This spring I was able to secure two online debates with official 9/11 story believers. One with Dave Thomas of New Mexicans for Science and Reason starting in April and the other in June with Dr. Steven Novella of “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” podcast. Both debates had key similarities but also several differences. I learned a good deal during these debates and thank both Thomas and Novella for the opportunity. Both debaters had the tendency to commit logical fallacies and in particular engage in the false accusation of fallacy which is also fallacious. Both also relied on sketchy “evidence” to support their shaky beliefs
In each debate I was subject to certain inequalities that resulted in an unlevelled playing field. The unlevelness was especially apparent in the Novella debate. In both debates it was suggested it best that I go first. Going second in a debate gives an advantage (in staggered debates at least) because you know exactly what your opponent’s position is and what arguments they have used. You can then tailor your response to give yourself an advantage. When you go first, you have to guess what your opponent might argue. Your opponent also gets the last word. Anyway that’s not such a big deal. This was really the only disadvantage in the Thomas YouTube debate which I found to be the most fair. The Novella debate was an entirely different matter. It was suggested it take place on Novella’s blog with comments on. Naively I assumed that although things would be very biased, the comment discussion would remain fairly rational. I was a bit unprepared for monumental onslaught of puerile sophistry that awaited me. I did occasionally notice a few thoughtful intelligent comments but any others would be awash amid the broiling fetid sea of unbridled stupidity, raving insanity and Machiavellian psychopathy. From the outset too, this debate was spun away from the science and towards the emotionally loaded term “conspiracy”. You can see in my opening statement that for me this was a “debate on which explanation of the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers (WTC 1 and WTC 2) on 9/11 is more scientific, the official US Government explanation or the controlled demolition explanation”. Novella instead labelled it the “9/11 Conspiracy Debate”. This is what is referred to as poisoning the well or presenting adverse information in order to pre-emptively discredit the opponent. This works for “skeptics” because they “know” that all conspiracies are false and all “conspiracy theorists” are crackpots even though the official 9/11 story involves a monumental highly intricate conspiracy by members of al Qaeda to demolish buildings by ramming planes into them. These are the sort of underhanded tactics serious 9/11 skeptics like myself have to contend with. Typically the only way we can garner high profile debates is on such unlevelled playing fields.
First let’s start with the good things. I did learn a few things which did surprise me. I think Dave Thomas really wins here. He actually did some interesting experiments and even made a model to support his position. From Novella I became better acquainted with the important notion of special pleading. I now see more clearly how special pleading is a huge part of what pathological skepticism is all about: demanding the use of the scientific method and critical thinking for unpopular claims but ignoring it for the consensus claims they unquestioning subscribe to. Now, Novella didn’t really seem to understand what special pleading was and he bandied the term about assuming no one would notice. In session IV he claimed that I had engaged in special pleading twice. The first time he merely proclaims this without explaining how. The second time he uses a staccato of pronouncements and appeals to incredulity: “Michael is arguing that controlled demolition was used to bring down the towers, and that such demolition was silent, invisible, installed without anyone noticing, using devices not found in the rubble, and with timing that is simply not possible.” I never argued the controlled demolition (CD) was silent or invisible. If it’s Novella that believes it would have to be, he is not supporting his beliefs. Why could CD devices not be installed with no one noticing? He doesn’t say, preferring to appeal to peoples’ inability to imagine otherwise. Similarly why was the timing impossible? We only get faith-based pronouncements. Why would CD devices be found in the rubble if virtually everything but the structural steel was pulverized into ultra-fine dust? If the buildings came down like the official story claims there would be telltale evidence on the structural steel. Why were no columns with such evidence found in the rubble? I think you can see where the special pleading is really occurring.
On to the bad surprises. Although I constantly experience it I’m still always surprised how mainstream skeptics have such a flimsy grasp of logic and in particular logical fallacies. Thankfully it seems both Thomas and Novella have a fairly good understanding of ad hominem so I saw no real attacks from them on me personally, just my arguments. Many of Novella’s rabid foaming-at-the-mouth commenters are another matter. Both debaters though clearly still haven’t mastered the notion of a straw man. Much of their arguing involved subtly misrepresenting my arguments so that they could be more easily attacked. In particular, they seemed very fond of misrepresenting my arguments as containing logical fallacies.
A really big surprise was that Dr. Novella apparently doesn’t even seem to understand what a fallacy actually is. You can see that in one of the comments he made where he states that informal fallacies “are not strictly invalid”. He also claimed here that the appeal to authority fallacy is not invalid “if it is a broad consensus of a scientific community hammered out with evidence and debate arriving at a confident conclusion”. In fact, in logic a fallacy is always a failure in reasoning that renders an argument (not the conclusion) invalid. In other words, contrary to Novella’s belief, fallacies always involve invalid arguments. With formal fallacies the argument is wrong due to a defect in form or structure. Informal fallacies are arguments that have a flaw in content. So again, despite Novella’s belief, an appeal to authority fallacy is always an invalid argument no matter which or how many authorities are involved. Novella’s support for his belief is another fallacy: appeal to consensus. Claiming something is true because a consensus of experts says it is true is always an invalid argument. We know this because history shows us that the consensus of experts is wrong time and time again. Just one example, the consensus once believed that butter was bad for your heart and margarine was far better. Now the consensus is that the hydrogenated oils used in margarines are many times worse for your heart than butter ever was. Again, this sort of highly flawed understanding of valid argumentation is a big clue to pathological skepticism and the pathological skeptic’s tendency towards scientism. I suspect all mainstream skeptics tend to see appeals to authority and appeals to consensus to be entirely valid. You continually see that theme in debates such as these. Because they cannot defend against the science, they must always resort to the same logical fallacies over and over.
What was no surprise was that neither debater actually dealt with my core argument. How could they? It’s the simplest argument you could imagine. There is no valid evidence to support the official story. What they have are “evidencey” “sciencey” analyses that contain serious flaws and cannot explain key observations. Any analysis of an event is a proposed explanation or hypothesis. To be scientific these hypotheses must follow the scientific method. But according to the scientific method taught to grade five students, if there are observations that your explanation cannot explain or do not predict, this proves your explanation is wrong. They don’t deal with this damning point for the same reason criminals tend not to admit to their crimes.
In conclusion, I think these two debates were extremely important. They show us how official story believers ignore evidence and the scientific method in order to maintain their comforting but illusory belief system. We see how they rely on specious “evidence”, evidence that at first seems valid but on careful inspection is entirely baseless. We see how they “debunk” evidence-backed explanations by providing more prosaic but evidence-less explanations. We see how they attempt to manipulate the observers’ understanding by continually engaging in deceptive logical fallacies. I hope you see how vitally important it is to confront and expose pseudo-science like the official 9/11 story which continues to cause such horrific damage the world over.
1. “Intro: A Debate between Vernon 9/11 Truth and NMSR” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RO4uOE9R7s
2. Michael Fullerton, “9/11 Conspiracy Debate – Part I”, NeuroLogica Blog, June 16, 2014 http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/911-conspiracy-debate-part-i/
3. Steven Novella, “9/11 Conspiracy Debate – Part IV”, NeuroLogica Blog, July 7, 2014 http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/911-conspiracy-debate-part-iv/
4. Steven Novella, June 22, 2014 [7:44 a.m.] comment on Michael Fullerton, “9/11 Conspiracy Debate – Part I”, NeuroLogica Blog, June 16, 2014 http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/911-conspiracy-debate-part-i/#comment-78897