Debunking — A Lost Art — Greater Need for Critical Thinking

Debunking: Cloud of dust on 9/11 from building collapse
Collapsing building on 9/11. Photo: Wally Gobetz (CC BY 2.0).

Debunking? I’ve seen a fair amount of mention of this word “debunking” on the Internet in the last few years. I’ve yet to find some real debunking. This lack reveals a severe shortage of critical thinking. Articles are labeled “debunking,” but fail to live up to the claim.

I first encountered the term “debunking” on the topic of 9/11. I saw a number of videos which claimed to debunk one idea or another.

I have also read of others making bald statements that an entire topic has been debunked, but when one of those people was pressed for specifics or sources, the journalist had none. But why? Had he merely read headlines claiming something to be debunked without actually reading the details? Had he taken their word for it without verifying? Some journalist!

One website purports to be all things “debunking.” It’s called Metabunk. I haven’t studied every article, so they may actually debunk something. But let me give you an example of one of their failed attempts and let’s analyze it for why it failed.

Metabunk’s Failed Debunking: Iron Microspheres on 9/11 Prove Thermite

The claim in the 9/11 Truth movement is that iron microspheres in the 9/11 dust cloud prove thermitic demolition, and debunk natural collapse following the initial damage.

Several investigators have remarked on the appearance of the iron microspheres found in the 9/11 dust. Among them are R.J. Lee and Company, as well as the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

In 2013, Metabunk offered 3 possible alternative explanations for the iron microspheres—3 possible sources for the material:

  1. Steel wool.
  2. Iron rust on the steel beams.
  3. Iron rust in the fly ash used in the manufacture of the concrete used in the construction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

Why Debunking Fails

Metabunk’s arguments on this topic provide a perfect example of why debunking fails, when it does. Such failure typically occurs when the person has forgotten to prove the original thesis wrong. Disproving the original thesis is critical to proper debunking. This should be obvious. Merely supplying alternative possibilities does not debunk anything. You have to prove the original thesis wrong. Proving one of the alternatives to be right also helps and may fulfill the needed disproof. Regrettably, Metabunk did none of this.

Analyzing Metabunk’s Debunking Failure

For us to have the proper perspective on this issue of iron microspheres, we need to understand the details of the event and the original thesis.

First of all, the thesis claims that the iron microspheres are the product of a thermitic reaction. Thermite usually consists of iron rust and powdered aluminum.
Fe2O3 + 2 Al → 2 Fe + Al2O3 + Heat

When this is ignited, it burns at temperatures as high as 2,500 °C (4,532 °F), far hotter than the melting points of steel and iron (~1,538 °C or 2,800 °F). Besides the horrendous heat, the byproducts are iron microspheres and the white smoke of aluminum oxide.

Second, let’s analyze the volume involved. Several samples of the 9/11 dust were collected from various locations around Manhattan. The iron microsphere concentration ranged from about 1.33% to about 4.13% (USGS). Some samples by other sources exceeded 5% iron content by volume.

The concrete found in the floors which collapsed in the two towers comes to roughly 2,282,133 cubic feet of concrete for the two towers together. Using the lowest percentage of iron microsphere content, this yields 30,352 cubic feet of iron. That would give us a cube 31.2 feet on a side—solid iron. This would weigh approximately 7,453 short tons!

Debunking Steel Wool

Debunking: Steel wool
A roll of steel wool is mostly air. Here we debunk the idea that the iron microspheres came from this substance. Photo: Johan (CC BY-SA 3.0).

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see the obvious flaw with the steel wool thesis. Who would store 7,453 short tons of steel wool in the WTC Twin Towers? That would have been one hell of a KP duty (kitchen patrol). Washing a billion pots and pans? Where was this mega-kitchen?

A pack of 16 steel wool pads, extra fine, weighs 4 ounces, and takes up roughly 10.2 x 13.5 x 14.3 inches. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that all 7,453 short tons of iron were in the form of steel wool pads. Based on the density of the above pack of steel wool, the 14,906,000 pounds of iron would require about 59,624,000 packs of steel wool. This would take up 67,943,411 cubic feet.

Taking the combined height of the Twin Towers—2,724 feet—and dividing this into the volume of steel wool required, we have the amount of floor space required to store this quantity to the ceiling. In this simple calculation, we’re ignoring the space taken up by the flooring and ceiling material. By my calculations, this comes to 24,943 square feet on each floor. I recommend you check the math yourself (and let me know if you find an error). Since each floor had only about 31,120 square feet of total space (excluding the elevator core), this leaves only 6,177 square feet per floor not taken up by steel wool. Oops! In other words, the steel wool would have taken up 80.15% of the entire floor space (floor to ceiling)—for every floor! People, walls, desks, office equipment and walk spaces would have been crowded nearly out of existence.

Another obvious problem with the steel wool idea is that all 7,453 short tons would have needed to have been in the fire zone to experience open flame directly. Was someone in there feeding the steel wool through the flame?

Now, here’s the big problem with the steel wool: Setting fire to this substance produces steel spheres which frequently have fibers of steel wool sticking out of them. I call them “horns.”

The original thesis talks about “iron microspheres” while steel wool produces “steel spheres with horns.” This alternative thesis produces steel, not iron, and spheres, not many microspheres, if any. Different size and substance.

Debunked:

Steel wool could not have been the source of iron microspheres. Wrong size, wrong substance, and wrong shape (horns), plus an extremely poor likelihood of source, quantity and occurrence—all requiring something like Maxwell’s demon to feed the steel wool through the flames before the building collapsed. That would’ve been one busy elevator shuttling 110 floors of steel wool to the fire zone!

Debunking Iron Rust on Steel Beams

Debunking: Rust on steel beams
Debunking rust on steel beams. Photo taken at 555 Mission Street, SF by Hydrogen Iodide (CC BY-SA 3.0).

With this alternative thesis, we have a natural source, but were there 10,660 short tons of rust? Throughout the entire building, perhaps, but we would have to confirm this by accurate calculations based on the total surface area of steel beams. Practically all of the steel beams photographed, after the collapse, showed their iron rust and primer paint intact. But for argument’s sake, I’ll concede to the possibility of there having been 10,660 short tons of iron rust in both buildings together. Let’s explore this idea.

But why 10,660 instead of 7,453 short tons? Oxygen, that’s what. A batch of 7,453 short tons of iron produces 10,660 short tons of iron rust (iron + oxygen—Fe2O3).

From a more recent visit to Metabunk, I see they now provide a video of an experiment and subsequent analysis showing two iron-rich microspheres produced by burning one small steel beam sample. However, the fire on 9/11 did not include the entire building and all its steel beams. The office fires, in a fire-retardant environment, burned cool enough to produce dark smoke on 9/11, and only from the impact zone.

That other website fails to show how the scarcity of fire could have produced that quantity of iron microspheres.

One 9/11 photo shows a woman standing in one of the impact zones prior to collapse. No flames. Clearly, she was not suffering from the heat required to create all those microspheres by the methods described by Metabunk.

Another problem with this alternative thesis involves thermal conductivity. Iron rust attached to a steel beam would have been cooled by thermal conductivity drawing the heat away from the source. This heat sink effect would have been quite different from Metabunk’s video showing a small piece of metal immersed in a wood-burning fire. With all of the steel beams connected, prior to collapse, the entire building would have acted as a heat sink, helping to prevent the softening of the steel from any amount of burning on a limited number of floors.

The method by which 10,660 short tons of iron rust could have been passed through a sufficient volume of flame, and without the heat sink effect, does not appear to exist.

Debunked:

Iron rust on steel beams could not have been the source of the iron microspheres, because, even if there were 10,660 short tons of iron rust in both buildings, an extraordinary (magical) method of extraction and delivery would have been necessary.

Debunking Iron Rust in the Fly Ash

Debunking: pile of fly ash
Debunking fly ash as a source. Photo: Mailtosap (PD)

Fly ash is used in the manufacture of concrete. A certain percentage of fly ash is iron rust.

Like the iron rust on steel beams, we have the insurmountable problem of delivery. How did all that iron rust—10,660 short tons of it—make it to the ordinary flame for conversion?

The problem of delivery is more complicated, here. All of the concrete needs to have been pulverized, first. Then, the iron rust content needs to have been fed past the flame. The big problem here is that the flame was isolated to the impact zone and that disappeared after the building started to collapse.

No flame; no conversion!

Perhaps an intelligent flame, guided by magic, might have followed the collapse and grabbed the iron rust in the concrete after the pulverization. But how does open flame last in the chaos of collapse and pulverization of the concrete? Gusts of wind blew the dust all over lower Manhattan and across the Hudson nearly to New Jersey. These are far from ideal conditions for the production of iron microspheres.

Debunked:

Iron rust from fly ash could not have been the source of the iron microspheres because, even if there were 10,660 short tons of iron rust, an extraordinary (magical) method of delivery would have been necessary.

The Art of Debunking

True debunking takes time and care—more than some seem to be willing to give. It takes work and critical thinking. Those who have an agenda will not take the time required. They are more interested in proving their viewpoint—not in finding the truth. Personally, I’ve had dozens of hypotheses on a broad range of topics and have had to toss many of them, because I found data which made those theses impossible. Being wrong comes with the territory; you take it and move on. Fake debunkers merely sling innuendo and slurs—ad hominem logical fallacies to attack the person, rather than the conclusions and the facts upon which they are based. Even if they are not direct in their slander, they will pepper their statements with implied ridicule. This does nothing to forward the process of discovery. It may, however, bolster a few egos.

For the scientist who uses the flawed paradigm of skepticism, it’s too easy to switch from objective critical thinking to subjective and lazy dismissal of an idea. Skepticism contains the potent bias of “doubt.” Ironically, scientists are supposed to remain unbiased. It doesn’t help if they start with a flawed operating basis. When skepticism works—at its most benign—it includes the active ingredients, restraint and humility. Human nature wrestles against such constraints. Some people despise the required humility.

Used to counteract the eagerness of green researchers fresh out of graduate school, doubt is effective—a negative bias canceling out the positive bias of immature youth. But bias is still not recommended. It remains a flawed paradigm.

When ego and laziness take over, as it so often does, even in science, skepticism descends into unsupported dismissiveness very much like that of Megabunk’s failed debunking. They did not use the same rigor required in a peer reviewed article. They offered a set of three alternative hypotheses without seeing them through with proper analysis and critical thinking.

Will this article help them to improve their game? I hope so. There’s a lot of intelligence and creativity at work there. It needs a swift kick to boost it to the next level. Their improvement could benefit us all.

In any debate, you should wish for the best possible opponent. Why? Because you learn more, even if you lose the argument. Your next argument is going to be that much better.

The Art of Debunking and Education

This is why today’s wimpy campuses with their Politically Correct language, free speech zones and language police are killing the intellectual strength of their students. All that obscene coddling is crippling their mental acuity—making them incapable of arguing their way out of a paper bag. Their intelligence is being dulled by too much ego (self-concern) and a self-perception that is nothing short of pure, know-it-all arrogance. Not a pretty sight, especially when it is steeped in victimhood.

Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Professors and administrators who permit rowdy students to bully them are complicit in a new kind of evil which could destroy civilization every bit as much as nuclear war. They are being selfish—self-concerned that they could lose their jobs or their pensions. Their self-concern is just as evil as those who do the original crime. Lazy and muddy thinking are killing the forward momentum of civilization.

The Art of Debunking and Civilization

Debunking: Ruins of Parthenon
Parthenon. Debunking as a skill may be needed to keep our civilization from falling into decay. Photo: from south by Thermos (CC BY-SA 2.5).

People need to stand up against the victimhood and whining wimps, by debunking their corrupt attitude of entitlement. Civilization was not built by victims; it was built by creators. The victims can be as dangerous as the perpetrators of injustice and tyranny.

We seem to be entering a new Dark Age where governments promote global cooling in an ongoing Ice Age. More and more scientists are committing fraud to keep their sources of funding happy. Those who maintain their integrity tend to lose the funding and to suffer the 1000-pound gorilla of corporate slander, harassment and threats—guys like Professor Tyrone Hayes and Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini.

And when heroes like these are vindicated, the corporate press frequently ignores them and their heroic righteousness.

In a world where millions of citizens actively ridicule any and all talk of conspiracy, as if it were “fantasy,” conspirators gain greater freedom of movement. And if you think for a moment that conspiracies are fantasy, let me thoroughly disabuse you of that naive viewpoint. There are at least 489 new conspiracies starting every second, on average, day-in and day-out, all year long and every year. And this is only based on the documented cases of conspiracy. Because conspirators do not want to be discovered, there are likely far more conspiracies taking place in the world. Why? Because people tend to be selfish and self-concerned. My book, Dirt Ordinary: Shining a Light on Conspiracies, debunks the larger myths concerning conspiracies.

Debunking: Dirt Ordinary book coverA lack of critical thinking and a muddying of terms like “conspiracy,” make it harder for real debunking to happen, and easier for the masses to believe the label “debunked” without looking to see if any debunking actually occurred.

This new Dark Age is already upon us. Like most previous Dark Ages, there was no hard edge to it. Most Dark Ages begin and end gradually. Most people don’t pay attention to the changes; they usually don’t compare the world in their twilight years with the world of their youth. And when they do, the youth of the next generation rarely have the context to understand or appreciate any of their warnings. Clarity is lost with time and most people lack the critical thinking skills to analyze the differences, even with the clarity of proper documentation.

Debunking is perhaps both art and science. There are certain tried and true techniques, but no hard and fast rules. We will need good debunking skills for building the next civilization. Hopefully, like Asimov’s Hari Seldon, we can start now and shorten the length of the new Dark Age. Our ancestors and descendants will thank us for that.

Debunking Refinement

Debunking: Lady Justice statue
Debunking needs to remain impartial, like that represented by this statue of Lady Justice. Photo: ChvhLR10 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The nice thing about leaving critical thinking on at all times is that you can question your own findings and continue to make improvements in your reasoning (even without peer review; imagine that). Not skepticism, mind you, but restraint and humility. This section on Debunking Refinement was added April 3, 2016, nearly a month after this article was originally posted. Sometimes, such critical thinking leads to complete reversals. If you’re not too attached to your own ego, this should not be too difficult, especially if you don’t have a vested interest (bribes, payouts or other inducements) in the outcome.

When I first realized that I had left out a critical element, I thought to myself, “Oh no, I’m going to have to scrap this article and apologize for not including all the details.” Scrapping a hypothesis sometimes comes with the territory. No matter how careful you might be when formulating a hypothesis and testing that idea, you could still come up short in the “thoroughness” category. Peer review is supposed to catch that (and Albert Einstein hated peer review when he first encountered it late in his life). But other scientists reading an article can also catch mistakes, if any are there to be found. There is no foolproof approach. You simply do the best you can and keep doing the best you can.

The above calculations assume that all of the iron microspheres were from thermitic reactions. But let us say that a percentage was from fly ash in the production of the concrete used in construction. I’m not an expert on fly ash, but I suspect that some of the iron content does not come in microspheres, but rather jagged samples of simple iron rust (ferric oxide). But let’s give Metabunk the benefit by allowing all of the fly ash iron to have been in the form of microspheres.

Portland cement has the following constituents and percentages (by weight):

CaO—61–67%
SiO2—19–23%
Al2O3—2.5–6%
Fe2O3—0–6%
Sulfate (gypsum or CaSO4 + 2H2O)—1.5–4.5%

As you can see, Portland cement has between 0–6% ferric oxide by weight, most, if not all, of it coming from fly ash, clay, iron ore or even scrap iron. Again, we will be kind to Metabunk and assume the largest percentage (6% by weight or 3.4% by calculated volume).

When mixing Type I Portland cement (general purpose) in order to make concrete, you typically use 1 portion of cement, 3 portions sand, 3 portions aggregate (crushed stone or gravel) and 1 portion water.

In rough terms, this gives us 12.5% Portland cement by volume. Multiplying this percentage by the iron content maximum in Portland cement gives us the maximum iron content in the concrete produced—0.425% iron by volume in the concrete. This assumes that there is essentially no iron content in the silica sand and no usable iron in the aggregate (the stones would also have to have been pulverized and the iron melted in flame to make microspheres). So, this is our maximum iron content from the manufacturing process—from mixing the components of concrete. Of course, this could have been as low as zero, but we’re using the highest percentage in order to be kind.

As we saw earlier, USGS found as little as 1.33% by volume iron microspheres. As a reminder, we were being kind there, too, by taking the smallest percentage. That way, we would have had the smallest quantity of iron microspheres for which to take account. Other researchers found more than 5% by volume iron microspheres—nearly 4 times the minimum we’re using in our calculations.

Even so, the manufacturing quantities of iron (ferric oxide) of 0.425% are likely non-magnetic, unless the iron rust in the Portland cement was converted to elemental iron at some point. Magnets passed over the 9/11 concrete dust would easily pull out the iron, because it was at least partly metallic, instead of oxide. Elemental iron is not usually found in nature, if ever. Subtracting this largest manufacturing quantity from the lowest sample quantity, we get 1.33% – 0.425% = 0.905% by volume iron microspheres. This is the quantity which came from other sources—supposedly from thermite.

If 1.33% by volume produces 7,453 short tons, then 0.905% by volume will produce 5,071 short tons. That remains an incredible quantity of iron not accounted for in the manufacturing of concrete during construction. That would still require a building full of steel wool or some extremely magical rust on steel beams to have made it through the fire zones in the hour or so before collapse.

So, despite giving Metabunk exceptional advantages, their argument still fails. These advantages included: taking the smallest sample percentage (USGS 1.33% by volume), the largest fly ash percentage (6% by weight or 3.4% by volume) and 100% of the fly ash iron to have been in the form of iron (not rust) microspheres.

Could Metabunk still come up with an alternative to debunk the thermite thesis? Certainly, they could, but they would have to do far more than merely supply an alternative hypothesis. They would have to remove the thermite hypothesis as a possibility. So far, I have not seen them do this.

References (2016:0401):

Composition of cement
http://engr.psu.edu/ce/courses/ce584/concrete/library/construction/curing/Composition%20of%20cement.htm

The manufacture of Portland Cement
http://caribcement.com/resources/article/the-manufacture-of-portland-cement

Mixing Concrete for the Beginning DIYer
http://doityourself.com/stry/how-to-make-concrete-mixing-ratios

Portland cement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_cement

Portland cement review
http://ce.berkeley.edu/~paulmont/241/review.pdf

Note: This article was originally published 2016:0305 on CriticalThinkingEarth.com.

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