. Do governments commit false flag operations? Ditto. It's just that not every single stinkin' thing that happens is one. I get so tired of hearing them. Recently, I saw a two photo comparison on Pinterest. The top photo showed a plane that crash landed intact somewhere, probably on approach, with everyone surviving. They used that photo to argue that flight 93 should have been the same, despite the fact that it did a powered dive into the ground at over 550 mph. That's a stunning ignorance of not only basic physics, but the history of plane crashes.

      Ben Franklin famously said, "Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead". Obviously, major national security secrets are kept (unless they ended up in Hillary's email). Point is: the bigger the total number of people required to pull off a given conspiracy, the more likely word is going to leak. It's no mystery Richard Feynman got to the root cause of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. He went to our local bars. People in bars talk. Even if they don't say the exact thing, they can lead the listener to right conclusion. People give deathbed confessions. Word gets out.

      Finally, the world can be a complicated place. Just because something happens that doesn't fit in with someone's ideas of how an explosion or something should progress doesn't mean it was a black conspiracy job. Things that are rated as resistant to some level of explosion aren't certified by calculation; they're certified by testing. Those tests are expensive because buying repeatability is expensive. In the real world, the explosion is absolutely going to be different than the one in the lab and every explosion will be different.

  6. Yeah, points off for bringing up the Mossad behind everything. Too much of a cliche. The radioactive trace elements thing is pretty original, though.

    The problem with no planes being involved is that there are those thousands of families with missing members. Are they part of the conspiracy? The entire national airspace system (NAS) has records of those flights, so they happened. If someone figured out a way to spoof the NAS, land the planes at some Sooper Seecret base somewhere and kill everyone on board, that's just a bunch more people that need to part of the conspiracy. Or those people need to be killed, too. Then there are those things like jet parts found on the roofs of adjacent buildings in New York City.

    Arguing against this stuff is pointless, though. They'll just think you're part of the conspiracy.

  7. I was once an avid reader and subscriber to "Popular Mechanics", but by the time I turned 13/14 I outgrew the adolescent gee whiz stuff contained within.

    Conspiracy - defined as "An agreement between two or more persons to engage jointly in an unlawful or criminal act" And under that definition it follows that regardless of what version of 9/11 events one believes, A Conspiracy Was Most Definitely Involved. A conspiracy is a legal concept, prohibited by most states & fedgov as well. It is not a mythical unicorn,witness Enron & Madoff as examples.

    It is interesting to note that ANY non-governmental endorsed depiction of events is described by .gov as "conspiracy theory".
    And, that same government takes great pains Not To Refute, but to discredit opposing views. One means of discrediting is to de-legitimize by falsely stating that the opposition says "X" when "Y" is the actual claim made. You know, setting up a straw man argument & then demolishing same.

    Thus it is with "Popular(?) Mechanics"; re-characterize by twists and turns legitimate questions raised by those Who Have No Profit Motive Involved, unlike PMs with its' soopersekret government insider info on things military.

    If one would make the effort to compare issues raised by concerned Americans TO the straw man arguments set up by PM, one may arrive at an altogether different conclusion. Or not - what does PM have to say about AC Global Warming, and the deniers of same?

    Example - the first two buildings fell down because they were hit by planes and caught on fire, bldg 7 fell down because it was not hit
    by planes, which did not catch it on fire. All three buildings displayed remarkable symmetry while in free fall, just like a well planned & executed implosion.

    I find it interesting that the chairman of the 9/11 commission claims the whole (commission) affair was a massive fraud:

    A person interested in truth could review questions raised by architects & engineers (hundreds of them) on ae911.org or take the time to watch
    The 9/11 Conspiracy Theory! (in under 5 minutes) at

    or watch more in depth:

    Loose Change

    Admittedly, it will require setting aside the officially supplied memes and narrative, at least for those so tainted.
    Yet I think that pursuit of the truth is a worthwhile objective, wherever it is to be found.

    The individual is handicapped by a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists
    (attrib. J Edgar Hoover)

    “It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts...
    For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.”