June 19, 2006

Ha! It's Not Just the Humanities!

One doesn't normally associate physics professors with conspiracy theories--what with them being the traditional milieu of humanities types--but the gods have smiled upon us all today with this article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed. It's subscription only, so let me quote and summarize:

"Last November Mr. (Steven E.) Jones posted a paper online advancing the hypothesis that the airplanes Americans saw crashing into the twin towers were not sufficient to cause their collapse, and that the towers had to have been brought down in a controlled demolition. Now he is the best hope of a movement that seeks to convince the rest of America that elements of the government are guilty of mass murder on their own soil.

His paper — written by an actual professor who works at an actual research university — has made him a celebrity in the conspiracy universe. He is now co-chairman of a group called the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, which includes about 50 professors — more in the humanities than in the sciences — from institutions like Clemson University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin.

But even as Mr. Jones's title and academic credentials give hope to the conspiracy theorists, his role in the movement may undermine those same credentials. What happens when science tries to function in a fringe crusade?"

Short answer? Real scientists pretend you don't exist, and crazy people hold conferences in hotels, engage in circular reasoning and send mean emails to the scientist who's debunked your theory. Business as usual, in other words.

Fun random quotes:

"Usually, Occam's razor intervenes." Unfortunately, Occam and his razor are less successful at whacking errant pixels than you would think.

"By many accounts, scholarly contributions to the movement began with Mr. Griffin, who retired from the Claremont School of Theology in 2004. About a year and a half after September 11, Mr. Griffin began reading books and Web sites arguing that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks. Eventually, they won him over." There are only FOUR LIGHTS!!! FOUR LIGHTS!!! Sorry, Star Trek reference. In other words, if you spend enough time reading crazy crap, eventually it will start to seem less crazy. RE: The existence of scientologists even AFTER they've been introduced to the concept of Xenu.

"You can't just appeal in terms of straight argument," he [Griffin] says. "You've got to do something to break through, to get people to look at the evidence." Yes, when your straight argument is CRAZY, then I guess you do have to get a little bit out there to make folks pay attention.

Some people just aren't happy unless they aren't happy. At least I can take cold comfort in the fact that this trait isn't just prevalent in sociology departments.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at June 19, 2006 02:23 PM | TrackBack

I wonder what the Zetas say about Xenu?

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at June 19, 2006 04:49 PM

Reminds me a bit of someone my graduate advisor (a botanist) knew. He never gave all that much detail about what happened; he would just shake his head sadly and remark, "He was so brilliant...and then he went crazy."

I wonder how much of it is straight crazy, and how much of it is "any attention is GOOD attention." I know my research garners little-to-no attention, but I wouldn't go saying I had found out that aliens generated soil structure with their rayguns or that fire ants ( were a governmental plot to make people stay indoors, eat large amounts of fat and sugar, become obese, and die before they were able to collect Social Security. Both of those claims would get me a certain amount of attention, but not the kind I'd want.

Posted by: ricki at June 20, 2006 08:29 AM

“Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are...”

Al Gore (discussing his movie, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’) in ‘Grist’ Magazine, 5-9-06


Posted by: F451 at June 20, 2006 09:09 AM

At least the scienos have the excuse of being largely undereducated or at extremely low points in their lives before having gone through a process of deliberate brainwashing. These kind of theories seem to originate from people with such an intense hatred of anybody who doesn't share their opinions that they feel completely justified in believing the most extreme absurdities.

Posted by: Emily at June 20, 2006 11:55 AM
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