Parallel ontologies: the case of Building 7
YouGov recently published the results of an interesting poll carried on to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The poll found that one in two Americans have doubts about the government’s account of 9/11, and after viewing video footage of World Trade Center Building 7’s collapse, 46% suspect that it was caused by a controlled demolition. Building 7, a 47-story skyscraper, collapsed into its own footprint late in the afternoon on 9/11.
Among the poll’s findings were these:
38% of Americans have some doubts about the official account of 9/11, 10% do not believe it at all, and 12% are unsure about it;
46%, nearly one in two, are not aware that a third tower collapsed on 9/11. Of those who are aware of Building 7’s collapse, only 19% know the building’s name.
A word on provenance: the poll was commissioned by Rethink911.org, an organisation that is sponsored by (i) Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation, and (ii) Remember Building 7, a campaign by 9/11 family members to raise awareness of Building 7. Their basic contention is that the collapse of Building 7 could not have been due to uncontrolled office fires sparked by falling debris from the Twin Towers and bore all the hallmarks of a controlled demolition using pre-placed high explosives. This video gives a flavour of the arguments:
It’s interesting to note that, to date, the video hasn’t been watched by that many people — 145,000. That sounds like a lot, but by YouTube standards it’s in the noise.
The YouGov researchers found that, after viewing the video,
46% [of respondents] are sure or suspect it was caused by controlled demolition, compared to 28% who are sure or suspect fires caused it, and 27% who don’t know;
By a margin of nearly two to one, 41% support a new investigation of Building 7′s collapse, compared to 21% who oppose it.
From random conversations with people in Cambridge over the last few days, it’s clear that most people here were unaware of the existence of 7 World Trade Center, never mind its eventual grisly fate. But it’s intriguing to find that — according to YouGov — knowledge of it wasn’t widespread in the US either.
The Wikipedia entry for the building is informative and summarises the official explanation for its collapse:
The original 7 World Trade Center was 47 stories tall, clad in red exterior masonry, and occupied a trapezoidal footprint. An elevated walkway connected the building to the World Trade Center plaza. The building was situated above a Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) power substation, which imposed unique structural design constraints. When the building opened in 1987, Silverstein had difficulties attracting tenants. In 1988, Salomon Brothers signed a long-term lease, and became the main tenants of the building. On September 11, 2001, 7 WTC was damaged by debris when the nearby North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. The debris also ignited fires, which continued to burn throughout the afternoon on lower floors of the building. The building’s internal fire suppression system lacked water pressure to fight the fires, and the building collapsed completely at 5:21:10 pm. The collapse began when a critical internal column buckled and triggered structural failure throughout, which was first visible from the exterior with the crumbling of a rooftop penthouse structure at 5:20:33 pm
The controlled demolition of a large building using carefully-placed explosives is a spectacular public event, and one that is often filmed and shown on broadcast TV, as in this video:
Or this one:
So it’s perhaps not surprising that most lay people exposed to the Building 7 video for the first time might conclude that its collapse was also a controlled demolition job.
The fact that this is at odds with the “official” explanations for the different ways that the three World Trade Center buildings collapsed highlights a general theme in this area, namely public suspicion of “expert” opinion.
In the case of the 9/11 attacks, the official explanations focussed on the technical details of how the buildings were designed and constructed. The twin towers were identical — and highly innovative for the time in which they were built, as an excellent BBC Horizon documentary explains. The originality of the design stemmed from the fact that the weight of the building was supported both by the central core and by the external walls, with horizontal girders supporting the floors and linking the outer shell to the central core. According to the official report, a key weakness lay not in the design itself, but in the fact that the fireproofing used to protect the central core and the underfloor girders turned out to be woefully inadequate. As a result, the intense fires generated by exploding jet fuel not only spread quickly but also started the process of weakening the steel structure.
The official explanation for the collapse of Building 7 also hinged around a detailed explication of the intricacies of its skeletal steel structure – which was idiosyncratic because of the needs of the Consolidated Edison substation below it. The explanation holds that falling debris from the neighbouring tower ignited fires in Building 7 which raged out of control and were unopposed by conventional fire-suppression methods, partly as a result of inadequate water pressure. And, as with the twin towers, there came a moment when a critical steel structural component which had been weakened by intense heat failed, triggering the resulting “pancake” collapse.
It would be misleading, however, to portray the tension between 9/11 conspiracy theorists and those who composed the official explanations for the buildings’ collapse as an ontological dispute between “amateurs” and “professionals”. It turns out that there are professionals on both sides of the argument. For example, over 2000 architects and engineers petitioned Congress demanding
“a truly independent investigation with subpoena power in order to uncover the full truth surrounding the events of 9/11/01 – specifically the collapses of the World Trade Center towers and building seven. We believe there is sufficient doubt about the official story and therefore the 9/11 investigation must be re-opened and must include a full enquiry into the possible use of explosives that might have been the actual cause of the destruction of the world trade centre Twin Towers and Building 7.”
And there is now a documentary film (see preceding post) about the alleged failure of academia to subject the official reports on 9/11 to more sustained critical scrutiny.