Thursday, November 8, 2007

WTC 'Collapse' Research Cited In September Is Scheduled To Be Published In February

(Updated below)

University of Cambridge lecturer Keith Seffen's mathematical model describing the collapse of the World Trade Center as "an ordinary thing" is scheduled to be published in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Engineering Mechanics, according to the publisher.

The paper, entitled "Progressive Collapse of the World Trade Centre: a Simple Analysis", purports to prove that the "collapse" of the WTC towers, once it got started, was "destined to be rapid and thorough" and "an ordinary thing to have happened."

On September 11, 2007, the BBC and several other news providers gave uncritical summaries of Dr. Seffen's research and stated that his paper had been published in the Journal of Engineering Mechanics (JEM), a monthly from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). But a search of the ASCE website turned up no mention of Dr. Seffen or his paper.

I wrote a short article that day documenting this information. Shortly thereafter, the BBC report was changed to say the paper was "to be published". I noted this change (and provided a couple of links to mirrors of the BBC's original text) in an update to that piece:

UK Engineer: WTC 'Collapses' Were 'A Very Ordinary Thing'

The difference between "published" and "to be published" is not a small thing in science, where papers are peer-reviewed before they are published. So to claim that a paper has been published when it hasn't is to give it unwarranted credibility. For that reason, citing unpublished work is frowned upon, not to mention claiming research has been published when it hasn't.

A bit of investigation revealed that the BBC article had inherited the confusion from a press release issued by the University of Cambridge, which opened by saying that Dr. Seffen's "analysis ... has been published", but later contradicted itself, saying the paper "will be published".

Three days later, I wrote a longer and more critical piece about the press release:

Bad Science: Keith Seffen And The WTC 'Collapse'

Several other descriptions of Dr. Seffen's paper were published that week, some of which repeated the assertion that the paper had been published. These articles are still available online, and none has been corrected, nor have any clarifications been issued.

Earlier this week, I compiled a comprehensive overview of the remarkably scant coverage:

Seffen's Folly: Attempted 9/11 Hoax By Cambridge And The BBC Was A Failure

Dr. Seffen has chosen not to respond to repeated requests for clarification, and Dr. Ross Corotis, the editor of the JEM, was equally unresponsive (at first). I wrote another article documenting the various (ignored) attempts to clarify the outstanding questions.

Where's The Paper? Did The BBC And A Cambridge Don Commit Fraud To Cover Up Mass Murder?

Despite the documentation I have provided, some readers have suggested that I am wrong about all this, saying that Dr. Seffen's paper has been published but I can't find it because I've been looking in the wrong place, or claiming that the premise behind my reporting is false and hinting that my motives are open to question.

But several other readers -- including a professor at a European university and a research specialist at an American university -- have written to Dr. Corotis, who has suddenly become much more cooperative than he had previously been, and thanks to his assistance we now have confirmation of the paper's status.

I have received forwarded copies of three identical emails from the Journals Department of the ASCE, reading as follows:
From: Journal-Services (


Dear ----,

Thank you for your email concerning Dr. Seffen's article, "Progressive Collapse of the World Trade Center: Simple Analysis". Our records show that this paper has been scheduled for the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Engineering Mechanics.

Journals Department
This email represents both a commitment from the ASCE to publish Dr. Seffen's paper and a confirmation that the paper has not in fact been published.

In fairness to those readers who have been skeptical, I should reiterate what I have tried to make clear throughout this series: my main complaint is with the media for reporting on this paper as having been published, when the opposite was -- and remains -- true. The assertion could have been -- and was -- easily checked. In fact, the Cambridge press release contradicted itself on this key point, so the failure to confirm before publishing is somewhat troubling, to say the least.

The following is a short list of the articles still online which are clearly in need of correction, including links to their publishers and quotes from passages which have been shown to be incorrect. It will be interesting to see whether any of these publishers will print a retraction or a correction. Perhaps some readers may wish to inquire.

University of Cambridge:
9/11 “conspiracy” theories challenged by Cambridge research

PhysOrg dot com:
9/11 'conspiracy' theories challenged by Cambridge research
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.
Daily India:
Cambridge engineer challenges 9/11 demolition theory

New Kerala:
Cambridge engineer challenges 9/11 demolition theory
Dr Seffen's research could help inform future building design. His findings are published in the Journal of Engineering Mechanics.
Cambridge Evening News:
Lecturer dismisses twin towers blast theory
Dr Seffen, a lecturer in engineering and a fellow of Corpus Christi College, set out to explain why the towers fell as they did. His findings are reported in the Journal of Engineering Mechanics.
Business Weekly:
Zero grounds for Ground Zero conspiracy theory (PDF)

(reported both that the paper has been published, and that it hadn't; mirrored in HTML here)
Conspiracy theories surrounding the World Trade Centre disaster have been countered by a new mathematical analysis of the phenomenon by a Cambridge University academic.

Dr Keith Seffen, senior lecturer in the structures group in the Department of Engineering, has published a paper which draws on established engineering models to demonstrate that the collapse sequence of the Twin Towers following the terrorist strike was "quite ordinary and natural."

The report, which is due to be published in the American Society of Civil Engineers' Journal of Engineering Mechanics, further deflates the speculation that continues to surround the catastrophe, focusing on the seemingly orderly manner in which both of the towers collapsed.
(November 9, 2007) We now have Dr. Seffen's paper:
Introducing Keith Seffen's "Progressive Collapse Of The WTC: A Simple Analysis"