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Diamond Lecture Moved to Larger Hall

Jared Diamond Photo

On December 17th in the LA Times ran a feature about Jared Diamond’s new book, Collapse, and his upcoming appearance at the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech. Ever since, the Skeptic offices have been swamped with calls for information and tickets, with some attendees planning to drive from as far away as Las Vegas.

In response, we have arranged to move the presentation to Beckman Auditorium, which seats 1,100, from Baxter Hall, which seats only 300. To cover the higher fees for this venue, we have had to raise the admission fee for this event only to $8 for member/subscribers and $12 for non-members. Students with ID are still $5, and members of the Caltech community are still free. The Caltech Community includes Caltech faculty, staff and students as well as JPL staff.

Please help spread the word that this very important lecture is now able to accommodate the many fans of this Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist. We very much hope to see you there!



The following is an article on conspiracy theories, by George Case, who has published numerous Op-Ed pieces in the Vancouver Sun daily newspaper, and is also the author of a speculative novel titled Silence Descends: The End of the Information Age 2000-2500 , published in 1997 by Arsenal Pulp Press to positive reviews in the U.S. and Canada.

The Truth is Out There…
Way Out There

by George Case

The peak popularity of the television series The X-Files, and the initial Internet-boosted acceleration of the Information Revolution are behind us, but their legacies live on, in the pervasive familiarity of the conspiracy theory. Indeed, the trust-no-one phenomenon is today so much a part of our culture that it has become an object of suspicion: recent books such as Daniel Pipes’ Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From, Robert Anton Wilson’s Everything is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-Ups, and Devon Jackson’s Conspiranoia! The Mother of All Conspiracy Theories, dissect the history, nature, and function of phobic fantasies in all their sprawling interconnectedness. Yet conspiracy theories—let’s call them CTs—remain almost routine elements of our socio-political discourse, even if few of their exponents would describe them as such, and even if fewer of us recognize one when we see it. Why?

A lot of CTs’ attractiveness, logicians will say, is in their dexterity at skirting the basic rules of deduction and inference. The world is complicated; many arguable factors contribute to events; CTs simplify things enormously and with great flair. Psychologists might add that the sheer randomness of modern life is so distressing that CTs offer a weirdly reassuring “master narrative” no longer provided by religion. No matter how malevolent the alleged String-Pullers are said to be, they are perhaps less scary than the thought of no String-Pullers at all. And rhetoricians may remind us that CTs are a kind of all-purpose argument winner, inevitably shutting down further debate by invoking sinister, shadowy agents whose very elusiveness confirms their existence and influence. Through all of these—supposition, evasion, innuendo—CTs work, in journalism, education, political activism, and ordinary conversation. But they aren’t infallible: studied carefully, they form patterns, fall into categories, and hide errors of reason and common sense. A brief field guide to their habits may help detect them before they turn dangerous.

Hidden Connection CTs

George H. W. Bush and Osama bin Laden have shared interests in a Saudi oil company. Lee Harvey Oswald was seen in his future killer Jack Ruby’s Dallas nightclub. A numerical translation of Bill Gates’ full name adds up to 666. Or, the synchronicities found in any daily newspaper, e.g. “Unexpected Shutdown of Corruption Inquiry” on page one, and “Lawyer’s Death Called Foul Play” on page ten. As Hidden Connections, such links are essentially twisted chains of circumstantial evidence, whereby any tenuous overlaps of time, place, and incident become proof of deliberate collusion. But all of us are never more than a few relationships removed from everyone else (the so-called “six degrees of separation”), and putative causes and effects are always happening around each other, especially in hindsight; a really compelling Hidden Connection would accurately predict a future event, rather than employing the hindsight bias by stringing together a disparate assortment of dots after the fact. Chance, simultaneity, and accidents are never conceded by Hidden Connection spotters, and their only conclusion is the ultimate hanging question, “Coincidence? You be the judge.” In the court of Hidden Connection CTs, a verdict of “Guilty” is never in doubt.

Manipulated Media CTs

At their most sensible these might reflect the view that print and broadcast news and entertainment outlets have an interest in maintaining a stable, none-too-critical audience of pliant consumers. But towards the fringe the Manipulated Media message is less “Don’t believe everything you hear,” and more “Don’t believe anything you hear,” with the straightforward truth—that trivial material can distract people from serious matters—embellished into a scenario where all information is mere propaganda that obscures government or corporate misdeeds. Implicit here is the assumption of a single entity called “the media” that can be wholly hijacked by a single body, giving us deathless slurs like “The Jews control Hollywood” (did they steal it from the Amish?). Thus the inconvenient responsibility of informing oneself through one or many of the thousands of publicly available news and opinion sources is dismissed. Manipulated Media CTs are a favorite of anyone who hasn’t seen their own ideology spelled out in banner headlines or heard it echo back from the six o’clock news. Nowadays given a wide forum in the free-for-all of the Internet, their odd irony is that it’s only ever through the media that we’re told how spun, suppressed, and censored the media is.

They Know Everything CTs

This posits that important figures behind closed doors instigate or are aware of impending disasters, but allow or encourage them to precipitate some broader, beneficial (to them) outcome. The Iraq war (started by the U.S. to guarantee its oil supply), the September 11 attacks (sanctioned by the CIA to kick start an American pipeline project in Afghanistan) are only the latest fodder for such speculation. Oliver Stone’s film JFK may represent its supreme example. The problem with They Know Everything CTs is that these kinds of elaborately murderous schemes are hardly the most effective or predictable means of steering the tides of history. It has been pointed out, for example, that if Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor but let them proceed because he wanted a pretext for U.S. entry into World War II, why wouldn’t he have prevented the attack at the last minute? Wouldn’t an intercepted “surprise” have produced the same result as a successful one? Similarly, was atomizing several thousand New Yorkers an obvious, practical step to the commercial exploitation of Central Asian gas reserves? And why would the U.S. military shoot down TWA 800 over Long Island, with so many potential witnesses? And would assassinating John F. Kennedy on a sunny afternoon safely ensure his successor’s dragging the U.S. arms industry into a profitable Vietnam War? If They—whoever They are—really Know Everything, would They gamble so big on such catastrophic rolls of the dice? And how good are They at conspiring if Their cover gets blown so easily and so widely?

The blunt truth is that conspiracy theories very seldom make a solid case. Either they play on pre-existing prejudices (how corrupt you already take the government / the media / big business to be), or contradict each other (if the Iraq war is all about Halliburton contracts, then it can’t be about Judeo-Christian millennial fanatics within the Bush administration; if the Mafia killed JFK, then the Freemasons are off the hook), or defy rational dispute (so the more the supposed conspiracy is denied, the more obviously there is one). CTs do not admit the glum, unresolved reality that public and private officials of good will may make single mistakes that spin vast webs of unintended consequences, nor do they allow that the likelihood of a few cynical individuals covertly trumping the infinite variables of human and organizational interaction, and never getting caught at it, is pretty slim. For all their curiously gratifying implications (“We didn’t lose; they cheated,” sums up Daniel Pipes), they permit us to forfeit our rights as engaged, aware citizens by insisting on a permanently skewed, nothing-is-as-it-seems order. If conspirators are running the world, then why bother to read, vote, think, discuss, act, progress? Today, more than ever, we should be demanding straight answers to our questions. Whether or not we think of them as “conspiracy theories,” glib brushoffs about Hidden Connections, about a Manipulated Media, and about how They Know Everything, are no longer good enough.

11 Comments »

11 Comments

  1. Mike L. says:

    Well at least George Case knows everything and serves up a tasty word salad to boot.
    Funny thing about such “skeptics” is they like to point out the folly of others presumption while heaping on their own from the lofty perch of their high horses.
    (Of course while offering no solution at all.)

  2. Ron in Alaska says:

    Mike L. says, “(Of course while offering no solution at all.)”
    Here are a few:
    -Terrorists flew planes into the buildings on 9/11
    -Oswald shot Kennedy
    -Roosevelt was surprised by Pearl Harbor
    Case seems to be simply going with the most logical explanations for these tragic events.
    Not as sexy as vast conspiracies and evil villians, we must admit.
    “Three people can keep a secret … if two of them are dead.”
    … Ben Franklin, (Who, sadly, went to his death before he, Paine and Jefferson could take over the world with keys, kites and new-fangled woodstoves.)

  3. Joseph Friendly says:

    The evidence of controlled demolition on 9/11 is overwhelming!
    The 3 WTC buildings collapsing at about free fall speed is normal
    for controlled demolition but impossible to explain otherwise.
    Burning jet fuel softening steel supports almost simultaneously
    throughout the structures is nonsense.

    LVI Services Incorporated got a $2.65 million Pentagon contract
    around 2000 to develop a nano-thermite spray, then another million
    dollar World Trade Center contract in 2000 supposedly to treat
    their asbestos problem, giving LVI opportunity to freely enter the
    WTC buildings and spray nano-thermite all over the inner spaces
    between floors.

    How else to explain that virtually all the buildings’ concrete
    flooring, office contents, and people were pulverized into an
    unusually fine dust, easily flushed down sewers with water?
    A collapse simply from structural failure would have resulted in
    chunks of concrete, crushed office furniture and people.

    The smoking gun then comes along as a 2009 published scientific
    paper, Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust
    from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe, by Niels H. Harrit,
    Jeffrey Farrer, Steven E. Jones, Kevin R. Ryan, et al finding
    nano-thermite chips in all 4 dust samples of the 9/11 event collected
    at various sites. How else to explain molten iron at the bottom of
    the rubble piles of all 3 buildings except from thermite?

    • James Leers says:

      Joseph Friendly, you are in world of your own. You say the evidence of controlled demolishion is overwhelming? I’d say the evidence of aeroplanes crashing into the buildings is slightly more overwhelming. I saw them. Do you even know what thermite is? Its a 50/50 mix of Iron Oxide and Aluminium Powder. When ignited by a primary agent, like gunpowder, it burns very hot, the oxygen is released from the iron and bonds to the aluminium, releasing energy. Thus, exothermic, self-oxidising reaction. Now here’s the rub: iron and aluminium are present IN ALL BUILDINGS. They are what we humans call BUILDING MATERIALS. So by saying they found evidence of thermite reagents in the towers, your effectively saying the found IRON AND ALUMINIUM in the rubble from towers. Which can be roughly translated to: Upon testing the material from the buildings, they found evidence of building materials. And this is your “overwhelming evidence of controlled demolition”? So far it fails on the demolition front, the controlled front, and the evidence front. It does pass however, on the Your an Idiot front. You flew too close to the sun, on wings made of stupid.

      James.

      • matthew says:

        James Leers is, as usual for the bizarre type of individual that feels the need to rubbish the laws of physics and Chemistry that were working just fine on 11/9/2001, failing to tell the story based on facts. His explanation for the presence of thermite in the dust is inadequate yet he invites people to believe the state story. This is not Skeptism At all. It is sad.

      • Dylan says:

        No plane hit building # 7 ?????

      • Clayton Miller says:

        James,

        The key part of nano-thermite material is that the two components you aforementioned are mixed on a molecular level, hence the name. This creates a different reaction then a aluminum grill off your car and a steel frame that it sits on.
        Nano-thermite is mixed on a nanoparticle level, not a powder.

        Do your research.

  4. Joseph Friendly says:

    Philip Zelikow, who served in the GW Bush administration, first on the transition team from Clinton for national security affairs and was very close to Condoleezza Rice, led an Aspen Security Seminar in April 1998 tellingly entitled, Catastrophic Terrorism, Element of a National Policy, which was published in the Nov/Dec 1998 Foreign Affairs Quarterly. It talks of a terrorist event that might kill “several thousand” which could serve to advance a foreign policy agenda. Several attended the seminar who later served with Zelikow in the Bush Administration, particularly Scooter Libby. The paper reads like the play-book for how the Bush Administration used the 911 tragedy, asserting “911 changed everything.”

    The choice of Zelikow as Executive Directory of the 911 Investigation Commission was over the top. Zelikow hired the investigating attorneys, told them who to interview, edited their reports of interviews, worked closely with the individual he chose to write the final report.

    The investigation refused to even consider the collapse of the buildings as result of controlled demolition. Investigation of insider trading was halted when it was concluded it did not point to Arabs. The Report failed to include much crucial information witnesses claim they provided.

    Philip Shenon’s book on the 911 Commission describes Zelikow starting out the investigation with a prepared draft outline and instructing his secretary not to log his many phone calls from Karl Rove. Zelikow, himself, listed among his skill set after completing that cover-up to include, “creation and maintenance of public myth.”

  5. Jenny Z. says:

    Funny how these so-called “skeptics” like Mr. Case are only skeptical of real skeptics and not the government/corporation spin doctors that consistently tell tall tales and weave fraudulent mythologies in order to garner more power and profit.

    It would appear that “skeptics” like Mr. Case are more interested in shoring up the often fraudulent foundations and bloated sacred cows of their own “intellects” than finding any kind of truth or reason in the greater world.
    He proclaims that the suppositions of others are no longer “good enough” as though he is the standard bearer for rational thought in a position to rate the studies and conclusions of others.
    The smug self aggrandizing tone of the author does little to evoke the gravitas he apparently feels his words carry.

    That said, it is always nice to have yet another “intellectual” point out the blatantly obvious superficial aspects of linguistics for the genuinely curious questioners that they consistently smear with the denigrating label “conspiracy theorist”.

    p.s. Nice straw man insert with the Bill Gates = 666 thing. It is always potent when you stir in the loony fringe bits with legitimate questions and connections. Nice touch.

  6. Ken M says:

    I have real empathy for Jenny Z and Joseph Friendly. They live in a world clouded by uncertainty and danger, and they don’t know how to deal with it. They feel a need to believe that there is a reason that bad stuff happens, and that there is one person to blame. The hard cold truth is that, sometimes stuff just happens. One thing to remember is, “the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.” (Occam’s razor).
    In other words, some poor deluded and brainwashed terrorists hijacked plans and flew them into buildings. With the exception of one plane that was crash landed by real American heroes. The result was death, destruction, and despair. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but like I said, sometimes stuff just happens. Peace to you and yours.

  7. Joseph Friendly says:

    Clayton Miller responded well to James’s comment that aluminum and iron found in the 9/11 dust prove nothing because they are common building materials. Clayton pointed out that what was found in the 9/11 dust and rubble was nano scale mixtures of ferrous oxide and aluminum. I would further add that a look online at Figure 9 of the Niels Harrit paper finding thermitic material in all examined 9/11 dust samples reveals a very high tech form of nano thermite with very tiny uniform cubes of Fe2O3 and perfectly cut very tiny uniform plates of aluminum distributed intimately together in protected chambers of porous glass atop nano ceramic chips. This is what LVI Services apparently developed with their Pentagon contract and then sprayed throughout the WTC towers in 2000 and 2001. This is how virtually all the WTC concrete flooring disappeared into such extraordinarily fine dust.

    I would add further, that the molten iron found present at all 3 rubble sites is strong evidence of thermite which produces pure iron at more than 4000 degrees F when it ignites to cut steel. Altho finding steel at 9/11 sites is no big deal because it is such a common building material, finding iron, particularly molten iron is a very big deal because there is normally no pure iron to be found in modern buildings except possibly some wrought iron furniture. Steel does not turn back into iron just from being heated. So finding molten iron is very strong evidence of thermite and nano thermite used to spectacularly destroy the World Trade Towers and Building 7 as part of a psy op upon the American People so they would accept rule by fear in the name of national security.

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