9/11 Scholars Forum

Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths

IS "9/11 Truth" based upon a false theory? II




Critique of Steven Jones

Perhaps my strongest critique of Steve’s work occurred by accident. On May 17, 2007, my scheduled guest on “The Dynamic Duo”, Don Paul, was a no-show and I had to wing it for two hours. So for the first part of the show, I talked about my collaborative research on the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone and on the assassination of JFK. During the second part, however, I focused my attention on a new paper he had just published, “Why indeed did the World Trade Center buildings completely collapse?” A copy can be found on the Journal of 9/11 Studies 3 (2006), which I suppose is a close facsimile of the paper I discussed, although Steve has sometimes revised his work on-line without formal notice. In my critique, I pointed out that the title was wrong, since the buildings had not “collapsed” and that he was talking about the Twin Towers, but my more serious criticisms concerned his deeply flawed conception of the scientific method and what I regarded as inadequate support for his thermite/thermate/nanothermite theory, “On the Manipulation of the 9/11 Research Community”. Here are a few passages for the flavor:

“Don’t forget that eleven hundred bodies were never recovered. Eleven hundred bodies were never recovered. Those were bodies that were turned into very fine dust. Never recovered. That’s completely inconsistent with a “collapse”. Even involving explosive, you would expect to find body parts, even if they were detached from bodies. And you’d find lots of skulls and torsos and arms and legs, but here we’re talking eleven hundred bodies, no parts of which were recovered. This is stunning stuff. And it certainly implies that something was going on here far beyond the use of any merely conventional explosives.

“But what’s going on in the research community is an attempt to constrain research that would actually have the capacity potentially to explain what’s going on. By reaching beyond conventional weaponry in to the range of unconventional weaponry, such as lasers, masers, plasmoids, mini-nukes. I mean, who knows in advance of actually conducting an investigation that theories or hypotheses about the use of lasers or masers or mini-nukes are wrong? You can’t know that without investigation. And I’m going to suggest that a gigantic hoax is being perpetrated on the research community by the claim that [the] scientific method supports this very narrow definition of the use of thermite and thermate . . . .

“. . . where I have now taken a look at the latest paper of the leading proponent of that view, Steven Jones, and it doesn’t add up. I mean it may be impressive to those who are naïve about the nature of science and who are incapable of reading a paper that has the least degree of technical sophistication to it, but I’m going to suggest to you as we go through this paper that what we have here is a rather elaborate “snow job”, where the most important points made are actually concessions that the evidence he has found is merely consistent with the use of thermite or thermate but doesn’t prove it was produced by thermite or thermate, where, provided that there are multiple alternative possible explanations, he has not done the job. And I’m going to claim that he has not done the job because he has a commitment to a conception of scientific method that is hopelessly inadequate. Hopelessly inadequate. And that while he talks a lot about science, he is, alas, not practicing it.”

Jones’ maintains that the scientific method is a process of observation, formulating an hypothesis, performing tests and experiments, and then publishing the results in a peer-reviewed journal. That’s wrong, because science cannot simply begin with observation (since there is too much we could observe) and it cannot proceed by studying one hypothesis at a time. Science is a process of puzzlement (because something doesn’t fit into your background knowledge), speculation (by identifying the alternative hypotheses that might explain the data), adaptation (of hypotheses to data by calculating and comparing their likelihoods), and explanation (by accepting the hypothesis with the highest likelihood when the evidence has “settled down”, in the tentative and fallible fashion of science). His inadequate methodology derives from the failure to grasp that scientific research requires the comparison of alternative hypotheses and cannot focus only on one.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic“Houston, we have a problem!”

The most glaring empirical failure of the then-current version of his paper is that he finally gets around to talking about barium nitrate, and by the time you reach the final page, he has acknowledged that what he is talking about is not actually thermite but what he calls a “thermite analog”, which he does not actually define, and he admits that thermite, which he now calls “TH3”, is an analog of thermite that contains sulfur and barium nitrate and now he talks about thermite “as defined here”. It turns out thisbarium-nitrate-containing thermite is the military grade thermite that he has been using to demonstrate the effectiveness of thermite, illustrated by the use of a thermite grenade on the top of an engine block. But no barium nitrate has been found in the analysis of the chemical residue in the analysis of the dust by Steven Jones or by the US Geological Survey. So in this version, he has pulled a bait-and-switch. Looking at the current version on-line, however, barium nitrate is mentioned on page 19 but not at the end of his paper, which means that it has been revised since I critiqued it.

I am not the only one to have evaluated that version of his paper in caustic, negative terms, since a complementary critique comes from Stephen Phillips, “A Physicist Critiques Steven Jones’ New Paper” (May 21, 2007), where the present version is clearly not the same as the one he and I were addressing—a reflection of which may be that he actually includes my name in the acknowledgements! So let’s look at the conclusion of the current version and consider what he says there:

“Remarkably, the controlled-demolition hypothesis accounts for all the available data rather easily. The core columns (and corner perimeter columns) on floors damaged by the planes are cut near-simultaneously using radio-signaled explosives/incendiary-cutters. In this scenario, cutter-charges were set every two or three floors during routine “maintenance” of elevator shafts, etc., so that the cutting sequence could be matched in a controlling computer to begin at the level where the plane entered each Tower. Next cutter-charges were detonated from the top downward for the Towers, ejecting beams and material long distances horizontally as observed during the destruction. The “collapses” are thus near-symmetrical, complete, at near-free-fall speeds with accompanying “squibs”. Thermite analogs (whose end product is molten iron) including the explosive form, nano-thermite, may account for the molten metal which then pooled beneath the rubble piles as well as the sulfidation observed in steel from both the WTC 7 and Towers rubble piles (points 1 and 2 above). WTC 7 evidently proceeded in a more conventional fashion for controlled demolition, with collapse-initiating explosions starting on lower floors (rather than at high-floor levels as for the Towers).”

Notice that, like Architects & Engineers and David Ray Griffin, Steve is attributing vast powers to thermite in its “explosive” nanothermite form, including the capacity to eject steel beams and materials long distances horizontally “as observed during the destruction”. He appeals to “thermite analogs” whose end product is molten iron—“including the explosive form, nanothermite”—may account for the molten metal that pooled beneath the rubble piles, where WTC-7, he acknowledges, “evidently proceeded in a more conventional fashion for controlled demolition”, beginning on the lower floors rather than from the top. This is well and good and moves in the right direction. But can even these claims for nanothermite be sustained? It appears that they cannot.

Nanothermite: A Feeble Explosive

I has been my great pleasure over the past twelve months or more to participate in a research group focusing on the properties of thermite in all its original, thermate and nanothemite forms. We were aided and abetted in this process by contributions from Daniel Fairchild, a Vietnam veteran experienced in dealing with explosives, who was my guest on “The Real Deal” on

, an interview that stimulated our thinking about how explosives work and how they might have been employed on 9/11. While some of his numbers struck us as faulty, Dan’s work motivated T. Mark Hightower, an engineer who has worked in the chemical industry and the space program—including with NASA for 21 years—to undertake a search of the open technical literature on nanothermite to determine its explosive potential in comparison to other explosives.

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What Mark discovered was surprising, especially given the extent to which leading figures of the 9/11 Truth movement have promoted it. The highest degree of explosiveness for iron oxide/aluminum nanothermite—the chemical form claimed to have been involved in WTC destruction—that Mark could find documented in the technical literature has a detonation velocity of only 895 m/s (or meters per second). Since TNT, the universal standard for comparison, has a detonation velocity of 6,900 m/s, the explosive potential of thermite in its most potent form of nanothermite is acutely disappointing. When we divide the velocity of nanothermite by that for TNT (895/6,900), it turns out nanothermite is not even 13% as powerful as TNT. (See “Table of Explosive Velocities” from Wikipedia.)

As Mark has explained in a blog, “Has nanothermite been oversold to the 9/11 Truth community?”, and an interview on “The Real Deal”

, 895 m/s is obviously too low of a value to account for the explosive effects observed in the catastrophic destruction of the WTC Twin Towers, including turning concrete and other materials into dust or separating and propelling steel members and other materials outward. Comparisons with the detonation velocities of conventional high explosives, such as 8,750 m/s for RDX or 9,100 m/x for HMX (not to mention 8,040 m/s for C-4 and 8,400 m/s for PETN), it is clear that nanothermite is not even in the same ballpark. While thermite in one or another of its guises as a rapid incendiary could have been used to sever or pre-weaken steel members, this low velocity melting process is a totally different mechanism for the cutting of steel than the shock wave method that requires detonation velocities of at least 3,200 m/s for concrete and 6,100 m/s for steel.

With respect to the demolition of the Twin Towers and blowing them to bits, low-explosive nanothermite, which does exist, can be eliminated as an hypothesis because it is ineffective. High-explosive nanothermite as an alternative can be eliminated because it simply does not exist. Mark therefore concludes that the phrase, “explosive nanothermite”, when used to describe the causal mechanism for demolishing the Twin Towers is either seriously misleading under a charitable interpretation and at worst deliberately deceptive under an uncharitable one. Either way, conventional or unconventional explosives would have had to be combined with thermite, even in its nanothermite form. And if such a blend had been employed, the nanothermite would function more as an additive to high explosives rather than as the main ingredient itself.

The Nanothermite Challenge

On May 1, 2011, Hightower published, “The Nanothermite Challenge”, as part of a longer study, “Has nanothermite been oversold to the 9/11 Truth community?”. The challenge comes to this:

“Find and document peer-reviewed scientific research [publications] that demonstrate that a gas-generating nanothermite (GGNT) based upon iron (III) oxide (Fe2O3) and aluminum (Al), where the gas-generating chemical added to the nanothermite is not itself a high explosive, can be made to be a high explosive with at least a detonation velocity of 2000 m/s. The author of this paper will donate [to AE911Truth] $100 for every 1000 m/s of detonation velocity that can be documented, the donation not to exceed $1,000.”

The deadline date of June 20, 2011 passed with not even one entry to this contest. Interestingly, Kevin Ryan posted an article at 911blogger that very day entitled “The explosive nature of nanothermite”. In this article, Ryan admits that they know very little about the role that nanothermite played in 9/11.

“Although we know that nanothermite has been found in the WTC dust, we do not know what purpose it served in the deceptive demolition of the WTC buildings. It could be that the nanothermite was used simply to drive fires in the impact zones and elevator areas – fires which would otherwise have gone out too early or not been present at all – and thereby create the deception that jet fuel-induced fires could wreak the havoc seen. Nanothermite might also have been used to produce the explosions necessary to destroy the structural integrity of the buildings.”

In Ryan’s paper he cites (what he claims to be) “ten references to the fact that nanothermites can be made to be explosive.” During my interview with Mark Hightower of

, on “The Real Deal”, however, Mark refuted every one of Ryan’s ten references. Let me document just one especially interesting example of those refutations here. Ryan’s reference 4 states,

“A high explosive creates a shockwave that always travels at high, supersonic velocity from the point of origin. This paper describes how – ‘the reaction of the low density nanothermite composite leads to a fast propagating combustion, generating shock waves with Mach numbers up to 3.’”

All you need to do is go to the title of this paper to see that it is not relevant to the nanothermite hypothesis advanced by Jones, Ryan, Griffin and Harrit, among others, because it is for the wrong chemical form of thermite. The Twin Towers destruction allegedly involved the use of iron oxide/aluminum nanothermite, but in this paper, “Generation of fast propagating combustion and shock waves with copper oxide/aluminum nanothermite composities”, Applied Physics Letters (2007), we have copper oxide/aluminum nanothermite. Although not the main thrust of the paper, it gives a qualified reference to iron oxide/aluminum nanothermiteresearch. It says,

“Recently, we reported that higher combustion wave speeds were achieved for the composites of ordered porous Fe2O3 oxidizer and Al nanoparticles (5) as compared with the one containing porous oxidizer with no ordering of the pores and Al nanoparticles.”

Unfortunately no velocities are given, so it was necessary to go to the reference (5) cited in this paper to find more data, which Mark has done. The information for the reference (5) paper is as follows: Mehendale, Bhushan , Shende, Rajesh , Subramanian, Senthil , Gangopadhyay, Shubhra , Redner, Paul , Kapoor, Deepak and Nicolich, Steven(2006) ‘Nanoenergetic Composite of Mesoporous Iron Oxide and Aluminum Nanoparticles’,Journal of Energetic Materials, 24: 4, 341 — 360

On page 357, there is a graph, where the highest velocities (referred to as “burn rates” on the graph) are reported for the specified iron oxide/aluminum nanothermites. Those velocities are all less than 300 m/s, which iseven less than the 895 m/s that Mark Hightower has established for iron/oxide aluminum nanothermite. It is safe to say that nothing revealed by Kevin Ryan provides an adequate response to “the nanothermite challenge”.

Replies from Researchers

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that nanothermite could not live up to its capabilities as they have been advanced by Steven Jones, Kevin Ryan, and others, who regard themselves as the custodians and only true practitioners of the scientific method in 9/11 research. Thus, Denis Spitzer et al., “Energetic nano-materials: Opportunities for enhanced performances”..., where, given the crucial role of the rapid expansion of gases to perform work by explosives, states, “Gas generating nano-thermites: Thermites are energetic materials, which do not release gaseous species when they decompose. However, explosives can be blended in thermites to give them blasting properties”, which implies that, unless supplemented with explosives, nanothermites are not explosive.

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In his efforts to inform prominent researchers about his discoveries, Mark wrote to Steven Jones, Richard Gage, and others. Dwain Deets, the former Chief of Research Engineering and Director for Aeronautical Projects at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, wrote to Mark and told him that he had listened to our interview on “The Real Deal” and said: “Excellent interview. A step toward trimming back claims that overshoot the evidence.” He also sent a diagram illustrating certain detonation velocities as well as the sonic (speed of sound) velocities in various materials. Thus, for a high explosive to significantly fragment a material, its detonation velocity has to be greater than the speed of sound in that material, which requires a detonation velocity of at least 3,200 m/s to fragment concrete and 6,100 m/s to fragment steel–far beyond 895 m/s for nanothermite.

On July 7, 2011, Hightower received emails from both David Ray Griffin and Richard Gage. Gage wrote back that “it [nanothermite] should not be called a ‘high’ explosive”. Griffin made a similar suggestion and, in reply, Mark observed that calling it simply “an explosive” would convey to most members of the public that it is “a high explosive” or, given it’s invocation by the “hard evidence” crowd, at least, has the ability to disintegrate concrete and even steel. Since that is the impression that has been indelibly implanted in the consciousness of the public, within and without the 9/11 Truth movement, until that claim is corrected, the 9/11 Truth movement will be based upon a provably false theory.

Griffin himself, of course, is not a scientist and is relying upon the work of Jones, Ryan, and others. But when he wrote back, “We are happy with our formulation, that it can be tailored to work as an incendiary or [as] an explosive. We cannot be responsible for the fact that many people may equate ‘explosive’ with ‘high explosive’”, his answer raised a number of rather disturbing questions about the ethical implications of allowing these enormously misleading impressions to linger:

(1) Will Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth inform the public that it has misrepresented the potential for “explosive nanothermite”?; and,

(2) If nanothermite only exists as a low explosive, that it cannot “hold the key” to the destruction of the Twin Towers, as has been claimed?; and,

(3) Will A&E admit that nanothermite cannot possibly be the “smoking gun” of 9/11 research, when the hard evidence contradicts that claim?

The 9/11 Truth Dilemma

Once again, as in the case of the Pentagon crash site and the question of “planes/no planes”, serious students of 9/11 are placed in a dilemma. If they are committed to truth, as the name “9/11 Truth” implies, then they have to confront the fact that claims advanced on behalf the nanothermite hypothesis—that the scientific key to understanding the demolition of the Twin Towers is the use of the nano-version of thermite—cannot be sustained. When the detonation velocity of nanothermite is only 895 m/s, while TNT has a detonation velocity of 6,900 m/s, the explosive potential of thermite—even in its most potent form as nanothermite—is more than acutely disappointing. When it turns out nanothermite is not even 13% as powerful as TNT, the very idea that nanothermite should “hold the scientific key to understanding what happened to the Twin Towers” is simply absurd.

But shouldn’t the leaders of a self-proclaimed 9/11 “scientific research” group have sorted this out before they proclaimed that nanothermite was “the key”? As Mark has observed in his study, Steve Jones made a mistake early in his 9/11 research career by classifying nanothermite as an explosive in the same category with RDX, HMX, and others, whose detonation velocities are overwhelmingly greater. Alas, “The 9/11 truth movement has never recovered from from this error, for to this day nearly everyone in the 9/11 movement refers to ‘explosive nanothermite’, as even this clever cover for a fictitious ‘For Dummies’ book [above] illustrates.” And shouldn’t those who were promoting it to the community have discovered their blunder and taken steps to correct the false impression that they were thereby conveying?

My critique of Steve Jones’ research, “On the manipulation of the 9/11 Truth Community”, in which I observed, for example, that “the most important points [he has] made are actually concessions that the evidence he has found is merely consistent with the use of thermite or thermate but doesn’t prove it was produced by thermite or thermate, where, provided that there are multiple alternative possible explanations, he has not done the job. And I’m going to claim that he has not done the job because he has a commitment to a conception of scientific method that is hopelessly inadequate. . . . And that while he talks a lot about science, he is, alas, not practicing it”, was presented on the air on on May 17, 2007. It was even published on 911blogger, but met with derision and hostility, where the comments were extremely revealing.

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And there were other signs of trouble brewing. The Rock Creek Free Press (May 2009), for example, published a piece about nanothermite, which offered a more reasonable assessment of its explosive capabilities, explaining that even if it has the potential to be a low grade explosive, its use as a high explosive—which might be capable of doing the work required to bring about (at least a major part of) the destruction of the Twin Towers—would require that it be combined with a high explosive. Surely this front-page article, which featured photos of Neils Harrit, Jeffrey Farrer, Kevin Ryan, and Steve Jones, ought to have caught the attention of the leaders of the “hard-evidence” research group.

Even now, after the publication of “Has nanothermite been oversold to the 9/11 Truth community?”, some of its most important advocates, such as Steven Jones, Kevin Ryan, and Neils Harrit, remain its obdurate supporters. There are signs that others may be more appreciative of the significance of these considerations, where recent handouts from Architechts & Engineers for 9/11 Truth advance the slightly more modest claim, “WTC dust samples contain chips of highly energetic nano-thermite composite materials – uniformly nano-sized, proportioned in an organic gas-generating (explosive) matrix”, which appears to be the fallback position:nanothermite may not be explosive, but it can be combined with explosives to make it explosive. The same, alas, can also be said of toothpaste. At some point, therefore, these “leaders” of the 9/11 Truth movement have to concede that a mistake was made and that they have misled the movement: nanothermite cannot possibly hold the key to understanding the demolition of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

James H. Fetzer is a former Marine Corps officer, the founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, and a columnist for VT. 

T. Mark Hightower has worked as an engineer for nearly 30 years, initially in the chemical industry, then in the space program for NASA, and currently in the environmental field, also with NASA. He is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). His research on 9/11 is an exercise of his Constitutional rights as a private citizen and in no way represents his employer or any of the professional societies of which he is a member. 

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