Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Listening to Debunker Arguments is Like Watching Two Coats of Paint Dry...

By: John-Michael Talboo and Steve Weathers

On March 30th blog contributor Adam Taylor published a response to JREF forum members "Sunstealer" and "The Almond," who like many before them, are trying to argue that the international group of scientists who authored the "Active Thermitic Material paper," which identified the remnants of the incendiary/explosive nano-thermite in WTC dust, were just fooled by paint.

Well, after painfully watching the first coat of debunker paint dry and flake off, here we go for the second...

The Argument made by forum member "Oystein" who chimed in:

Several things are wrong or problematic in this blog post:

1. "Sunstealer is apparently focusing on one chip in particular" - this is false. You quote Sunstealer as follows: "Now what's interesting is that Harrit et al claim that the MEK chip is identical to the samples a-d in the paper even though the compositions are radically different". The important point of this whole topic is that the MEK-soaked chip is of a different material than the DSC-treated chips a-d.

2. You quote Jones: "I am certain that if we had done this, there would have been no zinc on the inside...". He is merely guessing, or engaging in wishful thinking. You let this pass, when in fact he admits flatly that they worked sloppily, and that the alleged "peer-review" didn't catch a serious methodological flaw.

c) Fig. 16-18 do NOT show measurements equivalent to Fig. 14. There is no proper before/after comparison.

d) Fig. 17 shows results from a weak, 10kV only, electron ray. This would not yield any peaks beyond 3 or 4 keV. Consequently, the graph is flat on the right, and misses possible (probably) peaks of Ca (4.01keV) and Zn (8.64keV).

e) Fig. 18 shows a peak near 1keV - where there is a peak in Fig. 14 as well. In 14, that peak is labelled "Zn", in 18, it is labelled "Na". Strange, eh?

f) "Furthermore, Dr. Harrit goes on to point out that: Magnesium was never observed"
This is patently false. It is in the data, Harrit simply failed to notice it. Figures 14 and 18 have a peak at 1.25keV, which is Magnesium (K-alpha level). These peaks are just not labelled in the graphs. Interestingly, Fig. 17 does contain the same 1.25keV peak, and it IS labelled "Mg"!

g) Jones: "After soaking in MEK, the red/gray chips (still wet with MEK) remained very hard"
Duh. The red-grey chips are different from the chip described in Fig. 14-18. The latter is described in the paper as having swollen considerably due to MEK treatment. It wouldn't be "very hard" in that state. I'd choose not to trust Jones too much here. I am missing independent confirmation of his claims. Too little of what he speaks of here is actually in the content of the paper.

h) "independent confirmation from chemical engineer Mark Basile".
WHAT? Basile is acknowledged in Harrit (2009) for his contribution to that paper. His is the second name, right after "peer-reviewer" David Griscom (is it possible that Basile, too, was a hand-picked "peer-reviewer"? Since when are anonymous peer reviewers acknowledged in a paper?). His work is hardly "independent".

i) "The red/gray chips discovered do not act like paint, do not have the same ingredients as paint, and do not look like paint."
WRONG. The plate-like structures look a whole lot like aluminosilicates (clay), and contain the same elements (Si, Al, O); the "rhombic-shaped, ... iron-rich grains" look a whole lot like hematite (pigment), and they are found in a C-rich matrix (resin?). Even Harrit (2009) finds on page 7 "Initially, it was suspected these might be dried paint chips", so they definitely looked like paint! And "the energetic nano-composite can be sprayed or even “painted” onto surfaces, effectively forming an energetic or even explosive paint. The red chips we found in the WTC dust conform to their description of “thin films”" (page 26)
Just because Oystein says the chips "look a whole lot like ... paint", that "they worked sloppily", and the peer review didn't catch a "serious methodological flaw" does not make these chips paint or the study poorly executed. Indeed a fuller understanding of the study reveals that the research methodology and findings were extremely robust and that the paper overwhelmingly provides evidence to suggest the presence of active thermitic materials.

Before countering this "debunker's" proclamations the reader should understand that Oystein's argument extends beyond the pasted section we have provided here (see the JREF link for his complete action).

A review of his thread comments shows that Oystein is doing two broad things here:

1. To cast doubt that the chips being examined have a composition consistent with Thermite, that we are really looking at are spectrometer readings consistent with paint or a conglomeration of mundane materials that include drywall (Ca). In doing this Oystein attacks the conclusion that the spectra readings do not show a thermitic signature but should be seen as revealing a natural mixture of building materials and are therefore paint or some sort of drywall-paint conglomeration - he claims that the spectrometer was still reading, or unable to read, paint or drywall materials that were intrinsic to the chips (not contaminants) - elements that were seen in Fig 14 but not in the post MEK (paint dissolver) soaking spectra seen in Figs 16-18, notably the Mg, Zn and Ca (the latter of which was not present at all), and;

2. He is also trying to claim in his JREF posts that specifically for the spectra observed, the Mg present in some of the chips, and the Zn, that was seen in tiny (or zero) amounts, plus the aluminosilicates (which are part of the thermitic signature), did not actually disappear post soaking (obviously true for the aluminosilicates)- and these materials are ALL indicative of the chips representing a primer paint conglomeration. However, we do know that if the chips really were primer paint flakes the Mg (and Zn) would be abundant. Moreover, not all the paint contaminants would be expected to disappear anyway after soaking in the MEK. Besides, whilst there are scant readings showing some Mg and Zn there is STILL the overarching thermitic chemical composition (C Fe O Al Si) appearing in the correct elemental proportions (highlighted in Figs 16-18).

In terms of the primer paint hypothesis Osytein should have realised straight away that Mg and Zn would turn up in very significant amounts even AFTER soaking but we have almost no Zn and very little Mg. Plus the JREF poster Almond conceded that spectrometer detectors operating at 10kV, as the Harrit team used, would have revealed the Zn you'd see from paint (the Almond quote regards 10kV beam: "you'll still get a line"). Oystein believed the Zn may have been present but not recorded on the equipment. This is not born out by the facts. He also thought that Ca (found in a conglomeration that'd include drywall materials) might have been undetected, but this is an even less likely scenario than his position on the Zn (see later in the post).

As for Oystein's argument (that appears directly above) that we should have had before-and-after analysis on everything, some such measurements were taken but not all results published. The material appearing in the paper highlights what was found in terms of the overarching and consistent thermitic signature without providing analysis on every single test undertaken - a preponderance of detail that would have required publication as a book rather than in the few pages available in a journal.

Before turning to expert opinion we should consider that Oystein here is trying to make an argument accusing the international team of overlooking significant "paint/conglomeration" elements during their investigation, that the elements Mg Na Zn and Ca were all potentially being misidentified and the team's level of inquiry and methodology was inadequate, including the MEK treatment which may have been interfering with the analysis (implied via his comments regarding Dr Jones' description of the treated chips and his call for before/after comparisons).

We contacted the paper's second author, current BYU phyics professor and lab director for TEM (TEM stands for Transmission Electron Microscopy), Dr. Jeffrey Farrer PhD., for a response on the thoroughness of the study, he writes:
Certainly more work needs to be done to complete our understanding of this [before/after MEK] part of the paper. It is unfortunate that we did not take an analysis of the chip from the interior before it was treated with the MEK, which would have given us a better reading on the composition without surface contamination. I believe it is fair to criticize that aspect of the paper, but the peer-reviewers, the authors, myself included, felt that the MEK-soak data was of interest to the paper. Certainly if the paper's conclusions were based solely on the MEK-soaked chip, none of us would have moved forward with publication.

The XEDS analysis of the MEK-soaked chip that is represented in the paper is a very small fraction of what was actually done. Unfortunately we could not include all of the data we collected for this paper. If we had it would have probably been as long as the 9/11 commission report, which I doubt even the strongest critics of our paper have read.

The choice of the spectra that was included was NOT made to hide data, but to illustrate some of the important points. Figure 14 was the spectrum that was collected when we were determining that the chips were similar in composition. In fact, spectra were acquired of the as-collected chip surfaces of all the other chips and these spectra were used to determine the similarity of the chips. In other words, the spectra of even the contaminated surfaces of the different chips (collected at different locations and different times) are strikingly similar. The other three spectra (fig 16-18) were used to compare the Al and Si peaks (fig 16 and 17) and then to compare Fe to both Al and Si (fig 18). The Na peak that is found in fig 18 was confirmed by the absence of the Zn k-alpha peak at 8.637keV (and yes, the same exact spot was analyzed at a beam energy of 20kV and the Zn k-alpha peak is still not present). So while it is true that the Na k-alpha peak (1.04keV) overlaps the Zn L-alpha (1.012keV), it is pretty simple to confirm which element is present. If there is any criticism here it should be that what is labeled as only Zn in figure 14 is probably both Na and Zn since that peak is a bit too high to be only Zn L-alpha judging from the peak height of the Zn k-alpha peak.

We used smaller beam accelerating voltages (10 and 15kV) to shrink the interaction volume and get a more precise sampling from the chip. All of the locations sampled with XEDS were also sampled using 20kV, but when trying to illustrate local differences in the chip it made more sense to have a smaller interaction volume. That seemed like an appropriate decision at the time and certainly one that would maintain the integrity of the data that we were highlighting.

It is true that there is a very small Mg peak in figure 17. Mg was common on the contaminated surfaces, but was absent on the clean interior surfaces that we studied. I'm sure that is why there is some disputation about Dr Harrit's comment.

A couple of other points I'd like to make. To include everything in this paper would have been unreasonable. One of the peer-reviewers even warned us that the paper was too long and that we were trying to include too much data in an earlier version of the paper, so we cut it way down. Unfortunately this will always raise questions and criticisms in a paper with a controversial topic or conclusions. I have always shown the additional data to those that have requested it. I have absolutely nothing to hide with the data that was collected for this paper.

It is understandable that critics would point to paint. We also first assumed that it was paint and only came to believe otherwise after our analysis. I have yet to see a study that has been done that shows that there is a paint that exhibits the exact same characteristics as these red/gray chips. I HAVE conducted my own study (part of which has been published in the very paper under scrutiny) that leads me to believe that they are in fact NOT paint chips. I therefore, cannot understand why critics of our paper expect us to retract our conclusions when there has been no data put forth that leads to any other conclusion than that which we have made in the paper.
So we have Dr. Farrer stating that the team recognised the potential that the chips may be paint and found that it was ruled out via experimentation, and that the chips, even before soaking in MEK were found to have an overarching thermitic signature regardless of the much less abundant contaminant elements. He also states that the Figs 16-18 were to highlight the composition of certain elements in the thermitic mixture, that we are not seeing commonly arranged elements but a specific composition that you find in thermites. On this point it helpful to review Jim Hoffman's explanation of these spectra.

Oystein's final attempt at "debunking", in the JREF thread, in this "paint-drywall conglomeration" exercise, was to account for the Ca that disappeared upon washing in the MEK Figs 16-18. Rather than leave it alone Oystein continued with this aspect of his argument - in what must be his drywall contaminant hypothesis.

Predictably Oystein suggests/implies that the Ca is part of the red layer, not contamination, and claims that it's been misread by the XED instrument software. It's the software error "argument" that was inspired by one of poster Almond's earlier comments in the JREF thread, an argument that is partly relevant to the small amounts of Na, Mg and Zn found in the chip spectra. However such an argument does not apply here as The Almond, in the same section that deals with the likelihood of Zn being missed, stated that even a weak electron beam of 10kV will show Ca clearly- anything under Fe being quite readable. At this point we can see that the chips are neither a drywall conglomeration nor some type of paint- there is no evidence for such a position.

Perhaps the most damning refutation of any paint-based hypothesis is the nature of the chips themselves when heated. In the face of a losing agrument regarding primer paint, Oystein claimed that the chips, absent Zn and large amounts of Mg, might yet represent another type of paint (a clay-like one with aluminosilicates). Presumably this unknown paint has all the hallmarks of a thermitic substance and explodes converting itself into molten iron spheres?

Wow. That'd be some paint factory.

The chips were heated to about 430°C, but iron melts at a temperature of 1,538°C. This is evidence of a high temperature chemical reaction, which should not happen with any variety of paint.

Furthermore, as Jim Hoffman has pointed out, the Thermitic Material paper analyzes iron-rich spheres from three different sources: residue from the ignition of commercial thermite, residue from the ignition of the red-gray chips found in the WTC dust, and the spheres found by themselves in the dust. Take a look; the chemical compositions are almost indistinguishable, or "strikingly similar" as the paper puts it.

Of course "debunkers" could easily prove the paper wrong, in part, by simply getting an oxy-acetylene torch and burning up some primer paints as the authors of the paper did with one of the red chips in the following video.

They report having done this with "several paint samples" as well which "immediately reduced to fragile ashes," apparently free of any iron spheres.

On April 30, 2009 radio host George Corrette asked chemical engineer Mark Basile to address this issue, stating:
Now one of the things that we've heard; these kind of crude critiques of this study is: 'Well all these red and gray chips, well how do you know they're just not paint chips'. What would one expect with Sherman-Williams exterior coat paint if you were to do the exact same thing with this: take those paint chips, put them on this quarter inch resistance heater that you have, and ignite it if you will, heat it up to a point of ignition...
Basile responded:
...If I have a thermite fire and I were to put that rod in there it would melt, be.. you know, if I had sufficient material there to do that, so... it's just the level of energy release, so, yep, there'd be an energy release, but I wouldn't expect say if within that paint chip there was iron oxide as one of the pigments that they put in there, I wouldn't expect to open that paint chip afterwards and find, you know, molten iron has been produced and now there would be iron droplets inside the residue of that chip.
It was because of Basile discovering that the chips created these spheres in his independent parallel research that he was thanked in the paper, not because he was a peer-reviewer as suggested by Oystein.

This fact was revealed in the following statement by the paper's third author physicist Steven Jones on 911blogger.com:

I congratulate Mark for giving this interview and going on record about his own independent observations.

We have exchanged emails which have proven very helpful. Mark was the first to observe iron-rich spheres in the post-ignition residue of the red-chip material. I need to emphasize that. With that encouragement from Mark, we went back to our own samples and immediately found iron-rich spheres in the post-ignition residue also-- ours were ignited in a DSC. (Mark used a different method of igniting the red material, which he explains in his interview above.) This discovery, of iron-rich spheres in the post-ignition residue, was in fact the last piece of convincing evidence that we needed to assure ourselves that this indeed a thermitic reaction -- for it demonstrated the reduction of iron-oxide to iron AND very high temperatures at the same time, both characteristic of the thermitic reaction.
It certainly doesn't sound like he was taking any marching orders, but rather was doing truly independent analysis.

Furthermore, Basile's interest was first sparked, not by 9/11 truth advocates, but by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) studies of WTC 7 debris published in Appendix C of the FEMA report. This was, in part, because he obtained his degree from WPI, but also because their studies found "melting capable of turning a solid steel girder into Swiss cheese."

Appendix C states, "The severe corrosion and subsequent erosion of Samples 1 and 2 are a very unusual event... It is possible that this is the result of long-term heating in the ground... It is also possible that the phenomenon started prior to collapse and accelerated the weakening of the steel structure."

In 2007, Basile attended a conference by Steven Jones where he spoke of his preliminary findings regarding the nano-thermite. Basile approached Jones afterward and offered to independently look at a sample of dust that Jones had gathered from four NYC residents to see if he could confirm his findings. Since he did replicate the results of Jones and his colleagues "debunkers" conclude that he is not independent, but the fact of the matter is, he seems to have only become a full-fledged truther after this duplication. Basile has stated that he even obtained a completely independent sample of dust from a NYC museum.

So herein lies a common circular argument by "debunkers": if you are a truther then you are not independent, but if you agree with the findings you automatically become a truther. So the only individuals that can be deemed independent are those that don't agree.

Now to Oystein's statements about acknowledged peer-reviewer David L. Griscom being "hand-picked" because he was acknowledged in the paper and the cries of foul expressed by Pat Curley of the Screw Loose Change blog because Griscom had prior 9/11 truth beliefs.

We will demonstrate below that this is a gross misrepresentation of the situation. In actuality, what we have is a paper where an author suggested reviewer who was qualified, but yet friendly to the position, came to agreement with an editor picked reviewer who was also qualified, but not friendly to the position, backed by a study which concludes that this would consitute an adequate peer-review. Furthermore, this is but one peer-review that took place.

First off, 911 Blogger user "Sitting-Bull" noted the following concerning Griscom's prior 9/11 beliefs and their affect on his review around the time that Griscom publicly revealed his involvement in the paper late last year:
It took Prof. Griscom 4 long years to become convinced of 9/11 truth. Science did it. And: Some "Debunkers" already claim he was chosen because he was a "truther". That's totally bogus. He did not play a vocal or any role in the 9/11 truth movement prior 2007/2008, Bentham surely did not find his rare blog entries on the issue for selecting him, but did search their database for valuable scientific referees in the field of research with good experience- no wonder they found Prof. Griscom.
As Griscom pointed out, he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has "refereed at least 600, and possibly as many as 1000, manuscripts", and was himself published twelve times in the American Institute of Physics’ Journal of Chemical Physics.

Furthermore, Jones had the following to say on the Visibility 9/11 podcast at the time of publication:
Usually peer-review is done completely anonymously, but it is possible for a reviewer to identify himself. I've seen that done before. (Note: Jones has authored or co-authored over forty peer reviewed publications, including three papers for which he was first author in the renowned journmal NATURE) In this case one of the reviewers identified himself as a physics professor, a Fellow of the American Physical Society... well credentialed... I checked... like 80 peer-reviewed papers of his own.
So it is no secret or problem that Jones was made aware Griscom had been selected as a reviewer, due to his impeccable credentials, prior to publication. He also likely did suggest him, however, authors are allowed to suggest referees as was demonstrated by a study cited by 911 Blogger user "Swing Dangler." This study entitled "Differences in Review Quality and Recommendations for Publication Between Peer Reviewers Suggested by Authors or by Editors" concludes:
Author-and editor-suggested reviewers did not differ in the quality of their reviews, but author-suggested reviewers tended to make more favorable recommendations for publication. Editors can be confident that reviewers suggested by authors will complete adequate reviews of manuscripts, but should be cautious about relying on their recommendations for publication.
Considering Griscom's qualifications, the results of this study, and the fact we were informed by one of the paper's author's, Gregg Roberts, that, "The other reviewer was not a truther. And that reviewer provided a much less rigorous review then did Griscom - while also recommending publication if the review points were dealt with adequately," it is clear that the review was legitimate.

Que the circular argument that the other reviewer now agrees and is thus a truther and not independent.

Furthermore, Jones stated in the comments at 911 Blogger that "BYU scientists did a review of the paper" that led to changes in the report. Jones previously revealed in comments on another post that the paper was "peer-reviewed by the Physics dept. chair at BYU... because two of the authors are from this dept." Elsewhere he revealed that he was told by the chairman that the paper "was sound scientific research and that he was now persuaded that explosives/pyrotechnics were involved in the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11."

Again, que the circular argument that the Physics dept. chair now agrees and is thus a truther and not independent.

French researcher Frédéric Henry-Couannier also confirmed several aspects of the experiments. And it was reported by a Danish media outlet that professor of inorganic chemistry Jens Ulstrup, of the Technical University of Denmark, "felt that the assessments were made on the basis of 'very suitable' tests by current standards."

Pat Curley ignores all of that though, because Griscom is a "sack of fecal matter... Troofer moron... AAAS-hole... nut" who has theorized that the planes on 9/11 were swapped out for drones and that the passengers were in on it and are still alive.

Gregg Roberts responds:
Many scientists who have done good work in their field have strange beliefs that have nothing to do with the quality of their scientific work. Using Griscom's analysis of what happened to the passengers and generalizing from that to whether he provided a tough, accurate, technical review of the red/gray chips paper, is an unjustified leap.

All this trash talk is just a way to avoid dealing with what the paper says. Even the editor-in-chief who perversely resigned in protest rather than firing the editor who allegedly published the paper behind her back didn't criticize the paper itself.
Finally to Oystein's statement that "the plate-like structures look a whole lot like aluminosilicates (clay)," Here is a good analogy that Adam came up with for this type of argument.

That being said, it must be noted again, that the following pictures provided by civil engineer Jon Cole in Adam's rebuttal show actual WTC primer paint, which unfortunately for Oystein, is the only primer paint we have evidence of being present in the buildings. So any similarities must be balanced with the fact that they obviously have, as Jones noted, "a distinctly different appearance."

Starting at 8:02 in the following video Jones also notes that, "After the MEK soak we now see regions where we see aluminum separated from silicon and oxygen... This is not aluminosilicate. It's not koalinite as some debunkers said... No, you can't use a paint solvent and seperate the aluminum from the silicon oxide in an aluminosilicate. It's just a solvent it's not a reducing agent."

The aluminosilicates pointed out by Oystein are not simply what one might find in clay based paint pigments and certainly the reaction of the chips to heat is not indicative of this postulate. The thermitic elephant is still camped in the living room.

At this point we respectfully request that "debunkers" spare us a third coat of paint and instead do some actual experiments, or otherwise kindly keep your largest facial orifice in the locked position. As noted, you don't even have to start out with anything fancy, just get some paint to flash upon ignition and most importantly create iron spheres.

We plan to do this simple test ourselves before too long, with multiple paints, including some of the same recipe as WTC primer paint and videotape it, as to expand upon the work already done, but we shouldn't have to considering that we are not the ones who are being armchair critics of individuals who have done such work and much more.

As Hitler said, "You idiot.. paint doesn't explode like active Nano-Thermite!"