A Critical Review of James Fetzer's
Thinking about "Conspiracy Theories": 9/11 and JFK
Version 1.0, Feb. 6, 2006
James Fetzer's paper
'Thinking about "Conspiracy Theories": 9/11 and JFK' [pdf]
is one of three "peer-reviewed" papers featured on the
In his paper, Fetzer discusses details of what he considers
"the two most important conspiracies in our history" --
"those involving JFK and 9/11."
The purpose of this critique is to evaluate Fetzer's treatment
of the events of 9/11/01.
I will not comment on Fetzer's analysis of the JFK assassination,
nor on his preceding sections, "Scientific Reasoning," and
"Probabilities and Likelihoods."
In considering the events of 9/11/01, Fetzer considers only two issues:
whether the total collapses of WTC 1, 2, and 7
were caused by the jetliner crashes and fires,
and whether the Pentagon attack involved a Boeing 757.
Fetzer fails to acknowledge
the many anomalies in the official account
beyond those two issues.
Since Fetzer's analysis only summarizes the work of others
on the WTC collapse and Pentagon strike issues,
it is difficult to understand his failure to mention
other anomalies in the official account, which,
unlike the Pentagon no-jetliner theory,
are not controversial among critics of the official story.
The World Trade Center
Fetzer provides a summary of arguments against the official account of
the Twin Towers' collapse that echoes many of the
arguments advanced by Steven Jones and David Griffin in their two
papers listed on the ScholarsFor911Truth.org website next to Fetzer's:
Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?, and
The Destruction of the World Trade Center:
Why the Official Account Cannot Be True.
However, Fetzer is much less careful than Jones or Griffin,
and he embraces several red herrings used by proponents
of the official story to discredit challenges.
Serving Up Straw Men
Fetzer incorrectly implies that the official explanation of the
tower collapses depends on fires melting steel:
Insofar as most of the fuel was burned off in the gigantic fireballs
that accompanied the initial impacts,
that these towers were brought down by fuel fires that melted the steel
is not just improbable but physically impossible.
Such mischaracterizations of the officially endorsed collapse theories
have been repeatedly used to attack challenges to those theories.
In fact, no official government report asserts that the fires
melted any of the Towers' structural steel.
both blamed the fires for weakening, not melting, the steel.
But articles like Fetzer's give defenders of the official theory
the ammunition they need to portray all challenges to that theory
as straw man arguments.
This is technique is employed by
Fetzer offers another straw man argument by suggesting
that the official theories blame jet fuel fires for directly bringing down
the Towers, when both FEMA and NIST blamed the combustion of office contents,
relegating jet fuel to the role of igniting larger fires.
Fetzer is sloppy about describing the events, stating:
[Features of the collapse of the Twin Towers]
include that the buildings fell about the rate of free fall.
The free-fall time from the Towers' roofs would be about 9.2 seconds,
considerably shorter than the actual total collapse times of
15 to 17 seconds.
Fetzer repeats the long-debunked interpretation of seismic data from the
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory originally advanced by Christopher Bollyn,
according to which the largest seismic signals from the destruction
of the Twin Towers corresponded to events preceding the collapse.
[Features of the collapse of the Twin Towers include]
that seismological events were recorded immediately prior to collapse.
This claim has been conclusively refuted in several places such as
critique of Popular Mechanics' attack piece
printed in Global Outlook magazine,
and the analysis of Bollyn's article
Once again, by advancing easily debunked claims as part of his
case for controlled demolition,
Fetzer hands a straw-man argument to defenders of the official story,
allowing them to more easily conceal the valid evidence for demolition.
Promoting Loose Change
In Section 10: "Preferability vs. Acceptability"
Fetzer returns to the collapses of the WTC buildings,
after two sections advocating the Pentagon no-jetliner theories.
which he praises as a "remarkable documentary."
Loose Change fails to make logical arguments for demolition,
asserts that the planes that hit the towers were not jetliners,
and promotes the Pentagon no-jetliner theory.
Fetzer advances a mixture of valid and flawed arguments in favor
of the proposition that the World Trade Center skyscrapers were demolished.
Any merits of his summary of controlled demolition evidence are
eclipsed by his thoroughly unscientific treatment of the Pentagon attack.
By 2005, virtually all careful researchers of the attacks had
come to consider theories that a Boeing 757
did not crash at the Pentagon at best unprovable and at worst
the product of a hoax crafted to derail serious investigation.
The history of this issue is summarized in
The Pentagon No-757-Crash Theory: Booby Trap for 9/11 Skeptics
and the alleged physical evidence case against a 757 crash is
a dozen pages of 911Review.com.
Yet Fetzer endorses with unguarded certainty the Pentagon
Indeed, photos taken prior to the collapse of the Pentagon's upper floors
supply evidence that, whatever hit the Pentagon, it cannot possibly have
been a Boeing 757.
Fetzer concludes in Section 9: "What really happened?"
by implying that people who contest the no-757 theory are doing
so in order to protect the cover-up.
These and still other lines of argument establish that, whatever hit
the Pentagon, it cannot have been a Boeing 757 (or a 737).
It may be that controversy over this specific point has been
so strenuous because it offers such a clear and obvious indication
of the government's complicity.
In asserting the no-757-crash theory, Fetzer trots out the same
wildly inaccurate characterizations of evidence promoted by
In Plane Site,
and Loose Change.
First and foremost is the "small hole" claim:
The initial point of impact (prior to the collapse of the floors above)
was only about 10' high and 16-17' wide,
about the size of the double-doors on a mansion.
In fact, photographs clearly show that the region of punctures to
the facade extended to a width of at least 96 feet on the first floor
and 18 feet on the second floor.
Thus, the hole was approximately six times as large as Fetzer admits.
Fetzer continues to promote the "small hole" fantasy
despite the efforts of several people,
including Fetzer's colleague Steven Jones,
to point out his error.
This simulation models a Boeing 757-200 colliding with the Pentagon.
The red colored regions indicate portions of the facade punctured,
and the brown regions indicate indicate areas of breached limestone.
Fetzer implies that Dewdney's 'The Missing Wings' supports his hole size
A meticulous engineering study with careful measurements has been conducted
that offers powerful evidence that the official story cannot possibly be
In fact 'The Missing Wings' admits that the facade hole was large
enough to accommodate the entire wing sections that included fuel tanks
(and thus the engines as well).
Fetzer asserts -- with a confidence that is not reassuring given
the sloppiness of his damage description --
The amount of damage is simply not consistent with what would have occurred
had the building been hit by a plane with the mass and the dimensions
of a Boeing 757.
This is false, and is easily refuted:
The facade punctures were approximately the shape of the profile of
a 757, minus the lightest parts of the aircraft --
the wing ends and vertical tail section --
and there is damage to the facade consistent with those parts.
Unblemished Lawn ... NOT!
Next, Fetzer recites the unblemished lawn argument, ignoring the
to which I directed him.
None of these accounts is remotely consistent with the smooth,
green, and unblemished lawn. It is all the more remarkable, therefore,
that the Secretary of Defense had the lawn resurfaced
as though it had been damaged during the attack.
Spreading gravel on soft ground is a normal preparation
for heavy construction work, but to Fetzer it's suspicious.
Fetzer ignores the Pentagon crash debris field when he states:
It does not require rocket science -- or even the calculation of any
probabilities -- to recognize that something that large cannot possibly have
fit through an opening that small and left no remnants in the form of wings
sheered off, debris scattered about, and so on.
As noted above, the punctures in the Pentagon's facade could have
easily admitted all but the lightest portions of a 757,
and there is more than enough debris outside the facade to account
for the shattered sections of the wingtips and tail section
that did not penetrate the building.
Fetzer's implication that the plane, as a whole, had to "fit through"
the opening in the Pentagon's facade
suggests he subscribes to the kind of 'cartoon physics'
exemplified by Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
In the real world, planes
break up on impact
with solid, reinforced barriers
Karl Schwarz, Tom Flocco, Jon Carlson ...
Next Fetzer adds to a long tradition of claiming that engine
parts photographed at the scene match aircraft other than a Boeing 757.
Ignoring evidence that photographed remains of
do match 757 parts, Fetzer asserts:
The part found was less than 24" in diameter and, it turns out, actually
matches, not the turbofan engine, but the front-hub assembly of the front
compressor for the JT8D turbojet engine used in the A-3 Sky Warrior jet
To support that, he cites this
which provides no evidence whatsoever for the alleged match
with a JT8D engine.
Fetzer endorses the A-3 theory, which is attributed to Karl Schwarz and
both notoriously associated with the promotion of hoaxes.
Fetzer also cites Jon Carlson, who gave us the theory that a helicopter
guided the jets into the Twin Towers by remote control,
promoted the pod theory, and is a fan of 'the Webfairy'.
The following paragraph suggests an exercise:
how many errors in describing and evaluating evidence can you find?
If a small fighter jet rather than a Boeing 757 had hit the Pentagon,
that would tend to explain the small impact point, the lack of massive
external debris, and a hole in the inner ring of the building,
which the fragile nose of a Boeing 757 could not have created.
It would also suggest why parts of a plane were carried off by servicemen,
since they might have made the identification of the aircraft by type
apparent and falsified the official account. A small fighter also
accommodates the report from Danielle O'Brien, an air traffic controller,
who said of the aircraft that hit, "Its speed, maneuverability,
the way that it turned, we all thought in the radar room -- all of us
experienced air traffic controllers -- that it was a military plane".
Nothing moves or maneuvers more like a military plane, such as a jet fighter,
than a military plane or a jet fighter, which could also explain how
it was able to penetrate some of the most strongly defended air space
in the world -- by emitting a friendly transponder signal.
- The description of the "small impact point"
contrasts with the damage documented by photographs.
- The description of the "lack of massive external debris"
incorrectly implies that the
outer wing sections and tail sections of an aircraft are massive.
- The implication that the "fragile nose of a Boeing 757"
had to create the C-ring puncture ignores the tens of tons of
fuselage behind the nose.
- The suggestion that servicemen carried off parts of the plane
in order to protect the official account ignores numerous other
possible explanations, and implies a vast and implausible conspiracy.
- The interpretation that O'Brien's comment meant it was a jet fighter
ignores the fact that the observed maneuver was
well within the performance capabilities of a 757,
however atypical it was of the normal operation of a jetliner.
- The implication that the plane had to be a military one
to emit a friendly transponder signal ignores the ease
with which the transponder signal of a jetliner could mimic
that of a military plane through re-programming.
Fetzer advances exactly two theories contradicting the official account
of the events of 9/11/01:
- The collapses of WTC 1, 2, and 7 were the result of controlled demolitions
(the demolition theory)
- The Pentagon was not struck by a Boeing 757
(the no-757 theory)
Fetzer fails to describe any basis for rejecting the official story
other than these two theories --
an omission that may lead some readers to assume the case for official
complicity in the attacks is much narrower than it actually is.
Fetzer expresses a strong conviction that both theories are correct,
but suggests that the no-757 theory is stronger.
He fails to acknowledge that it is considered a distraction or hoax
by the some of the most respected researchers
in the community of 9/11 skeptics.
Throughout the article, Fetzer pairs the no-757 theory
with the demolition theory,
claiming that the "similar considerations apply":
The buildings both fell abruptly, completely, and symmetrically into their
own footprints, which is explicable on the controlled demolition hypothesis
but not on the official account.
Similar considerations apply to the Pentagon hit.
Even if the wings had been shorn off, a Boeing 757 -- which weighed 100 tons!
-- cannot have entered the building through that tiny opening and not have
left massive debris. Both the government's "explanations"
violate laws of nature.
Fetzer's pairing of the no-757 and demolition theories
may serve to discredit the latter by associating it with a
theory that is easily debunked.