Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No Detectable Respect For Science: False Claims Regarding 9/11 Research Reflect Badly On University Of Cambridge

On September 11, 2007, the BBC published an article describing an unpublished paper by Dr. Keith Seffen of the University of Cambridge.

Dr. Seffen, the BBC said, had constructed a mathematical model of the World Trade Center collapses which showed that "once the collapse of the twin towers began, it was destined to be rapid and total."

According to the BBC, Dr. Seffen proceeded from this mathematical model to describe the destruction of the twin towers as a "very ordinary thing to happen".

The BBC also reported that Dr. Seffen's findings "are published" in the Journal of Engineering Mechanics (JEM), a publication of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

But this claim -- which the BBC apparently never checked -- was false.

The BBC's article was based on a press release from the University of Cambridge which begins as follows:
A new mathematical analysis of the collapse of the World Trade Centre has been published by a Cambridge University academic, with results that challenge conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th attacks.
Unfortunately, Dr. Seffen's paper had not been published at the time of the press release, and it has not been published to this day. (Earlier this month, the ASCE announced that Dr. Seffen's paper is scheduled to be published in the February 2008 issue of the JEM.)

Professor Alison Richard is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

According to her web page,
The Vice-Chancellor is the principal academic and administrative officer of the University, and Professor Richard is the first woman to hold the position full-time.

The University of Cambridge is among the world's foremost universities [...]

The University's academic staff of some 1,700 are globally recognized for the excellence of their teaching and research.
It is most unlikely that the University's reputation for academic excellence will have been enhanced by this incident.

The author of the paper, Dr. Keith Seffen, is a senior lecturer in the Structures Group of Cambridge's Engineering Department. The head of the Structures Group is Dr. Chris Burgoyne.

According to the page describing the people of the Structures Group,
Chris Burgoyne is Head of the Structures Group and a Reader in Concrete Structures. His interests are prestressed concrete, advanced composites, MRI imaging of concrete and structural properties of bone. He is a fellow of Emmanuel College.

Tel: 01223 332698
Email: cjb@eng.cam.ac.uk
Drs. Chris Burgoyne, Alison Richard and Keith Seffen will soon receive the following email:
TO: Dr. Chris Burgoyne
Head of the Structures Group
Department of Engineering
University of Cambridge

CC: Dr. Alison Richard
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge

CC: Dr. Keith Seffen
Senior Lecturer in Structural Engineering
University of Cambridge

Dear Dr. Burgoyne,

More than two months ago, the University of Cambridge published a press release whose opening sentence falsely claims that an unpublished research paper written by Dr. Keith Seffen of the Engineering Department's Structures Group "has been published". [1]

The subject of the paper was a controversial one, and the press release was echoed by the BBC and several other news providers. [2, 3, 4, 6]

The false claim in the opening sentence was pointed out shortly after the BBC article was published [5], and the BBC changed its online report within a few hours. [6]

Today, more than two months later, Dr. Seffen's paper remains unpublished. [7] Yet the press release is still online, with the original wording intact. [1]

Curiously, the press release contradicts itself in its eighth paragraph, saying Dr. Seffen's paper "will be published". The conflict between this statement and the assertion in the opening paragraph has never been explained, satisfactorily or otherwise.

Dr. Seffen has declined to answer any questions submitted to him by email. [8]

As you well know, one does not normally expect to see the conclusions of an unpublished paper discussed in the major media, especially when the topic is controversial.

Much less does one expect to see an article representing an unpublished paper as having been published.

If this had been an honest mistake, a prompt and apologetic clarification could have been granted a long time ago.

The lack of any such clarification, along with Dr. Seffen's subsequent failure to answer any questions, embodies no detectable respect for science nor any hint of a quest for truth.

Quite independent of the merits of Dr. Seffen's paper, this incident reflects badly not only on Dr. Seffen and the Structures Group but on the entire University of Cambridge as well.

It would be a shame if such conduct were to become the norm for Dr. Seffen and his colleagues.

Therefore it seems quite reasonable to ask:
  • Why has the University not yet posted a correction nor issued an apology?
  • When does the University intend to do these things?
  • Is this the sort of conduct the University expects from the Professors who represent it?
  • And if not, how and when does the University intend to make its wishes known?
Your attention to this not inconsiderable matter is most appreciated.


[ ... ]


[1] University of Cambridge: 9/11 "conspiracy" theories challenged by Cambridge research

[2] Cambridge Evening News: Lecturer dismisses twin towers blast theory

[3] Business Weekly: Zero Grounds for Ground Zero conspiracy theory

[4] Winter Patriot: Seffen's Folly: Attempted 9/11 Hoax By Cambridge And The BBC Was A Failure

[5] Winter Patriot: UK Engineer: WTC 'Collapses' Were 'A Very Ordinary Thing'

[6] BBC: 9/11 demolition theory challenged

[7] Winter Patriot: WTC 'Collapse' Research Cited In September Is Scheduled To Be Published In February

[8] Winter Patriot: Where's The Paper? Did The BBC And A Cambridge Don Commit Fraud To Cover Up Mass Murder?
I have no doubt that Drs. Burgoyne, Richard and Seffen will enjoy hearing from me on this matter.

They will probably enjoy hearing from you, too.

And if you click here, you can send email to all three of them at the same time -- just like I did!