Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anthrax Investigation Researcher Ed Lake Reviews the 9-11 "Truthers"

A retired computer specialist named Ed Lake has been keeping track of the anthrax investigation on his very informative site for many years. Mr. Lake maintains a large archive of media commentary about the anthrax mailings. He explains how early errors in the scientific analysis of the anthrax used in the attacks led to a lot of mistaken speculation.

Mr. Lake has also followed the campaign against the Army scientist Dr. Steven Hatfill here and here. According to Mr. Lake:

The Hatfill "investigation" was purely political and based upon "tips" from conspiracy theorist scientists who claimed the FBI was "covering up" for Dr. Hatfill when the FBI's investigation found nothing to tie him to the mailings. The Ivins investigation, on the other hand, was the result of years of detailed scientific analysis followed by an equally detailed criminal investigation.

Although Dr. Hatfill has won lawsuits and has been publically exonerated of complicity in the anthrax mailings, he is once again being maligned by unsubstantiated rumors and accused of killing black Africans with anthrax by 9-11 "Truther" Sander Hicks, a disreputable conspiracist who publishes the lies and ridiculous alibis of a convicted car-bomber and a convicted pedophile and child-pornographer.

On 10-18-09, Mr. Lake commented on the conspiracy theories of the 9-11 "Truthers" in his Thoughts and Comments:

October 18 - 2009...[O]ver a month ago, in September, a group of "Truthers" with various issues held a 3-day conference at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, New York City. It appears that the same pattern I've seen elsewhere held true at that conference: No two of the speakers seem to argue the exact same issue. I believe that is almost the perfect definition of the word "babble"...

It's difficult to summarize their issues in just a few words, but it appears they had a holocaust denier, an ex-CIA spy who thinks Dick Cheney had something to do with 9/11, an economist who talked about money-laundering, terrorism and 9/11, a lawyer with issues about how money is created, a musician/ investigative journalist who writes about "The U.S. Government’s Shepherding of the 9/11 Hijackers," an investigative journalist with issues about child-abuse and the Bush Administration, and a lawyer who believes in many different conspiracy theories. At least two of them talked about the anthrax attacks.

It's interesting that these people and others on the "Lunatic Fringe" all claim to be looking for "the truth," yet none seems to be looking for the same "truth." What each one really seems to be looking for is an audience, people they can try to convert to their specific belief.

It also appears that they have absolutely no interest in coherency or understanding. Coherency and understanding are what the other side is looking for.

Contrast their rantings with the methodology of the people on "the other side," i.e., the people who are looking for the facts and who are trying to make coherent sense of the facts.

The people looking to make coherent sense of the facts began with meetings where they discussed the best ways to gather the facts, the best ways to learn the significance of the facts, the best ways to validate the facts and the best ways for top experts in various scientific and investigative areas to assemble their specific facts and fit them into a coherent whole that everyone can understand.

They then set about implementing their plans. They collected data, they tested the data, they organized the data and they discussed the data to get mutual understanding and agreement on the significance of the data.

When data collection and analysis was complete, they gave presentations where the entire issue is summarized, and then the various speakers talked about their particular areas of expertise and their work in assembling the coherent whole.

If the objective had been a purely scientific finding, there might already be unanimous agreement on what they found. In the Amerithrax investigation, however, the individual experts can only agree that their particular findings are accurate, since much of the time they didn't know what other scientists were doing. They may still have questions about how and where their findings fit in the overall scheme of things, but they generally understand the need for validation of the coherent whole as well as each part of the coherent whole--which is why they are doing their best to aid the review of the science of the Amerithrax case being done by The National Academies of Science (NAS).

Of course, the scientific investigation is only part of the Amerithrax investigation. The "coherent whole" must also include everything that can be known about the anthrax attacks of 2001 and who was responsible. The things which cannot be known must still fit into the coherent whole. The coherent whole cannot be coherent if it includes impossiblities. For example, we cannot know what was going on inside the brain of a person who died without telling everyone what he was thinking. But it is sufficient to know he could have had a motive to do what the facts say he did. Also, if years of seaching found no travel records, we may not know exactly how he got from Point A to Point B at some critical point in time, but we can be confident that it is not impossible for him to have traveled from Point A to Point B, because all the known facts indicate he did indeed move from Point A to Point B at that specific time and no facts conclusively say otherwise.

There are no known facts which say that it would have been impossible for Dr. Ivins to have committed the crime. So, what we need now is to see the "coherent whole" of all the known facts--from the science and from the criminal investigation--to allow the interested public to understand how all the major conclusions were reached. In particular, we need to understand how the conclusion was reached that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the anthrax mailer and that he acted alone.

In a perfect world, everyone who views the coherent whole--the summary of the entire case--would fully agree on the findings. In our imperfect world, many of those who currently have other theories will probably continue to believe their own theories, regardless of what the facts say.

So, our imperfect world can be expected to produce two things: (1) a coherent summary of the case which will be accepted by the vast majority of people who study it, and (2) a small bunch of conspiracy theorists and True Believers with little agreement on anything except that they all disagree with the coherent summary of the case.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed Lake is the fellow who thinks it is 95% certain that a First Grader wrote the letters! (see webpage)

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Facts say: A child wrote the anthrax letters...

"a child almost certainly wrote the anthrax letters and addressed the envelopes."

Pine Lake: What probability do you ascribe to Ed's theory -- which he has urged for 7 years since a webposter in a newsgroup first suggested -- that it is nearly certain that a First Grader wrote the letters? What are the facts you rely on?

9:07 AM  

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