Skepticism

PROFANITY! And COTW.

Before I get to the Comment o’ the Week, I’d like to point out that late last night I was on Marc Germaine’s Talk Radio One show, which streams live online and is then archived for your listening pleasure. I was on my best behavior for the first ten minutes or so (I think), and then at some point Marc used the word “shit,” at which point I figured that meant I could use my normal, carny trash vocabulary. This morning, I see that last night’s show is the only one on the front page with a bright red “profanity” label. Sorry, Marc!

Anyway, if you’d like to hear Marc and I discuss religion, magic, juggling, conspiracy theories, global warming, Oprah, and anti-vaccinationists with a small amount of profanity, you can listen now by clicking here.

COMMENT O’ THE WEEK!

The competition this week was seriously stiff, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a sexy way – though runner-up The 327th Male certainly did turn us all on with this puntastic comment. ThickMcRunfast also gets a runner-up for this spam parody (mostly for naming the goat “Jingles”).

All that was, sadly, not enough to compete with this entry from Eliza in Elyse’s recent Afternoon Inquisition:

ElizaNo Gravatar // Jan 26, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Elyse, you are not alone in the minimal Star Wars experience department. In every multi-roommate housing situation I’ve been in, there’s been one fanatical Star Wars guy who is completely outraged by my misspent youth. From this experience, my expert opinion is that you should not watch any of them so that you can continue to shock and stun everyone and be a source of deep frustration.

This is my favorite bomb to drop on an unsuspecting group: “Which one is C-Beepio?”

Also: “When does Wil Wheaton show up?”

C-Beepio! I mostly love this because I often do a similar thing, even though I AM familiar with Star Wars (and Star Trek): I just call the Millennium Falcon “The Enterprise” and vice versa, always with amusing results.

So congrats, Eliza! Your prize is the chance to purchase anything you’d like – with your own money – from Charlie’s Playhouse! That’s right, I’m turning this into a plug, thanks to a well-timed e-mail from company prez Kate, who informed me that if any of you go there and purchase something and say you heard about the site via Skepchick, I get a FREE T-SHIRT! In the spirit of the COTW, the first free t-shirt I get from this deal will in fact go to Eliza. Yes that’s right – this might actually turn into a COTW with a real, physical prize. Hooray! Happy Friday everyone!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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41 Comments

  1. Both of Eliza’s techniques are awesome, as is Rebecca’s Enterprise gambit. I frequently do something similar when people start talking about sports “Baseball, right. That’s the one with the touchdowns?” and will keep these in mind for aggravating geeks whenever the opportunity presents. I’m a geek myself, but I like teasing those who conform to the stereotypes a bit too much.

    A friend of mine, back when it was still on the air, used to start up arguments of Babylon 5 -vs- Next Generation (or something, I’ve never watched any of the Trek iterations) just for fun. He’d spin several people up then sit back and watch them argue.

  2. @Jen:

    Whenever we would talk about Star Wars, we’d do it in a huddle and remind each other not to let you in on the big secret.

    Congrats, Eliza.

    In fact, I decided to take your advice. Mostly because it seems that watching Star Wars makes people incredibly hostile.

  3. Thanks all! (And sorry Jen!)

    Noooo Elyyyyyse you’re going to get them all wound up again!

    Someone please buy an awesome kid in their life an awesome Charlie’s Playhouse toy so that I can test my hypothesis that while Glyptodons are cool, they’d look even more wicked in 3D. Do it for Science!

  4. In college I would watch football with some guys I knew as an excuse to drink and not be alone. I’m sure I could care less about football but it would take real work. I was so clueless I didn’t know what a quaterback was. I once asked who was the guy who threw the ball. There was a shocked silence. I couldn’t even figure out why what I had said was so funny.

  5. The episode of “The Office” that just re-ran this week was all over this bit. The meme was office ethics, and Jim had a stopwatch, tracking how much personal time Dwight was using.

    The funniest bit was when he goes over to Andy’s desk and starts mangling pretty much *every* main movie/TV show, baiting Dwight (unsuccessfully).

  6. Rebecca-

    I listened to your radio podcast.

    It was good to finally hear you comment upon 9/11.

    It is true that this is a completely one-sided debate and a perfect topic for skeptics.

    The authorities and the scientists are all on one side. As far as I can tell there is no reputable scientist anywhere who defends the official (fairy tale) story. And the numbers who are challenging it grow by the hundreds every year. Check out the impressive roster of skeptics/critics of the official story: http://patriotsquestion911.com/

    Has your research turned up any support for the official story?

    I mean I’d think it is as easy to find a reputable scientist to back the official story as to find one who would back the world being flat.

    As you noted, the evidence is overwhelmingly on one side, which is why the FBI lends no support to the official story.

    There is only one plausible position for skeptics to take here – and that is to question the people who have lied ad nauseam on these issues (Cheney et al) and who advocate a story that is physically impossible.

    You should feature this topic more often.

  7. As far as I can tell there is no reputable scientist anywhere who defends the official (fairy tale) story.

    ——-

    Okay. So your first assignment is to find every article and citation from every scientist and engineer who thinks that the WTC Buildings collapsed because they were hit by Jet Planes. Explain why each and every one of them is not reputable.

    Blanket statements are a fail. You have stated that there are NO reputable scientists backing the “official theory”, whatever you consider that to be. So to be fair, you must reject each scientist who disagrees with you individually, showing why each is not reputable.

    Appeals to your own authority are a fail, unless you wish to present us with your own peer reviewed work to support your extravagant claims. What would be most helpful is peer reviewed work from some other engineer, scientist, or mathematician that points out where he is wrong.

    You can start with Dr. Keith A. Seffen. Please explain why his peer reviewed work is not reputable.

    I’m assuming this will be child’s play for you. I eagerly await your response.

  8. Thanks for making my point – Seth.

    You supply a perfect example. Keith Seffen. A college lecturer. Bravo.

    Evidently the BBC needed to recruit someone for a pseudo-science fluff piece on 9/11 and the best they could do was a college lecturer looking for his 15 minutes of fame. (Again – no reputable scientist will put their name to this fairy tale.)

    BBC released its fluff piece in 9/07 claiming that Seffen’s non-sense abstract had been peer-reviewed and published. Both statements were false. Imagine that.

    Here is a link to a critique by a real physicist of Seffen’s abstract, in which he ridicules this absurd piece: http://laura-knight-jadczyk.blogspot.com/2007/11/keith-seffens-wtc-collapse-folly-not.html

    A short quote from that brutal critique:

    “In Eq. 12 we have P* = p* mg. But three lines above Eq. 18 it “morphs” P* = p*m. The factor g (gravitational acceleration) is missing! Such a paper certainly HAS NOT BEEN READ BY ANYBODY who understands the meaning of the symbols. A student can see the error. Thus Seffen’s paper can be qualified only as a lousy production or as a hoax (or both).”

    I could rip it apart myself as well as it very clearly violates some basic laws of physics – like the principles of relativity. I have confirmed my analysis with noted physics professor.

    Thanks again for the helpful illustration.

  9. Ps. and BTW

    Seffen’s piece is another “pancake theory” explanation, which has been rejected by the NIST scientists – you know, the guys sitting on the actual data.

    And for those unfamiliar – the NIST scientists have not come up with their own collapse propagation theory that is supported by modeling that works, as Seffen attempts.

    And there is a very good reason for that. It’s informally referred to as the laws of physics. : )

  10. So Seth – you have a debunked college lecturer and I have legions of scientists, engineers, professors, architects, and other experts:

    ———

    No, I have at least onepeer reviewed article and you have zero peer reviewed articles. Rants from random nut jobs on the internet are not evidence. So again, please provide me with an actual reason, in the form of a peer reviewed article, why Dr. Seffen is not a reputable scientist.

  11. Seth – the legions of scientists ridiculing the fairy tale are not “random nut jobs.” They are some of the prestigious scientists in the world.

    Your retort is a lowly college lecturer who concocted a hypothetical scenario not based upon facts, which has been ridiculed.

    Moreover – the floor-by-floor failure that your college lecturer hypothesizes – here is a quote – was rejected by NIST:

    “In order to assert the potential for progressive collapse, it is essential to consider the deformation
    of the next “unit” of structure. This unit is taken to be a single storey whose top and bottom floors
    laterally restrain the outer columns: compression of the storey follows from the plastic buckling of
    these columns, as proposed by Baˇzant and Zhou (2002). All columns are assumed to deform axially
    and in unison, in a linear one-dimensional way, and the behaviour of a single column is sufficient to
    characterise the complete response of a storey: the initial softening during buckling of a given column,
    predicted momentarily via Fig. 2, would suggest a redistribution of load paths into any of the stronger,
    undeformed columns, which guarantees their buckling and some sense of synchronicity of deformation
    throughout the storey.”

    And the peer-reviewed slap down of such theories was published in the Journal of Mechanical Engineering, where the violations of the laws of physics are noted:

    http://www.civil.northwestern.edu/people/bazant/PDFs/Papers/D25%20WTC%20Discussions%20Replies.pdf

    Nobody has bothered to single out Seffen, but here is a specific slap down of him, which if you tried, you could understand.

    http://www.rinf.com/multimedia/Cambridge_University_re_seffen_Paper.pdf

  12. So that’s all you got – Seth?

    One lowly college lecturer.

    It’s a good thing that the lead criminal investigative body in the United States – the FBI – does not have such low standards for closing the door on the science of this:

    http://www.gators911truth.org/PDF/FBI-Response.pdf

    At least the FBI is skeptical – even if some people who call themselves skeptics are not and prefer instead to believe the Cheney fairy tale, with faith akin to little children believing in Santa Clause.

  13. Hey Seth – I’ll see your lowly college lecturer from England and I’ll raise you one of the United States’ most preeminent scientists:

    http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2007/09/364753.shtml

    World renowned scientist, Lynn Margulis, Ph.D., has severely criticized the official account of 9/11 and called for a new investigation. “I suggest that those of us aware and concerned demand that the glaringly erroneous official account of 9/11 be dismissed as a fraud and a new, thorough, and impartial investigation be undertaken.

  14. Your retort is a lowly college lecturer who concocted a hypothetical scenario not based upon facts, which has been ridiculed.

    ——–

    Well, no. My retort is that you say there are NO reputable scientists holding view “A”, and I have countered that ridiculous, fraudulent claim with a peer reviewed article written by a reputable scientist. All you need to do, now, is actually show that this individual is not a reputable scientist, and that the journal the article is published in does not have reputable reviewers.

    Take your time.

  15. Here is a real life, highly published physicist who does peer review work for scientific journals, who reviewed this college lecturer’s article of yours and ridiculed it – quite properly:

    http://laura-knight-jadczyk.blogspot.com/2007/11/keith-seffens-wtc-collapse-folly-not.html

    And the BBC used your college lecturer’s abstract for its pseudo-science puff piece, and the BBC lied about the article being peer-reviewed or published — which it hadn’t been at the time. Maybe the BBC pulled some strings to get the article through months later to avoid mounting embarrassment. You claim it was peer-reviewed — really. The scientist who actually read it (link above) explains how papers can get published without actual formal review and approval – particularly where politics is concerned.

    So when I ask for a single, reputable scientist in the entire world who will stand by Dick Cheney – and that’s all you got.

    That’s all you got against my legions of preeminent experts (to say nothing of the laws of physics).

    If that satisfies you – Seth – that’s fine.

    One last question for you – do you think Cheney’s official 9/11 fairy tale is an appropriate topic for open debate, disagreement and skepticism (as does the FBI), or do you see this as case closed – eh?

    Take your time.

  16. Here is a real life, highly published physicist who does peer review work for scientific journals, who reviewed this college lecturer’s article of yours and ridiculed it —

    ——-

    Whether or not you can find people to disagree with Dr. Seffen is no the point, the question is whether you can demonstrate that he is not a reputable scientist and the journal that published the article is not a reputable journal.

    So, again, can you please address why Dr. Seffen is not a reputable scientist? Is it because Cambridge, where he lectures, is not a reputable university, perhaps?

  17. I asked whether there was a single, reputable scientist in the entire world who supports Cheney’s fairy tale.

    You came up with one person. A college lecturer who authored a single paper. Now I would dispute that this person is reputable.

    But if that’s all you got – I rest my case.

    That’s what Rebecca called moving the goal post in her podcast.

    First – there is “mountains of evidence” all on Cheney’s side.

    And in the end, there is one college lecturer, who wrote a paper that has been openly ridiculed with no defense to it.

    And all the real scientists and mountains of evidence are on the other side.

    You’re one hell of a skeptic – Seth, if Seffen is right and everyone else is wrong. ; )

    And BTW — you asked for a peer-reviewed rebuttal of the pancake theory – I gave it to you. To say nothing of NIST shooting it down.

    But then — you just moved the goal posts. So it is with people who will hold onto discredited beliefs no matter what the evidence.

  18. I asked whether there was a single, reputable scientist in the entire world who supports Cheney’s fairy tale.

    You came up with one person. A college lecturer who authored a single paper. Now I would dispute that this person is reputable.

    But if that’s all you got – I rest my case.

    That’s what Rebecca called moving the goal post in her podcast.

    ——————-

    Right! I provided the evidence you requested, and now you are demanding that I provide something different! That’s moving the goalpost!!

    True Skeptic, I’m so proud of you! You’ve correctly identified a logical fallacy… admittedly, you identified it while committing it, but still! There could be hope for you yet!

  19. Ahhhh Seth ….

    As usual, you’ve failed to identify the context of the discussion. You’d have to go back and listen to Rebecca’s interview that is the subject of this thread in which she weighed in with her defense of the Bush/Cheney lies about 9/11.

    When Rebecca set the goal post with her statement that there is a “mountain of evidence” supporting the Bush/Cheney 9/11 fairy tale (one their many fairy tales to justify war), I am pretty sure that “mountain of evidence) was intended to mean more than a single, solitary college lecturer flunky.

    So you’ll either have to do better than that – or Rebecca will have to move the goal posts, because Seffen does not “a mountain of evidence” make.

    Especially when he is put up against hundreds of scientific and other experts with real credentials:

    http://patriotsquestion911.com/

    But don’t let the facts get in your way – Seth.

    You never do.

  20. Because in the discussion you are having with me, as you pointed out so eloquently, you asked why there wasn’t a *single* reputable scientist. I pointed out that there was one. You failed rather comprehensively to demonstrate that either he wasn’t a scientist or he wasn’t reputable, although your attempt to use a blog post from a paranoid delusional as evidence did make me laugh.

    Then you wanted more scientists. Clearly, you moved the goalposts. And now that I’ve pointed out that you’re moving the goalposts, you have actually complained that I’m not a different person having a different conversation with you.

    “Moving the goalposts” might not actually cover a move of such unheralded asshattery as this.

  21. Yes well for us to have a discussion you’d actually have to address the questions I posed and the facts I cited.

    I mean – do you have any reaction to Professor Jadczyk’s trashing of the Seffen paper? Don’t let the subject matter intimidate you Seth – the Professor discusses the obvious flaws in Paper in terms that even a layperson such as yourself could understand. You do not have to be educated in the laws of physics, which enable someone with my education to skewer Seffen’s analysis.

  22. No Seth – I did not ask you for more scientists.

    I am content that my point of view is supported by legions of preeminent scientists and scholars:

    http://patriotsquestion911.com/

    And yours is supported by a single “college lecturer,” whose paper was not only trashed by an actual professor of physics, but his theory was already rejected by NIST.

    That’s where I responded “I rest my case.”

    But you’d actually have to read what I wrote – something you admitted is not your strong suit. : )

  23. I am content that my point of view is supported by legions of preeminent scientists and scholars:

    ——–

    Really?? It is??

    Could you please cite the peer reviewed papers in relevant journals that support any theory other than the impact theory? Not non-reviewed critiques of published papers supporting the impact theory, I’ve read those and the rebuttals, but actual papers that have passed peer review that show support for any alternate theory.

    I mean, you have those on tap, right?

  24. Sorry for the delay – Seth. I work for a living. (Not that I think any amount of evidence will convince someone who drinks the Bush/Cheney kool-aid.)

    So … where to begin.

    Ok – you want peer-reviewed papers of alternate theories to the fire/gravitational collapse fairy tale (a fairy tale that has no supporting precedent of any kind and defies the laws of physics).

    For starters, Bush Administration attorneys instructed government investigators not to test for explosives and accelerants. Can you even imagine that? That is an unfathomable breach of investigative protocols, especially given that terrorists had previously used explosives against the WTC and there was no precedent for a fire/gravitational collapse.

    So given the failure of FEMA and NIST to do their job and perform these tests, it was left to private scientists to do this. Private scientists conducted their own investigation and testing (doing the government’s job) and they indeed discovered substantial evidence of the use of explosives in the WTC debris. Their investigation and test results were published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/f67q6272583h86n4/

    And here is a second peer-reviewed paper that, in agreement with NIST, trashes the theory set forth in the Seffen paper (which is the only reference that you cite):

    http://www.bentham-open.org/pages/content.php?TOCIEJ/2008/00000002/00000001/35TOCIEJ.SGM

    “Agreed: the ‘pancake theory of collapse’ is incorrect and should be rejected. This theory of collapse was proposed by the earlier FEMA report and promoted in the documentary ‘Why the Towers Fell’ produced by NOVA. The ‘pancake theory of collapse’ is strongly promoted in a Popular Mechanics article along with a number of other discredited ideas. We, on the other hand, agree with NIST that the “pancake theory” is not scientifically tenable and ought to be set aside in serious discussions regarding the destruction of the WTC Towers and WTC 7.”

    In addition to agreeing with NIST in shooting down Seffen’s paper and pseudo-science pieces put out by the BBC and NOVA, this peer-reviewed paper also confirms that NIST has put forth no scientifically validated theory for the collapse of the buildings.

    What we really need is for NIST to release its evidence and data for independent review and testing. The Bush attorneys have thus far refused to make public the evidence. Obama has pledged that his administration will be responsive to FOIA requests. We’ll see.

    You need access to the hard evidence to develop of comprehensive explanation for what happened. But you don’t need access to the hard evidence to recognize that Cheney’s version of the facts is a fairy tale (just like his blaming Islamists for the anthrax and skewing evidence on WMD were fairy tales).

    So in summary Seth – you have one discredited and trashed paper – debunked by NIST itself, in addition being discredited by my peer-reviewed cites. And moreover your belief in the fairy tale is also at odds with all those esteemed scientists, professors, aviators and government/intelligence experts, who all agree that Bush/Cheney have been caught in another fraud and cover-up:

    http://www.patriotsquestion911.com/

    Checkmate

  25. @TrueSkeptic:

    Well, you’ve cited one paper that suggests that it is theoretically possible that there may or may not have been thermite at the WTC, and another that supports the impact hypothesis. Add your one to my one and the current score is: impact theory 2, explosives theory .5 (since your article doesn’t actually suggest that explosives were responsible for the collapse).

    Do you have anything else from your “legions” of scientists? Maybe a second peer reviewed paper? Or are you content to slink away with the loss at this point?

  26. Wrongo Sport.

    So what did Seth ask for: “Could you please cite the peer reviewed papers in relevant journals that support any theory other than the impact theory?”

    Because this is what you claimed to do: ” I have countered [your] claim with a peer reviewed article written by a reputable scientist.”

    Which was the Seffen paper. And when I pointed out that the Seffen paper was (1) only a theory unsupported by actual data/evidence, (2) that this college lecturer’s paper had been ridiculed by actual physics professors, and finally (3) that the actual scientific investigators at NIST had rejected such “pancake theories,” your reply:

    “Whether or not you can find people to disagree with Dr. Seffen is no the point, the question is whether you can demonstrate that he is not a reputable scientist and the journal that published the article is not a reputable journal.”

    I did not cite .5 peer reviewed articles as you assert – unless you want to move the goal-posts and now say that you – Seth – is the arbiter of what weight to give to assign to peer-reviewed papers. I cited 2. You cited 1.

  27. But peer-reviewed Articles was your criteria – Seth. Not mine. And you’re down 2 to 1.

    So now I am going to shift to my criteria – Seth. Peer reviewed articles is not a good standard here, because scientists generally want access to the evidence and data before they publish scientific papers. And to date, Bush/Cheney have refused access to the evidence and data. (Now why do you think that is?)

    What good scientists and other experts can do in the absence of such evidence and data is recognize a fraud and cover-up when they see it. So the question is how many such scientists and experts view the Bush/Cheney 9/11 story as a cover-up and fraud and how many, such as yourself, have accepted the Cheney 9/11 story on blind faith?

    I’ll go first. Then you try to match me.

  28. Lynn Margulis

    One of America’s most prominent scientists, Dr. Margulis is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983 and served as Chairman of the Academy’s Space Science Board Committee on Planetary Biology and Chemical Evolution. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Dr. Margulis with the National Medal of Science, America’s highest honor for scientific achievement.

    http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2007/09/364753.shtml

    Now what does this preeminent scientist have to say about the official fairy tale that you ascribe to:

    “I suggest that those of us aware and concerned demand that the glaringly erroneous official account of 9/11 be dismissed as a fraud and a new, thorough, and impartial investigation be undertaken.”

    Your turn – Seth. Good luck. I’ve got hundreds of these.

    Who do you have who supports the fraud?

    Dick Cheney and [fill in the blank]. : )

  29. But peer-reviewed Articles was your criteria – Seth. Not mine. And you’re down 2 to 1.

    ————-

    Well, peer review is not my criteria, its the criteria of the scientific community that you claim to be representing. It is how we distinguish an article, like Dr. Seffen’s, from an ignorant paranoid rant, like the blog post you put so much faith in.

    So far, you have provided 1 peer reviewed article. So have I. Your second article was a letter to the editor. That is not a peer reviewed article. The article you cited did not propose an alternate cause of collapse aside from impact theory. So in truth, the number of peer reviewed cites that you have provided supporting an alternate theory of collapse is 0, not 1.

    Your initial claim was that legions of scientists support alternate theories, and not one single scientist supports the impact theory. That statement is clearly not supported by the literature, and I’m afraid that you remain completely full of shit.

  30. Hey, while we’re at it, two more authors for you: Bazant ZP, Le JL “Discussion of “Mechanics of Progressive Collapse: Learning from World Trade Center and Building Demolitions” by Zdenek P. Bazant and Mathieu Verdure JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING MECHANICS-ASCE 134 10 917-923 OCT 2008

    Please explain why Bazant, Seffen, and Le are not reputable, or provide a peer reviewed paper (not a discussion of this paper which did not pass peer review) that contradicts their findings.

    When you’ve done that, you can look at this article:

    Title: Engineering perspective of the collapse of WTC-I
    Author(s): Irfanoglu A, Hoffmann CM
    Source: JOURNAL OF PERFORMANCE OF CONSTRUCTED FACILITIES Volume: 22 Issue: 1 Pages: 62-67 Published: JAN-FEB 2008

    And explain why the authors aren’t reputable and the journal isn’t reputable.

    Then you can look at this article:

    Title: Structural response of tall buildings to multiple floor fires
    Author(s): Flint G, Usmani A, Lamont S, et al.
    Source: JOURNAL OF STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING-ASCE Volume: 133 Issue: 12 Pages: 1719-1732 Published: DEC 2007

    Same assignment. Have fun!!

  31. Seth – you actually have to read what I wrote and what I cited in order to present an intelligible response.

    I cited two peer-reviewed articles. The publication that you describe as a letter to the editor would make three. And that “letter to the editor” was, in fact, reviewed and accepted by the Journal as a rebuttal publication.

    And the peer-review articles that you cite (unlike mine) are not based upon any actual evidence — they are theoretical speculations.

    Moreover — they were rejected by NIST based upon actual evidence. As I am sure you are aware – just because a theory is printed in a Journal does not mean it is rendered infallible. Seffen and Bazant both advocate for a pancake theory of collapse that was rejected by NIST.

    If anyone in fact reviewed those theoretical papers, they did not have the evidence available that NIST has, and NIST has concluded that the pancake theories are wrong.

    But if you are going to shill for the Bush/Cheney fairy tale — you really do need to rely upon erroneous theories, as you’ve done.

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