Harrit-Rancourt Debate: My Take, then Graeme MacQueen's

[Listen to my debate with Denis Rancourt (2nd hour).   Listen to chemistry professor Niels Harrit debate Denis Rancourt. And tune in tomorrow, Sat. 11/13/10, to hear engineers Tony Szamboti and Dwain Deets join the discussion.]

This week I finally got to host a real debate - three whole hours' worth - on the physical evidence for the controlled demolition of the Twin Towers.

Ever since I was chased out of academia by a gaggle of know-nothing state legislators, I have, like Diogenes with his lamp, been trying to find someone willing to defend the government's version of what happened to the World Trade Center.  (For details, click here and scroll down to #5.)

So I am grateful to physics professor Denis Rancourt for stepping forward to oppose the controlled demolition hypothesis for the Twin Towers. Until Denis arrived, the only independent scientist who has been willing to publicly make this argument, to the best of my knowledge, is Dr. Frank Greening. (Interestingly, both Rancourt and Greening admit that the government's version of what happened to World Trade Center 7 is nonsense, with Rancourt going so far as to call WTC-7 an obvious controlled demolition.)

Because Denis Rancourt agrees with most of the 9/11 truth movement's contentions, I had hoped that he would debate Niels Harrit in an amicable, collegial way. Instead, he surprised me by using the aggressive ad-hominem tactics associated with Fox News style "debunkers." Taking advantage of non-native-speaker Harrit's slower, more deliberate style of speaking - and the one-second time lag on Harrit's line - Rancourt tried to dominate the debate by interrupting regularly and heaping scorn on his interlocutor.

For me, the most telling moment was when Rancourt attacked Harrit's professional credentials, claiming that a Google Scholar search for Harrit only turned up a couple of hits and demanding that Harrit explain. Harrit, who has plenty of professional credentials, had no idea why Rancourt couldn't find his work through Google Scholar. The problem, it later turned out, was that Rancourt had misspelled Harrit's name.

Rancourt's sloppy, superficial, ad-hominem use of Google Scholar may have reflected his approach to the whole debate. Rather than carefully studying and weighing the case for demolition, evenhandedly attempting to discern its strengths and potential weaknesses, and offering a carefully-thought-out critique, he maintained a gratingly aggressive attitude while alternately lobbing colorful soundbites of questionable relevance, and occasionally retreating into scientific jargon that non-technical listeners wouldn't understand.

Rancourt bases his argument on the large amount of gravitational potential energy in any tall building - energy which is released when the building comes down. So much energy, he claims, could pulverize almost all of the Towers' concrete into rapidly expanding pyroclastic-type clouds, fling gigantic multi-ton steel beams upward and outward at high speed, melt steel, cause the sounds of explosions, make the building disappear symmetrically, with rapid onset, in ten to fifteen seconds...and otherwise create all of the effects commonly cited as evidence for demolition with explosives. (He still hasn't explained how gravity alone managed to scatter tiny shards of human bones all over the roof of the neighboring Deutche Bank building.)

I don't buy Rancourt's "potential energy" argument for one nanosecond.  As Tony Szamboti points out, there is far more (chemical ) potential energy in a chocolate chip cookie than in a stick of dynamite of the same mass. But chocolate chip cookies don't blow things up, because there is no mechanism for the energy to be released with tremendous rapidity in such a way as to cause shock waves. Likewise, any discussion of what caused a building to collapse must focus on the precise mechanisms of energy release, not just the total amount of energy involved, which is in itself irrelevant.

Because a tall building, like a tall mountain (or anything tall with a lot of mass) harbors lots of gravitational potential energy, Rancourt stated that tall buildings are like huge bombs waiting to go off. If this is true, why has no tall building in more than a century of architectural experience ever "gone off" for any reason other than controlled demolition - except, we have been preposterously led to believe, three times on the same day in the same city?!  Tall buildings have become blazing infernos (unlike the Towers on 9/11, which experienced very modest fires); they have been rocked by gale-force winds; they have been battered by earthquakes. But never in history has a tall building come down for any reason except controlled demolition. Based on the history of tall buildings, they are no more likely to naturally suffer complete collapse than are mountains; for neither tall buildings nor mountains have ever done so.

Rancourt compares the destruction of the Twin Towers to the bombing of Hiroshima, claiming that the two events are alike - that Hiroshima is a sort of precedent and model for the Towers' destruction - simply because the Towers' destruction unleashed gravitational energy equivalent to 1% of the energy of the Hiroshima bomb! Like the whole "building = bomb" equation, this is a classic example of a misleading comparison. Rather than illuminating these two (physically) radically different events, the Hiroshima-Twin Towers comparison propagandizes for the "massively destructive attack" mental image embedded in the WTC site's "Ground Zero" label.  Good propaganda, bad science.

Yet another misleading comparison came when Rancourt claimed that the gigantic multi-ton steel beams that accelerated upward and outward from the exploding Towers were sort of like bouncing rubber balls. That is, if a ball can "fall upward" when it bounces, so can heavy pieces of structural steel and aluminum cladding "fall upwards and outwards" in parabolic arcs from collapsing buildings, presumably by bouncing off of the portion of the building that has not yet collapsed. Hey scientists and engineers: Is this argument as self-evidently preposterous as it sounds? Is there any evidence that anything remotely like this has ever happened in the real world? Maybe somebody accidentally built a skyscraper with Disney-style Flubber instead of steel?

Rancourt attacked Harrit's nanothermite paper by claiming that (a) the samples of WTC dust could have been contaminated in various ways so as to produce the findings of shockingly high amounts of unexploded nanothermite chips, and (b) even if the nanothermite chips were really there, they could have been somehow manufactured by the complex interactions of falling rusted steel and aluminum during the collapse of the Twin Towers. Harrit countered that this was about as likely as taking paper, phosphorous, gelatin, etc., throwing them into a burning/collapsing building, and finding that they had miraculously assembled themselves into books of matches littering the rubble.

In my evaluation, Rancourt "won" this debate in the same way that Hannity and O'Reilly "win" most of their "debates" - by being aggressively insulting, talking over their opponents, and offering lots of misleading soundbite images in place of arguments. Harrit, like Bob Bowman under fire from Hannity, kept calm, spoke far fewer words than his opponent, yet emerged with his dignity and the core of his arguments intact. 

Why is this debate important? Rancourt claims that arguments for Twin Towers demolition, like those for "no planes just holograms" and "Directed Energy Weapons," are baseless and make the 9/11 truth movement look bad. I think this is yet another misleading comparison. So far there are SIX peer-reviewed pro-9/11-truth papers published in mainstream scientific journals, and every single one of them has the destruction of the Twin Towers as its primary focus. No comparable scholarly scientific support exists for any other aspect of the case for 9/11 as inside job.

Additionally, the horrific destruction of the Towers was obviously the core image and core operation of the 9/11 psy-op. Without the demolition of the Towers, 9/11 would have been just another forgettable incident on the scale of OKC, Khobar Towers, Marines in Beirut, Pan Am Flight 103, and so on. By blowing the Twin Towers to kingdom come, the neocons got their New Pearl Harbor.

Since the Towers demolition case is so important to the 9/11 truth movement, and so well-supported by scientific evidence, some of my listeners think Rancourt is an agent tasked with fostering "beneficial cognitive diversity" - meaning paralyzing doubt, time-wasting, and infighting - in the 9/11 truth movement. Me, I think he's just a too-smart-by-half smart aleck and free-spirited natural hell-raiser who's playing a very useful devil's advocate role. By throwing everything he's got at Harrit, and missing so badly on most of his throws, Rancourt appears to be strengthening the case for controlled demolition of the Towers. So if he's working undercover for anybody, it would be us.

* * *

Graeme MacQueen writes to Denis Rancourt (posted with Professor MacQueen's permission):

Dear Denis:

Thanks for forwarding this piece. These issues have been discussed in detail for years and I think we should avoid repeating what others have said. However, despite my reluctance to get involved in another debate I can’t help replying to a couple of your comments.

(1) “And the Movement needs to stop spinning its wheels with extreme theories such as: directed energy weapons, all the video is fake and there were no planes, and the two towers necessarily came down in controlled explosives-assisted demolitions with or without the help of tonnes of nanothermite.”

Comment: I agree that we need to concentrate on theories that are solid, but I disagree that controlled demolition is in the same category as no-planes, directed energy weapons and so on. The CD hypothesis is based on a good deal of evidence, and such evidence continues to accumulate. Adnan has pointed to the fact that the CD in WTC 7 cannot easily be separated from the issue of the Towers’ collapses. The Towers were certainly brought down in a different way that WTC 7 but the evidence that they were deliberately demolished with the help of explosives is plentiful.

(2) “A standing building is a bomb waiting to be ignited (by an earthquake or anything capable of taking out structural elements). The gravitational potential energy that is released when a tall structure collapses is enormous. The higher and more massive the structure, the greater the energy release.

Indeed, this is the basis of controlled demolition in which gravitational energy not explosives does virtually all the destructive work. The explosives are only used to take out key structural elements and gravity does the rest.”

Comment: Well, I have to disagree with your opening statement. A standing building, if it is built well, is not much like a bomb at all. I don’t think the metaphor helps us. A well designed steel-framed skyscraper will not come down easily, and I’m sure we agree that this is one of the reasons controlled demolition is necessary. Yes, the explosives in a standard CD take out structural elements so that gravity can do most of the work, but taking out the structural elements is not a piece of cake: it is planned carefully, especially when it’s important to have a symmetrical collapse. The task of those who think CD was not used on the Towers is to explain how the key structural elements were taken out given that they were attacked neither by the planes nor the fires. By this I mean that even if the planes and fires were successful in critically weakening the structure--and I have seen no convincing evidence of this in thousands of pages of the NIST reports—they weakened this structure only in the area where damage was observed. In the North Tower this was roughly floors 92-98. There is no evidence they caused major damage outside this region; NIST certainly does not claim this. So, even if we accept that this part of the NT was so badly damaged that it began to catastrophically collapse (NIST has not convinced me that this happened), then we still have to explain how we get from this sort of local collapse to the collapse of the whole building. You’ve tried to give us a scenario in which this might happen, but I don’t find it convincing and I don’t find that it meshes with the evidence we’ve got. For example:

(a) We have a building where the top quite suddenly begins to come down on the rest of the building but where this top section accelerates smoothly right through the period when it’s supposedly destroying the powerful, intact structure beneath it. Not possible. Something else has clearly already destroyed the structural resistance of the lower part of the Tower. No explanation of the collapse will work if it doesn’t explain this smooth acceleration.

(b) We have a scenario where eyewitnesses report explosions before and at the beginning of the collapses. Many eyewitnesses clearly say that the explosions were destroying the building; several compare the process they observed to CD. There are over 150 eyewitnesses to explosions. They are, as far as we can tell, normal people in full possession of their senses. Many (most) were firefighters with extensive experience in burning buildings and in burning high-rises. The explosions typically found in fires do not fit the profile: they could not have played a significant role in destroying these buildings nor would firefighters have in this case said that what they observed seemed to be bombs or secondary devices.

We recently got, through a FOIA request, yet another set of eyewitnesses to these explosions:


I lay great stress on eyewitnesses because I believe it is a crucial strategy of authoritarian institutions to dismiss and attempt to de-legitimize normal human beings and their physical senses. (“You did not see what you thought you saw. We are the ones who will tell you what you saw.”)

The eyewitness evidence is corroborated by other kinds of evidence: still photos and videos, which show patterns of rapid and forceful ejections down the length of the Towers; and physical evidence. In the last category, quite apart from the nanothermite (I will let Niels deal with that one if he chooses to), there is the evidence of extreme heat. [See "Evidence of Very High Temperatures..." in the Journal of 9/11 Studies, v.19]. This evidence does not depend on people in the 9/11 truth movement—it has been documented by other researchers—and I have seen no convincing innocent explanation of it to date. It suggests pre-planted agents (incendiaries or explosives) used to bring down the buildings. These different forms of evidence converge in the CD hypothesis.

All the best,


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