Review of THE 9-11 Conspiracy Debate at MMU

wtc collapse

Controlled demolition? Er, no.

Last night saw THE Conpiracy Debate (their title, not mine) at the Manchester Metropolitan University.  Despite being billed as a general debate on conspiracy theories, it focused pretty much exclusively on the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. The belligerents were the be-suited Steve from the 9/11 Truth group “We Are Change Manchester” (WAC) and Paul, otherwise known as the political cartoonist Polyp, represented the skeptics.

Opening the debate was Steve who (attempted to) take us through 6 discrepancies related to the collapse of the buildings, demonstrating his points with some youtube videos. His talk was beset with technical problems and difficult to follow, and in my opinion he didn’t come up with any arguments for controlled demolition that haven’t already been debunked. Free fall speed, explosions, buildings never being destroyed by fire and eye witness testimonies were all stuttered through quite nervously. For me though, the highlight was a video demonstration of the French demolition technique of Verinage, where the central floors of a building are weakened, prompting the top to collapse down onto it. The example given looked strikingly like the collapse of the twin towers. Although Steve used this as an argument for controlled demolition, it fits perfectly into the current explanation for why the buildings came down, which I will explain later.

So, whilst Steve’s approach was just a little unsure, Paul’s rebuttals were clearly thought out, calmly argued and convincingly delivered. I won’t go into the debunking arguments, as pretty much everything has already been debunked really well by RKOwens4 on youtube. Needless to say, the irrelevancies of certain arguments and the truther’s misunderstanding of various scientific principles were addressed.

Following a break for drinks at the bar, the debate moved on to Q and A. Unfortunately, we ended up hearing about 5 or 6 questions before the panellists were allowed to answer. This, coupled with time restrictions, meant that many of the questions weren’t addressed. However, the questions were varied and passionate from both sides, covering nit-picking of structural details, through to much larger questions about the role of 9/11 in wider global conspiracies.

At the end of the day, no-one was swayed either way by the debate (no surprises there) but the real winner was civility. There was no shouting, little heckling and absolutely no name calling. It showed me that while people may have contrasting and conflicting opinions, if we can all engage in calm, polite discussion we might get somewhere. I would class the debate as a success, althogh less questions and more answers would have been welcome.

Right, as I alluded to earlier, I’d like to explain how the towers came down. When the planes hit, they started massive fires. Those fires heated the steel trusses (the horizontal bars that hold up each floor). When a metal such as steel is heated, it expands, expanding most where there is least resistance. The support columns provided resistance against sideways expansion of the trusses, so the trusses expanded downwards. This caused them to pull on the columns, leading to visible “bowing” , which can clearly be seen in footage and photographs. Eventually, the pulling on the columns caused them to snap. When this happened, the towers effectively lost a floor, causing them to collapse in a verinage-style shown in the video above. I’ve taken the liberty of including one of RKOwens4’s videos which explains it better than I can:

In conclusion, I remain totally unconvinced by the 9/11 truthers. Worse than that, I think the 9/11 truth movement is nothing but a huge distraction from the real crimes of 9/11: the terrorism from the Islamic extremists, the gross incompetency of the Bush administration, and the use of the attacks to justify the retraction of civil liberties and the war in Iraq. If the truthers stopped trying to nit-pick tiny details to try and show the buildings came down with controlled demolitions, they could concentrate on the bigger picture. I await the thoughts of the truth movement in the comments.

THE Conspiracy Debate in Manchester tonight!

Now, this should be very interesting. In Manchester tonight, GMSS, We Are Change Manchester, and New Internationalist Magazine are holding a debate on conspiracy theories. Judging from their Facebook event page, 9/11 and the moon landings are up for discussion, but hopefully much more will be covered.

I’ve always been interested in conspiracy theories (not that I’ve been persuaded by them), and I can highly recommend David Aaronovitch’s book “Voodoo Histories” for a good overview of some of the more popular ones. I’m always keen to find out what other people think, particular those with opposing views to my own, so I’m currently trying to watch this movie recommended on the event’ Facebook group.

I’ll be there, hopefully carrying out iPadio interviews, so watch this blog for updates on the event.

A chance to question NHS Wirral Primary Care Trust on homeopathy

Well, this could be an interesting event. At rather short notice, the NHS Wirral Primary Care Trust are to hold a public meeting this Wednesday March 6th at 6:30pm in the Old Market House on Hamilton Street, Birkenhead. There they will discuss a recommendation made by their Professional Executive Committee (PEC) to discontinue Homeopathic Services for Wirral Residents with effect from 1st April 2011. The full address is:

NHS Wirral
Old Market House
Hamilton Street
Wirral CH41 5AL

If you live on the Wirral (sadly I’m on the wrong side of the Mersey, but I’m going anyway) it’s your chance to tell the PCT what you think about homeopathy. The PCT could well discontinue funding for homeopathy in a month’s time!

How did I hear about this? Michael Marshall (of Merseyside Skeptics Society and 10:23 campaign fame) was making his latest appearance in the media, this time on the “Tony Snell in the Morning” show on BBC Radio Merseyside, to discuss homeopathy, and the apparent troubles of the Liverpool Homeopathic Hospital. Representing the homeopaths was one John Cook of North West Friends of Homeopathy, who must have mentioned the above meeting at least three times.

For the record, the ‘debate’ was what I have sadly come to expect from BBC local radio, with the usual endless parade of people with anecdotes about how they use homeopathy. I never even heard anyone discuss what homeopathy actually is, and the host kept making the ‘homeopathy is natural’ fallacy. If you can stand it, the debate can be found on the BBC iPlayer (Marsh appears about 2 hours in).

So, thanks to John Cook for publicizing the meeting! I’ll be there to support the skeptics, and I hope to see as many MSS members as possible make the trip!

I’m speaking at Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub on April 14th!

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be making a long but hopefully fruitful trip from Liverpool all the way to the south coast to speak at Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub on April 14th. My talk is entitled “The Scientific Method: Uses and Abuses” where I introduce the scientific method, talk about how science gets done, and what happens when you misuse or ignore it. I’ll cover a pretty wide range of topics and I’ll even do some live data analysis (exciting eh?) showing how statistically insignificant data can be skewed to support any desired conclusion.

So please, if you are anywhere near Portsmouth please come down to The Mermaid pub on New Road at 8:00PM on April 14th, I’d love to see you there!
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Event Review: Elizabeth Pisani @ Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub

Elizabeth Pisani

Elizabeth Pisani

The evening of Wednesday the 27th of October 2010 the Merseyside Skeptics Society hold one of their regular ‘Skeptics in the Pub events’, set as always in the grandiose Vines pub in Liverpool, a stones throw from Liverpool Lime Street station. The guest speaker was one Elizabeth Pisani, epidemiologist and author of The Wisdom of Whores, a controversial book about HIV/AIDS.

Elizabeth took us through her work on the spread and prevalence of HIV, explaining the people who became infected in the 1980’s, how the virus spread, and what could be done to prevent it. Each point was very eloquently made, and well backed up with solid data.

The core of the talk was fascinating, but that wasn’t the only reason why I found the talk as a whole to be completely engrossing. There were many important lessons to be learned. Firstly, we saw that most of data lead to some conclusions that the “Politically Correct” would find pretty ugly. However, Elizabeth wasn’t at all afraid to tell us of these conclusions, simply because they were supported by good evidence. Secondly, we were told that to raise money for HIV research, the whole issue of HIV had to be made politically attractive. In a sense, the science had to be somehow sacrificed to appeal to a wider audience. This was partly accomplished by some sneaky data presentation. I found it amazing how a graph could be made to tell a different story just by changing the X axis from absolute values to percentages!

The Q and A following the talk was very lively, with Elizabeth answering a wide range of questions. Treatment plans, the effect of treatment on the spread of the disease, the role of religion and the destigmatization of AIDS patients were all covered. Elizabeth continued to be charming and engaging throughout.

Overall, I found this to be one of the most intellectually stimulating ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ events yet. Highly recommended!

Elizabeth Pisani

Elizabeth Pisani

PS – Many aspects of the talk reminded me of a brilliant piece of satire on the Chris Morris show Brass Eye. Here’s “Good AIDS/Bad AIDS“.