Monday, August 27, 2007

Conspiracy theories

If you want to criticize the handling of the War on Terror, I'm happy to listen. My theories as to why things have gone wrong include: poor governance, lack of evidence based policy, no respect for evidence based policy, a poor understanding of human nature, greed, venality and valuing personal loyalty over integrity and good outcomes.

Conspiracies? Maybe. If by conspiracy you mean mercenaries and consultants and crony suppliers working together and ripping off the US taxpayer with no-bid contracts and failing to deliver any sort of effective nation building, then yes, I'd be willing to listen to your conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy around 9/11. Not so much. No really - just shut up. The Jews didn't turn up to work that day (lies). Mossad did it (of course). Jet fuel doesn't burn hot enough to snap steel girders. Errmmm.... In what way is it surprising that a building collapses after a jet smashes into it? I only took half a class in civil engineering, but I know the difference between compressive and tensile strength and steel isn't as strong as you think - that's why it has to be used in conjunction with concrete - and to build to any height concrete has to be used with steel. (A nice long list of conspiracy theories and their de-bunkification is here at Popular Mechanics).

Do I think that we know everything about what happened that day? No, of course not. But if there were any conspiracies it was people after the fact trying to cover each others' asses for not waking up to the fact that Al Qaeda was planning something big earlier on.

Do I worry about 9/11 conspiracies? Well, a little. If we ever want to come to some peaceful accord with the "Arab Street" we need to understand that even the quackiest theory has some resonance there. And even the brightest and most rational folks you meet from the Middle East often at least entertain the what seems to me like ridiculous notions. And this matters because if two groups of people can't even agree on a relatively small set of facts, we certainly aren't likely to agree on a peaceful way forward

I was told by a person I thought quite reasonable that Jews normally employed at the Twin Towers didn't turn up to work on the morning of September 11. When I completely rubbished this, I was asked "Have you looked at some of the 9/11 websites, it proves it."

No. It doesn't. There are loads of kooky websites out there. Take a look around this one, for example.

But when you see 9/11 conspiracy theories mooted in a reputable paper, I find it a little harder to blame the gullible and the susceptible. And I find it a lot easier to suggest that a national newspaper is irresponsible and stirring up trouble.


"John Galt" said...

National does not necessarily equate to reputable.

herschelian said...

Thank you for rubbishing that appalling Fisk article - I read it too, with mounting rage. How could the Editor of the Independent let such twisted farago of theories be published? What has surprised me though is that when I've mentioned the article to various friends who are regular readers of the Independent, none of them had read the piece. One said to me "oh, I never bother to read any articles by Robert Fisk, they're always so biased."