September 8, 2006

A tale of two conspiracy theorists.

The Deseret Morning News reports:
Brigham Young University placed physics professor Steven Jones on paid leave Thursday while it reviews his involvement in the so-called "9/11 truth movement" that accuses unnamed government agencies of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center....

[Jones has spoken] publicly about research conducted at BYU on materials from ground zero. He said he found evidence of thermite — a compound used in military detonations — in the materials.

In recent weeks, after becoming the co-chairman of the group Scholars for 9/11 Truth, Jones seemed willing to go further, implicating unnamed government groups but not President Bush....

"BYU has repeatedly said that it does not endorse assertions made by individual faculty," the [University's official] statement said. "We are, however, concerned about the increasingly speculative and accusatory nature of these statements by Dr. Jones."

Last fall, BYU faculty posted statements on the university Web site that questioned whether Jones subjected the paper to rigorous academic peer review before he posted it at physics.byu.edu. Jones removed the paper from BYU's Web site Thursday at the university's request....

Jones, also known for his cold fusion research, provided academic clout to the 9/11 truth movement...
Meanwhile, back in Madison, the Capital Times covered the first day of class taught by the UW's 9/11 conspiracy theorist:
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began. "Students, auditors and journalists. Welcome to Conspiracy Theories 370." The room erupted in applause before he shouted "Not!"

Getting real, he added: "This is a class on the religion and culture of Islam."...

On Tuesday, Barrett talked about the fundamentals of Islam and the course. The religion is the fastest growing in the world, as well as the United States, he said. There will be jobs for people who understand Islam and know how to interact with Muslims.

"You will learn something in this class that will have some career potential for you, which is rare among the humanities," he quipped.

He focused on religion and culture. In talking about religion, he asked students for definitions and wrote several words on the blackboard: belief, structure, control, symbol, rules, code, and morality....

Courtney Schiesher, a senior from Chicago, said Barrett was a lively lecturer. She said his personal views on the terrorist attacks do not sour her toward him.

"If he thinks that far outside the box, he also has some other interesting ideas to provoke student discussion," she said. "I'm looking forward to attending the rest of the classes."
BYU and UW are very different places, but there are many other factors that can account for the different treatment. One is the fact that Barrett is just a part-time adjunct with a one semester contract, while Jones is a tenured professor. Another is that Jones is in a Physics department, wielding the authority of the hard sciences. Barrett's course is in a department called Languages and Cultures of Asia, and the standards of what you can say under the rubric "culture" seem to rather lax everywhere. It's just the humanities...

UPDATE: You're wondering how many students showed up for Barrett's class? About 200.

23 comments:

joeschmo1of3 said...

Holy cow! This is the Dr. Jones who came up with the cold fusion fiasco in the early 90's? Now things make a lot more sense with this physicist supporting the conspiracy theories.

Mike said...

"Jones, also known for his cold fusion research, provided academic clout to the 9/11 truth movement..." (emphasis added)

Yeah. Right.

The Drill SGT said...

Ann said...
BYU and UW are very different places, but there are many other factors that can account for the different treatment. One is the fact that Barrett is just a part-time adjunct with a one semester contract, while Jones is a tenured professor. Another is that Jones is in a Physics department, wielding the authority of the hard sciences. Barrett's course is in a department called Languages and Cultures of Asia, and the standards of what you can say under the rubric "culture" seem to rather lax everywhere


I read that differently. You have a full tenured professor in nuclear physics making analysis claims that are arguably in his field who is disciplined by his public university for their lack of substance. You have a part time non-tenured instructor of religion making the same wild claims in a field he has NO competence in, and the public university thinks his actions are within the freedom to speak and research framework of academic discourse. The analogy would hold up better if the instructor-university positions were reversed.

BYU is doing the right thing, and demonstrating that UW has completely abandoned rational scientific method based research.

Icepick said...

One is the fact that Barrett is just a part-time adjunct with a one semester contract, while Jones is a tenured professor.

This is the reason why I could never get worked up about the Barrett situation. Should the administrators in charge of hiring done a bit more research on Barrett before hiring him? Probably. But he has a one semester contract! Any potential problems that might develop could have been caught, and corrected, well before he was given a more permanent job, much less tenure. (The most likely correction here is that Barrett won't be given a new contract.) And that's exactly what happened. The system worked!

The case of Prof. Jones is more troubling. How do you get rid of a tenured professor that's gone off his rocker?

Kirk said...

Just a clarification, Dr. Jones was not one of the scientists who announced that he accomplished cold fusion in 1989. That claim was made by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons at the University of Utah.

Gaius Arbo said...

Actually Jones did announce he thought he had produced fusion, but that it was not ever going to be of any practical use.

Jones also wrote a paper "proving" Jesus Christ had visited the Mayans citing carvings that appear to show a hole in the hands of deities.

He is not tenured, by the way, Ms. Althouse. BYU does not use tenure. One of the more sane things I have seen in academia, frankly.

Mike said...

I'm doing this from memory. As I recall, there were two groups in Utah working on cold fusion (there must be something in the water out there). Pons and Fleischmann were spooked into announcing earlier than they had planned in order to scoop Jones. (If you can call reporting erroneous results first a scoop. More like an oops.)

F15C said...

Prof. Jones basis for believing the WTC was downed by explosives was his analysis of steel from the site that had traces of thermite.

Thermite is used in some high temp explosives and is also used in welding structural steel. Thermite is a common artifact on girders in buildings. In some pictures of the WTC cleanup, you can clearly see what appears (according to experts) thermite residue on many beams - which is to be expected.

The thermite could have come from explosives or welding. You choose which you think most likely and see if you agree with Prof. Jones or not.

SaysMeow said...

Barrett's classroom has about 240 seats. How many actual students showed up? (And, how many will return for the second meeting?)

SippicanCottage said...
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Palladian said...

"Hey! I thought I was the Vice-President in charge of thermite around here"

No, you're the Vice-President in charge of Vegemite. A little secretarial error.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began. "Students, auditors and journalists. Welcome to Conspiracy Theories 370." The room erupted in applause before he shouted "Not!"

Gee, he seems to be already enjoying his taxpayer funded propaganda forum. What's with the applause? UW-Madison should be proud.

The Deseret Spectacle said...

Simply saying Jones claimed impractical fusion is misleading. More accurately, he demonstrated an effect called muon-catalyzed fusion, which provided evidence that nuclear processes can occur in room temperature experiments.

The peer reviewers of 'cold fusion' who castigated Pons and Fleischmann didn't have any criticism for Jones. In fact, the reviewers stated he was a "careful scientist."

But now he's questioning conclusions drawn by the government. Must be a WACKO.

DS

Badger Down Under said...

Here's where the conspiracy theorists will switch tacks: up to now, they've claimed that having proponents on the faculty of major universities is evidence that the conspiracy is true. Now that Jones has been put on leave because BYU finds his theories wacko -- the theorists will claim that his repudiation is evidence that the conspiracy is true.

I have a headache.

Kayle said...

I don't know if thermite is commonly found on building girders, but thermite is merely a mixture of aluminum and iron oxide (e.g. rust), and I would not be surprised to find a large building to have lots of both on hand, so I have to wonder how he ruled out the iron and aluminum having come into contact at some time other than at the start.

Ok, I just checked on wikipedia, and thermite is often used for welding, so I suspect signs of thermite and its use would be found on the WTC.

altoids1306 said...

It's just the humanities...

Heh. My sentiments exactly.

WRT cold fusion - it's one of those things I hope is true. I took a class with a prof who works on cold fusion, he taught the entire class without mentioning it once, then spent the last lecture telling us why he's not wasting his time.

Basically he has a series of interesting results, although the fact that all this data is being collected by those with a sizable interest in cold fusion makes the data inherently suspect. But cold fusion is now getting some DOE funding (5 million a year, I think), and who knows, it might just work. But I don't believe it enough to stick my neck out and work on it myself.

SippicanCottage said...
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noah said...

Aren't the conspiracy theories pretty much obsolete whatever their factual basis now that AQ has released a video showing a planning meeting for the attack?

And BTW the same meeting alledgedly has them complaining about the plight of Chechen and Albanian muslims as reasons for the 9/11 attacks! Not complaining about troops in Saudi Arabia or the oppression of Palestinians! Ooops there goes another "root causes" theory!!!

Ann Althouse said...

Noah: When you reason conspiracy-style, you take that fact and think of why that would fit the theory. The videos could be fake or the AQ guys could be part of the conspiracy or somehow duped. And anyway part of the theory is that the planes didn't bring down the buildings. The planes were part of a trick to make us think they did bring down the buildings. Don't ask why! I mean, we'd have been angry enough about the planes even if the buildings hadn't collapsed...

SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Sippican: Well, now that you mention it, the sentence is just badly done. You can't write "200 media." Since it doesn't say "members of the media" or something, I assumed 200 went with "students." You can't read it as "200 media and students."

SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

If the journalists were a predominate part of the crowd, that would have been a very deceptive way to talk about it, very ineffective too. I think we can assume the number of journalists wasn't overwhelming. The other press reports I've seen don't exclaim over the number of journalists.

Kent said...

A couple of nits.

The statement that BYU has no tenure is not entirely correct. BYU has something called "continuing status" that is similar to tenure except in one respect: Because the University is owned and supported by the LDS Church, a professor who attacks the Church or its religious doctrines is subject to dismissal.

Any other controversial research, statements, or publications enjoy protection approaching that of tenured professors elsewhere. Were it not so, BYU would probably not be able to maintain accreditation. If Jones is dismissed for his 9/11 conspiracy theories, it will be on grounds of professional misconduct, such as falsifying data.

Jones was respectable enough prior to the cold fusion research. His work on muon-catalyzed fusion is interesting and, so far as I know, is not seriously questioned. It is also not a road to cheap energy. His work on palladium-catalyzed fusion ("cold fusion") made far less extravagant claims that Pons and Fleishmann, but still far more extravagant than theory predicted. He claimed a signal barely above the noise level -- which should have been a red flag, because of the remarkable coincidence that the signal was ten orders of magnitude above theoretical predictions, but not the additional half an order of magnitude that would have brought it unambiguously out of the background noise for the apparatus Jones had available.

I think the view of Jones among the cognoscenti in the nuclear physics community, while certainly not odious in the manner of Pons and Fleischmann, had become not terribly favorable even before he jumped on the moonbat wagon. (Or is it the wingnut wagon? At the extremes, one can no longer tell ...)

And I don't agree that expertise in nuclear physics has any relevance to 9/11. No one is claiming a nuke was used to bring the towers down. Not yet, anyway. Jones has yet to convince me that he has any credible expertise in civil engineering or demolitions, which are very different fields. Some of his statements, such as the thermite canard, rather strongly suggest otherwise. It is, however, highly characteristic of physicists to believe that, since they understand nuclear fusion, they are automatically capable of understanding everything else. (I say this as a physicist who has also been guilty, at times, of similar arrogance.)

I watched a documentary on Flight 93 last night that included numerous interviews with witnesses and surviving family members, tape recordings, and so on. Though it wasn't particularly aimed at debunking any conspiracy theories, it certainly brought home forcefully to me how implausible the conspiracy theories are. I found myself cursing Jones and hating the way he is besmirching the reputation of my alma mater. I'm glad to see the University making the effort to distance itself from him.