Friday, September 14, 2007

Bad Science: Keith Seffen And The WTC 'Collapse'

The world awaits the publication of "UK engineer" Keith Seffen's "analysis" of the WTC "collapse", as promised by the BBC in an article of September 11.

The BBC piece, as we mentioned Tuesday, was changed after it was published. The original version said that Seffen's "findings are published"; the second version says Seffen's findings "are to be published". So, while we wait to find out whether the findings will actually be published, we can't do much more than look at the press release from the University of Cambridge, upon which the BBC article is apparently based.

Aside from the obvious impropriety of reporting on a scientific paper before it's been published, virtually every paragraph of the press release is either misleading or downright false.

Let's start with the headline: "9/11 'conspiracy' theories challenged by Cambridge research".

As we have pointed out many times, the official explanation for of the 9/11 attacks -- 19 hijackers with box-cutters -- is itself a conspiracy theory. The only point of argument between those who support the official story and those who propose alternative explanations is this: Who was involved in the conspiracy?

The text of the press release runs like this:
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.
As a former teacher of mathematics, and a keen observer of world events, I am very interested in any "mathematical analysis" whose results bear on the September 11th attacks. So I was somewhat disappointed -- but not especially surprised -- to find that the "new mathematical analysis" has not in fact "been published".
The new paper, by Dr Keith Seffen, uses established engineering models to demonstrate that once the collapse of the twin towers began, it was destined to be rapid and total.
As I have pointed out many times, it is misleading to describe "the destruction of the twin towers" as a "collapse". The buildings disintegrated; they didn't just fall down. Established engineering models may have been used, but what effects do they purport to explain? If the paper describes a "collapse", but the event was a "disintegration", then the paper cannot be said to explain the event, can it?
Although the causes that initiated the collapse of the twin towers are now well understood, engineers continue to speculate about the speed and totality with which the buildings were demolished during the fateful attacks.
It is true that the "causes that initiated the collapse of the twin towers" are well understood -- in some circles. But the only "understanding" of the event that makes any sense of all the available evidence involves explosives. And explosives are exactly what Keith Seffen's analysis attempts to rule out.

In my opinion, he would be better off trying to "prove" that the explosives which demolished the towers were planted by Osama bin Laden and his box-cutter-carrying henchmen. This would leave the "official conspiracy theory" intact, and that is apparently the one thing Keith Seffen is most interested in doing.
Some have even dared to suggest that the catastrophic events that followed two planes being flown into the buildings were the result of a conspiracy that extended to the top of government itself.

Dr Seffen, a Senior Lecturer in the Structures Group in the Department of Engineering, was moved to find a scientific explanation for the collapse when he heard about reports of possible insider involvement. Claims of "controlled demolition" were being suggested, in order to explain the speed, uniformity and similarity between the collapses of both towers.

"I thought immediately that there had to be a rational explanation for why collapse happened as it did, one which draws on engineering principles," he said. "After searching the current literature, it became clear that many studies focused on the phase just before collapse settles in.
Here Keith Seffen is saying that the "explosives-driven" explanation of the "collapse" is irrational, and that it does not draw on engineering principles. Both statements are clearly false. Companies which do controlled demolition draw on very rigid engineering principles. If they didn't, they couldn't do their jobs.

Keith Seffen is quite correct, however, in saying that "many studies focused on the phase just before" the so-called "collapse". Those who favor the "explosives-driven" explanation have interpreted this focus as an indication that no "scientific", "rational", "non-explosive" explanation of the event has been found, nor can one be fabricated.
"They rightly show that the combination of fire and impact damage severely impaired those parts of the building close to where the aircraft hit to hold the weight of the building above. The top parts were bound to fall down, but it was not clear why the undamaged building should have offered little resistance to these falling parts."
On the contrary; the top parts were not bound to fall down, and in fact they didn't fall down; they were still in place even as the fires died out. The sudden force that made the tops of the buildings "fall down" -- and turn to dust at the very same time! -- has never been explained, except by so-called "conspiracy theorists".
Dr Seffen's new analysis, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Journal of Engineering Mechanics, focuses on calculating the residual capacity of the building to resist the weight of the floors above under collapse conditions.
Here at least the press release admits that Seffen's paper has not yet been published. The internal contradiction here -- has the paper been published or not? -- casts doubt on the press release as a whole. It is, after all, a single page of carefully composed text. Why would the opening paragraph say something that is directly contradicted by the text below?

It's no wonder the BBC was confused. It's almost as if the deception were intentional. And -- dare I say it? -- the self-contradictory press release reflects poorly on the University of Cambridge.

The press release continues:
He then develops a dynamic model of the collapse sequence, which simulates the successive squashing, or "pan-caking" of individual storeys based on the residual capacity already identified. The process is already well known from other studies of progressive collapse, but usually applies to other structures such as undersea pipelines, rather than buildings.
The "pancake" theory has already been rejected by a government-sponsored investigation; but even if it were still held as part of the "official" explanation, it makes no sense in view of the design of the buildings. Even if the floors did "pancake", the central core may have remained standing, or it may have toppled over. As we all know, this is not what happened. And the "pancake" theory gives no indication of what happened to the load-bearing columns. Indeed, some early "explanations" for the "collapse" portrayed the towers as having no central columns at all.

But according to the press release, once having developed his "dynamic model",
This allowed Dr Seffen to predict that the residual capacity of both buildings was limited, and once collapse had started, it would take only 10 seconds for the building to go down - just a little longer than the free-falling of a coin dropped from the top of either tower.
Again the text is misleading. To "predict" means to say what will happen in the future. Nobody can "predict" the past. And of course it remains to be seen how Keith Seffen could "predict" that the bottom portions of both buildings -- undamaged steel and concrete -- could offer only "a little" more resistance than thin air.

But it seems -- according to the press release -- that this is exactly what his paper attempts to do.
"The aim was to produce a credible scientific explanation for the totality of collapse once it began," he said.
No "credible scientific explanation" is necessary, of course, because one is already available. It may be political dynamite, but it's credible -- for those with open minds.

Having laid all this obvious spin on the table, the press release ends with a flurry of nonsense:
"In all senses, the collapse sequence was quite ordinary and natural. The World Trade Centre towers were designed to absorb an aircraft impact, but an accidental one with much less fuel and speed. It is widely acknowledged that the impacts on September 11th were extraordinary, which led to consequences well in excess of the design capacity for the buildings. The original design of both towers must be praised for standing as long as they did, saving more lives than might have been expected."
Surely the Laws of Physics do not distinguish between accidental and deliberate impacts. And although the buildings shook for a few minutes after the impact, they remained standing. So clearly they did absorb the shock.

The amount of fuel is almost irrelevant, since most of it burned up outside the buildings. And the remaining fuel didn't last very long after that. The buildings were still standing, and the firefighters inside were saying that the remaining fires could be easily extinguished.

But then ... boom boom boom boom boom!

More than a hundred witnesses described seeing and/or hearing explosives going off in the buildings, just before they started to disintegrate. Is it irrational to take their testimony into account? To ignore these witnesses is dishonest -- it's a political approach, not a scientific one.

But defenders of the official story have no other choice. Because if they say the witnesses are all lying, then why are they all telling the same story? Is this a conspiracy of eyewitnesses?

This is a very dangerous line of questioning, because "conspiracy theory" is exactly what Keith Seffen and his "rational", "scientific" "analysis" is trying to move away from.

I may be reading too much into this press release. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and we won't know for sure whether Keith Seffen's paper contains any proof -- or anything approaching proof -- until we see it. If we ever see it.

If the paper is eventually published, and if it proves that "in all senses, the collapse sequence was quite ordinary and natural", then I will tip my frozen cap to the paper, and to its author, and I will encourage the world to do the same. But if it doesn't, then the world and I will have no choice but to consider Keith Seffen a willing accomplice, an accessory-after-the-fact in a most despicable case of mass murder.