Monday, April 09, 2007

911 Conspiracies, Meet Occam's Razor

I really shouldn't waste my time on such foolishness, but as one who has seen the 911 conspiracy movie Loose Change and who has known people who believe there may be something to it, I do believe it is worth while for anyone who comes into contact with September 11 conspiracy theorists to know what they believe and have some convincing refutation.

Different people believe such theories for different reasons. Some are chronic paranoids or such hard-core Bush haters that they will believe anything about him. People with such immutable preconceptions are impossible to argue with. But I believe that many people who are not hard-core can be convinced by 911 conspiracy theorists because they lack the technical knowledge to refute them. To be able to truly judge the validity of such theories calls for knowledge of NORAD defense procedures, aircraft design, metallurgy, structural engineering, demolitions, and communications technology far beyond the understanding of any ordinary layperson. Counter-experts and dueling opinions will only further confuse most people. Conspiracy theorists have the advantage over ordinary people even with non-technical evidence, like eyewitness testimony. How many people have times to read through the thousands of interviews to see when conspiracy theorists are cherry picking and citing out of context?

But if most people do not have the expertise to refute 911 conspiracy theories in detail, what we do have is common sense and the ability to apply Occam's Razor to see how plausible these theories are. I will, therefore, focus as much as possible on ways to apply common sense and Occam's Razor to conspiracy theories that do not call for any research at all. I will secondarily present research (properly linked) not calling for any specialized technical knowledge. I will avoid technical argument as much as possible (although it is not always possible). September 11 conspiracy theorists focus on poking holes in the "official" version of events. But anyone casting a critical eye on any conspiracy theory will find holes large enough to fly a Boeing 767 through.

Before discussing any technical scenario in detail, there is the allegation that people in power took actions that suggest advance knowledge. Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped flying on commercial airlines several months before September 11. On September 10 a group of top Pentagon officials canceled flights for the next day and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown received a call warning him not to fly the next morning. But none of this makes any sense whatever as evidence that 9-11 was an inside job. If Ashcroft and the Pentagon officials were conspirators, they would have known which planes would be targeted and would have not reason to avoid any other planes. Willie Brown, on the west coast, was well outside of the danger zone. And why would the conspirators care about the fate of the liberal Democratic Mayor of San Francisco? If the point is that the political elite protects its own regardless of party, the conspirators would have had to have kept track of the travel plans of an immense number of people to know that so obscure a figure as Brown, so far from the attacks, was flying that morning.

And if the political elite protects its own, why did the conspirators fail to warn Barbara Olson, conservative commentator on CNN and wife of Ted Olson, Solicitor General of the Bush Administration? Barbara Olson was on the plane that hit the Pentagon. Why would the conpsirators warn the Mayor of San Francisco, flying on the west coast, but not the wife of the number three official in the Justice Department, who was much closer to the danger zone? Were the Olsons left out of the loop? Was Barbara Olson really part of the conspiracy? Is she alive and well and recently arrested along the non-existent Polish-Austrian border? Is any insanity too far-fetched for a conspiracy theorist?

September 11 conspiracy theorists are divided into many quarrelling factions, each presenting scenarios of what happened and regularly accusing each other of peddling deliberate government disinformation. The next few posts will take Occam's Razor to some of the leading rival theories.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Roger Moore said...

The most obvious counter-argument is that the publicly presented evidence about the attack did a lousy job of supporting the supposed conspirators goals. The Bush administration tried as hard as it could to link 9/11 to Iraq, and failed miserably. (Not that Dick Cheney has given up, of course.) If they had set the whole thing up to justify a war, don't you think they would have done a better job of framing Iraq for it?

1:41 PM  
Blogger Enlightened Layperson said...

I fully agree and will address that in a later post.

5:25 PM  

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