Friday, August 30

Mr. Beamer et al. - Adam pointed me to coverage of conspiracy theories surrounding United Flight 93 in Britain's The Independent. While the article is not outright offensive like some, I'm not always appreciative of views that question my faith in the heroism of the passengers. Haven't we been here before? It just sounds like a broken record. I can be comfortable with the mythos that events like 9/11 engender and sustain. I don't always need to know all the facts. Still, I can't resist a bit of a rebuttal.

Stories like one in the Independent make me wish newspapers were peer-reviewed. (I guess blogging is going a long way in that direction.) It wasn't a particularly bad piece, and there were moments where it carried me along, but my biggest beef with conspiracy-theory articles is the ubiquitous citation to some supposed expert whose word is gospel on this or that subject. In this case, it's "Harvard academic Elaine Scarry." Given that the subject she expounds upon is the development and deployment of electromagnetic energy weapons by the U.S. Air Force, I suppose that it would not have made her sound so authoritative to note she is a literary critic who teaches in the English Department up there in Cambridge, Mass. When the Independent hides that ball from the reader, it's bad journalism.

Conspiracy nuts also tend to take the smallest inconguities and build an elaborate explanation around those, rather than work with the main body of evidence. The piece of engine and the paper scattered thousand of feet from the crash site do not impress me. Planes are flying machines built of fairly lightweight materials, and heavy pieces tend to break off in throes of a fatal dive. More interesting to me is when an investigation turns up people who know more but aren't telling - such as witnesses and air traffic controllers. (Here I am having to rely on the Independent giving me the facts truthfully.) However, air crashes are the kinds of things people don't and probably shouldn't go mouthing off about, especially when criminal activity is involved.

It will be interesting to see whether any of the peculiarities noted by Adam's article bear out. In the long run, articles like this one may help bring out more of the truth than we might otherwise learn, even if that truth isn't the same as the theory put forth. In the meantime, I'm going to adhere to my faith in Occam's razor and the courageous actions of some ordinary Americans.