Most observers consider the informal Coast to Coast “debate” between architect Richard Gage, chemist and scholar Niels Harrit, and physicists Kim Johnson and Dave Thomas to have been a success although who “won” depends largely on who you ask. The August 21st event, which was more of a conversation than a formal debate, explored what caused the destruction of the three World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001. Gage and Harrit argued that explosives destroyed the buildings while Thomas and Johnson reaffirmed the official explanation that office fires ultimately led to collapses.
A few days after the debate I asked Thomas to give me his impressions. “I think Kim and I did OK. We certainly could have handled some of the questions better, but being on Coast to Coast is a bit like being in a pressure cooker,” he said. “There were several questions I had ready answers for, but never got a chance to squeeze them in.” Thomas said he doesn’t think he and Johnson swayed many committed “truthers,” but he also doubts that Gage and Harrit made many new converts either. “We gave people new to the debate a lot to think about,” he said.
Physicist Dave Thomas
I asked Thomas what he considered to be among his strongest points delivered during the debate. He responded, “The collapses themselves, captured on so many films, and without the sounds of explosions going off. Plus, physics insights from the models and experiments I did helped me describe the collapses. Yes, they happened quickly (12 to 15 seconds), but were certainly not ‘free-fall.’ There was resistance as each floor was hit by the growing mass of the upper section. I think the descriptions of WTC 7’s long burning times and complicated and long collapses were productive also. In the final moments of the show, a caller really thought he had me with his statement that the cores should have remained after the Twin Towers collapsed, and I was able to inform him that they did, and that these briefly-tottering columns are called “Spires” and that they’re well-known and discussed on the NMSR website.” Thomas added that these spires would not have existed if thermite had been used to cut columns.
Architect Richard Gage accuses Thomas and Johnson of “hand waving,” saying they simply dismiss inconvenient facts. “They just don’t deal with the evidence,” Gage said. “I thought that on several points Mr. Thomas avoided facing very clear sets of facts including the free-fall of Building 7. He tried to explain that because the inside of the building caved out first, there was just nothing left so the rest of the building came down, denying that over fifty very rigid columns of the perimeter gave absolutely no resistance to the collapse of this building up above that—in this case the perimeter of the building is falling at free-fall acceleration. This is one example of a direct denial of reality, Gage said adding. “At this point I’m doubting his sincerity.”
Early in the debate, Thomas used an analogy that many observers found unusual. He was discussing David Chandler, the physics teacher whose calculations regarding free-fall forced the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to modify its final report. “David Chandler took a movie of the tower collapse and measured it very carefully and found that the average acceleration was about two-thirds of the acceleration of gravity. And he contended because it’s accelerating at all, that means there’s not much of a dynamic force, and he estimates this force—which I calculate with my physics model as at least 30 times the weight, he only gets a third of the weight, and I think that’s really the fundamental flaw of 9-11 truth physics,” he said. “They woefully underestimate the huge impact that—it’s like a ‘ton of bricks’ hitting you.”
Architect Richard Gage, AIA
Then he launched into an analogy using a bowling ball:
“If you take a bowling ball and put it on your toe, that’s okay. If you drop it from 12 feet, you’re gonna break your toe,” Thomas said with dramatic flourish, “and that’s just what happened to those buildings.”
Gage said of the bowling ball analogy, “The problem here is that, yes, you can put a bowling ball on the foot, and it’s okay, but first of all you don’t have a 12-foot drop in the case of the North Tower, and even if you did, when the bowling ball hits the foot, it slows down, while it’s crushing bone, etc.” Gage said. “But when the North Tower hit the sections below there was no slowing down. In fact, it speeded up, violating the laws of physics.”
Dan Roggenkamp, an American university teacher in Taiwan who listened to the debate, said he was particularly amused by the bowling ball comment. “One of the things that really struck me was how Thomas’ ‘side’ tried to use simple analogies to explain complex events, an example being the bowling ball analogy,” Roggenkamp said. “He did it a number of times. Rather than arguing as a scientist, he’s trying to persuade listeners using false analogies. Your toe is the World Trade Center. The bowling ball is the combined force of … whatever. It’s ridiculous.”
Thomas said he was irritated when Gage “brought out his laundry list” of things on which the two supposedly concur. “While we agree on a few technical details (microspheres were found, WTC 7 had a two-second period of free-fall, and so on), Gage over-exaggerated these agreements and put false words into my mouth time and again,” Thomas told me, adding a few items “for the record.”
“Gage said we agreed that planes hit two towers, three came down. But, I also made the point that the third tower, WTC 7, was hit by one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, something Gage dismisses. We agree that there were two seconds of free-fall at WTC 7 but disagree strongly that these prove controlled demolition,” he said. “The collapse took much longer than Gage claims—at least 16 seconds, not Gage’s 6.5 seconds. The collapse proceeded not only vertically, but horizontally as well. For a brief moment, a part of WTC 7 wasn’t supported as it collapsed. This in no way proves controlled demolition.”
I asked Gage how he believed Thomas had arrived at a different conclusion regarding the duration of the collapse. He explained, “There’s evidence that there is damage about six seconds prior to the overall collapse of the building—the east penthouse fails. The official theory tells us that that’s the result of an internal collapse starting on the 12th floor and column 79—due to the new phenomenon of “thermal expansion.” So, it’s theorized that this whole process takes about 15 seconds before the overall collapse. The problem is, if there was some sort of internal collapse that took out the interior columns, that would have taken out the penthouse long before it went down. So, since the penthouse on top—and I’m referring to the central penthouse—it went down a second before the overall portion of the building—then it was held up until that point by its structure, so its structure must have been all removed, synchronistically timed; therefore, the central penthouse went down a second before the overall structure, so the official theory of internal collapse leaving this building a cave inside doesn’t hold water.”
A good deal of the debate revolved around the possible use of thermite or nanothermite to destroy the buildings. Gage and Harrit argued that thermitic materials were used to cut core columns and explain the presence of iron microspheres in trade center dust.
“We agree there were microspheres in the dust but disagree completely about their significance,” Thomas said. “As I said, these were expected from the hot fires, and perhaps older welding traces, etc. The iron microspheres are not evidence of thermite,” he said. Gage remarked, “Mr. Thomas is in denial. He’s not facing the reality that these spheres take 2800 degrees of temperature to create.”
Industrial Physicist Kim Johnson
Thomas also said he agrees with Gage that thermite would create pools of molten iron, but despite witness testimony and photographic evidence Gage offers, he disputes that molten pools were ever found at the scene. “I say they were not, and only anecdotal stories of their existence are offered,” Thomas said. Elsewhere Kim Johnson has referred to these photos as “faked.” Similarly, Thomas and Johnson dismiss numerous reports of explosions by witnesses who insist they could distinguish between explosive blasts and other loud sounds. David Chandler claims acoustic evidence has been destroyed. “In any videos that would be reasonably expected to record the explosion sounds, the videos were cut and don’t show the segment where we now know a fast series of explosions occurred. I am not allowed to say NIST cut them, but they are all cut: either the audio or the whole audio/video segment was cut out,” he said.
Kim Johnson felt one of his strongest points involved bomb-sniffing dogs. “I got Harrit on the dogs. Apparently Gage does not understand how these dogs are trained and cross-trained. Dogs sniff out the combination of the blend of aluminum and iron oxides which form the basis of the thermite incendiary,” Johnson said. “Gage was making things up as he went along, or repeating earlier things that were made up or extreme speculation and treating them as fact, and this was one of his major errors.”
Gage didn’t take that criticism seriously. “Thermite is aluminum and iron. There’s aluminum and iron in everything, so there’s no way dogs can be trained to sniff for it,” Gage said. “Well, I won’t say there’s no way; I’m not a dog expert either, but these are normal office building materials, and you can’t train dogs for that, and that’s probably one of the reasons thermite was used,” he said.
During a 2009 interview, a reporter from the German web site gulli.com asked Niels Harrit, “Why did no bomb sniffing dog bark?” Harrit responded, “All the bomb sniffing dogs were sent home by the security company two weeks before. Furthermore, they are trained on conventional explosives which smell rather characteristically.” Some have suggested that the dogs would be trained to look for ignition devices, not thermite itself.
Johnson told me in an email message, “Truthers are still conspirators who aren’t quite sure of who pulled this off, but like to believe this kind of stuff, and the scientists who studied it got it right.” He also claims he tried to “test” me with some convoluted scheme that remains unclear. I never found the message he refers to and am unsure what he is talking about, but this is what he said:
“If you look back over your email, you will see that I worked an equation into one of them that should have said F = m * (dV/dt). Only I messed it up a bit (I don’t remember quite how at the moment) to see whether you would catch it. Dave did but you didn’t. I do apologize for deliberately doing that, but it was a test— a test that I did not think you would pass. Neither will most of the rest of the world, especially those who listen to Coast to Coast, few of whom are scientists. It set the level of understanding. It’s why Dave and I came up with the bowling ball analogy,” Johnson said.
I wrote back to Johnson saying I would have told him I lack a science background had he simply asked—that there was no need for subterfuge. The occasion seemed to reveal an unnecessarily deceitful approach.
Elsewhere Johnson says of David Chandler, “He certainly does not understand Newtonian mechanics, and neither does most of the population—especially the Coast to Coast listeners who have their minds already made up (probably most). Most cannot understand the real details of why scientists at NIST use and trust FEM models. Few even have a clue as to what an FEM model is!”
Professor Niels Harrit
So, it’s clear that according to Johnson, most people, including other scientists, are unqualified to understand why he, Thomas, and NIST have been right all along.
Danish scientist Niels Harrit, a chemist and professor at the University of Copenhagen who participated in the debate, said afterwards that the so-called “debate” was in no way scientific. Harrit pointed out that when scientists debate an investigation, they agree on the observations; otherwise, there is nothing to talk about. If A and B are both looking at the same thing and A says, “This is black” while B says, “This is white,” it won’t work. Harrit said this is essentially what happens in discussions with Thomas, Johnson, and others like them.
“They poison—quite deliberately—the supposed communication with false information. Luckily, they are not very clever, so they are easily caught—if the host lets you! I was dissapointed with Punnett who turned out to be just as un-knowing as his listeners. Many lines of arguments were cut off—also as a consequence of the trick Thomas has learned to say three things at a time, preventing you from answering. You may choose: Either Thomas and Johnson are very stupid or they are being paid to pretend to be. The last thing is intellectually dishonest, of course, and in my universe, dishonesty is a kind of stupidity,” Harrit said.