Posted tagged ‘conspiracy theories’

The 9/11 Truther Laws of Nature

November 21, 2009

9/11 Truthers do not tire. They diligently maintain their own laws of nature independent of those known to scientists and engineers. Rather than try to make a conspiracy theory that agrees with the established laws of nature, Truthers maintain natural laws that fit their theories. Much of Truther lore is built around claimed properties of steel and thermite that contradict established knowledge.

Thermite is a mixture of aluminum powder with a metal oxide, typically iron oxide. It burns very hot and the iron in the iron oxide is freed as molten iron, so it is useful for welding iron and steel. It’s possible to use thermite to cut a steel beam, but it is not known to have ever been used in a controlled demolition. Because it is difficult to ignite reliably and burns relatively slowly, it’s not suitable to the precise timing requirements of a controlled demolition. Also, the liquid metal flows downhill, so at best it would be extremely difficult to cut any but a horizontal member.

Truthers claim the World Trade Center buildings were brought down by explosives. They say that explains explosive sounds, puffs of smoke or dust from floors below the WTC 1 & 2 collapse, and the supposed extra energy needed to pulverize concrete. They claim the explosive used was thermite, because the beams in the wreckage were cut cleanly, there were pools of molten metal in the wreckage that lasted for weeks after the collapse, and various components of thermite were discovered in the dust from the collapse.

A fundamental problem with that theory is that thermite is not an explosive. Truthers show a video of a small amount of thermite being set off. It takes a noticeable fraction of a second to burn which they proclaim to be an explosion. Explosives actually operate in milliseconds and always produce a shock wave, the sound of the explosion. Truther thermite, as with all thermite, does not explode and does not produce a shock wave.

Steel used in construction is tempered to increase its strength. Tempering involves heating the steel and than rapidly cooling it by, for example, quenching it in oil. This increases the strenght of the steel by up to a factor of ten, but it also makes it brittle. adding trace elements and controlling the quench rate allows materials specialists to adjust the properties of the steel.

A problem with tempered steel is that relatively low heat can take out the temper and thus make the steel lose its extra strength. Safety standards adopted long before 9/11 require that the steel be insulated so that it will not reach 1000 F in two hours of heating by a fire. Overseas, the standard is 700 F. Two hours is figured to be enough time for the fire department to arrive and put out the fire, or for the building’s sprinkler system to do the job.

Steel was traditionally insulated by embedding it in concrete, but in modern buildings an insulating material is used to coat the steel. In the Twin Towers attacks, the airplane impacts removed much of the applied insulation, allowing the steel to heat quickly.

Truthers invariably claim that steel only loses its strength when it melts. If that were true, then the long-established safety standards would be ridiculous. Because steel doesn’t melt until 2500 F, there would be no reason to try to keep the steel below 1000 F. Truthers could attempt to overthrow existing knowledge by experimentally demonstrating that steel does not lose strength short of melting, but they make no attempt to do so, nor do they cite any supporting evidence for their new theory.

Tempered steel is brittle, so when it is overstressed, say by a collapsing building, it snaps in sharp breaks. Truthers are enamored of the idea of “twisted wreckage” so they cannot understand how sharp breaks could occur except by cutting with thermite. Since thermite melts the steel, it actually wouldn’t make a very sharp break, especially not on a vertical member where the liquid metal flows downhill.

The brittle nature of tempered steel is also consistent with the structures collapsing quickly. Truthers have an image of steel being ductile and springy, so the metal would bend rather slowly and absorb energy in the process. Brittle materials don’t do that. Glass is brittle, so windows break quickly, not slowly.

Finally, Truthers point to pools of liquid metal that lasted up to three weeks after the building collapse. They claim this proves that thermite was involved, because only thermite can melt steel. Let’s suppose for a moment that metal was steel and that thermite melted it. So how did it stay melted for three weeks? When thermite is used for welding, the liquid iron solidifies quickly. The hotter the material relative to its surroundings, the faster it cools. This true for hot soup or hot steel.

The only way to keep something hot is to keep adding heat. Truther thermite, however, it claimed to have the property of melting steel in such a way that it stays melted, a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Whatever the molten metal was, it had to be kept liquid by heat generated from the combustible materials in the rubble. The likely explanation is a natural furnace effect.

How about thermite components in the dust and debris? Thermite is aluminum with some metal oxide. Sometimes Truthers point to iron oxide as proof of thermite, other times it is manganese or any of a shelf of compounds that might be in thermite. The buildings contained tons of iron, but also tons of aluminum and other metals. It would be odd if there were not a wide assortment of materials in the dust and debris. Much of it is indeed unexplained in terms of its exact origins and means of generation in the disaster. No one other than Truthers particularly cares about such details.

Truthers especially point to claimed larger quantities of unburned thermite in the dust. That’s inconsistent with the separate claim that a way was found to reliably ignite thermite and to get it to explode. Try to imagine, say, an explosion caused by dynamite in which there were large quantities of unexploded dynamite left in the debris. That’s not going to happen.

How do Truthers deal with all the conventional knowledge about thermite, steel, and the rest? One way would be to attack the basis of the knowledge. They could try to show or argue that steel does not lose its strength at anything below the melting point, that thermite can produce and explosive shock wave, and so forth. That’s the route used by legitimate scientific dissent. Einstein proposed experiments that ultimately confirmed his theory over classical physics. Those opposed to CO2 global warming theory point to specific deficiencies in the theory, like the earth not warming for the past decade despite increasing CO2. That’s how the game of scientific dissent is properly played.

Truthers don’t attempt to square theory with observation. They say that since no building had ever collapsed like the World Trade Center buildings, conspiracy must be the answer. The fact that their theory doesn’t agree with established laws of nature doesn’t matter, because they _know_ it must have been a conspiracy. Explanations using the established laws of nature must be false, because those explanations do not lead to the conclusion that they _know_ to be correct.

Aside from being Dark Ages mentality, such thinking means that the new investigation that Truthers demand would be pointless. Investigations attempt to explain events in terms of an established base of knowledge. Explanations that involve magical elements contrary to laws of nature are not explanations at all. They already have magical explanations, so it would be pointless to seek new magic.