A proposal to end conspiracy theories among scientists

There is a growing number of scientists1 who believe in conspiracy theories regarding 9/11. They often call the well researched2 background of the terror attacks the "official conspiracy theory" and they tend to euphemistically call themselves "skeptics"3 of this theory.

This article presents a promising experiment to use interviews with physics professors to effectively fight the further rise of conspiracy theories among scientists. Additionally, it makes a proposal to derive a professional survey from the initial experiment that would be useful to reach the proposed goals on a broad level of the scientific society.

A new strategy

This work is not the first proposal to deal with the conspiracy theories problem. Cass Sunstein called for a tax for their spreading and for the cognitive infiltration of conspiracy groups by the government4. While the author has not seen any evidence this proposal might have been implemented, he is aware of a negative consequence it might unleash: Because of it being available to the public in the form of the original article, it might rise the suspicion that the government is not even willing to treat conspiracy theorists and their statements in a "fair" way. There is a potential danger that theories even become absurder because of this.

Because this article focuses on conspiracy theorists in science, a new strategy has been chosen – with the goal to refute certain theories that are relatively scientific in their nature. Those theories can be openly discussed in a scientific way and thus convincingly be refuted.

An ad hoc poll among physicists has been performed and will be presented here. It's goal was to find physical errors in a rather popular conspiracy theory. Since this experiment did not lead to the desired result, a proposal for a professional survey will be derived from it. This survey among scientists is expected to irrefutably show the nonsense of the theory being subjected. Because conspiracy theorists might criticize the survey and call it onesided, which might even further strengthen them in their thoughts, it is of vital importance to include some leading conspiracy theorists in the process of deriving the survey.

The ad hoc poll – telephone interviews with physicists

The author talked to five randomly chosen physicists in June 2012. Among them were four professors from german universities, three of which were heads of their departments. The fifth one was an english speaking, british sounding scientist whose academic grade was unknown to the author. The goal of the conversation was to get to know the assessments of the physicists regarding a rather popular conspiracy theory which we will call the "free fall theory".

The free fall theory is not exactly a conspiracy theory because it does not include any conspiracy. But since it is a relatively scientific sounding theory and it is often part of larger conspiracy theories, it has been chosen anyway.

The free fall (conspiracy) theory: The official report for the collapse of WTC 7 is false because for physical reasons, a high-rise cannot fall with free fall acceleration due to office fires5.

The physicists were being asked a politically apparently neutral question in order to ensure they would give an answer purely based on science. Political interference was not desired. The conversations can be categorized like this:

For the first scientist, the obfuscation did not work. He immediately knew the question was about WTC 7. He turned out to be a conspiracy theorist claiming he did not talk to colleagues about his theories. He even tried to defend himself by calling them his "private opinion".

The other four physicists didn't have any knowledge about WTC 7. Nevertheless, in some conversations the World Trade Center was being mentioned. Surprisingly, two of them immediately ruled out the possibility of a free fall due to fire in a high-rise. Another one called it "problematic", yet another one "devious" ["abwegig" in german].

Analyzing the poll

At first sight, the results of the ad hoc poll seem not to completely refute the free fall conspiracy theory. This might be caused by the choice of physicists being questioned. Or it might be caused by the interrogation technique being used. To get precise answers to these questions, the author proposes to start a new professional scientific survey. This survey should be developed in cooperation with both normal scientists and conspiracy theorists being involved. The reason for this is that the ignoring of the conspiracy theorists in the development of the survey might result in attacks calling it onesided, finally perhaps even leading to a theory that the survey in itself was yet another conspiracy. In this survey, a large number of physicists should be questioned in order to eliminate statistical accidents like the one leading to the wrong result in the above ad hoc poll.


About the author: Tim Baumgartner, born in 1974, has a degree in mathematics from the university of Bonn, Germany. He has been working for more than seven years as a software engineer. Since May 2011, he extensively researched the phenomenon of conspiracy theories. He tries to fight them by an open scientific discussion without ad-hominem arguments.


1 Like the Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice: http://stj911.org

3 In order to get a feeling of how conspiracy theorists think, it is an interesting experiment to read this article while replacing "conspiracy theorist" with "skeptic" and the articulation of conspiracy theories with "doubt".

4 Conspiracy Theories, Cass R. Sunstein, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585 (2008)

5 WTC 7 was a 47-story high-rise that collapsed at 5:20 pm on 9/11. The official report NIST NCSTAR 1A found fires to be the collapse reason. In section 3.6, it contains the information that the building was in free fall for 2.25 seconds.
The report online: http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=861610

A proposal to end conspiracy theories among scientists.pdf117.55 KB

A comment from the author

The ad hoc poll is not fiction. I performed it and the article correctly summarizes the outcome. I would be happy about suggestions for actions to be taken.

One could alternatively describe the poll like this: Only 20% of the german physicists being asked knew about WTC 7. Those were exactly the ones being silent "conspiracy theorists".


Thank you for this. It is interesting to read the efforts of someone who is probing the issue from a scientific point of view.

For a moment, if I may, I would like to turn the question around, while still looking at it scientifically. NIST asserted that a single column failure, brought on by fires, resulted in the complete destruction of WTC 7. It arrived at this conclusion using computer models. NIST claimed to be in possession of essentially no physical evidence which would indicate what the temperatures were inside the building, or what the failure mechanisms were in any of the structural elements. NIST acknowledged, but did not explain, the observed free fall.

Questions: given these conditions, is it scientifically appropriate to take what NIST has asserted as correct, and to assume a negligible probability that NIST may be in error? Is it scientifically appropriate for the modeling data to be withheld from public scrutiny, and for reproducibility to remain unproven? Should students of science be taught that NIST's investigation constitutes proper science, and that those who question it should be dismissed as "conspiracy theorists"?

I don't like being branded as a "conspiracy theorist", but if the answer to all of the above questions is "yes", then I have inescapably earned the title.


Dear Wildbear, if you did indeed notice that this article is tagged with "cynicism", then I will answer you. But probably you didn't notice ;-)
I hope you didn't get angry reading the article. I apologize and stress this was not my intention.

Re: Cynicism

Acknowledged, and no anger. It was unclear where you were coming from, so mine was an effort to probe for more information.
Granted, approaching the issue from multiple angles, including the "conspiracy theory" angle may yield more information about people's positions on the issue than always applying a similar approach. My own inclination is that "conspiracy theory" should be completely disassociated, at all times, from the topic of the destruction of WTC 7. It's a major scientific and engineering issue; and it is disturbing to see it (almost) universally presented to the public in a manner which is brutally unscientific.

The term "conspiracy theory"

Yes, this is a very, very bad term. One of the professors was very friendly and we talked for about a quarter of an hour. But he always told me about the people who believe the moon landing was fake and similar stuff. And this was his reason not to look at the 9/11 evidence. And of course nobody has time. Even those who talk to you 15 minutes don't have 10 seconds for WTC 7.

But surely

But surely they must acknowledge that the official account of 9/11 itself concerns a 'conspiracy.' If they don't, then they're just showing themselves to be more sheep in the herd, reacting to words the way the government and media want them to react.

Conspiracy theorists

As rm noted, the official story is a "Conspiracy Theory". So why do you speak of "conspiracy theorists" in a negative manner? Don't you realize that you are a conspiracy theorist? What makes the Official Conspiracy Theory sacred? Why is questioning it wrong?

"It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority." -- Benjamin Franklin

I bought the "Official Conspiracy Theory" hook line and sinker until I saw a video of WTC 7 imploding. By the time it went out of sight I knew it was a controlled demolition. You don't have to be a whether man to know which way the wind blows and you don't have to be an expert to see that WTC 7 was a controlled demolition. It could not be anything else IMnsHO.

As you noted, 4 out of 5 physicists you contacted did not know about WTC 7. That establishes the fact that there has been a cover up of this vitally important event. Furthermore, the only physicist that did know about WTC 7 thought it was a controlled demolition but you did not say that, you just referred to him as a "conspiracy theorist" as if that meant he was nuts. Your bias is quite apparent.

You went on to say "two of them immediately ruled out the possibility of a free fall due to fire in a high-rise". That confirms what "conspiracy theorists" have been saying. Free fall acceleration is only possible if all the supporting structure is REMOVED synchronicity.

"Another one called it "problematic", yet another one 'devious' " That constitutes a unanimous vote against the official explanation of the collapse of WTC 7 yet you describe it as "the results of the ad hoc poll seem not to completely refute the free fall conspiracy theory". Your misinterpretation of the answers again shows your extreme bias.

So please drop the "conspiracy theory" canard and deal with the confirmed [by NIST] scientific fact that WTC 7 fell at free fall acceleration for about 100 feet.

I apologize

I'm really sorry. You are right in every single point. This "article" is 99% sarcastic. I thaught about adding a hint in the title but then only marked it via a tag. Take it as a psychological experiment - how easy it is to cover some essential truth in a huge pile of lies.
Perhaps I'm going to write a little more (in an objective way, again) about the phone interviews. There are some more interesting observations to tell. The most frustrating one is that not one of the professors answered me when I sent them a link with WTC 7...

No problem

I gathered there was some sarcastic intent, but wasn't sure whether that was the explanation for the way 'conspiracy theory' is used. I suppose when one is doing a parody of official-theory boosters, one will necessarily wind up sounding like them, at least to a point.