UPDATE HISTORY
2013 - Part 1 
(January 1, 2013 - April 30, 2013)
A log of comments and changes made to the main pages.
www.anthraxinvestigation.com

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 28, 2013, thru Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013 (C) - Yay!!  We now have information about the evidence against ricin mailer suspect James Everett Dutschke.  USA Today is reporting,

Lab tests found traces of ricin, a deadly poison made from castor beans, on several items federal agents seized April 22 from trash at or near the Tupelo home of Everett Dutschke, FBI Special Agent Stephen Thomason said in a sworn statement unsealed in Mississippi.

Agents found a dust mask, yellow paper and address labels in trash collected from a bin outside Dutschke's home, along with a coffee grinder, a box of latex gloves, another dust mask and an empty bucket of floor adhesive from a trash can near his former business, Thomason said in the affidavit.

A download of publication about ricin was found on Dustchke's computer, and agents also discovered records showing Dutschke ordered 50 red castor bean seeds on eBay on Nov. 17 and made a second purchase of 50 seeds on Dec. 1.

Dutschke allegedly paid for the seeds via PayPal. U.S. Postal Service records show the seeds were delivered to Dutschke's house on Dec. 5, the FBI agent said.

Seems like some pretty good evidence to me.  

April 30, 2013 (B) - Groan!  While researching something else, I stumbled across some intriguing information I'd previously missed.  I read an article on HollywoodLife.com which includes a video of a "former CIA operative," Robert Baer, explaining his belief that the Boston suspects "didn't act alone."  And Baer mentions a cab driver who supposedly picked up the Tsarnaev brothers at a rail station in Malden, Mass, on Sunday, the day before the Marathon, and drove them home to Norfolk St.  The brothers were supposedly carrying the backpacks full of bombs at that time. 

Checking further, I found a Boston Globe article about the cab driver.  However, from the cabbie's description it appears that the two men didn't speak very much English:

“Great day tomorrow for a marathon — you guys going?” he asked them.

The younger male, wearing a white cap responded, “Ah, marathon,” Duggan said.

And then, suddenly, the older male cut the younger one off, yelling at him in a foreign language, clearly angry, his outburst startling Duggan.

Then:

After his attempt at small talk, Duggan said, the two men told him to make an abrupt stop.

“They certainly wanted to get my attention, because they slammed their hands repeatedly on the back. Bang bang, bang!” he said. .....

“They were angry at me, so I tell them, ‘Excuse me, I’m a human being, I made a mistake and I’m sorry.’”

Duggan lifted the hood and reached for the dark backpack that the older man had carried. He was shocked by its weight.

“It was as full as it could be and it was very heavy, so heavy that I had to brace myself and try to lift it again,” Duggan said.

The older man started screaming and snatched the backpack. “I told him to relax, that I was just trying to help,” Duggan said.

I could certainly be wrong, but that doesn't seem like the two brothers to me.  The brothers had lived in the U.S. for over 10 years and could evidently speak fluent English.  The cabbie nearly drove away with the backpacks still in the trunk, which says he wasn't paying that much attention at the time.  He indicates they stopped him somewhere other than on Norfolk Street, which makes me want to see the cabbie's trip log.

The implication of all this is what the former CIA guy picked up on: Why would the two brothers be bringing home backpacks full of bombs on the day before the Boston Marathon bombing?  If it really happened, the incident suggests that the brothers went somewhere to pick the bombs up from the bombmaker.  But, witnesses are notoriously unreliable.  It could have been two Finnish men with backpacks full of reindeer meat.

Unfortunately, if the FBI checks it out and finds that it was two Chinese guys with two gunny sacks of books, we may never learn about their findings.  They do not usually tell the public about all the false leads they checked out.  It's nobody's business.   


April 30, 2013 (A) - Among the screwball complaints and attacks from a True Believer in my email inbox this morning, I found a few informative emails from someone else.  One contained a link to a Boston Herald article which included this tidbit of information:

A doctor who treated [Tamerlan] Tsarnaev said he had gunshot, shrapnel and blast wounds. Police have said Tsarnaev’s younger brother Dzhokhar, while fleeing the scene of the shootout, drove over his body.

Sharpnel and blast wounds?  From where?  From how?  It seems that they could only come from the bomb the brothers set off on Laurel Street.  I still haven't figured out exactly what happened when they set off that bomb.  I don't see how Tamerlan could have been injured by the Boston Marathon blasts without the guy from the hijacked Mercedes noticing something. However, I suppose it's possible that the doctor may have incorrectly interpeted the effects of being run over and dragged under a car.  Maybe that's why the Boston Herald mentioned the body being run over in the next sentence. 

Doing research, I found another Boston Herald article from the 19th which said,

Emergency room doctors desperately tried the save the life of Tamerlan Tsarnaev this morning, and said the man was suffering from gun, shrapnel and blast wounds but the 26-year-old bombing suspect did not appear to have been run over.

It looks like the only media outlet reporting that Tamerlan had "shrapnel and blast wounds" is the Boston Herald.   It now appears that the Boston Herald may have misinterpeted something.

We'll know more when the death certificate is released.  Meanwhile, when I find some free time, I'm going try to figure out where everything happened on Laurel Street.


April 29, 2013 - I'm still waiting to see exactly what the feds are using as evidence to charge James Everett Dutschke in the recent ricin mailing.  Fox News says,

Shackled and in leg irons, Dutschke, 41, appeared in Federal Court in Oxford, Miss., Monday, where he was charged with "knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon, to wit: ricin." He faces life in prison if convicted. Like the first suspect, he claims he is innocent.

That seems like a lot more than just "suspicion," although I'm not sure of the difference between "retaining" and "possessing."  According to a CNN report,

While the snappy eight-minute hearing produced no new details, the public could learn more about the accusations when the criminal affidavit in support of the complaint is unsealed. That could happen as early as Monday, according to the court clerk and a U.S. attorney.

But, it's looking less and less likely that we'll learn anything new today.   According to News Yahoo.com,

The judge ordered a preliminary hearing be held on Thursday when prosecutors will present more detailed evidence in the case.

April 28, 2013 (B) - I just noticed that Professor James Tracy is at it again.  He is truly a conspiracy theorist (and True Believer) of the first order.  He can look at pictures of an explosion and of horribly injured people after the explosion and rationalize whatever he wants to promote his sick and ridiculous theories.  All his theories require is that everyone involved be part of the conspiracy and lie to the American public.  Plus, of course, the media also has to be a willing participant.  And all the doctors who talk to the media have to be part of the conspriacy, too.  And, most absurd of all, Professor Tracy seems to believe he is the only human being on Planet Earth who is capable of figuring out what really happened.

April 28, 2013 (A) - The past week was another very busy and interesting one for me.  The facts and guesses about the Boston bombers were coming in fast and furious, and it was often very difficult to separate facts from guesswork.  A couple examples:

First there were the news stories about bombs being tossed out of the suspect's car(s) during the police chase.  According to The Huffington Post:

During the long night of violence leading up to the capture, the Tsarnaev brothers killed an MIT police officer, severely wounded another lawman and took part in a furious shootout and car chase in which they hurled explosives at police from a large homemade arsenal, authorities said.

And CNN:

As they attempt to elude law enforcement, the Tsarnaev brothers throw two small bombs out of the car.

And The New York Daily News has a double header, the bombs being tossed and the explosive vest which Tamerlan may or may not have worn:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev had a bomb strapped to his chest when he charged at police following a 6-mile chase, during which the suspects lobbed pipe bombs at pursuing authorities.

The only bomb used during the chase that I can confirm was the pressure cooker type bomb that was exploded during the gunfight on Laurel Street.  It was too heavy to hurl or throw or lob.

If bombs were tossed out of the car during the chase, why don't we have pictures of where they exploded?  Why don't we have photographs of the damage or explanations of why there was no damage?  I suspect (but I could be wrong) that the only bomb that was set off was the bomb the witness saw and heard explode on Laurel Street, and all the others are just media interpretations of the chatter on the police radio.

Second, there ares the highly questionable news stories about Tamerlan Tsarnaev wearing an explosive vest
According to McClatchy newspapers,

Deveaux said police were worried that Tsarnaev was wearing an explosive vest – as his brother had been the night before.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/04/20/189209/crowds-mob-scene-of-watertown.html#storylink=cpy

and The Wall Street Journal:

The older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, wearing what appeared to be an explosive vest, was shot by police and died shortly after,

and another source:

After he was killed in a shootout earlier today, police found an explosive vest strapped to the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

and another source:

The Chairman [of the House Homeland Security Committee] says the pressure cooker devices the Tsarnaev brothers used in the attacks are important because they are signature IED’s “that really tie back to the Taliban in Pakistan” and he says the explosive vest Tamerlan was wearing in a firefight with police officers is typically found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The problem is: I don't really trust any of those sources, including the "Chairman" who evidently just knew what he read in the newspapers or saw on TV, and he was twisting the reports to make them fit his beliefs.  If Tamerlan was wearing an explosive vest, why haven't we seen pictures of it?  And, why wasn't it listed among the exposives found by the FBI, which said that the brothers were carrying only one pressure cooker type bomb and five pipe bombs during their getaway attempt.  There was no mention of any explosive vest.  Furthermore, explosive vests typically involve high explosives such as dynamite or C-4, not gunpowder, which is the only type of exposive the Tsarnaev brothers were known to possess.

And, if Tamerlan was wearing an explosive vest, why didn't he set it off?  Why did he allow himself to be captured alive after rushing the police?

While I certainly could be totally wrong, the facts seem to indicate that there was no explosive vest and no bombs were thrown out of any car during the police chase.

I
spent a lot of time last week trying to assemble all the time and location information about the anthrax bombing suspects in one place - a crude off-line web page where I tried to lay out all the events on a step by stop timeline while also trying to figure out where everything happened.  I'm not that familiar with Massachusetts, and I was surprised when I learned that the younger brother's dorm room at UMass-Darmouth was located 63.6 miles south of the older brother's home in Cambridge.

But, then it immediately made sense that Dzohkhar Tsarnaev would think it was relatively safe to return to school after the bombings if his school was so far from the bomb scene.  And Dzohkhar probably frequently drove up to Cambridge to spent weekends with his older brother.  The 2007 Google image of their two cars together was probably taken on a Saturday or Sunday when the Google street view car driver wouldn't have so much traffic to worry about.

I'm not speculating.  I'm trying to fit the pieces together.  And one BIG issue in putting the pieces together is the cars that were involved.  If both brothers were in the same car, it would be a lot easier to throw bombs out the window at the pursuing police cars.  But it appears they were in two different cars during the chase, since they were in two cars when the chase came to an end.  While it may not be totally impossible to drive in a high-speed chase while at the same time lighting fuses on one or more pipe bombs and tossing them out a window, it becomes a lot more problematic if your brother is in the car immediately behind you.

Here are some key times and places in the Tsarnaev brothers' escape timeline:

1.  The decision to run:

At some point during the day on Thursday, April 18, the Tsarnaev brothers decided to make a run for it.  The police were showing pictures of the bombers on TV, and people at the younger brother's school were starting to mention that the pictures looked like the two Tsarnaev brothers.  Dzohkhar evidently climbed into his green 1999 Honda Civic and headed to Cambridge to join up with his brother.  Whether or not his brother also had a car is an unanswered question, but, if he did, it appears to have been a gray 1999 Honda Odyssey.   (On Tuesday, the younger brother had tried to get access to a white Mercedes station wagon that was in a repair shop, but it wasn't ready.   Source.)

2.  The shooting of the MIT police officer, Sean Collier:

The only weapons the two brothers had were some bombs, one semi-automatic pistol and (reportedly) a pellet gun.  They allegedly tried to steal a gun from an MIT police officer:

According to a statement from the Middlesex district attorney’s office, at 10:20 p.m, gunshots were reported to police, and 10 minutes later Collier was found shot in his vehicle, outside MIT’s distinctive Stata CenterSource.

But the officer's weapon was reportedly in a "triple-lock holster" and the brothers weren't able to get it out.

3. The hijacking of the Mercedes SUV:

The Tsarnaev brothers evidently felt that they needed a second car or a different car, perhaps assuming that the police would be looking for their car(s).

The 26-year-old Chinese entrepreneur ["Danny"] had just pulled his new Mercedes [ML 350] to the curb on Brighton Avenue to answer a text when an old sedan swerved behind him, slamming on the brakes. A man in dark clothes got out and approached the passenger window. It was nearly 11 p.m. last Thursday. 
....

He ordered Danny to drive -- right on Fordham Road, right again on Commonwealth Avenue -- the beginning of an achingly slow odyssey last Thursday night and Friday morning in which Danny felt the possibility of death pressing on him like a vise.
.....

Danny described 90 harrowing minutes, first with the younger brother following in a second car, then with both brothers in the Mercedes, where they openly discussed driving to New York, though Danny could not make out if they were planning another attack.   Source.

4.  Getting money for the escape:

At 11:18 p.m., Thursday night, Dzohkhar Tsarnaev used a debit card taken from their hostage to withdraw $800 from a Bank of America ATM kiosk somewhere in Watertown.  I haven't yet determined which ATM(s) were used.  The ATM photos make it seem like it could be the one at 39 Main Street, but that would have required the brothers to backtrack and almost pass the crime scene where they previously shot and killed the MIT police officer.  Doing that seems highly unlikely.  Source.

5.  Getting gas for the trip to New York:

It's somewhat unclear if both brothers were in the Mercedes when they stopped for gas, or if the younger brother was following the Mercedes in his Civic.  I suspect the latter.  Either way, the Mercedes needed gas and they pulled into a Shell gas station and convenience store at 820 Memorial Drive in Cambridge.  It was evidently a "cash only" station, which meant someone had to go inside to pay, leaving only one person to watch over their prisoner.

When the younger brother, Dzhokhar, was forced to go inside the Shell Food Mart to pay, older brother Tamerlan put his gun in the door pocket to fiddle with a navigation device -- letting his guard down briefly after a night on the run. Danny then did what he had been rehearsing in his head. In a flash, he unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door, stepped through, slammed it behind, and sprinted off at an angle that would be a hard shot for any marksman.  Source.

or you can believe the less reliable alternative version:

While one of the brothers was outside the car pumping gas and the other was inside paying, the victim jumped out of the car and ran to a Mobil station across the street.
....

Mobil cashier Tarek Ahmed said the terrified victim rushed into his station, screaming, “Some men are trying to shoot me. They have a bomb and guns.”

“He was so scared that he could not stand up,” Ahmed told the Daily Mail. “He fell over and at first I thought he was drunk.

Ahmed called 911 and cops converged on the gas station from all directions. Source

The Mobil station is at 816 Memorial Drive in Cambridge.  The police radio calls describe the two brothers as "Middle-eastern males," one lighter-skinned than the other.

My experience with "cash only" gas stations is that they want the cash before they turn on the pump.  You give them X-dollars and they set the pump to dispense X-dollars worth of gas.  If the same holds true in Boston, it suggests that the two brothers may not have had time to pump the gas if "Danny" escaped while Dzohkhar was in the store.

6.  The police chase:

This is where the police radio broadcasts seem to be the main source for all the news reports - including the reports about bombs being tossed from cars.  Click HERE to go to a web page that has the broadcasts.

The chase began, apparently with the Civic following close behind the Mercedes.  They pulled off the main streets with the police in hot pursuit and then (it appears) that Tamerlan in the Mercedes decided to stop and make a stand (perhaps because he had nearly out of gas).  He pulled over on side street in Watertown.  His brother drove around him and came to a stop at an angle in front of the Mercedes.  They were next to
62 Laurel Street in Watertown.

7.  The shootout and the capture of Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

At 12:46 a.m. on the morning of April 19, 2013, an eyewitness used his iPhone to take pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers in their shootout with police.  Source.  The brothers had backpacks which they'd taken from the green Honda Civic.  They only had one gun, and Tamerlan used it to fire at the police.  A pressure cooker bomb from the backpacks was then put to use:

The use of this explosive created an enormous cloud of smoke that covered the entire street. While the street was still cloudy with smoke one of the brothers started running down the street towards the officers, while still engaging them in gunshots. As he got closer to the officers, within 10 -15 yards of them he was taken down. From my vantage point I did not see whether he was tackled to the ground or brought down by gunshots.

Dzohkhar then gots into the Mercedes SUV, made a U-Turn in the middle of the street and headed toward the police.  He ran over his brother as the police scattered; he crashed through the police cars, knocking off their car doors; and he disappeared into the night.  Dzohkhar abandoned the Mercedes not far away (or maybe it ran out of gas) and continued to flee on foot.

8.  The capture of Dzohkhar Tsarnaev:

The police cordon off the area, but Dzohkhar has already made it outside of the area of the police lockdown.  He was bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds received during the gunfight on Laurel Street and found a place to hide inside a boat parked on a trailer behind 67 Franklin Street.  (
Google says it is 0.8 miles from the scene of the shootout at 62 Laurel Street to where Dzohkhar was hiding on the boat, and it can be walked in 14 minutes.)

Dzohkhar hid in the boat all day, until its owner went outside to inspect the pads which protected his boat from chafing against its trailer in high winds and noticed blood on the deck inside the boat.  Then he spotted Dzohkhar and immediately called the police.  

At approximately 7 p.m. Eastern, shots were fired in Watertown, leading to reports that officials had Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cornered.
...

Shortly before 9 p.m. Eastern, it was confirmed Tsarnaev was in police custody, and transported to a local hospital via ambulance.  Source.

That was the situation on Friday evening, April 19th, 2013, less than 48 hours after the murder of MIT officer Sean Collier and just 4 days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

I've been trying to make maps of all this for my own understanding, but because I don't know which Bank of America ATM they used, the only map I can currently show here is the better-than-nothing Google map below (click on it to see a larger version):

Boston bombers - watertown chase -small

"A" is the Shell gas station where the Mercedes driver escaped.
"B" is the Laurel Street shootout.
"C" is where the younger brother was captured hiding in a boat.

I find this whole subject to be very fascinating - because of the constant need to sort fact from opinion and belief.  I'm not complaining.  I think the mistakes by the media are very understandable, as are mistakes by the authorities.  To err is human.  Sorting such things out is a good lesson on how history works.  Pick the pieces you want, and you can write a history book that is anywhere between 2% and 98% accurate.  You can write it to support your beliefs and opinions, or you can write it to explain the facts.  There's plenty of material for both versions.  Time will tell which book will reach the market first.   

Somewhat less fascinating (because there are so few details) is the ricin letter case.  I (along with presumably everyone else) am waiting to see what evidence the FBI found to implicate Everett Dutschke.  It should be interesting to see how some in the media will use their beliefs and opinions to distort and misread the facts about that case. 

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 21, 2013, thru Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 27, 2013 (B) - Someone just sent me a link to audio files of the police calls after the MIT officer was shot and after the carjacking victim escaped.  Click HERE.  Warning: The Boston accents are really heavy.

April 27, 2013 (A) - According to Fox News and The Washington Post, they've arrested
Everett Dutschke, of Tupelo, Mississippi in conjuction with the ricin letters sent to President Obama, a Mississippi Senator and a judge on April 8.  It looks like this is one of those very rare instances where a guy claimed he was being framed and it turned out to be true.  The news reports say nothing about what new evidence the FBI has found, and The Huffington Post even says,

It was not immediately known if Dutschke has been charged in the ricin investigation.

However, the Chicago Tribune says,

Mississippi martial arts instructor arrested early on Saturday was charged with possession of the biological agent ricin and with attempting to use it as a weapon, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

James Everett Dutschke, age 41, was arrested following searches of his home and a former business as part of an investigation into ricin-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and two other public officials.

And, if you think Dutschke must be stupid, the Tribune article also says,

The American chapter of Mensa confirmed that Dutschke was a member of its organization between 2008 and 2012.

So, we apparently have another example of the facts initially showing Person A to be the culprit, but when new facts are found, all the known facts say Person B is the culprit.  The facts which said that Person A was the culprit did not change.  Those facts were just inconclusive and misleading.  But, that wasn't known until the new facts were found.

Is it possible that still more facts may be found which say that Person C did it?  Maybe.  It all depends upon the facts.  Some facts pertaining to Person B may be "direct evidence," which would tend to eliminate all or nearly all reasonable doubt.

It would be nice if facts always revealed themselves promptly and in the right order, but that is very often not the case.

Was the FBI "wrong" in arresting Paul Kevin Curtis?  They had evidence Curtis did it.  They had facts which said he did it.  They had nothing which said that someone else did it.  So, it can be said that they were "right" in making the arrest.  But, when they continued the investigation, they evidently found new facts which altered everything. 

I've seen that happen at least a thousand times in scientific situations.   It's what makes analyzing facts so fascinating. 

But True Believers don't have that kind of problem.  They don't deal with facts.  The only use beliefs.  And, no matter what the facts say, they will stick with their beliefs - they will never admit to being wrong.

Christopher Columbus looked at the facts he'd gathered and figured out what he thought was a new route to Asia.  Columbus made four voyages to what he thought was Asia, and he went to his grave believing he'd reached Asia.  In reality, he never got close.  I wonder if Anthrax Truthers spend all day on Columbus Day laughing at what a fool Columbus was for miscalculating the distance from Portugal to Asia as being only 3,000 miles.  Or do they honor Columbus for sticking with his erroneous beliefs even though "most scholars of the era thought the disance was far greater" - more than 11,000 miles.

April 26, 2013 (B) - This morning, I took a Google tour around the area in front of the Tamarlan Tsarnaev home at 410 Norfolk St. in Cambridge, and I spotted what could  be both cars owned by the Tsarnaev brothers.  The Google images were taken in July 2007.  The entrance to the home is via the vine-covered arch next to the gray vehicle below.

Tsarnaev cars?

Identifying cars are NOT one of my areas of expertise.  However, the sedan in image #2 clearly seems to be Dzohkhar's green 1999 Honda Civic.  And, the other vehicle parked in front of the Civic seems to be a 1999 gray Honda Odyssey, not a C-RV.  But, what are the odds of it being Tamerlan Tsarnaev's nevertheless?   I tried to zoom in on the license plate, but I couldn't read it.   The license number for Tamerlan's Honda was
316ES9

NOTE ADDED MAY 6: Identifying cars is definitely NOT my area of expertise.  I've been informed that the two cars are a Chrysler minivan and a Toyota sedan.  See my (B) comment for May 6, 2013 for further details.   

April 26, 2013 (A) - Someone sent me a link to another interesting Boston Globe article, this one with a lengthy interview of the Chinese businessman whose leased Mercedes SUV was hijacked by the Tsarnaev brothers.  He's called "Danny" in the article.

The 26-year-old Chinese entrepreneur had just pulled his new Mercedes to the curb on Brighton Avenue to answer a text when an old sedan swerved behind him, slamming on the brakes. A man in dark clothes got out and approached the passenger window. It was nearly 11 p.m. last Thursday.

The man rapped on the glass, speaking quickly. Danny, unable to hear him, lowered the window -- and the man reached an arm through, unlocked the door, and climbed in, brandishing a silver handgun.
.....

Directed to a quiet neighborhood in East Watertown, Danny pulled up as told on an unfamiliar side street. The sedan stopped behind him. A man approached -- the skinnier, floppy-haired “Suspect No. 2” in the photos and videos released by investigators earlier that evening -- and Tamerlan got out, ordering Danny into the passenger seat, making it clear if he tried anything he would shoot him. For several minutes, the brothers transferred heavy objects from the smaller car into Danny’s SUV. “Luggage,” Danny thought.

Meanwhile, all the Anthrax Truthers seem to want to discuss is their belief that the fact that ricin letter suspect Paul Kevin Curtis was released is somehow proof that Bruce Ivins was innocent.  One Anthrax Truther on my interactive blog is again arguing that it means an al Qaeda operative sent the anthrax letters, disproving my handwriting analysis, while another Anthrax Truther says it means that some unnamed criminal mastermind who he believes was also behind a vast array of unsolved mysteries (the Florida anthrax hoax letters, the Goldman Sachs hoax letters, the Assaad letter, the recent ricin letters, etc., etc.) sent the anthrax letters.  One Truther implies that all the handwriting facts I list are just my beliefs.  The other argues that I shouldn't accept documents at face value even if I have no reason not to accept them.

What I cannot make them understand is that there is a BIG difference between me merely trying to follow and understand what the FBI is doing and the Truthers arguing their personal theories and beliefs about the case ricin. I don't have any particular belief about or special interest in the recent ricin letters.  I'm just trying to understand the situation and to separate facts from beliefs.  To me, Curtis still seems like the best suspect.  Yes, he's been released.  But, that doesn't mean he was "falsely" arrested.  It just seems to mean that the authorities now have a second possible suspect,
J. Everett Dutschke, an enemy of Curtis's who some think might have tried to frame Curtis.  But, for every real frame-up, there have probably been ten thousand claims about a frame-up.

And, the fact that there are now two possible suspects certainly doesn't mean that the real ricin letter writer was really some crimnal mastermind who also sent the anthrax letters.

April 25, 2013 - Details continue to filter in about the Tsarnaev brothers.  The Boston Globe has an article about their finances which says:

The older brother liked to look like a man of means, once posing for a photo in front of a gleaming Mercedes sporting a long wool scarf and white leather slip-on shoes. But Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was a stay-at-home dad, relying on his wife to work long hours as a home health care aide to support the family.

And the car? Tsarnaev most recently owned a 15-year-old Honda.

Tsarnaev’s younger brother never seemed strapped for cash, according to people who knew him at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where he was a sophomore. But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a scholarship student who earned spending money by selling marijuana, say three people who bought drugs from the 19-year-old.

The comment about the Honda made me wonder if it was the same Honda abandoned at the scene of the shootout on Laurel Street.  The article also says,

But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev didn’t live a particularly lavish lifestyle. He drove his father’s green 1999 Honda Civic. And while UMass Dartmouth costs more than $22,000 a year, including room and board, many students receive significant student loans and other financial aid. UMass declined to give details on Tsarnaev’s aid package, but he received at least one scholarship — $2,500 from the city of Cambridge, where he went to high school.

A Boston Herald article say Tamerlan's car was a gray Honda CRV:

Records show Tamerlan Tsarnaev had a gray 1999 Honda CRV registered in Massachusetts.

The car abandoned at the shootout was definitely NOT a Honda CRV.  It appears to be a green Civic.  So, it was probably the one Dzhokhar drove. 

What difference does it make?  Probably none, but they had to hijack a Mercedes SUV to have two vehicles, one for each brother.  And one wonders if they hauled the Marathon bombs to the crime scene in the green Civic or the gray CRV, or if Tamerlan even still owned the CRV.  There are too many leftover pieces of this puzzle. 

A Boston Globe article from today says that the Tsarnaev brothers were heading to New York City when they hijacked the Mercedes SUV.   They planned to explode their remaining bombs in Times Square.

[New York Police Commissioner Raymond W.] Kelly said the brothers had six bombs in their possession: one pressure cooker bomb like those used to attack the Marathon and five pipe bombs.

I assume he's talking about the "pressure cooker bomb" that was detonated on Laurel Street.   But, I could be wrong.  Sigh.

Meanwhile, the authorities appear to be digging through a dump for trash thrown out by the Tsarnaev brothers.  Their trash may help fill in some blanks.  I feel like I'm sorting through a lot of trash, too, as I try to figure out which news story is true, which is false, and how all the pieces fit together.

April 24, 2013 (C) - It appears that the Tsarnaev brothers only had one real gun - a semi-automatic pistol - plus a pellet gun.  According to CBS News, they may have killed the MIT campus police officer in an attempt to get his weapon.  But, it was in a locked holster and they couldn't get it.  When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, he evidently had no weapons.   It's still unclear if he had still had explosives.

April 24, 2013 (B) - The Washington Post brought up the anthrax attacks again yesterday in an article about the ricin letters.

A federal magistrate judge directed that charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, be dismissed because “the ongoing investigation has revealed new information,” according to his written order. The charges were dropped without prejudice, meaning that they could be reinstated.
.....

The case bears some resemblance to the FBI’s pursuit of scientist Steven J. Hatfill, who was investigated for nearly five years in connection with deadly anthrax mailings in 2001. The former bioweapons researcher was not formally cleared by prosecutors until 2008, after the death of another man, bacteriologist Bruce E. Ivins, who had become the leading suspect before he succumbed to a drug overdose.

I think there's only a resemblance if you really want to see or suggest a resemblance.  Notice that they don't mention the very large role The Washington Post played in the media's unjustified "pursuit" of Steven Hatfill.

The New Yorker also has an article that mentions how the "government  investigated and harassed Steven Hatfill for years in connection with the anthrax attacks of 2001," only their article is about the Boston Marathon bombings and how people on the Reddit web site wrongly identified innocent people as being the bombers.  Again there is no mention of the role the media played in Hatfill's "harassment," specifically The New Yorker.

Meanwhile, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader,

New Hampshire Republicans on Tuesday quickly distanced themselves from the words of an Auburn legislator who apparently believes the U.S. government is behind the Boston Marathon bombings.

Last Friday, Rep. Stella Tremblay, R-Auburn, posted the following comment on conservative pundit Glenn Beck's Facebook page:

"Just as you said would happen. Top Down, Bottom UP. The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops 'terrorist' attack. One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now 'terrorist' attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a 'wake up' to all of us. First there was a 'suspect' then there wasn't."

Rep. Tremblay also believes that President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Adolph Hitler.  The Lunatic Fringe may be small, but they sometimes seem to be everywhere.

April 24, 2013 (A) - This is totally off-topic, but if you ever wondered what happens when you wring out a washcloth in the microgravity of the International Space Station, NASA has a video that has the answer HERE.  Check out the sound wave experiment link, too.

April 23, 2013 (C) - While I was working out at the health club this afternoon, CNN was showing some pictures of part of the shootout between the Tsarnaev brothers and the police.  I looked for the images when I got home and found they were taken by a witness from his 3rd floor bedroom.  Click HERE for his description of what he saw and the pictures he took.  A British newspaper The Daily Mail has copies of some of them, too.

Below is a picture of the two brothers behind the hijacked SUV shooting at the police:

bomber shootout

There was also news about where they probably got the explosives.  Click HERE.  The brothers used gunpowder/black powder from fireworks they purchased in February.  Now the big question is: Where did they make and test the bombs?

April 23, 2013 (B) - Oh, great!  Something new to worry about!  The Washington Post says the stock market took a brief hit this afternoon:

Stocks and other markets were shaken in the early afternoon when a fake tweet on the AP’s Twitter account prompted a sudden sell-off.

A posting saying that there had been explosions at the White House and that President Barack Obama had been injured was sent at 1:08 p.m. The Dow immediately plunged about 143 points, from 14,697 to 14,554. The AP said its Twitter account had been hacked and the posting was fake. Within five minutes the Dow had snapped back.

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news cooperative is working with Twitter to investigate the issue. The AP has disabled its other Twitter accounts following the attack, Colford added.

It's beginning to look like everyone needs to get the same information from at least three independent sources before it's okay to believe anything.

April 23, 2013 (A) - I've been spending too much time trying to sort out all the details about the Boston Marathon bombing, and I neglected to check on the status of the ricin letters suspect.  It appears that the FBI and other investigators are having a hard time finding solid evidence linking Paul Kevin Curtis to the letters.  Curtis' lawyer is suggested that someone may have tried to frame her client.  Curtis has been released on bail.  But, it's not over until it's over, and the investigation is nowhere near complete.

Meanwhile, Reddit.com is apologizing about misinformation about the Boston bombings: "Reddit regrets role in 'online witch hunt' for misidentified suspect," but "Rupert Murdoch Defends New York Post's Boston Bombing Coverage."

April 22, 2013 (B) - I'd read about Tamerlan Tsarnaev's girlfriend who drove a white Mercedes, but I never noticed anything about his wife and child until this morning.  The wife worked seven days a week while Tamerlan took care of the child.  Presumably, she was taking care of the child while Tamerlan was off planting the bombs.  Since she says  she knew nothing about the bombs, the explosive devices may not have been built in the "squalid, ramshackle apartment" where they all evidently lived.  I'm beginning to think I should just wait for the book to come out that will explain all this.

Meanwhile, the criminal complaint filed against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev explains some of the evidence, which may include more than one video showing him planting the second bomb.

April 22, 2013 (A) - According to CBS News "Boston bombing suspect awake, answering questions."  However, since he was shot in the throat and can only answer questions by writing answers, the process is very slow and the immediate focus is on questions like

'Where did you make the bombs? Are there any more explosives out there? Any more cells? Are there any more people?'

Meanwhile, I read through the first 440 of the (currently) 664 comments following an NBC News article titled "7 biggest unanswered questions over Boston Marathon bombings."  It's fascinating to read all the various theories and opinions.  The nut cases seem to far outnumber the sane people, but that's probably because most sane people have better things to do than to post arguments to a web site.  It's really tempting to jump in and try to shoot down some of the more nutty beliefs, particularly the wild interpretations of images.  I can't resist doing just one.  The full size image is HERE.  Click HERE for the video of the amateur sleuth arguing that Dzhokhar is still wearing his backpack and that "Blackwater agents did the Boston bombing."

Dzhokhar fleeing bomb scene analyzed

Also, Dzhokhar was carrying a backpack that was light gray or nearly white.  So, there's no way that the above picture shows him carrying his backpack.

Dzhokhar carrying his backpack

April 21, 2013 (C) - There's a very interesting, detail-filled article by USA Today where the police chief of Watertown, MA, describes how
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured.  A new article from the Boston Globe says that the old brother, Tamerlan, was killed when the younger brother, Dzhokhar, ran over him with the stolen Mercedes.

April 21, 2013 (B) - I've changed my mind about the picture on thesmokinggun.com.   I now think it's real.  The other shot from the FBI's web site includes two of the same women that are in the questioned shot.  I just needed to have some time without fifty things happening at once to realize that one shot appears to have been taken a fraction of a second after the other. They are probably two different frames from a video.   Two other pictures of the two killers walking on that sidewalk before the explosions are HERE and HERE.  And there's an amazing shot of the younger killer shortly after the explosions HERE.  He's turning the corner on the left side of the picture.

April 21, 2013 (A) - Wow!  What a week!  Too much information to process, too little time to process it, and much too much of it was bogus information.  Here's a comment from Entertainment Weekly:

The longer the networks reported on the Boston manhunt on Friday afternoon, the less we knew about what was actually going on. Before the bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was finally caught that night, the confusion around the case had already raised some troubling questions about the power of TV news in general.

At a time when social media offers quicker updates than the anchors, most people only turn to the networks when they need a singular, authoritative voice — one that waits to report the news until it’s been triple-confirmed, sorting out the rumors from the facts. But as police closed in on Dzhokhar, the anchors seemed just as baffled as the people watching. You got the feeling that watching TV was no better than following ordinary people on Twitter or Reddit. That was scary. But what was even scarier was the creeping sense that you might be better off following no one, since nobody (professional or amateur) seemed to know anything. It was just a lot of frustrated people, mechanically delivering details they fully expected to eventually contradict.

While there seemed to be an absolute deluge of bad information mixed with the correct information last week, it was also the first time I can recall where news journalists were so frequently criticizing other news journalists for getting information wrong.   That might be a step in the right direction, but is it even possible or preferable to have the media not say anything until they have all the facts?

Of course, we want the media to give us only the facts.  But what if they don't know what the facts are?  Do we want their best guesses - their "educated guesses"?  Yes, I think I do, but only if they say it is their "best guess" and that it could turn out to be totally wrong.  I don't mind people making mistakes as they try to figure things out, but I don't want them reporting things as fact that later turn out to be totally untrue.

And, everyone needs to learn that something isn't necessarily true just because an "expert" said it.

One of the big problems demonstrated again last week was that "experts" can often be totally wrong.  It was a Massachusetts State Patrol officer who told the the media that he'd seen between 25 and 30 people with their limbs blown off.  The actual number appears to be less than 10.   And Fox News heavily relied on Steven Emerson, who they consider to be an "expert"  from  "The Investigative Project on Terrorism," which Emerson founded.  To a lot of other people, however, Emerson seems to be a far right winger and another damned conspiracy theorist.  Glenn Beck, of course, believes him.  But Salon.com questions Emerson's expertise.   Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR.org) has an article "Steve Emerson Gets It Wrong - Again." 

One Salon.com article reports:

Emerson, a former journalist who has since made a career out of being a self-styled expert, was himself a little too credulous on the New York Post-boosted story line about the Saudi national, telling C-SPAN Tuesday morning that based on “certain classified information” that he was “privy to,” he was pretty sure authorities had found their man in “the Saudi national.” But six hours later, on Fox, he broke the news that “the Saudi suspect has been ruled out.”

and then Emerson botched it again:

EMERSON: Let me throw in another curve ball here that is going to make news. Remember the Saudi that they initially had arrested, or at least detained? … Well I just learned from my own sources that he is now going to be deported on national security grounds next Tuesday, which is very unusual.

The Saudi being deported was not the Saudi student.  It was a totally different Saudi.

But, the pattern is clear.  Emerson clearly wasn't looking for facts, he was looking for whatever he could interpret to support his beliefs.  And, we know from following the anthrax case that there there are a lot of other "experts" like him around.


Another report tells how Michelle Obama visited a 'person of interest" in the Boston bombings.  Only, of course, he was NOT a "person of interest."  He was just that same victim of the bombing who happened to be a Saudi.  But someone wanted to connect the bombings to President Obama.

Meanwhile, there's the other "problem" with getting correct information. 
The Los Angeles Times has an article titled "Boston Bombing: Social media spirals out of control." 

Over the last few days, thousands of people have taken to the Internet to play Sherlock Holmes.

Armed with little more than grainy surveillance camera videos, cellphone photos and live tweets from police scanners, they have flooded the Web with clues, tips and speculation about what happened in Boston and who might have been behind it.

Monday's bombings, the first major terrorist attack on American soil in the age of smartphones, Twitter and Facebook, provided an opportunity for everyone to get involved. Within seconds of the first explosion, the Internet was alive with the collective ideas and reactions of the masses.

But this watershed moment for social media quickly spiraled out of control. Legions of Web sleuths cast suspicion on at least four innocent people, spread innumerable bad tips and heightened the sense of panic and paranoia.

"This is one of the most alarming social media events of our time," said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia. "We're really good at uploading images and unleashing amateurs, but we're not good with the social norms that would protect the innocent."

In spite of all the wrong information and all the errors, I think the authorities did an excellent job in tracking down both the ricin mailer and the Boston Marathon bombers last week.   Yes, there was a lot of luck involved.  Things were definitely speeded up when the bombers told the owner of a car they hijacked that they were the bombers, and a cellphone in the car was used to track the location of the stolen car.  But, they caught the 2nd bomber alive.  That required a lot of restraint by a lot of angry cops.

Now we have to deal with the hate mongers who will try to paint every Chechen, every Muslim, every immigrant, every foreigner with the same brush.  And, according to Slate.com, many of them don't even know that a Chechen isn't someone from the Czech Republic. 

The latest news from supposedly reliable "experts" seems to indicate that the two brothers acted alone.  Click HERE and HERE.  But, that information could be wrong.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 14, 2013, thru Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20, 2013 (B) - One of the weirdest things I noticed when looking through news reports of the capture of the second Boston Marathon bomber was how many different views there were of the boat and boat trailer in the back yard of what was once an ordinary house.  I've seen at least 6.  All the views were evidently on the Internet long before this week's events.  Click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.  The first three show the boat, the last three just show the empty boat trailer at a different time of year.

Someone also sent me an infrared shot of the boat that was taken by the Massachusetts State Police and appears to show
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev laying in the center of the boat:

Infra Red shot of Boston bomber in boat

April 20, 2013 (A) - I'm very relieved that the police have captured and arrested the 2nd suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.  With all the reports of massive gunfire, it didn't seem possible that they would have captured him alive.  But, it now appears that a lot of the gunfire was just "covering fire" to make the suspect keep his head down while the police maneuvered into position.  The only wounds suffered by the suspect happened the previous night after the car hijacking.  While seriously wounded,
Tsarnaev was evidently able to climb out of the boat on his own:

boston bomber climbing out of boat

It was apparently very annoying to conspiracy theorists and True Believers to see the crowds cheering the police as they drove away from the place where they had captured the second Boston bomber. 

My web site logs show that lots of people were visiting a web blog called SodaHead.com where one blogger used images of the anthrax letters from my web site.  Here's a cartoon from the LA Times used on that blog in the thread about Alex Jones' conspiracy theories:

Alex Jones cartoon

Looking for where the pictures of the anthrax letters from my web site were used, I found it was part of a rant from "\V/" asking:

Who mailed these letters?
I want to know.
Come out from under your rock LA Times and tell us what you uncovered in you non investigation? Did Muslims do it?

Why did \V/ want the LA Times to uncover the "truth"?  Evidently, it's because the LA Times has a story about how "Alex Jones has a sick theory about the Boston Marathon bombings."

Along that same vein, Cliff Kincaid has used the ricin mailings as an excuse to write a rant on newswithviews.com arguing that the anthrax case has not yet been solved.

In discussing the letters reportedly laced with the poison ricin, which followed the Boston bombings, correspondent Andrea Mitchell claimed on the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday night that there was an “eerie coincidence” to the anthrax letters that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and killed five people. However, she quickly added that the anthrax letters were “unrelated” to the 9/11 attacks, a claim that remains completely unsubstantiated. She is covering for FBI incompetence.

It is still not known, officially and by adjudication in a court of law, who sent the post-9/11 anthrax letters because the FBI completely mishandled the case.

It's a very peculiar rant, as if Kincaid is upset because the ricin letters and the Boston bombings were not the work of al Qaeda as he hoped they'd be.  Here's one paragraph which indicates that Kincaid can be almost as paranoid as Alex Jones:

Equally important, terrorism expert Steve Emerson said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Wednesday night that the Saudi national with a student visa apprehended after the bombing is being deported on “national security grounds” in what may be shaping up as a high-level cover-up of Saudi, or other foreign involvement, in the Boston massacre.

Another source quoting Steve Emerson on the deportation of the Saudi student is HERE, and another source says that Emerson repeated his claim on Glenn Beck's radio show, but an unidentified source on the subject says the story is totally false.

The official said that the confusion stemmed from another, entirely different Saudi man who is actually in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody.

"We do have a Saudi in ICE custody," the official said. "He is not related in any way to the investigation into the bombing. He's not in any way related to this investigation."

The Fox News report appears to be yet another example of bad information from the media - particularly from Fox News.  It's getting so bad that we can reliably take the word of "an anonymous source" over that of a named "expert" on Fox News.  But, digging further, I found that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the story was not true.   The article from The Hill also says,

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) asked Napolitano about whether the wounded student was being deported at a budget hearing on Thursday.

Duncan argued that the administration was committing a grave mistake by deporting someone who was a witness to the bombing.
....

Napolitano said Duncan’s question was based on reports that were not true and that her office would give him the real story.

“I’m not going to answer that question. It is so full of misstatements and misapprehensions that it’s just not worthy of an answer,” she responded. “There has been so much reported on this that’s wrong, I can’t even begin to tell you congressman. We will provide you with accurate information as it becomes available.”

An administration official told The Hill that ICE officers have arrested a Saudi student in the Boston area for violating his visa by failing to sign up for school.

But this is not the same student who was injured in the attack and who has been the subject of numerous published reports since the Monday bombings that killed three people and injured more than 170.

And Senator Chuck Grassley is using the Boston bombings for his own political purposes.

It seems that no matter what the news is, many people are going to twist the facts to make them fit their own agendas.

April 19, 2013 (C) - I've been exchanging emails all morning, and it's getting to be time to eat lunch and head to the health club for a work out.  At the moment, it seems that they have Dzhokhar Tsarnaev surrounded in a 20 block area of Watertown

Someone just sent me a photo from thesmokinggun.com, which appears to show Dzhokhar Tsarnaev walking past some of the victims and dropping the backpack.  It certainly obliterates any sympathy anyone might have about Dzhokhar being dragged into the bombings by his "bad" older brother.   But the photo may have been doctored.

A shot of the 2nd suspect, the kid who was killed, and the backpack being dropped?  The photo almost seems too incriminating.  And, where did the photo come from?  It did NOT come from the FBI's web site.  Thesmokinggun.com says it comes from "
one of the much-maligned online sleuths congregating on a Reddit page devoted to chasing bombing clues."  Maybe there's good reason those "online sleuths" are "much-maligned." 

I notice one of the commenters is also suspicious:

Excellent photo, except the circled backpack might be the wrong one. The ground zero spot was directly under the tree where "white hat's" left foot is standing. A rectangle of red bricks surround the tree. "White hat" dropped the pack right against the tree and walked off. The blast was right behind that row of people on the barricade, and bent the barricade outward and around the mailbox (to the right of the photo limit).        

And another:

I wonder if that backpack in this picture is indeed the one that contained the explosive. If suspect 2 planted it there he would've had to do so around those people. Wonder how many of the people in the frame might have survived and noticed that manuever.... unreal someone could do this kind of thing.

Someone else noticed what I noticed:  The first photo on smokinggun is NOT on a cropped version of the second photo:

Proof of image editing: Look at the top photo, then at the bottom photo. There's a head with a yellow hat in the bottom, which is missing in the top image.

And:

These images have been edited.

The photo in question was taken at the second bomb site, where it appeared that a brown and white backpack had been placed on the curb in front of the barrier.  (See the photos with my comment yesterday.)  And in the FBI video, the backpack carried by the 2nd bomber appears to be almost all white - or a light shade of gray.

I'll have to dig into this more tomorrow. 

See my April 21, 2013 (B) comment for an  update on this.  The picture now seems real.

April 19, 2013 (B) - You might be interested in knowing that a top idiot from the second Bush administration is still around and voicing opinions.  This is from The Washington Times:

Chechnya maintains a deep terror network, and the two Boston bombing suspects were likely taking direction from overseas, said former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, in an early Friday morning interview.

That means more attacks could come to America’s cities, he warned, in a Fox News interview. The entire country should stand on alert, he advised.

“These people are killers,” Mr. Bolton said. “Make no mistake about it.”

Mr. Bolton said terrorism has “been a way of life” for those living in the region of Chechnya for years because of Islamic radicalism and a struggle for independence from Russia.

Of course, John Bolton ignores the fact that the two Boston bombers had been leading "normal" lives in America for the past 10 years. 

I really, really hope they take the younger brother alive.  If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is killed, it's going to be extremely difficult to convince anyone of the two Tsarnaev brothers' motivation based only upon an analysis of the facts.


April 19, 2013 (A) - When I turned on my TV to watch the news while eating breakfast this morning, I learned that one of the two Boston Marathon bombers was dead and the other, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was on the run. 

Shootouts, a dead suspect, car chases and bombs going off are what the FBI was trying to avoid.  Ideally, they would have wanted to grab the suspects as they left their home, or the FBI would have wanted to grab them while they were sleeping.  But, I can see the authorities were between "the rock and the hard place."  Releasing pictures of the two suspects would put them on the alert and ready to fight, or it might cause them to simply vanish.  But not releasing the photos might give the suspects time to commit another attack.

When I first saw the pictures of the two men on the NBC Nightly News last night, I thought they looked like American college students.  Now I read that they are Chechnyan refugees. 

An uncle of the brothers told The Associated Press that the men lived together near Boston and have been in the United States for about a decade. They traveled here together from the Russian region near Chechnya, according to Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md.

So, they aren't American nut case terrorists nor do they fit the standard model for Islamic terrorists.  They appear to be middle-ground terrorists - two brothers with a personal grievance of some kind.

Hopefully, the FBI and the police will be able to capture the remaining bomber alive.  His friends and family do not believe he could ever do such a thing.  If Dzhokhar is killed, they will probably continue to believe that forever - and conspiracy theorists will also come out of the woodwork.  Here's a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

Dzohkhar Tsarnaev

And here's some info about him from the British newspaper The Standard:

Dzhokhar Tsanaev is believed to have attended a Cambridge high school and was awarded a scholarship to pursue higher education in 2011.

His father Anzor told the Associated Press today that his son, who is still on the loose, is a smart and accomplished young man.

Speaking from the Russian city of Makhachkala today, Mr Tsanaev said: "My son is a true angel.

"Dzhokhar is a second-year medical student in the U.S. He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."

His brother a talented heavyweight boxer, who trained at a local gym, had posted Islamist videos on his YouTube account.

So, it appears that we have a bad and angry older brother leading a "good" younger brother into a terrorist plot to make some kind of "statement."   Tragedy upon tragedy.

April 18, 2013 (B) - The New York Post is being criticized again, this time for printing on their front page a picture of two young men with backpacks at the Boston Marathon and the headline "BAG MEN: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon."  The picture does NOT show the men the FBI is looking for.  They are just two young men the FBI wanted to talk with, had located, had checked out, and had found them to be not involved in the bombings.

Meanwhile, the early reports in the media quoted a State Trooper who said that there had been between 25 and 30 victims who lost limbs in the blasts.  A Los Angeles Times report now says that Boston Medical Center reported 7 amputations on 5 victims, Brigham and Women's Hospital performed 1 amputation, and Massachusetts General Hospital had 9 patients requiring extensive surgery, but hasn't reported how many amputations were involved - if any.  The real number of amputations now seems to be 10 or less.

April 18, 2013 (A) - When I turned on my computer this morning,  I learned that they have arrested the man who evidently mailed the ricin letters to President Obama, Senator Roger Wicker and others.   He's a conspiracy theorist, but not one I've ever heard of before.  According to USA Today:

Multiple online posts on various websites under the name Kevin Curtis appear to show a man who believed he had uncovered a conspiracy to sell human body parts on the black market and claimed "various parties within the government" were trying to ruin his reputation. The posts refer to the conspiracy he claimed to uncover when working at a local hospital from 1998 to 2000.

The author wrote the conspiracy that began when he "discovered a refrigerator full of dismembered body parts & organs wrapped in plastic in the morgue of the largest non-metropolitan healthcare organization in the United States of America."

Curtis wrote that he was trying to "expose various parties within the government, FBI, police departments" for what he believed was "a conspiracy to ruin my reputation in the community as well as an ongoing effort to break down the foundation I worked more than 20 years to build in the country music scene."

In one post, Curtis said he sent letters to Wicker and other politicians.

"I never heard a word from anyone. I even ran into Roger Wicker several different times while performing at special banquets and fundraisers in northeast, Mississippi but he seemed very nervous while speaking with me and would make a fast exit to the door when I engaged in conversation..."

He signed off: "This is Kevin Curtis & I approve this message."


One down, one to go.

The Boston Marathon bomber(s) is still at large, although there are news stories claiming that the FBI has pictures of two men they want for questioning.  According to The Christian Science Monitor:

Video security clips from a Lord & Taylor department store across the street from the spot where the second bomb exploded show a man acting suspiciously, according to FBI personnel. He drops a bag and then walks away.

Images show him reacting to the first explosion by quickly exiting the site where the second explosion is about to occur.

According to CBS News:

The man sought as a possible suspect is a white male, wearing white baseball cap on backwards, a gray hoodie and a black jacket

According to The Los Angeles Times:

Authorities have obtained clear images of the faces of two men with backpacks who they believe were acting suspiciously around the time of the Boston Marathon bombings, a potential breakthrough in the search to find who planted the deadly devices, sources familiar with the investigation said Wednesday.

A department store surveillance camera caught an image of at least one of the men leaving a backpack near the finish line, a federal law enforcement official said.

Another official briefed on the investigation said the image that shows two men is the first indication that more than one bomber may have been responsible for the attacks that killed three people and injured more than 170 at Monday's race.

On NBC Nightly News last night, Brian Williams talked about similarities between these events and 9/11 and the anthrax attacks.   Other news outlets were also pointing out similarities.  As I was shaving this morning, I realized that the ricin letters were mailed on April 8 and the Boston bombings occurred on April 15, exactly one week apart.  9/11 and the first anthrax mailing were exactly one week apart.  However, it now seems very clear that there is no connection between the ricin mailings and the Boston bombings.

Nevertheless, the comparisons seem to have spurred a large number of people to visit my web site.  Yesterday, I had 922 visitors.  I don't think I've had that many visitors since August 2008, after it was announced that Bruce Ivins was the anthrax killer and had committed suicide. 
 
Yesterday, there was also a small jump in the number of people viewing my video about the handwriting in the anthrax letters.  But, the large number of visitors to my site has had no effect whatsoever on sales for my book.  

According to the Huffington Post, the pictures of the two "persons of interest" wanted for questioning in the Boston Marathon bombings might get released after the President's speech in Boston this afternoon.

April 17, 2013 - I had certainly hoped that they'd have arrested the Boston bomber by now.  You'd think that if the bomb was set next to the curb as some media outlets seem to think, there would be dozens of photos of the guy who left the bomb there.  The photo below is from NBC.

suspected bomb package

And below is the scene shortly after the explosion, with gruesome details blurred out:

boston explosion scene

Here's another view from later:

Boston bomb scene

You'd think that a bomb going off next to a mailbox would blow the mailbox to bits, but the mailbox seems virtually unscathed.  The same with the tree.  No doubt a closer view would find the tree studded with tiny nails and the mailbox scratched by nails.  And the lack of  visible damage to the mailbox and tree would probably be explained by the fact that it was a gunpowder bomb, not high-explosive TNT or C4.  Click HERE to view bomb parts.

The pictures above are apparently of the scene of the second explosion.  There are similar pictures of the first bomb scene on the net.  It's easy to understand why there were so many leg injuries with the bomb on the ground and so many people standing near it.

The bag on the curb clearly isn't the black duffle bag or backpack that is mentioned in the FBI briefings.   I'm tempted to try to figure out where the first bomb was sitting, since it certainly wasn't by the curb.   But, I've been side-tracked by an Anthrax Truther arguing on my interactive blog that the ricin letter sent to Senator Wicker was from the person he thinks really sent the anthrax letters.   And as I'm writing this I learned that it now appears that a ricin letter may also have been sent to President Obama. 

I also want to figure out why I had 731 visitors to my web site yesterday.  I think that's the first time in years that I've had over 700 visitors in a day.

It's not entirely the result of the Boston Marathon bombings.  I had 660 visitors on the 11th, which was before the bombings.  I haven't had the time to try to figure out what people are looking for.

And, I also think it's a good idea for me to just wait as "the professionals" piece things together.  I don't think I'm going to discover something they missed.  Right now they don't see any connection between the Boston Marathon bombings and the ricin letters, but it certainly seems like a possibility.

While eating lunch, I turned on the TV and saw that CNN was showing a banner across the screen claiming that the Boston bomber had been arrested.  At the same time, their news people were debating on screen whether it was true or not.  I switched to NBC and they were saying that it was NOT true, but the FBI had videos showing a person placing the bag on the curb.  And it's been reported that the letter sent to President Obama that might contain ricin was mailed in Memphis on April 8 and says,
"To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance."  And, it's signed, "I am KC and I approve this message."  It wouldn't be that difficult to mail the ricin letters in Memphis and then drive to Boston for the marathon.  But, while such a theory creates a much more interesting "case," I still have no solid reason to believe the crimes are connected.

April 16, 2013 - I'm not sure what I can or should say about the Boston marathon bombings.  I just watched a briefing by the FBI & ATF, and they didn't say much - other than to clarify that there were NO unexploded bombs found.  The only two bombs they know about are the two that went off.   There were probably a hundred news reports about unexploded bombs being found or being detonated by high-pressure water hoses.

It seems clear that there were three people killed, including a 8-year-old boy whose mother and sister were among the injured.  It appears that more than 140 were injured by the blast which appears to have involved a lot of shrapnel.  One report calls the bombs "crude" and "unsophisticated."  Another says the bombs were placed inside trash recepticles - which could account for some of the shrapnel.

The FBI and other investigators are being very quiet about "possible suspects," although the media is paying a lot of attention to a Saudi student who was at the scene.

I wondered about the elderly man in the race who on various videos was seen collapsing after the first blast went off very close to him.  It looked like he'd been hit by shrapnel, but on TV this morning he seemed perfectly okay.  The 78-year old had been stunned by the shock wave, and he evidently skinned a knee as he fell.

I have no idea who was behind the bombings, but the facts certainly indicate that it was a lone individual - which doesn't rule out a "foreigner" or any American lunatic.  (Of course, The Lunatic Fringe is already saying it was a "government conspiracy.")    

This looks like the kind of case that should eventually be fully solved.  Bombs typically leave lots of clues.  And there were many people with cameras at the scene - including dozens of media people.  Pictures of the same person near both explosion sites could be a key clue to solving the case.  Curiously, the bombs went off hours after the first runners crossed the finish line.  So, in theory, the bomber could have been in the race.  But, rather than speculate, I'm just going to wait for the professionals to do their jobs.   It may take a few days - or weeks, but it seems to be an investigation that needs to be done very carefully more than very quickly.

Update at 11:12 a.m. CDT: According to ABC, the number of victims was over 170, and 17 were critically injured.  There's also a comment that a very unusual number of the victims seem to have leg injuries. 
Another report says the number was 176 and that some victims had numerous nail-like objects or round pellets in their bodies.

Update at 4:30 p.m. CDTThe Christian Science Monitor, Time magazine and many other newspapers are saying that one (or both) of the Boston bombs was made with a 6-liter pressure cooker packed into a black duffle bag.  This comment from the Time article is particularly interesting:

And as a newer DHS warning about the kitchen devices noted, the failed 2010 SUV bomb in New York’s Times Square was a pressure cooker device featuring 120 firecrackers.

The Chicago Tribune says that the explosive used in the bombs was gunpowder, which seems to suggest that the "ball bearings" or "BBs" that were reportedly used as shrapnel (along with nails) could actually be shotgun shell pellets.  The Christian Science Monitor article also says that the bombs were detonated with timers, not with cell phone triggers.  That would suggest that the two bombs were intended to go off at the same time, but the timers weren't that accurate, so they went off about 15 seconds apart.

It's also interesting that Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Wire and The Huffington Post are pointing at the errors the New York Post made in their reporting off the bombing, saying that 12 people died, that other bombs were found and that a Saudi national had been "taken into custody."  The New York Post and many others also reported that "more than 25 people" lost limbs during the blast.  I've seen no official number on that.  

And then there's the Palm Beach Post, which is already asking the question, "Will the Government catch whoever is behind the terrorist attack in Boston?"  They seem to be using the anthrax attacks as a model:

Four other people died from exposure to weaponized anthrax. And we still don’t know who did it. The FBI identified a government scientist, then cleared him. The FBI then identified a second scientist, who killed himself before he could be questioned. His suicide is compelling, but not evidence.

That's probably the most ignorant comment I've seem from the media so far.

April 15, 2013 - An email I received this morning provided a link to a New York Times article about the salaries for college and university professors.  The article says,

For the academic elite — tenured professors at private research universities — average pay this year is $167,118, while at public research universities such professors earn $123,393, according to the annual report by the American Association of University Professors.
......

But the difficult economic climate of recent years is taking a serious toll on higher education, especially public institutions. As states cut back their support for public institutions, the gap between the pay scales at private and public universities is continuing to grow, the report found. Average pay for assistant professors at private colleges that award only bachelor’s degrees is $62,763, while public colleges paid $58,591.

I was also sent a link to an article titled "The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps."

The point of the email was evidently to show me that the climate is right for convincing college and university professors that it's a good idea to look for extra income from the growing Open Access scientific journal publishing business.  Or they might try writing a "review" or "comment" article for an Open Access science journal.  The amount they pay to get the article published doesn't need to be mentioned on their cv when they look for a better job or push for a promotion from their current employer.

This morning, my email inbox also contained a letter "from" Robert  S. Mueller with the subject "UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE." But, the "Reply To" address was Barrister David Johnson at a ymail.com address.  And, of course, the message was a 419 scam from Nigeria.  I probably receive a half dozen 419 scam emails a day, but I think this is the first time I've received one "from" the FBI using what appears to be a valid FBI "admin" address.  But, weirdest of all, the IP address in the email source code connects to an "academy" in Ohio that seems totally legitimate.

Could some underpaid teacher at that Ohio academy be earning extra money by assisting in Nigerian 419 scams?  Or does the Ohio academy have some malicious code planted in its computer that allows scammers to forward emails from there?

Some days there are just too many new mysteries to wonder about.   From the email:
Series of meetings have been held over the past 7 months with the secretary general of the United Nations Organization. This ended 3 days ago. It is obvious that you have not received your fund which is to the tune of $5,200,000.00 due to past corrupt Governmental Officials who almost held the fund to themselves for their selfish reason and some individuals who have taken advantage of your fund all in an attempt to swindle your fund which has led to so many losses from your end and unnecessary delay in the receipt of your fund.
Really??

April 14, 2013 - I'm still trying to sort through all the information that poured down on me last week regarding Open Access scientific journals -- particularly "predatory" Open Access scientific journals.

I wondered if there were any standard rules for "peer reviews" among the established and authoratative science journals.  A Google news search produced an article published last week titled "Journal editors' anonymous reviews criticized by COPE."  That headline probably could use some editing, since it might better read "Anonymous reviews by journal editors criticized by COPE."  It's evidently okay for peer reviewers to be anonymous to the author and the public, but it's not okay for an editor of a journal to review an article anonymously.  

“The reason editors shouldn't be given the same anonymity as other reviewers is that there is nobody to oversee and evaluate them,” [COPE council member Irene Hames] said.

“It is a deception of the authors. I have come across editors who have almost boasted about it and said: ‘I never have a worry about finding reviewers because I just do it myself.’ That, to me, is shocking.”


The article says COPE just issued new rules.  The new rules can be viewed by clicking HERE.  The first rule seems very logical: 

Peer reviewers should: only agree to review manuscripts for which they have the subject expertise required to carry out a proper assessment and which they can assess in a timely manner

There's also information about COPE:

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was established in 1997 by a small group of medical journal editors in the UK but now has over 7000 members worldwide from all academic fields. Membership is open to editors of academic journals and others interested in publication ethics. Several major publishers (including Elsevier, Wiley–Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Palgrave Macmillan and Wolters Kluwer) have signed up their journals as COPE members.

It appears there's also a problem with authors supplying their own peer reviews which they write themselves using fake names.  And there's a problem with rave peer reviews being written by underlings at the request/demand of their author bosses.

Blimey!  Those are problems the "good" science journals are having! 

I wanted  to know more about the OMICS group, so I decided to take a look at journals published by OMICS which relate to my favorite science subjects.   I began with the Journal of Astrophysics & Aerospace technology.  The main page says,

The journal includes a wide range of fields in its discipline to create a platform for the authors to make their contribution towards the journal and the editorial office promises a peer review process for the submitted manuscripts for the quality of publishing.

Hmm.  A May 25, 2012 editorial describing their goals says,

Free access to knowledge was never forbidden by ancients. In factthe knowledge created in different branches was written and compiledby many unknown authors and it was accessible by all and disseminatedby those who had wisdom. Through the keen observation and innovativethinking about various phenomena in nature by humans whowere transferring and creating new knowledge, it became possible toharness the newer products which gave momentary material comfortand happiness to humans. As an example, it has become possible tocommunicate from not only one part of the globe to another part butany object anywhere in the universe emitting certain signals. Moreoverit has also become possible to travel long distances to different partsof the universe either with living beings or without living beings duringthe lifetime of humans and get many information about the distantobject in the universe.

The experiment of open access journals adopted by OMICS publishinggroup seems to history repeating itself in the cycle of creatingnew knowledge as it will become major source of knowledge immediatelyand permanently available online without charge, in contrast toinstitutional or personal subscription to view other’s articles, to globalcommunity and in particular to young and aspiring generation whoare keen to pursue a career in Science. The quality of knowledge containedin papers, reviews and articles will be world class as each one ofthem will be critically examined by experienced reviewer. Moreover,the papers, reviews and articles appearing in open access journals areenvironment friendly and sustainable as it is in a digital mode and doesnot require any paper and the knowledge created is available at any timeof the day or night. This technology driven effort may do away withimpact factor, science citation and several other pseudo factors whichdepends on number of scientists working in their network and used byscientific community in a polarized manner to undermine the efforts ofauthor to create new and original knowledge.

As far as I can tell, there's only been one issue of this magazine, and there seems to have been only one actual article in the first issue published in May 2012.  The article consists of 4 paragraphs.  The missing spaces between words exhibited in the editorial above are a problem in that article, too, even though there are six people on the journal's editorial board.   Here's some information about submissions - in case you're interested:

Manuscripts number will be provided to the corresponding author within 72 hours for the respective manuscript submitted.
  • 21 day rapid review process with international peer-review standards.
  • Timeline of processing from Submission to Publication is 45 days.
  • Manuscript will be published within 7days of acceptance.

It appears there will be a OMICS-sponsored Astronomy & Cosmology conference held on August 14-16, 2013, at "Chicago-North shore, USA," which appears to be the Marriott Renaissance Chicago North Shore Hotel in Northbrook, IL.  8 meetings and 4 nights accommodations cost just $1,999.   No speakers have been named yet.

I checked out a couple other Aerospace-related journals to see if they are doing better, and a few appear to be, although they also seem to fill some issues with editorials.  The Journal of Aeronautics & Aerospace Engineering has apparently had 5 issues.  The editors separate words with spaces okay, but they still have a definite problem with the English language.   The abstract for an article titled "Cockpit Voice Analysis and Diagnostic Based on Conditional Rules & Fault Tree Analysis" begins this way:

The characteristics of cockpit voices (sounds) recorded by Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) are key evidences in investigating accident causes for wrecked airplane. In order to analyzing and diagnosing wrecked airplane causes through cockpit voices in CVR, some researchers are made as followings in this paper: Firstly, some typical background sounds of cockpit voices, such as wind shear audio, near-earth audio warning, take-off form of audio warning, fire alarm and so on, are obtained and classified through listening and distinguishing by adobe audition audio software in laboratory.

The one "editorial" I read, "Taming Heat for Safe Lithium-Ion Batteries" seems to merely describe the problem, suggesting no solutions.  But, it seems that's all that it was intended to do.  A scan of the other "editorials" seems to show the same thing, they just describe a problem or issue or area of interest.   They seem to have been written as "fillers."  The Journal of Aeronautics & Aerospace Engineering's web site
has an ad for a conference scheduled for September 30 to October 2 in San Antonio, Texas.  That conference is also organized by OMICS, and the costs are the same as for the Chicago conference.  They also do not appear to have any scheduled speakers yet.

The journal Anthropology appears to be just a shell waiting for someone to write and submit something.  They have an editorial board of 10 people.  The Journal of Astrobiology & Outreach is also a shell, but with an editorial board of 12 people.  They also advertise the August conference at the Chicago North Shore Hotel.   The journal Oceanography is just a shell with an editorial board of 33 people.  They advertise a Manta Ray Symposium to be held in Orlando, FL, on August 21-23.   Same prices.

Some psychology journals seem to have articles about actual research.  The Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy has an editorial board of 22 people.   They advertise a conference to be held this week, April 15-17 at the Hilton in Northbrook, IL.  They list four speakers, and they say it's their 3rd annual conference.
  So, it appears legitimate.

The impression I get from all this is that the OMICS group has set up "shells" for about 200 journals, and then they hunt for some "expert" to take charge of each one.  Meanwhile, they set up the conferences that may be like those Popular Science wrote about in its recent article "Bogus Academic Conferences Lure Scientists."

But, everything clearly depends upon who takes the bait and puts the journal into operation.  If it's someone honest and capable, you could get an excellent journal and very informative conferences.  If it's someone more ambitious than honest, someone naive or less than capable, the journal could end up publishing nothing but fillers and the conferences could get cancelled.

The Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense has the largest editorial board of any journal I checked, with 58 editors.  The current issue seems to consist of 3 editorials, 2 "Review Articles, " 1 "Commentary" and 1 "Research Article."  The previous issue also had only 1 "Research Article."  And it advertises a conference called "Biodefense & Natural Disasters" to be held in Orlando, FL, on August 21-23.  Same prices.

I noticed a link that indicates there have been at least 50 OMICS organized conferences in the past year and half or so.  Click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE for reports on these conferences which appear to have taken place as planned.  Weirdly, the list also includes a conference on Hotel and Business Management.

However, when I click on a link to a "previous" conference on Biothreats & Biodefense, I get a page about what they planned, not what actually happened in October 2012.  The same with a conference on Biotechnology in September 2012.

It's all very hard to analyze.  There's certainly the potential for scamming and for fraud, but there also appear to be some "legitimate" journals operated by knowledgeable people who mean well and do their best to produce a quality product.  It just seems that, in such a smarmy environment, building a respectable and authoritative scientific journal could be like staging a successful production of Shakespeare's King Lear in a saloon on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.       

While doing this research, I found a Letter to the Editor of the Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense criticizing the first of the two Hugh-Jones et al articles.   I'd seen it before, but totally forgotten that I'd written about in a comment on February 7, 2012.  The criticism in the Letter to the Editor was about using newspapers and newsletters as input for a scientific article.  Here's the final paragraph:

In closing, it may be worthwhile to note that published works that do not have the benefit of a scientific peer review process may be subject to conjecture, resulting in the publication of content that has not been verified. Reliance upon such works for the development of consequential technical theories can yield results that are incorrect.

In other words, garbage in = garbage out.

The new business of Open Access scientific journals seems like the Wild West, with no real law and order.  It's a dangerous place for lone cowboys as well as bankers, doctors, farmers and newspaper publishers.   Since Open Access to the scientific journals means the articles are free to readers, the rule seems to be Caveat Lector -- reader beware.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 7, 2013, thru Saturday, April 13, 2013

April 12, 2013 (B) - If anyone is interested, I just came across three articles from Science magazine's web site which address aspects of a new practice of getting Open Access scientific papers peer reviewed interactively: "How Interactive Peer Review Works," "Interactive Peer Review: Advantages for Authors," and "Interactive Peer Review: For Authors, Potential Downsides."  Frontiers Media S.A. seems to be a leader in this new process.  According to their explanation of their review system

Frontiers full reviews are made up of two consecutive steps, an independent and an interactive review. In the independent review phase, review editors evaluate independently from each other whether the research is academically sound following a standardized review questionnaire. Then, Frontiers implemented for the first time the real-time Frontiers Interactive Review Forum, in which authors and review editors collaborate online via a discussion forum until convergence of the review is reached.

The first of the 3 articles I listed adds this information:

The discussion goes on until the reviewers decide unanimously either to accept or reject the paper; articles are rejected only if the reviewers find them to contain mistakes that authors are unable or unwilling to fix. Reviewers are asked not to consider the scientific or social significance of the work.

The positive aspects of Open Access and this process are that it typically takes about 3 months to get an article published, while it typically takes nearly two years to get an article published via the traditional procedure.  The two big "downsides" of this process seem to be (1) if your work is rejected, everyone is going to know about it - including other potential publishers, and (2) all your mistakes - including typos - are going to be publicly visible.  On the other hand, it certainly seems to guarantee that you won't get published until it's clear to everyone that you definitely know what you're talking about.

April 12, 2013 (A) - Even The New York Times is having a hard time figuring out which open access scientific journal is "predatory" and which is not.  I noticed this in a list of corrections from two days ago:

An article on Monday about questionable scientific journals and conferences erroneously included one publishing company among those on a list of “predatory open-access journals,” known as Beall’s list. Although Dove Press was on the list in 2012, it has since been removed.

I also found an interesting article in the Library Journal titled, "Predatory Publishers | Peer to Peer Review."  It says:

There are definitely publishers who come to mind when I hear the expression “predatory publishers.” My first thought is of the high profile academic publishers who are increasing their journal prices by ten or twenty percent per year, leaving libraries with impossible choices to be made between maintaining their journal subscriptions in key fields or buying that year’s monographic production.
.....

Most likely you have been getting an increasing number of “cold call” requests to publish in OA journals. These may be new OA journals being developed by known scholarly publishers, such as the recently announced “IEEE Access,” which lists among its positive qualities “rapid, binary peer-review process with a decision of accept/reject” and “convenient author-pays publishing model, with an article processing charge of US$1,750 per article.” Others may be asking you to submit articles to journals entirely unrelated to your field of activity, or even to join the editorial board of such a journal. These email messages have alerted many of us to a new phenomenon of what I would call “the gold rush in scholarly publishing.”
.....

While many hopefuls flock to the gold rush, so do the cheats, charlatans, and scoundrels. Some of these exploit the situation for their own gain, others go further and take advantage of the trust of others. In the rush to print, and the hopes of attaining prestige, unscrupulous authors can place identical or near-identical articles in multiple journals. Where the journals themselves are not providing rigorous peer review and editorial oversight (and admittedly, some may not be providing any at all), the rules of academic engagement are thus broken.

I was reminded yesterday that the prestigious Science magazine once published an article that was largely "junk science" related to the anthrax attacks.  When questioned about the article, the editor responded,

That was a News article; it didn't report original research, and the authors of News articles  report views of the science as they have found it following investigation.

So, if another science journal prints similar questionable "views of the science" written by authors with  very impressive credentials, where did the "system" break down?  Is it wrong for scientists to voice opinions - even when their opinions are demonstrably wrong?   Is it wrong for a science journal to publish opinions without identifying them as opinions?  No laws are being broken.

Clearly, it's not a question of what is "wrong."  It's a question of what is "right."  And that's a question where everyone seems to have an opinion.

April 11, 2013 (B) - The Canadian Medical Association Journal has a new article titled "US delays testing anthrax vaccine for children."  No one seemed to believe such testing would ever happen anyway, but the article very nicely explains the issues.

April 11, 2013 (A) - I had planned to leave the task of separating "fake" science journals from "real" science journals to others more qualified and interested than I, but I quickly discovered I was viewing the subject from the wrong angle.  Now, I'm getting a cram course via emails on how the whole "predatory" science journal scheme works.  There appear to be a lot more "victims" than I would have thought, and it appears it's going to be very difficult to separate "victims" from "willing participants."

I don't want to hurt any "innocent" people, so I'm going to have to proceed with caution as I dig (or get dragged) into this subject.

That means I don't have the time to write at length about an interesting survey that someone recently brought to my attention, along with an article about the survey which explains that "Americans are a conspiracy minded lot."  The article says,

Public Policy Polling, which surveyed 1,247 U.S. voters for the survey, also found evidence of a red/blue divide when it comes to conspiracy theories, with Romney voters more likely to believe most of them.

The full report shows that 61% of Romney voters believe that global warming is a hoax, while only 12% of Obama voters believe it.  27% of Romney voters believe that the government is covering up a UFO crash near Roswell, NM, but only 16% of Obama voters believe it.  Romney voters also accept the following beliefs more readily than Obama voters:

Pharmaceutical companies invent diseases to make money.

The government uses TV to control people's minds.

But Democrats who voted for Barach Obama are more likely than Romney voters to see a conspiracy in how the second Bush administration got us into a war in Iraq.

If I had the time, there could be a lot of additional interesting things to write about if I sat down and really studied the results of that survey.  Maybe someday.


April 10, 2013 - This morning, Popular Science magazine has an article titled "Bogus Academic Conferences Lure Scientists - Because fake scientific journals weren't gnarly enough."  The article says,

predatory publishers spam the email inboxes of scientists -- frequently using the names of more-prominent colleagues without consent -- and then charge these dupes a fee for the privilege of speaking at a conference. And if the conference gets canceled (they frequently are), the researchers are out the money because the companies don't give out refunds.

The Popular Science article also points to a writeup by research librarian Jeffrey Beall titled "OMICS Goes from 'Predatory Publishing' to 'Predatory Meetings,'" which warns "Stay Away From OMICS Conferences." 

Here's more from the Popular Science article:

Research librarian Jeffrey Beall ...estimates that at least 25 percent of all open-access journals follow a predatory publishing model that does nothing for actual scientific scholarship -- they act solely as vanity presses for credulous or desperate (or both) researchers looking to pad their resumes.

The model for a good "Open Access" publisher appears to be the Public Library of Science (PLOS) which publishes only seven journals.   The goal appears to be to get the results of real scientific research distributed more quickly - particularly publicly funded scientific research.  There's a bill before Congress addressing this issue.  It's called the Bipartisan Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR).

I began this web site 11 years ago because of the arguments about anthrax I was seeing between scientists with strong opinions and scientists with solid facts.  I wanted to known and show which was which.  Now it seems there's a big need to distinguish between real and fake scientific journals.  However, I'm going to try to leave that task to others more qualified than me, since I'm only concerned when scientists publish false arguments about the anthrax case in what appears to be a real scientific journal but which may not be what it appears.  

April 9, 2013 - Wow!  There were a bunch of emails in my inbox this morning in response to my comments yesterday about "predatory" scientific journals and publishers.  Several emails pointed out that the OMICS group is considered by many people to be one of these "predatory" publishers.  OMICS was actually mentioned in The New York Times article I cited yesterday:

One of the most prolific publishers on Beall’s list, Srinubabu Gedela, the director of the Omics Group, has about 250 journals and charges authors as much as $2,700 per paper. Dr. Gedela, who lists a Ph.D. from Andhra University in India, says on his Web site that he “learnt to devise wonders in biotechnology.”

Why were people bringing the OMICS group to my attention?   Because yesterday I wrote:

One list of "potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals" doesn't include a journal I expected to be there

It was brought to my attention that the
OMICS' list of scientific journals does include the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense, which was the journal I was looking for.  And, to make sure it was the same journal, not just a scam variation on the name, I did a search for "anthrax" at the journal's web page and found that the OMICS group published both "Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax" and "The 2001 Anthrax Attack: Key Observations" by Martin Hugh-Jones, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stuart Jacobsen.  I've commented about those error-filled articles numerous times, extensively on February 3, 2013 and October 17, 2011.  (Interestingly, The New York Times printed a front page review of the "Key Observation" article, presumably before anyone at the Times realized that the publisher and journal could be less than genuine.)

I was also sent some links.  For example, Wikipedia's entry for the OMICS group says:

Some observers have described the publisher as "predatory", insofar as authors who have submitted papers have been sent invoices after their manuscripts were accepted for publication despite the lack of a robust peer-review process. One author received an invoice for $2700 after her paper was accepted; this fee was not mentioned in the email message OMICS sent her to solicit a submission. These observations have led critics to assert that the main purpose of the publisher is commercial rather than academic.  The company director asserts that its activities are legitimate.

Some academics have been listed for OMICS editorial boards or conferences without their agreement; the company has also been slow to remove the names of editorial board members who requested to terminate their relationship with OMICS activities.

And, a July 1, 2010 article in The Charleston Advisor by Jeffrey Beall (Metadata Librarian at Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver) says:

I recently discovered OMICS Publishing Group ...  which appears to be a brand-new entry into the predatory Open-Access publishing industry, an industry that seems to be growing by the week. Based on the international dialing code on OMICS’ Contact page, it appears that this publisher is based in India (the site does not give an address or location, only telephone numbers, including some in the U.S. area code 650). OMICS offers 68 peer-reviewed journals, most of which are health sciences titles. Few of the journals have any content. When one clicks on Current  Issue or Previous issue on each journal’s home page, a page appears that says “coming soon.”

Having a large number of titles, as does the OMICS Publishing Group, is typical of predatory Open-Access publishers. Also typical is each journal’s broad coverage. For instance, among this publisher’s titles we find Earth Science and Climate Change, Anesthesia and Clinical Research, and Bacteriology and Parasitology. By offering 68 titles each with a broad coverage, this publisher is tacitly saying it will publish anything.
 

When it was clear to me that the OMICS group had published the Hugh-Jones articles, I mentioned it to someone via email.  The response was (in effect): They are just "vanity publishers" like the "vanity publisher" you used to publish your most recent book.

Not so.  Technically, I was the publisher for both of my books.  I'm listed as the publisher in the book and at the Library of Congress.  I chose to do my own publishing because "vanity publishers" charge too much for their services, and because I felt I had the capability to do everything a vanity publisher can do (edit the book, create the cover art, typeset the pages, etc.).  I just needed a printing company to print the books for me.

But, are Open Access scientific journal publishers the same as "vanity publishers"?  I'm certainly not an expert on the subject, but, it appears that "open access" publishing has a lot of supporters in the scientific community, because the regular scientific publishers  also make their money off the work of scientists, but in a different way which many see as highly objectionable.  That's what The New York Times article was all about. 

I'm getting out of my area of expertise here.  The point seems to be: Genuine "open access" publishers are not predators, they do not trick people into paying thousands of dollars to print an article, they do peer reviews, they supposedly do not publish articles just because they were paid to do so, and no one considers them to be scam artists.

So, the infamous Hugh-Jones articles were published in a journal that was created by a company that experts say is a "predatory" scientific publisher.  But, I doubt that the authors were "scammed."  It seems far more likely that the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense merely provided them with a way to publish their unscientific and erroneous opinions.

If you want to read more about the problem with predatory scientific publishers, click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

April 8, 2013 - Hmm.  Someone just sent me a very interesting article from The New York Times about the "exploding world of pseudo-academia."  It was probably inevitable that unscrupulous people would start creating scams to get money from scientists once paying money became a means for getting a scientific article published.  There appear to be hundreds of newly-created "scientific journals" and "organizations" with no purpose other than to scam money from scientists who dream about being recognized for their work. 
One list of "potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals" doesn't include a journal I expected to be there, but that's probably because I don't really understand the business of scientific publishing very well. 

After reading several articles on the subject HERE, HERE, HERE, and
HERE, the key to solving the problem seems to be very simple: Don't respond to spam emails.

Evidently there are a lot of scientists who need to learn that, if you get an unexpected email from someone you never heard of who offers to fulfill your biggest dreams, it's time to do what scientists do best: research.

And look for what the facts say.  Don't just look for what you hope or believe to be true.

I just love it when I know the solution to a problem that it seems thousands of scientists haven't yet figured out!

April 7, 2013 - Last week, there were reports that new clues had been found to help resolve the mystery of "Dark Matter."  The facts say over 80% of the universe is made up of "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy," but the facts do not yet tell us exactly what Dark Matter is.   However, according to The New York Times:

The tantalizing news is that even with the new data, physicists cannot tell yet which is the right answer, but they are encouraged that they soon might be able to. 

So, even with the best minds in the world working on the mystery, it still isn't solved.  But, of course, there are always people who already "know" the answer.

What is Dark Matter?

"I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer in the world of science.  But in the world of politics - and in the world of Anthrax Truthers - it denotes ignorance.   And, anyone admitting to ignorance will probably be forever put on the defensive by those who are truly ignorant but don't know it or don't admit it.

"Certainty," of course, is a similar issue.  If the man on the left in the cartoon above would have responded "I think I might know, but I'm not certain," that would still be a right answer, and the other guy would still be just as certain and just as wrong.

However, as I wrote the paragraph above I realized that it poses a question: Am I 100% certain that the guy on the right is wrong?  No, I'm not.

Yes, I know that the sky is dark at night because the sun is on the other side of the earth and the night side is in shadow.  But, I also know that if the universe were infinite and has existed forever, there would be stars everywhere, and the night sky would be nearly pure white with no dark space between the stars.  The night sky is dark because facts say that the visible universe has a finite size and has only been around for about 13.7 billion years.  Could a new understanding of dark matter affect the current understanding of the size and age of the universe?  Beats me.  However, the question makes it seem just possible that the guy on the right could be correct without having any understanding of why he is correct.  He could be correct the same way a broken clock is correct twice a day: by pure happenstance.  But, it's much much more likely that he is just as wrong as he appears to be.

In politics and in arguments with Anthrax Truthers, it's very dangerous to admit that you could be wrong.  But, that's the risk you take when you evaluate the facts instead of just declaring a personal belief.

My arguments with Anthrax Truthers have faded away over the past few weeks - ever since I started creating comic illustrations about their arguments and beliefs.  (But, I'm not saying Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.  For all I know, they might have stopped their debates anyway, even if I hadn't started creating those comic illustrations.)  And, until the General Accountability Office (GAO) restarts the debates by issuing its long-awaited review of the Amerithrax investigation, it may be fairly difficult for me to come up with new things to write about every Sunday on this blog -- unless I go off on tangents, like the mystery of what is Dark Matter.  Or things I noticed on my web site log. 

BTW, I noticed that last week I had another 114 visits from 4th graders (and maybe others) taking the Oregon School Library Information System test:

Rank
Hits Referrers - Thru April 2
11 39 http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

Rank
Hits Referrers - Thru April 3
7 87 http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

Rank
Hits Referrers - Thru April 4
8 106 http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

Rank
Hits Referrers - Thru April 5
7 114 http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

Rank Hits Referrers - Thru April 6
8 114 http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

So, my comments about the Oregon school visits either haven't been noticed or made no difference.  That's good.

Another tangent: O
n February 21, 2005, I started examining and saving the daily log files for my web site.  So that I wouldn't need to look up the same IP addresses over and over, I started keeping a file of the IP addresses that I'd already looked up and what they represented.  If the visit looked interesting, I also made a note about when the visit first occurred (format YYMMDD).  If I thought it was an important visitor, I added an asterisk.  Very important visitors were in recorded in bold type.  I keep the file in .doc format, and eight years later it is now 629 pages of fine print.  Click HERE to view page #503, which contains the information for the Portland Public Schools.

Another tangent: On March 30, 2008, on an impulse, I spent $19.99 on the DVD set for Season 1 of "The West Wing," which first aired on Sept. 22, 1999.  And 2 months later, on May 11 and on another impulse, I spent another $19.99 for Season 2.  But, I never watched them -- until last week.  I started watching Season 1.  (Not coincidentally, the second episode of Season 1 is titled "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.")

It was money well spent.  I watched every episode when it first aired, but watching them a second time might be even more enjoyable. 
It's incredibly well-written, and there are complex issues that are explained so well that everyone can understand them.  Here's the explanation of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc from a discussion between President Bartlet and his staff:
  • Bartlet: CJ, on your tombstone it's gonna read 'Post hoc ergo propter hoc.'
  • CJ: Okay, but none of my visitors are going to be able to understand my tombstone.
  • Bartlet: Twenty-seven lawyers in the room, anybody know 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc'? Josh?
  • Josh: Ah, post, after hoc, ergo, therefore... After hoc, therefore something else hoc.
  • Bartlet: Thank you. Next? Leo.
  • Leo: 'After it, therefore because of it'.
Another reason I'm enjoying my second viewing of that TV series may be because it reminds me of the few times when I worked with a team and we all worked together toward a common goal.  That seems to be very rare, and there's nothing quite like it.  When there was something I didn't know, I had someone on my team who was an expert on the subject.  Or, I had someone who could help me figure out how to find the answer.  And, when we made mistakes, we all learned from our mistakes.

That's very different from arguing alone with Anthrax Truthers where there is no shared pleasure over new discoveries and where you're the only one who learns from mistakes.   I may stand on the shoulders of giants, and thus I can cite those experts who found the answers I needed, but I don't have those experts (and authorities) at my side every day providing the right terminology to use and sharing in the research workload.

Another tangent: Last week, I got into a brief debate with someone on Wikipedia who felt that there should be no apostrophes when writing about the highlighted A's and T's in the anthrax letter sent to the media.  So, in the article about the Anthrax Attacks of 2001, he changed this:

Below is the media text with the highlighted A's and T's:

to this:

Below is the media text with the highlighted As and Ts:

I promptly changed them back and explained that the reason could be found as part of rule #11 on the grammar web site HERE.   He evidently read rule #11, he decided I was wrong, and he changed the entry back again.  So, I then explained the rule to him in full, changed things back once more, and put an even more detailed explanation on his talk page where I also supplied a quote from the Washington Post:

The bioterrorist darkened the letters "A" and "T" in certain words in a manner that, when the A's and T's are looked at together, appears to spell out chains of nucleic acids, the building blocks of DNA.

I didn't mention that I also found this on page 58 of the FBI/DOJ Summary Report:

DNA is a chain of nucleic acids consisting of Adenine (designated by the letter A), Cytosine (designated by the letter C), Guanine (designated by the letter G), and Thymine (designated by the letter T) – As, Cs, Gs, and Ts.

I didn't want to have to explain that the Summary followed rule #11, but the Wikipedia article (and the Washington Post article) followed the exception to rule #11.

Feeling that I'd had this same debate before, I looked at the Wikipedia update history, and I confirmed I made the same argument on Sept. 10, 2010, possibly with the same person, but probably with someone else.  (We both used our IP addresses instead of our names in that instance.)

That debate may not be quite as complex as understanding what Dark Matter is, but it required research, it required confirming that the facts were on my side, and it required standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way -- sort of. 

If the guy changes it back again, I may just leave it.  I'm not obsessed with making people accept what I believe is right, but the other guy might be.

I really need to find something else to occupy my time.

Hmmm.  In hopes of finding something funny to use to end this comment, I tried looking up "tangent" in Evan Esar's "Comic Encyclopedia."  But, there is no entry for it between "Tall talk" and "Tangram."  However, learning about "tangrams" was an unexpected benefit.  And it's interesting to know that Amazon.com lists the "Comic Encyclopedia" for $108.74.  The cover price on my copy is $12.50, and I probably paid less than $5 for it when I found it on a remainder table at Barnes & Noble circa 1980.  A bookmark indicates I stopped reading it at "Biograffiti": "Dr. Jekyll Isn't Himself Today."  "Sigmund Freud Was Symbol-Minded."  "Florence Nightingale Was a Pan Handler."  "Picasso Doesn't See Things in Proper Perspective."  Etc.

This is from the entry for "Allusive Quotation" on page 25:

As Columbus said, "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way."
Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 31, 2013, thru Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 2, 2013 - Nothing is easy when trying to figure out why someone is visiting my web site by analyzing their visits via the web site logs.  I've been watching to see if that person or web site in Sofia, Bulgaria would respond to my (A) comment on Sunday in which said I noticed their messages.  I've been checking for the IP address they used: 78.46.133.154   But, I found nothing.

Then, by pure chance, in this morning's log I noticed someone had used the test message I'd used on Sunday to see how a message can be sent via log files:

5.9.7.208 - - [02/Apr/2013:07:09:23 -0400] "GET /This%20Is%20Test%20Number%20One%20To%20See HTTP/1.0" 404 593 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MJ12bot/v1.4.3; http://www.majestic12.co.uk/bot.php?+)"

And IP address 5.9.7.208 belongs to the same Internet company in Sofia, Bulgaria.  So, it isn't likely to be just a coincidence.  But, what does it mean?  What are they trying to say?  And did they use the www.majestic.12 search engine or is that search engine operated by the company that put the messages on my log?   I dunno.  And, I'm not going to spend any more time on trying to figure it out -- unless something very unusual happens.

Meanwhile, the people (presumably mostly 4th graders) using the Oregon School Library Information System are back again, after a full week with no visits - probably because of an Easter or spring break.  There were eight visits yesterday, seven from the Tigard-Tualatin School Distict and one from the Portland School District.  One entered via my main page, the other seven entered via the AnthraxPictures page, but only the one from Portland used the link that is in the 4th grade test: 

66.154.208.35 - - [01/Apr/2013:10:40:54 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

66.154.209.16 - - [01/Apr/2013:11:02:54 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

66.154.208.35 - - [01/Apr/2013:11:06:57 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

66.154.208.12 - - [01/Apr/2013:11:14:00 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.0" 200 65233

66.154.209.16 - - [01/Apr/2013:12:56:14 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

159.191.238.72 - - [01/Apr/2013:13:19:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 6143 "http://secondary.educator.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1; GTB7.4; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; InfoPath.1; .NET4.0C)"

66.154.209.16 - - [01/Apr/2013:16:50:25 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

66.154.209.16 - - [01/Apr/2013:16:54:11 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

I hope they noticed that I fixed the broken links in the AnthraxPictures page.  This looks like another matter to which I'll no longer pay much attention -- until or unless something very unusual happens.

I had more visits to my web site last month than in any month since March, 2012.  So, I suppose I should just be satisfied that my web site is being used by people all over the world, and I should just forget about trying to figure out what they are all doing.

March 2013 total visitors =     13,742
February 2013 total visitors =  11,591
January 2013 total visitors =   12,964
December 2012 total visitors =  12,375
November 2012 total visitors =  12,516
October 2012 total visitors =   13,646
September 2012 total visitors = 12,375
August 2012 total visitors =    10,934
July 2012 total visitors =      11,815
June 2012 total visitors =      12,038
May 2012 total visitors =       12,900
April 2012 total visitors =     12,205
March 2012 total visitors =     14,495
February 2012 total visitors =  12,755
January 2012 total visitors =   13,650

Of course, I had to check to see if March is always a big month for visitors.  It isn't.

And, I had to check to see how the number of visitors to my site compared to the number of visitors to Lew Weinstein's web site.  He had only 4,053 visitors in March.  But, his site no longer seems to be about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  Nearly all recent posts seem to be rambling, incoherent comments about gangsters and art thefts. 

March 31, 2013 (B) - Last week, an Anthrax Truther who doesn't appear to have ever written me before sent me a long email describing many of his unbelievable beliefs about the anthrax attacks of 2001.   Here's one of them:

Cheney went right on TV and performed ‘brain surgery’ on the American public with just one word, “BOXCUTTERS” and that was supposed to cover up the fact that anthrax was used on the air plane pilots.

I learned long ago that when an Anthrax Truther sends you a list of unbelievable beliefs, he isn't asking your opinion or if you agree.  He usually assumes you won't agree, and if you try to discuss anything with him, he'll just dump another load of beliefs on you.  And, if you continue to argue, he'll just consider you to be too stupid or close minded to understand simple facts, and he'll tell you so in one way or another.

So, rather than go through that rigmarole via private emails once again - which would do no one any good and just waste time -, I just told him that he should post his observations to my interactive blog, and we could discuss them there.  He didn't do that.  Instead, he sent me another long list of his beliefs.  So, I told him that if he didn't post his comments to my blog, I wasn't going to respond to any further emails.

That was the end of it.  He didn't email me anymore, nor did he post to the blog.

I'm not certain why he didn't post to my blog.  Perhaps the cartoons scared him off.  He may have seen himself as one of the people in the Anthrax Truther cartoon.  It seems one comic illustration can have a much greater impact than 100 pages of words.

My review of Edward Jay Epstein's book gave me an idea for another comic illustration that might be a worthwhile topic for my interactive blog.  I think it would be very difficult for almost any Truther to argue that they do not use a "double standard" for evidence when they claim the FBI's mountain of evidence is not proof of anything, but every item of their own evidence is solid proof of their beliefs:

Double standard for evidence

The subject blogs seem to have produced results.  A conversation with "Anonymous" seems to have put an end to his previously endless arguments that Dr. Ivins was working with rabbits during those unexplained evening hours in his lab in early October 2001.   When it was made clear to "Anonymous" that his rabbit argument was nonsense, he changed his argument to be about "prosecutorial misconduct." in effect trying to argue that the government should do things the way he believes they should be done.   That's another common Anthrax Truther argument - complaining that the government should do things the Truther's way - although they don't use those exact words.

Meanwhile, possibly as a result of my comments about that Oregon School System's 4th grader test that I mentioned last Sunday, someone sent me a different kind of test that looks like it could be a good one for 4th graders.  But, I think adults might appreciate it even more.  It's evidently been around for a long time, and I may have seen it before.  There's a YouTube version that's been on the Net since 2008.  There's a Powerpoint version and a pdf version, and dozens of other Internet versions.  So, pardon me if you've taken the test before.  It seems new to me and a lot of other people:
 
The Giraffe Test

This test is to ascertain your mental state. If you get one answer right you are doing ok.  If you get none right you better go in for counseling.

There are just 4 questions.  They are in red below.

giraffe

#1.  How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

I'll give you ten seconds to think about it and decide on your answer.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

The  correct answer is: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door.  The question tested whether you tend to do simple things in an  overly complicated  way.

elephant

#2.  How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?


Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Did  you say, Open the refrigerator, put in the  elephant, and close the  refrigerator?

Wrong answer!

Correct answer: Open  the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of  your previous actions.

sleeping lion

#3.  The Lion King is hosting an animal conference.  All the animals attend ... except one.  Which animal does not attend?

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Correct answer : The Elephant.  The elephant is in the refrigerator.  You just put him in there.   This tests your memory.

Okay, even if you did not answer the first three questions correctly, you still have one more chance to  show your true abilities.

dancing crocodile

#4.  There is a river you must cross, but it is used by crocodiles.  You do not have a boat.  How do you manage  it?

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Correct answer:  You jump into the river and swim across.  Have you not been listening?  All the crocodiles are attending the Animal Meeting.  This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes.

According to Anderson Consulting Worldwide, around 90% of the 
professionals they tested got all questions wrong, but many preschoolers got several correct answers.   Anderson Consulting reportedly says this conclusively proves the theory that most professionals do not have the brains of a  four-year-old.
smiling children

March 31, 2013 (A) - I don't see any easy way to be certain of it, but it appears that someone in Sofia, Bulgaria has been reading the comments I wrote about information I found on my web site logs, and this morning he may have sent me a couple messages in the form of two web site log entries:

78.46.133.154 - - [31/Mar/2013:06:04:35 -0400] "GET /+This+web+site+truly+has+all+the+information+I+wanted+about+this+subject
+and+didnt+know+who+to+ask.&tbs=qdr:w&ct=clnk HTTP/1.0" 404 688 "-"
"Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; ICS)"

78.46.133.154 - - [31/Mar/2013:08:07:40 -0400] "GET /+They+are+made+in+China+,+almost+everything+is+copied+there
+,&tbs=qdr:w&ct=clnk HTTP/1.0" 404 650 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; ICS)"

Checking my logs for yesterday, I found the same two messages were there, too, but in reverse order about 50 minutes after he read my main page:

78.46.133.154 - - [30/Mar/2013:21:38:10 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200 308549 "-" "-"

78.46.133.154 - - [30/Mar/2013:22:29:11 -0400] "GET
/+They+are+made+in+China+,
+almost+everything+is+copied+there
+
,&tbs=qdr:w&ct=clnk HTTP/1.1" 404 687 "-" "-"

78.46.133.154 - - [30/Mar/2013:22:30:18 -0400] "GET /+This+web+site+truly+has+all+the+information+I+wanted+about+this+subject
+and+didnt+know+who+to+ask.&tbs=qdr:w&ct=clnk HTTP/1.1" 404 669 "-" "-"

There was nothing even remotely similar in the entire prior week.

I don't understand the message about China, and I could be wrong in assuming the messages were intended for me, but why else would they show up in MY log? 

If they were meant for me: Messages received.

ADDED NOTE
After thinking about it for a couple hours, I did a test to see if I could create a similar message on my log file.   It's no problem.  Here's message I created:

98.144.51.230 - - [31/Mar/2013:15:30:13 -0400] "GET /This+Is+Test+Number+One+To+See+What+Happens HTTP/1.1" 404 643 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1; rv:19.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/19.0"

The IP address, of course, is mine.  I know of no way to create a phony IP address, and it's probably illegal to do so.  All I did was attempt to go to this web URL address:

http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/This+Is+Test+Number+One+To+See .... etc.

So, I learned something new today.  Any day you learn something new is a good day.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 24, 2013, thru Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 27, 2013 - For the past three days, I've been trying to write another comment about the Oregon school visits.  But, I also keep thinking of different ways to analyze the data, and, as a result, I keep changing what I've written.  

When I looked at the month-to-date statistical reports for my web site, the visits from the Portland school didn't show up on my "Total Sites" summary report, because they used so many different IP addresses.  But a different Oregon school did.   It's apparently in Tualatin, Oregon, and it showed up as both #10 and #12 on my "Top 30" list:

Top 30 of 8764 Total Sites
Hits Files KBytes Visits Hostname
10 528 0.87% 526 1.08% 27152 0.69% 7 0.06% proxy1.ttsd.k12.or.us
11 518 0.85% 220 0.45% 27924 0.71% 114 1.05% crawl-66-249-75-154.googlebot.com
12 490 0.80% 482 0.99% 24778 0.63% 8 0.07% autohost66-154-209-16.ttsd.k12.or.us

Another report shows that the AnthraxPictures page is the 4th most frequent entry point for my web site.  So far this month (through Monday), 369 visitors have entered my site at that page:

Top 30 of 148 Total Entry Pages
Hits Visits URL
6374 10.46% 2993 29.17% /
1316 2.16% 1025 9.99% /misc2.html
776 1.27% 668 6.51% /Update-History2012.html
592 0.97% 369 3.60% /AnthraxPictures.html

Yet another report says that 326 of those entry visits came via the link on the Oregon Library Information System (oslis.org) web site (and line 3 says there were 3,377 links from the AnthraxPictures page to other pages on my site):

Top 30 of 2183 Total Referrers
Hits Referrer
26697 43.83% - (Direct Request)
14378 23.60% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/
3377 5.54% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/AnthraxPictures.html
1111 1.82% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/page-one.html
812 1.33% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/SporeInteraction.html
515 0.85% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/writing1.html
487 0.80% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/coatings.html
482 0.79% http://www.google.com/url
460 0.76% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/index.html
438 0.72% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/AFIP-Mysteries.html
397 0.65% http://www.google.com/search
393 0.65% http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com/spores.html
332 0.55% http://anthraxinvestigation.com/
326 0.54% http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

The logs I mentioned on Sunday say that over 200 of those visits came from the Portland schools.  However, the logs also tell me that the first visit of the month was at 12:21 a.m Eastern Time on the 6th (which would be 9:21 p.m on the 5th, Pacific Time), and it came from an IP address that traces back to the school system in Tualatin, Oregon:  

66.154.208.47 - - [06/Mar/2013:00:21:00 -0500] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_6_8) AppleWebKit/537.22 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/25.0.1364.152 Safari/537.22"

The next link came on the 14th, also from Tualatin:

66.154.209.16 - - [14/Mar/2013:14:44:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.6; rv:19.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/19.0"

There were no further visits until the 19th, when the first visit via the link seems to have come from a totally different location: Winter Park, Florida:

76.7.48.26 - - [19/Mar/2013:10:59:13 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 5.1; Trident/4.0; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; .NET4.0C)"

Also on the 19th there was a barrage of 57 links from Tualatin, using only three different IP addresses:

66.154.209.16 - 19/Mar/2013
66.154.208.35 - 19/Mar/2013
66.154.208.12 - 19/Mar/2013

And the 59th link - and last of the day -came from a very different IP address in Portland:

76.27.219.83 - - [19/Mar/2013:23:01:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; Trident/5.0)"

And, the next day, Wednesday the 20th, those three main IP addresses from Tualatin were used 18 more times before a new IP address appeared that traces back to
the Douglas County Education Service District in Roseburg, Oregon:

198.237.17.13 - - [20/Mar/2013:11:41:59 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.1; Trident/5.0)"

Then 6 more from the Tualatin IP addresses before another new IP address appeared.  It belongs to the Beaverton, Oregon school district;

50.53.153.134 - - [20/Mar/2013:20:05:58 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1) AppleWebKit/537.22 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/25.0.1364.172 Safari/537.22"

There was one more visit from that unusual Portland IP address, and it was once again the last link for the day:

76.27.219.83 - - [20/Mar/2013:21:29:29 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; Trident/5.0)"

And that's when the link address appeared for the first time on the Referrer report, as #30 on the list and showing 86 visits via that link though the 20th.

30 86 0.19% http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

The report for the 21st shows it advanced to #18 on the list with all the visits from the four classes that day at the Portland school, which I described in my Sunday comment:

18 214 0.43% http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

When the Portland school visits for the 22nd were added, there were 326 links in total from that oslis.org link, and that was the end of the visits from the Oregon schools. 

13 326 0.61% http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

This morning's grand total is the same:

15 326 0.52% http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp

I took a look at what other IP addresses were entering my site via the AnthraxPictures page (without using the oslis.org link) and found a few other schools and interesting locations, but also many which were just places on the map and meant nothing special:

117.203.204.22 - 19/Mar/2013:08:03:26 = India
130.127.57.115 - 19/Mar/2013:14:35:04 = Clemson University, Anderson, SC
208.115.113.85 - 19/Mar/2013:15:28:10 = Washington, Indiana
8.28.150.76 - 19/Mar/2013:16:51:46 = Aurora, Colorado
24.99.84.233 - 19/Mar/2013:17:06:15 = Atlanta, Georgia
75.102.126.31 - 19/Mar/2013:20:06:38 = Pennsylvania State University
69.255.249.224 - 19/Mar/2013:23:17:12 = Adamstown, Maryland

69.255.249.224 - 20/Mar/2013:06:52:51 = Adamstown, Maryland - again
152.26.239.93 - 20/Mar/2013:09:02:17 = Gastonia, North Carolina
192.157.202.170 - 20/Mar/2013:10:09:29 = Henderson, Nevada
66.208.79.94 - 20/Mar/2013:10:24:39 = Kettle Moriane School District, Wisconsin
208.71.75.100 - 20/Mar/2013:13:53:53 = Cleveland Municipal School District
99.6.68.253 - 20/Mar/2013:16:55:01 = Livonia, Michigan

194.176.64.66 - 21/Mar/2013:09:59:09 = Emmanuel College, Gateshead, England
128.169.2.113 -21/Mar/2013:12:29:41 = The University of Tennessee in Knoxville
168.68.129.127 - - [21/Mar/2013:15:31:41 =
The U. S. Department of Agriculture

And there were visits on the 20th and 21st  from Army Intelligence at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

I thought I remembered visits from that oslis.org link long ago, but I couldn't find any record of a large number of visits prior to this month.  I checked all the way back through 2012.  So, what happened this month was evidently something new. 

This is the kind of analytical problem that fascinates analysts.  What was going on?  Who did those trial visits on the 6th and 14th?  Was that visit from Florida, really from Florida, or was it some kind of error?  What were the visits by 4th graders about?  Why did the Oregon Education System choose my site to use as an example?  Who picked it?  There are lots of possibilities, but if you thoroughly study the data you may find there are very few probabilities.  (I watched "Zero Dark Thirty" last week, and they had a scene in that movie where the CIA analyst who figured out where bin Laden was living stated that she was 100% percent certain of it, even though she knew none of the other analysts in the room would ever admit to being more than 95% certain of anything.)

My best guess is that they were starting a program to teach 4th grade students how to use the Internet for research, who to cite as an "authority," and who the teachers would not accept as an "authority."

I'm not acceptable as an "authority."  But, many of the links I provide should be fully acceptable.  So, don't cite me.  Cite my sources.

I just fixed the link on my AnthraxPictures page so that the RETURN link at the bottom now takes the visitor to my current main page, and I fixed two other broken links.

I may not be an "authority," but that doesn't mean I can't be up-to-date and correct.

March 24, 2013 - Okay students, pay attention, because this is going to get complicated.

On Thursday of the past week, I  noticed a large group of very unusual entries on my web site log.  I had first noticed a small cluster of similar visits about a year ago, but at that time there weren't anywhere near as many visitors as there were on Thursday, so at that time I didn't bother to figure out what was going on. 

This time, however, I took the time to study and analyze the log entries.  I discovered that the Portland Oregon School Library Information System has a web page to teach 4th graders about "How to Critically Evaluate Web Information."  This is the first part of what is on that page:

Who...

is the creator of the information?

or, using Internet lingo,

The Authority

  1. Who is responsible for this site and what are the author's credentials (education level, career, research practice)?
  2. Does the site have a link to information about the author?
  3. Can you contact the author by e-mail or, better yet, by a real-world postal address or phone number?

Practice your skill:

Look at the following Web pages that have information on anthrax as a biological weapon. Determine the WHO, and his or her authority. Download and print the worksheet, and then record your answers under "Authority."

Door One | Door Two

Any 4th grader clicking on "Door One" would be taken to my AnthraxPictures page and would thereby leave access information on my web site log.   "Door Two" will take them to an article on the web site for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Portland Oregon schools are teaching a class on evaluating web information that is partly about me and my web site?!! 

My web site logs tell me that, on Thursday morning, about 27 students in Portland (and one outsider) all accessed my AnthraxPictures web page, starting at about 12:31 Eastern Time (9:31 a.m. Oregon Time).  It was
some kind of test for 4th graders.   The facts indicate the teacher said, "Start!" and all 27 students in the class clicked on the link in their lap tops at nearly the same instant.

IP Address                              Time                                      Entry Point

159.191.238.167 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:31:26 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

159.191.238.253 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:31:54 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
50.57.68.9 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:31:54 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.60 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:31:58 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.244 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:31:58 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.22 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:00 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.182 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:02 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.167 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:02 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.40 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:02 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.251 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:02 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.176 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:03 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.172 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:03 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.68 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:03 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.70 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.128 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.27 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.145 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.247 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.150 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:06 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.148 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:06 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.199 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:07 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.169 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.130 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:10 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.156 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:10 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.208 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:23 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.129 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:27 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.207 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:32:51 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.203 - - [21/Mar/2013:12:35:42 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

The access by IP # 50.57.68.9 seems to be just a coincidence.  It's the only access that wasn't the result of a link from the Portland Library page, and that IP addess traces back to San Antonio, Texas.  The others all trace back to the Portland Public Schools.

I did a lot of thinking about all this, then I started writing a comment when almost exactly 24 hours later, at about 9:32 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday, the same thing happened again:

159.191.238.232 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:31:56 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.46 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:32:55 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.171 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:00 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.179 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.4 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:05 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.189 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.53 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:10 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.186 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:12 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.188 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:12 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.71 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:16 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.76 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:16 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.210 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:16 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.57 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:18 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.252 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:20 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.219 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.198 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.141 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.29 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.95 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:24 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.73 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:24 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.172 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:27 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.247 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:27 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.196 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:30 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:34 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.4 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:55 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.46 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:34:12 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.68 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:34:20 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.46 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:35:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.73 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:36:56 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)

This time there appeared to be 25 students in the class.  There were 30 log entries showing access to my Anthrax Pictures page from the Portland schools' link, but some of the IP addresses were used a second time (2) or a third time (3) during those 5 minutes.  I examined the log entries for the IP address that ends in 200, and I found that it appeared to be two accesses from the same computer.   Here is what the complete log entries look like (with the response code underlined):

159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 200 5996 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 5.1; Trident/4.0; chromeframe/25.0.1364.172; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; .NET4.0C; .NET4.0E)"


159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:33:34 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html HTTP/1.1" 304 210 "http://secondary.oslis.org/learn-to-research/research/research-evaluate-sources-wp" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 5.1; Trident/4.0; chromeframe/25.0.1364.172; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.4506.2152; .NET CLR 3.5.30729; .NET4.0C; .NET4.0E)"

The first access obtained a full copy of my AnthraxPictures page (5,996 bytes) and got a 200 response code (OK).  The second access received a 304 access code, which means the page was already in the computer's cache file and it had not been changed since it was obtained 30 seconds earlier.  So, the student's computer used the cache copy instead of getting a fresh copy.  The other accesses where an IP address was used a second or third time also got 304 response codes.  So, it appears the same students tried to get the AnthraxPicture file again, and one tried to do it a third time.

The software and hardware data highlighted in red in the two log entries above show that they appear to be from the same computer.  The Portland schools only use 256 different IP addresses, so the computers probably belong to the school, and they are probably all in the library.  Yet, many of the computers have different software, which suggests they might belong to the students and just be temporarily connected to the school's server.  Or the computers in the library may have been donated to the school by different people, which could account for them having different software.   I'm going to have to do a more thorough analysis to see if I can find an answer to that question. 

Anyway,

After looking over my AnthraxPictures page, some of the Portland students clicked on the "RETURN" link at the bottom of the page, which took them to the main page I used from 2005 through 2008.  From there, many used various routes to prowl around my web site.  Some students even did Bing.com searches for "Ed Lake." 

I can't recall if my ears were burning at that particular moment, but the teacher must have mentioned that there was a link to a Time Magazine article about me, since nearly everyone nearly simultaneously clicked on my name at the top of the page and accessed the Time article about me.  Here's part of what one such log entry looks like: 

159.191.238.247 - - [22/Mar/2013:12:38:50 -0400] "GET /Time-02.jpg

Possibly between classes, one of the 4th graders visited my AnthraxPictures page again:

159.191.238.210 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:07:40 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)

Then, the whole process began again an hour after that first cluster of the day.  This time everyone clicked on the school web site's link starting at about 10:33 a.m. Pacific Time.  It again seems there were 25 students, and nearly everyone of them used an IP address that had been previously used.  However,  none already had my web page in their computer cache files.  So, all the computers had been turned off for awhile, erasing the cache files. 
It was evidently a different 4th grade class doing the same test:

159.191.238.252 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:30 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.95 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:32 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.196 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:32 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.190 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:33 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:33 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.219 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:33 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.188 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:33 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.79 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:34 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.198 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:34 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.76 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:34 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.210 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:35 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.57 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:37 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.53 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:37 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.247 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:38 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.171 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:39 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.186 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:40 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.187 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:40 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.203 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:40 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.189 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:42 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.68 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:43 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.71 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:48 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.141 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:33:49 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.172 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:34:05 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.186 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:34:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.232 - - [22/Mar/2013:13:37:57 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)

And, an hour later, at about 11:36 a.m. Pacific Time, the third class of the day, this time with 24 students, apparently took the same test:

159.191.238.179 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:01 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.29 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:02 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.203 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:03 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.186 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:03 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.76 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:03 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.141 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:05 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.41 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:05 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.71 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:05 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.187 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:07 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.171 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.68 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:08 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.210 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:09 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.157 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:10 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html
159.191.238.46 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:10 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:14 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.57 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:14 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.190 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:16 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.172 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.79 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.73 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.188 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:29 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.29 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:49 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.29 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:50 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.190 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:50 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.29 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:36:51 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.247 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:37:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.95 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:37:07 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.4 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:37:54 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.179 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:38:20 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)

A 25th student may have come to class late, because there was one student who didn't start until 11 minutes after all the others:

159.191.238.121 - - [22/Mar/2013:14:49:40 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html

It appears that lunch lasts an hour and a half, and afternoon classes start at on the hour instead of at the half-hour.   In the fourth class of the day, the "Start!" signal from the teacher must have been given to about 24 students at about 1:07 p.m. Pacific Time:

159.191.238.189 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:18 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.203 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:19 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.htm (3)
159.191.238.172 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.188 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.76 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.68 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.57 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:22 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.232 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:41 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:41 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (5)
159.191.238.73 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:42 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.252 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:43 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.141 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:43 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.71 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:44 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.198 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:07:53 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.196 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:05 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (3)
159.191.238.247 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:06 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.121 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:10 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.4 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.171 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:26 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.157 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:27 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (2)
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:08:50 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (6)
159.191.238.46 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:09:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.196 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:09:11 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:09:13 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (7)
159.191.238.200 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:09:19 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (8)
159.191.238.190 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:09:21 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.4 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:09:55 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (5)
159.191.238.198 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:10:04 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)
159.191.238.196 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:10:17 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (5)

Again, one student seems to have come into class about 11 minutes late.

159.191.238.172 - - [22/Mar/2013:16:21:27 -0400] "GET /AnthraxPictures.html (4)

I then went back to the logs for the 21st and saw that on that day, too, there had actually been four classes - three in the morning and one in the afternoon - where about 25 or so students accessed my AnthraxPictures page.   I didn't see any need to show them all as part of this comment, however, so, if you are interested, just click HERE to see the complete list of log entries for Portland schools for March 21.

So, what was this all about?

At first glance, the 4th graders' task seems to be like comparing apples and oranges.  My AnthraxPictures web page is mostly about the issue mentioned in the quiz: "anthrax as a biological weapon."  And, the CDC article is an overview of "Lessons Learned and Future Directions" for the realm of public health on the subject of anthrax attacks.  The article says very little about the issue of "anthrax as a biological weapon."  The word "weapon" isn't even used in the article.

The school's questions ask about the person responsible for the site.  My name is on my site, the Time Magazine article provides a brief biography, and  my email address is also on the site for anyone who wants to contact me.  The CDC article has the names of the authors on it, and there are links to pictures of them, but there is no contact information for people who might want to ask questions of the authors.

The Worksheet for Evaluating Web Sites asks which is the most recent article.  Mine is dated August 2008, and it was updated in 2010.  Other pages were updated today.  The CDC's article is dated October 2002 and has never been changed.  Neither site has advertising, neither site requires a fee, and neither site is filled with misspelled words.   And, there is no disagreement about the facts between these two sites.

But, it also seems clear that none of this is important.  None of this is about the issue.  The issue is "authority."  Which article can be cited as being written by an authority on "anthrax as a biological weapon" and which cannot?

au·thor·i·ty [uh-thawr-i-tee, uh-thor-i-tee] 

noun, plural au·thor·i·ties.
 
1. the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
2.  a power or right delegated or given; authorization: Who has the authority to grant permission?
3.  a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a government agency.
4.  Usually, authorities.  persons having the legal power to make and enforce the law; government: They finally persuaded the authorities that they were not involved in espionage.
an accepted source of information, advice, etc.

Ohmygosh!

I'm being used as a wrong answer!

My site may be filled with valuable information on the subject of "anthrax as a biological weapon," and the CDC article may not even mention the word "weapon," and it may be outdated and nearly worthless on the subject of "anthrax as a biological weapon," but is any school in Oregon or anywhere else in America going to suggest that 4th grade students use me as an "authority" over experts from the CDC on matters related to anthrax?  I think not.  I suspect that any 4th grader who tries to cite me as "an authority" in a research paper in Portland schools should expect to get a bad grade.


Their lesson seems to be: If you are going to write a research paper to be handed in to a teacher, you should NOT cite me as an authority.  I may know more about the subject of "anthrax as a biological weapon" than many (or most) professors and scientists, but the teacher grading the paper has no established method for evaluating what I've written.

This made me wonder: Why am I being used as a wrong answer?  Were Portland 4th graders writing on the subject of anthrax bioweapons and citing me as their "authority"?  I've been contacted by teachers who use my web page on van der Waals forces & static electricity in their classes about static electricity and molecular interaction, but no teacher has ever told me they use my web site to discuss anthrax.  Yet, if any student uses an Internet search to look for information on the subject of anthrax, they'll find my site will appear at or close to the top of the list.  And my site contains much more information about anthrax than can be found almost anywhere else on the Internet.

Nevertheless, my site is for providing information and for telling right from wrong, NOT for citing as an authority.  So, if a 4th grader is going to write a research paper about anthrax or specifically the anthrax attacks of 2001, my web site might be an excellent place to start, but the student shouldn't cite me as a source for anything.  They should check the sources I use.  The very first link on my AnthraxPictures page is to an article from Sandia National Laboratories which provides valuable information on the subject in question: anthrax as a biological weapon.
  Cite my source, Sandia National Laboratories, not me. 

And whoever in the Portland school system is creating tests for 4th graders should try to remember, my web site is largely about resolving differences between "experts"  who 4th graders might also consider to be "authorities."  What I've tried to point out for over 11 years is that there are "experts" who argue their beliefs, and there are experts who present and explain the evidence.  Over the years on this web site, I've quoted from the writings of Professor Francis Boyle, Professor James Tracy, Professor Lance deHaven Smith, Professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Professor Martin Hugh-Jones, Dr. Edward Jay Epstein, Dr. Stuart Jacobsen and others who have very strong opinions about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  And, for the most part, the opinions of these "authorities" are demonstrably wrong.  Their beliefs do not generally agree with the facts or the evidence, and they do not agree with true experts and true "authorities."  So, while each one can technically be cited "an authority" in a research paper, hopefully Portland 4th graders will get a much better understanding of a subject if the person they cite really is both an expert and an authority on the subject he or she is talking about.

Who should students believe?

Students need to learn that the world seems to be filled with "experts" with impressive credentials who might appear to be "authorities," but who readily give ignorant opinions on subjects on which they are not experts. 
When there is a disagreement between "experts" on the subject of the anthrax attacks of 2001, what I've tried to do for the past 11 years is sort out which is the so-called "expert" who gives an opinion but doesn't really understand the subject, and which is the real expert who truly understands what he's talking about.  To do that, you generally have to thoroughly understand the subject about which the "experts" are in disagreement.  However, such an understanding is probably too much to expect from 4th graders.

I may not be a professor or scientist, but in 11 years of doing research on this subject, I think I have a pretty good handle on what is fact and what is fantasy.

Nevertheless, I don't claim to be an "authority."

So, if you are a 4th grade student in Portland, Oregon doing a research paper, it might be okay to cite the sources I cite as being the real "authorities," but do NOT cite me.
  You will be tested on the credentials for your sources, not on who is right or wrong.  Your teacher has no established method for evaluating information that comes from me. 

*

While eating breakfast and lunch for the past week or ten days, I've been reading "On The Border With Crook" by John G. Bourke.  Originally published in 1891, the book describes life in the Third Calvary, F Troop, circa 1870, which was at that time stationed near the Mexican border in Arizona under the command of General George R. Crook.   On page 42 there's an interesting description of one particular patrol into Apache country.  The author wrote:

          Not far from there we came upon the corn-fields of a band of Apaches, and destroyed them, eating as many of the roasting ears as we could, and feeding the rest to our stock.
          Such were the military instructions of twenty and twenty-five years ago.  As soldiers, we had to obey, even if we could feel that these orders must have been issued under a misconception of the Indian character.  The more the savage is attached to the soil by the ties of remunerative husbandry, the more he is weaned from the evil impulses which idleness engenders.  This proposition seems just as clear as that two and two make four, but some people learn quickly, and others learn slowly, and the preachers, school-teachers, and military people most slowly of all.

I thought it was an interesting observation on the problem of changing established methods and practices among preachers, school teachers and the military.

I think school teachers might someday have to find a better way to teach their students how to evaluate web site information than by just assuming that the person with the best credentials is the best "authority" on every aspect of a given subject.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 17, 2013, thru Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 20-21, 2013 - I keep getting emails about the question of what the "experts" are really saying on the subject of vaccinating children against anthrax.  T
he-scientist.com has an article "Anthrax Vax Test OK for Kids," while CBS has a headline "Anthrax Vaccine Tests in Children Not Expected Soon."  The BBC has a headline "US Panel backs trial for anthrax vaccine on children," while the Associated Press has an article titled "Panel: Thumbs down on anthrax vaccine test on kids."

My understanding from reading these articles is that the idea has not been turned down, but the "experts" recommend that any work in this area should proceed with great caution.  It's a "rock and a hard place"matter.  Testing needs to be done to make certain the vaccinations will actually work in a time of emergency.  But, every vaccine test could have side effects, and no one can predict how an individual child's system will react.  So, there are both ethical questions and medical questions which need to be addressed.

The Washington Post's article on the subject probably best explains the situation:

The Obama administration’s bioethics commission on Tuesday laid out guidelines for testing anthrax vaccine in children that make such studies extremely difficult and probably impossible.

The idea is not a direct result of the 2001 anthrax attacks.  A USA Today article says:

In a report released Tuesday, the President's Bioethics Commission looked into the ethics of testing vaccines against potential bioterror agents for their safety and effectiveness in children. A biodefense panel had recommended such tests after a 2011 federal mock exercise of an anthrax attack on San Francisco had concluded that 8 million people would be affected, with a quarter of them children.

I don't have any firm opinions.  I don't see anything wrong with debating the subject, as long as it's understood that it's not a political question, it's an ethical and medical question.  And, we're not in the 1950's where some government agency could perform medical tests on an unsuspecting group without any serious risk that the rest of the world would quickly find out about it.  It seems clear that these tests won't be done until all sides of the issue are debated.  Then it will be largely a matter of ethics: Should a parent volunteer a child to test a vaccine for a disease that is NOT contagious and infection is highly unlikely except as the result of a terrorist attack?  Why should the parent volunteer a child for such a test?  Should foster parents be allowed to volunteer their foster children?  If it's for money, then there's a BIG ethics problem.  If it's because the parent has an unreasoning fear of anthrax, then there's still an ethics problem.  And, what other reason would a parent have to volunteer their child to be a test subject?

Meanwhile, Professor James Tracy is at it again.  Following up on the furor he created when he questioned whether Newtown killings might have been a government plot, he now has an article titled "The 'Domestic Terrorist Threat' in America: 'Extremist' Publicity and Historical Reality."   Within the article is a link to a  new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) titled "The Year in Hate and Extremism."

Professor Tracy's argument seems to be that "extremist" groups are being improperly labeled as "extremists" by the media, which he believes listens to  the SPLC and "
unquestioningly accept its claims."  Tracy suggests that "the SPLC is one component of a larger propaganda effort with ulterior designs and objectives."
  And, that "propaganda effort" from the SPLC and the media (and "the government") is trying to classify as an “extremist” anyone with "the courage to interrogate the news stories we are encouraged to accept, grapple with historical reality, and recognize the crimes of figures and institutions we have been taught to revere."

In other words, he doesn't like being called a "conspiracy theorist" or an "extremist" just because he seems to see conspiracies everywhere and takes the extreme position of arguing that no one in the government and the media can be trusted because some of them have not been 100% correct in the past.

March 18, 2013 - I'm not sure if this is totally "off topic" or not, but click HERE to read an interesting article about a type of anti-terrorist testing being done in Chicago.

March 17, 2013 - Last week, I created another "subject thread" for my interactive blog.  The new subject was "Anthrax Truthers," and I used the comic illustration below as part of the comments I wrote to start the thread:

Anthrax Truther Cartoon
It seems clear that the three most common attributes shared by all Anthrax Truthers are that (1) they each have their own theory about who sent the anthrax letters, (2) they all seem to have started with a theory and then they ignored all facts which did not fit their theory or twisted the facts to make them fit their theory, and (3) they have a double standard when it comes to evidence: If it is "evidence" against the person or group they believe sent the anthrax letters, it is considered undeniable evidence.  However, if it is evidence against Dr. Ivins, everything is dismissed as just coincidences, and the only acceptable evidence would be evidence that was not found (fingerprints, surveillance videos, DNA, etc.).

After reading
"The Anthrax Attack on America," which is Chapter 5 in Edward Jay Epstein's new book "The Annals of Unsolved Crime," it appears Dr. Epstein is inclined to blame al Qaeda for the attacks, specifically the terrorists associated with 9/11.  He seems to be very ignorant of the evidence in the case against Dr. Ivins, and he clearly disapproves of the way the FBI handled the investigation.  On page 56 he declares:

My assessment is that the FBI failed to find the perpetrator of the anthrax attack.

He uses the Anthrax Truther double standard for evidence.  The possibility that an infected gash on the leg of one of the 9/11 hijackers may actually have been an anthrax lesion is major evidence to Dr. Epstein, as were the false positives when tests were done at an al Qaeda lab in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, he dismisses the fact that Dr. Ivins controlled the "murder weapon" as unimportant, he accepts the opinions of Ivins' co-workers who felt Dr. Ivins couldn't have done it, and he doesn't even mention many items of evidence against Dr. Ivins, most notably the fact that Ivins was observed throwing away the code books for the hidden message that was part of the media letter.   

Chapter 5 begins on page 47 and consists of only 12 pages.  On the first page he erroneously refers to the Ames strain as "the most virulent of all anthrax."  Not so.

Here's what one of the world's top experts on anthrax wrote me on Dec. 15, 2003:
Vollum was first isolated in 1937 and then went on to be used in the British trials at Porton and Guinard Island. It is of poor virulence; i.e. it makes any vaccine look good.

Ames was isolated in 1981, I think, and became the routine challenge strain at USAMRIID. It is virulent and good at its job, but there are others even more virulent.

At the bottom end there are some pussy cats. The spectrum of B. anthracis virulence is wide. By definition all are pathogenic, unless they have lost both plasmids.
I've never been able to find any information on exactly why the Ames strain was chosen as USAMRIID's "strain of choice" for developing vaccines.  It may partly be because it is relatively virulent, but, I suspect a major factor may also be that it grows very well in a laboratory environment.  Plus, just about any antibiotic can kill Ames bacteria - making Ames a bit safer than other strains for use in a laboratory, while at the same time making the Ames strain very unsuitable for use in military bioweapons. 

Dr. Epstein evidently doesn't accept this, since he promotes the myth that the attack powders were weaponized with silicon - probably at Dugway.  On page 57, he writes:

In fact, the silicon signature in the anthrax points directly to Dugway.

Total baloney.  The "silicon signature" in the attack anthrax is NOTHING like the way Dugway "weaponized" spores.  The "silicon signature" is almost certainly a natural result of growing spores at lower than incubator temperatures, such as at room temperature inside an autoclave bag.  Although not yet fully confirmed, the "silicon signature" appears to point to plate growths removed from the biohazard trash that Ivins allowed to accumulate in his lab for weeks - in violation of all lab safety procedures.

Here is another example of Dr. Epstein's double standard for evidence:

From page 58:

it is plausible that someone at Dugway stole a minute ampule of anthrax anytime after 1997 and, like any classic espionage operation, delivered it to another party, either foreign or domestic, who used it in the September 2001 attacks.

From page 57:

there is no evidence that Ivins ever removed anthrax from his lab.

In reality, of course, Ivins routinely "removed anthrax from his lab" when he took aliquots to Building 1412 for aerosol testing, and he shipped anthrax samples to Dugway when they helped him created the contents for flask RMR-1029.  Dr. Epstein evidently forgot that on page 51 of his book, he had written this about Dr. Ivins:

It was part of his job to dispense anthrax to other scientists in the world doing approved research.  

Dr. Epstein also promotes the myth that Lawrence Livermore and other labs attempted to "reverse engineer" the silicon signature in the spores.  They didn't.  They didn't even know what the "signature" was.  They were merely asked to produce samples from known documented methods for growing spores, which was part of an attempt to see if the growing method could be traced to a specific lab that used that method.  However, there was no standard method which involved growing spores in autoclave bags at room temperature, so no one ever performed any test utilizing the method Ivins used.

The last paragraph of Chapter 5 includes this:

Nor did the text of the anthrax letters themselves point to a single American scientist, since it used the plural "we" ...

Interestingly, more than 11 years ago, on December 24, 2001, Edward Jay Epstein used that same "evidence" in an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal titled "FBI Overlooks Foreign Sources of Anthrax."  The article began with this: 

The government seems hell-bent in its effort to limit the suspects in the anthrax mystery to a domestic loner. First, the FBI's behavioral analysis came up with the profile of a lone wolf based on its "exacting handwriting and linguistic analysis" of one letter that contained 18 words and another that contained 27 words. It suggested that the writer of these two letters was a single disgruntled American, not connected to the jihadist terrorists of Sept. 11 (even though the letter used the plural pronoun "we" and began with an underlined "9-11").

Is it really that unbelievable for an individual to use the plural "we" when composing a threat letter he wants to appear to have come from a terrorist group?  Dr. Epstein appears to have relied upon that item of imagined "evidence" for over 11 years.  He also says "9-11" was underlined.  It wasn't.  And it wasn't "9-11," it was "09-11-01."  Just like Chapter 5 in his book, the Wall Street Journal article is a fascinating look at how wrong a person can be.  

The article says that the Ames strain

had originally been found in 1932 in Ames, Iowa

It says,


The virulent strain of the Ames virus is also found abroad.

And,

Evidently, the virulent Ames strain had been sent from the U.S. to Britain, and, after the U.S. destroyed its stockpiles in the 1970s, samples had to be obtained from the British facility at Porton Downs, specifically from the Center for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR). Martin Hugh-Jones, a scientist at Lousiana State University who received a sample from CAMR in the 1990s, recalls that it was marked "October, 1932." So the matching sample traces not only to the U.S. but to Britain.

I could go on and on and on, but suffice to say: Very little of what Dr. Epstein wrote and believed in December 2001 has turned out to be true.   Nevertheless, it is what he used back then to promote his theory that foreigners were behind the anthrax attacks of 2001.  And, that is the theory he is still promoting today in Chapter 5 of his new book.  All the facts that have been uncovered during the past 11 years seem to have made very little impression - except for the facts which he can twist and distort to fit his theory.

Strangely and interestingly, while Dr. Epstein may consider conspiracies to be his "hobby," he doesn't seem to promote any kind of conspiracy theory in Chapter 5 of his book.  He simply suggests that the FBI is incompetent, since they didn't conduct their investigation the way Dr. Epstein evidently conducted his - by starting with a belief and just looking for facts which support that belief, ignoring everything else.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 10, 2013, thru Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 15, 2013 - Hmm.  If you check the logs for your web site every day, you can easily get paranoid.   Yesterday, sites at two different IP addresses tried 2,200 times each to access records on my site that aren't there and never have been there. 

At 9:50 a.m., someone at 71.40.108.83 (Schertz, Texas) started looking for non-existent files on my site.  They went through a long list of files in alphabetical order, from admin/modules to zoomstats/libs.  It took them about 1 minute to get 2,200 file-not-found responses.

At 16:30 (4:30 pm) someone at 64.237.33.180
(Newark, New Jersey) started looking for the exact same a-to-z list of non-existent files on my site.  They stopped 4 minutes later after getting about 2,200 file-not-found (response code 404) errors.

Researching the files they were looking for, I found they seem to relate to security problems with Facebook, i.e., ways to break into Facebook accounts.

I'm not on Facebook, and there was no apparent harm done.   But, I don't like burglars rattling my door knobs to see if the doors are locked.

March 14, 2013 - I just received the copy of Dr. Edward Jay Epstein's book "The Annals of Unsolved Crime" I ordered from Amazon.com on March 10.   Chapter 5 is titled "The Anthrax Attack on America," and begins with this sentence:

The anthrax attack in September 2001 was an act of biological warfare involving the first use of a weapon of mass destruction.

How many errors can you find in that one sentence?  I see at least 3:

(1) There were two attacks; the second occurred in October 2001. 
(2) It wasn't an act of biological warfare; it was an act of domestic terrorism that was intended to look like an act of biological warfare. 
(3)  In no way was it the first use of a weapon of mass destruction - unless the author meant "the first use of a weapon of mass destruction" on America.   And even that is debatable if you go back to the Rajneeshee salmonella attack and the British plan to give smallpox contaminated blankets to American Indians (which may or may not have been actually carried out).  Plus, is it really a "weapon of mass destruction" when precautions are taken to avoid harming anyone?

It seems clear that the chapter is going to be a hodge podge of bad research, false claims, and misinterpretations.   I'll study the chapter and post more about it on Sunday.

March 13, 2013 - This is off-topic, but they keep talking about Chinese "cyber attacks" on NBC Nightly News, and elsewhere like in Time Magazine.  I don't know if it's connected, but I keep noticing long strings of attempts by people in China to access things on my site that have to do with registering and signing up.  Presumably, that all relates to passwords, and the programs they're using to do these accesses can't figure out that you don't need a password to access my site.

So far this month, I've noticed 12 sessions where Chinese sites have made dozens of attempts to get registration or sign-up information:

61.237.241.37 - 01/Mar/2013 = China TieTong Telecommunications Corporation

27.153.215.171 - 02/Mar/2013 = Putian city a broadband, China

111.73.46.4 - 03/Mar/2013 = CHINANET JIANGXI PROVINCE NETWORK

142.4.115.226 - 04/Mar/2013:14 = Chengdu, SICHUANG, China

110.86.74.130 - 05/Mar/2013 = CHINANET FUJIAN PROVINCE NETWORK

222.77.213.108 - 08/Mar/2013:06 = CHINANET fujian province network

27.153.244.111 - 11/Mar/2013 = Putian city a broadband, China
36.249.169.246 - 11/Mar/2013 = Xiamen city, fujian provincial network of UNICOM
113.132.90.190 - 11/Mar/2013 = CHINANET SHAANXI PROVINCE NETWORK

1.84.129.35 - 12/Mar/2013  = CHINANET SHAANXI PROVINCE NETWORK

183.1.161.23 - - 13/Mar/2013 = CHINANET Guangdong province network
58.64.141.183 - 13/Mar/2013 = NWT iDC Data Service, Hong Kong, China

Here's a small part of what one of their visits looks like (response code "404" means the access didn't work, i.e., "file not found"):

1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:09 -0400] "GET /misc18.html HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:23 -0400] "GET /signup HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:25 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:31 -0400] "GET /signup HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:32 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:43 -0400] "GET /?s=Register HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:49 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:55 -0400] "GET /tiki-register.php HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:34:58 -0400] "GET /?page=login&cmd=register HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:07 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:13 -0400] "GET /user/register HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:14 -0400] "GET /sign_up.html HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:16 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:21 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:27 -0400] "GET /signup/ HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:28 -0400] "GET /tools/quicklogin.one HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:30 -0400] "GET /signup.php HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:31 -0400] "GET /index.php?page=en_Signup HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:32 -0400] "GET /index.php?do=/user/register/ HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:34 -0400] "GET /signup.php HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:36 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:45 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:51 -0400] "GET /index.php?action=registernew HTTP/1.1" 404
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:35:52 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:36:03 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:36:13 -0400] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200
1.84.129.35 - - [12/Mar/2013:13:36:20 -0400] "GET /registration_rules.asp?FID=0 HTTP/1.1" 404

I highlighted a couple entries in red because those accesses seem to have worked (they got a 200 response code), even though it's unclear to me exactly what they accessed.   The question mark may just mean it's some kind of test instead of a real access.  (I'm not so concerned that I feel I need to do any research into how to decode every part of these log entries.)

The log entries above also show they successfully accessed my main page 11 times in less than 2 minutes.   Why does anyone need to do that?

It's all very suspicious, but I don't know what I can do about it.  I can't block the IP addresses, since they never  seem to use the same address twice.

I'll just continue to keep an eye open.  If I see something alarming, I'll notify my web site host.

March 12, 2013 - I may have mentioned this sometime in the past, but, if so, it's worth mentioning again, since yesterday I came across it again in my readings. 

In the very first adventure of Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia," Holmes receives a strange letter and asks his colleague Dr. Watson what he thinks of the letter.

Watson reads the letter and finds it to be very mysterious.  He asks Holmes, "What do you imagine that it means?"
Sherlock Holmes and Watson
And Holmes replies, “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Yes, indeed.   It is insensible (i.e., it makes no sense) to twist facts to suit theories.  One must always alter the theory to fit the facts.

To someone looking to understand all the facts, altering a theory is standard routine and not a problem.  However, to someone looking to prove that their theory is superior to all other theories, changing a theory can be equivalent to admitting to total incompetence.

With that in mind, this morning I did a Google search for "James Tracy" to see what news there might be about someone who famously started with a theory and then twisted the facts to fit that theory.   I found an article from a few weeks ago titled "FAU Prof. James Tracy Finally Apologizes but Still Peddling Conspiracies."  The article has one particularly interesting comment:

"It's more important to ask questions sometimes than to provide answers," [Professor Tracy] said, later saying he would never want to be a reporter because that would ground his thoughts in what he could prove or disprove. Tracy's not interested in truth. He's interested in conspiracy.

Or, to put it another way, Professor Tracy is not interested in what the facts say, he's only interested in promoting his conspiracy theories.  Like Dr. Edward Jay Epstein, conspiracy theories appear to be Professor Tracy's "hobby."

Sherlock Holmes would be appalled.

March 10, 2013 - Last week, I created a three new "subject threads" for my interactive blog.  I created threads for Circumstantial Evidence, Burden of Proof and Handwriting Evidence.  I also created some cartoon illustrations for two of those subjects.  Here's one cartoon on the subject of "Burden of Proof":

Proof of a rabbit theory

So far, the subject of "burden of proof" is the most popular thread.  On that thread, I have a second cartoon on the same subject.  It shows a guy standing in the middle of a swamp and saying, "I buried the proof of my claim out there somewhere.  Now it's your responsibility to find it."  It says basically the same thing as the cartoon above: The arguments I'm getting are just ways of avoiding presenting proof, and they are attempts to transfer the burden of proof to the person who does not accept the claim.

The above cartoon also shows how an Anthrax Truther can cause the discussion to get off topic.   Any question about the document being held up will get into the subject of whether or not an apparently irrelevant document is proof of anything without a full explanation for how it is proof and what it proves in the case.

And that, of course, gets into the subject of "proof" versus "evidence," and "evidence" gets into the subject of "direct evidence" versus "circumstantial evidence."   

And if the person presenting the proof just says you are too dumb to understand, does that claim prove anything to anyone except the person making the claim?

Since one Anthrax Truther keeps bringing up the subject of handwriting and how he does not believe the facts that say Ivins used a child to write the anthrax letters and to address the anthrax envelopes, that's what the thread on "handwriting evidence" is all about.  I've been saying for over 11 years that the facts say a child wrote the anthrax letters, but I've never before had that subject on an interactive blog where anyone can post a comment about that claim.

So far, the only person posting comments in that thread is "Anonymous" (a.k.a. "DXer" from Lew Weinstein's web site).  The thread lists TWELVE facts which show that a child did the writing on the anthrax letters, but "Anonymous" argues:

You are a true believer who persists in his First Grader [hypothesis] even though it has no basis in fact -- or common sense.

When I explain to him that I listed 12 facts to prove that the hypothesis is indeed based on fact, his response was,

Ed, what you consider facts relating to handwriting analysis involve a subject that requires expert testimony. No expert shares your view.

I found an interesting quote and used it to respond:

"No forensic technique has taken more hits than handwriting analysis. In one particularly devastating federal ruling, United States v. Saelee (2001), the court noted that forensic handwriting analysis techniques had seldom been tested, and that what testing had been done "raises serious questions about the reliability of methods currently in use." The experts were frequently wrong--in one test "the true positive accuracy rate of laypersons was the same as that of handwriting examiners; both groups were correct 52 percent of the time."

And, for what it's worth, in the 11 years since it first became clear that the culprit used a child to do the actual writing on the letters and envelopes, no one has produced anything that can objectively be viewed as good evidence that an adult did the writing.

"Anonymous" tried to argue that an adult (i.e., a Muslim terrorist) just learning to write in English would write the same way as a child.  I explained that is not true.  An adult doesn't have to learn to write smaller, nor does he start without punctuation and then learn punctuation, nor does he typically change the way he draws characters of the alphabet between the writing of a letter and the addressing of the envelope.  It's the same argument he tried elsewhere, but now it's in the handwriting evidence thread. 

It doesn't take a handwriting expert to see obvious facts such as the R's on the Brokaw letter were drawn different from the R's on the letter, or that the writing on the Brokaw letter is twice the size of the writing on the Daschle letter, or that there is no punctuation in the Brokaw letter, but there is punctuation in the Daschle letter.  No "experts" seem to have addressed those facts.  It may be because they never noticed them, or they couldn't explain them.  Either way, it shows how absurd it is to suggest that only an "expert" can make an observation about handwriting.  There's probably a cartoon in there somewhere.   Maybe two people watching the sun set.  One says, "It's almost sunset."  The other responds, "Only astronomers are qualified to comment on sunsets."

The cartoons I created for my interactive blog were mostly done by assembling royalty free "clip art" from a CD I bought years ago.  I could try to draw the cartoons from scratch, but I don't have the pens and inks ... or the desire.  Besides, the idea of illustrating a book with cartoons is looking less and less likely to happen.  It's just too difficult to think of funny ways to illustrate ridiculous beliefs held by Truthers about the anthrax attacks of 2001.   I may give up on that idea.

Meanwhile, I just discovered that Edward Jay Epstein's book "The Annals of Unsolved Crime" was published back on February 15.  For while, the Amazon ad said it wouldn't be published until March 12.  I suppose the March 12 date could be right and they just made a mistake in the current ad.  Either way, I just ordered a copy (along with a DVD of the movie "Being John Malkovich" in order to get the free shipping).  I also noticed that the ad for Dr. Epstein's book has this quote: 

[Junk-bond financier Michael] Milken once asked Epstein what his hobbies were. "Conspiracies," Epstein replied.
  
Does that mean Dr. Epstein's hobby is dreaming up conspiracy theories?  Or is his hobby finding conspiracies where no one else has found any?  The ad doesn't say.  But, Dr. Epstein evidently sees a conspiracy in the anthrax attacks, since he says the case is "unsolved" and devotes a full chapter to it in his book.  I'll be commenting on what he wrote after I read the book.

Hmmm.  That makes me think I should add a "subject thread" about my book "A Crime Unlike Any Other" to my interactive blog.  It seems like a basic way to advertise the book.  Why didn't I do that before?  Whatever the reason, the subject thread about my book is now directly accessable by clicking HERE.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 3, 2013, thru Saturday, March 9, 2013

March 6, 2013 - There's an old maxim: "If at first you don't succeed, try try again."  That's more or less what I've been doing in my endless debates with Anthrax Truthers for the past 11 years.  Yesterday, it was clear I was just wasting my time, since, on my interactive blog, we were just going over the same arguments again and again and again.  Yes, there is some benefit to trying to find different ways to argue a point, but it's a process of diminishing returns on the time invested.

Then, I realized I was probably going about things in the wrong way.  I also remembered that in business classes they taught us a subtle variation on that old maxim: "If at first you don't succeed, try a different method."

The lack of progress appears to be partly the result of having no rules, organization or structure for our debates.   So, I'm going to try to organize things a bit.

Yesterday, I posted a cartoon to this site which summarizes one topic from our debates.  But, I didn't identify the topic: "Circumstantial Evidence."  (I went back and added it, and I increased the size of the dialog text to make it easier to read.)  Anthrax Truthers endlessly argue that an item of evidence is not evidence unless by itself it proves guilt or innocence.  They argue it in fifty different ways, but it's basically all the same argument: Anthrax Truthers know what evidence is, and the Department of Justice doesn't (or the DOJ prosecutors are simply lying and making stuff up).

So, I'm going to try to channel all discussions of this specific topic to a "Circumstantial Evidence" thread I've created on my interactive forum.  The idea is that it should make arguments easier to track, and people won't as easily repeat themselves if everything about one subject is organized in one place.

I plan to create another subject thread for "Relevance," which seems to be another main area for disagreement.  Anthrax Truthers argue that meaningless evidence would be admitted at trial so that the defense lawyers can make it seem like the meaningless evidence actually has some meaning. 

Example:  The copy machine in the USAMRIID library couldn't be shown to be the copy machine Ivins used, and the FBI couldn't prove what copy machine Ivins did use to make the letter copies.  So, the DOJ probably would not have admitted any copy machine testing reports into evidence at Ivins' trial.  The copier tests didn't provide any evidence to support any claim. 

But Anthrax Truthers argue that not finding the copier is evidence that Ivins didn't do it. They seem to believe that the defense lawyer would argue that if Ivins was the anthrax killer, he'd logically have used the USAMRIID copy machine to make the copies.  Since it cannot be proved that the copies came from the USAMRIID copy machine, that means that no one at USAMRIID made the letter copies.

It means no such thing, of course.  The USAMRIID copy machine may have been the copy machine that Ivins used, but the tests just couldn't confirm it because of all the years that passed and all the cleanings and repairs that were done between the making of  the copies and the performing of the tests.  Or maybe Ivins used a different machine at a library or office supply store, since it would have been stupid for him to use a machine that could point to USAMRIID instead of to Muslim terrorists as being responsible for the attacks.

Handwriting is another subject which the prosecutors probably would not have brought up in court, because no two "handwriting experts" seemed to agree on anything about the handwriting.   Therefore, handwriting could not be used to prove Ivins' guilt.  But, Anthrax Truthers think it would be brought up to prove Ivins' innocence.  It cannot be proved that it IS Ivins' handwriting, therefore it is NOT Ivins' handwriting, and that makes Ivins innocent.  But, how does inconclusive evidence about handwriting that may have been disguised get entered as "relevant" and argued in court?

After writing the above, I'm no longer sure that "Relevance" is the proper topic for such discussions.  Maybe it's "Proving the Negative."  I'll work on it.

March 5, 2013 - It's clear I'm wasting my time arguing with a True Believer on my interactive blog that something can be considered to be "evidence" even if by itself it does not fully prove that Dr. Ivins was guilty.

Evidence cartoon

No matter what I say, he still comes back to his belief that nothing is valid evidence unless by itself it proves guilt.

If I give up, he'll declare victory and argue that I can no longer dispute his findings.

March 3, 2013 - I keep thinking about writing another book - a short book with lots of humor, possibly even including cartoons to illustrate important points.  I had a title "The Cannot Believers" in mind,  but now that seems more like a chapter or section title.   This might be a better title for the book itself:

Possible book cover - Exploring the Lunatic Fringe

If you've been reading last week's discussions on my interactive blog, you'll have seen that we got into discussions of semantics (e.g., the difference between "infer" and "conclude"), the nature of evidence, how to interpret Socrates, the difference between "innocent" and "not guilty due to a lack of sufficient evidence," how proving someone wrong is not the same as proving the negative, the connection between understanding and being able to explain, and many other subjects.
 
One of the few returns on the investment of time spent arguing with True Believers and conspiracy theorists is that it's good practice for organizing and clarifying your own thoughts.  And, sometimes, better examples and better words or ways to explain things pop into your mind.  If you also do enough research, you may find that others have argued similar things and they used even better examples and words that you can "appropriate."

Athough it certainly appears that nothing will ever change the mind of a True Believer or conspiracy theorist, if you enjoy writing and figuring things out, finding better ways to explain things can be very enjoyable and satisfying - even if the results have no effect on your opponents.

At the end of my rambling February 17 comment, I mentioned some thoughts derived from epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge and knowing:

False propositions cannot be known.  Therefore, knowledge requires truth.  Something has to be true before it can be known.

However, if you don't believe a thing, you cannot know that thing.  Therefore knowledge also requires belief.

But, belief is not knowledge.  Therefore, knowledge also requires justification.

Justification assures that a belief is not just a wild guess.

So, truth, belief and justification are together necessary to have knowledge.
 
Groan!  That seems to mean I have to believe something in order to know that something.  True Believers believe, and they believe they know, but the facts say they do not know.  They do not have justification for their beliefs.  They just believe they do.

The key to knowledge seems to be facts and evidence, a.k.a. "justification."  And the key to "justification" seems to be reliability.   According to epistemology,

Evidentialism is the belief that having evidence makes something true.

Reliabilism is the belief that only evidence that is both objective and comes from a reliable source makes something true.

GROAN!!  That makes some sense.  But I think another term is needed, a term I'll make up here and now: enoughism.  

Enoughism is the belief that only evidence that is objective, comes from a reliable source and is enough in quantity to be convincing makes something true.

All too often, while the evidence is objective and the source is reliable, there still isn't enough evidence to know it is the truth.  So, you neither know nor believe.  But, you can have an well-founded opinion.

Wednesday, on my interactive blog, I provided an example of how I can "know" and "believe" something that might possibly be wrong, but which is nonetheless very reliable:

I went to my mailbox yesterday and found a letter in the box. I didn't see the mail carrier make a delivery, which would have been DIRECT evidence of how the letter got into my mail box. But the letter itself is INDIRECT evidence that a regular mail carrier put the letter in the box. Official post office mail carriers are SUPPOSED to be the only other people with a key to my mailbox. It's certainly POSSIBLE that someone else made a key and placed the letter in the mailbox, so I cannot say that I "KNOW WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY" that a mail carrier put the letter in the box, but I have no facts or evidence to support any kind of unusual occurrence. So, I CONCLUDE beyond a reasonable doubt that a regular mail carrier put the letter in my mailbox.

True Believers and conspiracy theorists can argue all they want that it's just my belief that a regular mail carrier put the letter in my mailbox, but the only thing that is going to change my mind is enough better facts and evidence that reliably show it was someone other than a regular mail carrier who put the letter in my mailbox.

A True Believer may claim I am close-minded because I do not agree that an al Qaeda terrorist put the letter in my mail box just because that is possible and because al Qaeda terrorists are always thinking up new ways to confuse people and cause terror, which a True Believer will see as "evidence" that al Qaeda did put the letter in my mail box.

A conspiracy theorist may claim I am close-minded because I do not agree that the CIA put the letter in my mailbox just because that is possible and because conspiracy theorists believe the CIA and the government are always out to create problems, which a conspiracy theorist will see as "evidence" some CIA agent on a secret and sinister mission put the letter in my mailbox instead of my regular postal carrier.

But, I'm just going to continue to believe that it was a mail carrier who put the letter into my mailbox, because (1) I have actually seen post office mail carriers do it many times in the past, (2) it is my understanding that they have the only other key to open the box, (3) there's nothing about the letter that suggests it came from al Qaeda or the CIA (it appears to be a letter from my sister), and (4) I have no reliable evidence that anyone other than my regular mail carrier put the letter into my mailbox.

I don't "know" with absolute certainty that that's what happened, but near certainty and no contradictory evidence is convincing enough for me.  I am convinced it is the "truth."  Is it what I "believe"?  Maybe.  But, it is also what I conclude based upon reliable and objective evidence.

Or, to put all this into the context of the anthrax attacks of 2001:

The facts and evidence say that Ivins made the anthrax powders.

The facts and evidence say that Ivins prepared the anthrax letters.
The facts and evidence say that Ivins acted alone when making the powders.
The facts and evidence say that Ivins previously drove long distances to commit crimes.
The facts and evidence say that Ivins had no alibi for the times of the crimes.
There are no meaningful facts or evidence which say that Ivins didn't send the anthrax letters or that someone else did.

The letters were placed in the Princeton mailbox by someone. The logical conclusion based upon the facts and evidence is that the letters were placed there by the person who made the powders and prepared the letters. There is no evidence proving otherwise.

The facts say that Dr. Ivins drove to Princeton to mail the letters - even though he didn't get any speeding or parking tickets along the way, and he didn't save any receipts for gas or food that would have provided direct evidence that he drove to Princeton.

I am open to better facts proving something else happened.  But, in the 4½ years since Bruce Ivins' suicide, no one has produced anything that can objectively be viewed as good evidence that Ivins was innocent or that someone else was the anthrax mailer.

And, in 11 years of debate, I haven't found any way to convince any True Believer or any conspiracy theorist that their beliefs are not facts and what they believe has nothing to do with reality.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 24, 2013, thru Saturday, March 2, 2013

February 27, 2013 - I watched the movie "The Master" last night.  It's about a troubled Navy veteran who joins a cult in the 1950s.  If the movie had a plot, I couldn't decipher it.  As I watched it, I hoped it would provide some insights into the mindset of True Believers.  But, the head of the cult ("The Master") seemed more like a con-man than a True Believer, the Navy veteran was never truly converted, and only the wife of "the Master" seemed to truly believe ... but in what is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, on my interactive blog, I've been arguing with two True Believers for over a week.   Yesterday, Believer #1 tried to start an argument with Believer #2, but #2 just ignored it.  According to Believer #1, Believer #2

imagines access to virulent Ames at the University of Washington in the Pacific Northwest.

and

He similarly imagines, without any factual basis, proximity to the mailbox at issue.

That information evidently comes from Beliver #2's postings to a different blog.  On my blog, True Believer #2 seems to base his entire theory on forensic linguistics.  Here's what one source says about forensic linguistics:

Although forensic linguistics has been around for some time it can best be described as having only reached its infancy.

It is a field searching for a definition.

7. The Daubert court rulings have demanded that experts providing testimony must demonstrate that they are experienced, educated, trained, and have been peer reviewed in their endeavors. Except for one course provided by a forensic linguist there are not a lot areas whereby a forensic linguist could demonstrate that he or she satisfies the requirements or standards of expertness.

Its ambiguous nature grounded on the subjectivity of stylistics makes it more apparitional than concrete.

Its reliability is weak, and it seems to be trying to connect to a field of science when in fact its literary content is somewhat beyond the realm of science.

its use as a tool in provenance determination or analysis leaves much to be desired.

So, in spite of the fact that "its reliablity is weak" and it's "more apparitional than concrete," True Believer #2 feels forensic liguistics shows more clearly who sent the anthrax letters than all the evidence the FBI and DOJ could muster against Bruce Ivins.

He just hasn't been able to convince others that he is right and the FBI is wrong.  It seems to me that all he needs to do is show how his view of the Rules of Evidence is better than what is being used by Department of Justice and the U.S. Court system.

Can that be so hard?

February 24, 2013 - Nearly all week I've been trying to organize and write down my thoughts about the Introduction to Professor Lance deHaven Smith's upcoming book "Conspiracy Theory in America."  

It appears that Professor Smith wants action to be taken against local, state, and federal politicians on the basis of suspicions alone.   If someone - anyone - has unsubstantiated suspicions that a government official may be corrupt, it seems Professor Smith wants an investigation by neutral parties to be initiated to prove it.  Since there's no way to prove an official is NOT corrupt (that would require proving the negative), the real purpose of such an investigation can only be to prove the official IS corrupt.

And, the fact that there have been corrupt officials in the past is viewed by Professor Smith as prima facie evidence that every politician can be assumed to be corrupt until proved otherwise.  And, since there is no way to prove otherwise, that means if you haven't found proof of corruption, you just haven't looked hard enough or you didn't look in the right places. 

The Introduction is a truly fascinating look into the mind of someone who appears to have no concern for facts or evidence and uses only his own beliefs to construct a totally unbelievable theory about how all loyal Americans should think and act.

Professor Smith begins by claiming (without any evidence) that


most of the criticism directed at conspiracy beliefs is based on sentimentality about America’s political leaders and institutions rather than on unbiased reasoning and objective observation

The facts and evidence appear to indicate the exact opposite: Criticism is directed at most conspiracy beliefs because they are just beliefs without evidence or factual support.   In other words, unbiased reasoning and objective observation finds no reasonable basis for such beliefs, so they are either false beliefs or unverified beliefs.

Professor Smith calls people "conspiracy deniers" if they challenge conspiracy theories.  He feels that "conspiracy theorist" is a pejorative label, so he created a new pejorative term to use to describe people who question conspiracy theorists.  The term "conspiracy doubters" apparently wasn't pejorative enough.  So, he assumes that people who merely doubt the existence of a conspiracy are actually denying the existence of a conspiracy without proof that there is no conspiracy.

The way to prove there is a conspiracy should be relatively straight forward: Find evidence.  But, how does one prove there is no conspiracy?   No evidence is not evidence.  Or maybe it is -- in the mind of a conspiracy theorist.

Professor Smith says,

Some conspiratorial suspicions make sense and warrant investigation, while others do not."

Again, he is arguing that suspicions alone should be enough to start an investigation.  The suspicions just need to "make sense."  And all public officials are evidently to be assumed guilty until proved otherwise - even if there is no way to prove otherwise.  So, it "makes sense" that they all could be guilty of something.


Professor Smith argues that "political conspiracies in high office do, in fact, happen."   And,

If some conspiracy theories are true, then it is nonsensical to dismiss all unsubstantiated suspicions of elite intrigue as false by definition.

In a country where someone is supposed to be considered innocent until proved guilty, "unsubstantiated suspicions" can and should be considered to be false by definition.   To substantiate means: "(1) to give substance to, (2) to give concrete form or body to, (3) to show to be true or real by giving evidence; prove."  Conspiracy theorists present "unsubstantiated suspicions" and want others to find the proof to substantiate their suspicions.  If they don't, then a new "unsubstantiated suspicion" of a cover-up is usually launched by the conspiracy theorist.

Is it reasonable to spend time and money investigating unsubstantiated suspicions voiced by someone who has no authority and who no one has any reason to trust?  One person can come up with enough "unsubstantiated suspicions of elite intrigue" to keep a hundred people busy investigating for years.  And that is particularly true when finding nothing just launches an "unsubstantiated suspicion" that the investigators didn't look in the right place or look hard enough.

If that isn't weird enough, Professor Smith also says,

Those who now dismiss conspiracy theories as groundless paranoia have apparently forgotten that the United States was founded on a conspiracy theory. The Declaration of Independence claimed that “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” by King George proved the king was plotting to establish “an absolute tyranny over these states.” Today, most Americans are familiar only with the Declaration’s opening paragraphs about self-evident truths and inalienable rights, but if they were to read the rest of the document, they would see that it is devoted to detailing the abuses evincing the king’s tyrannical design.

If a king is plotting something against his own people, that is NOT a "conspiracy."  A "conspiracy" requires more than one person, and they have to be working together.  A king ordering his underlings and henchmen to do something is also NOT a conspiracy.  So, there is no "conspiracy theory" in the Declaration of Independence.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence make that very clear where it says:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

And the document then proceeds to list many many facts and items of evidence which prove that King George had demonstrated himself to be a tyrant.  A few examples:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
...
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

So, the listed evidence proved King George to be either a tyrant or a tyrant wannabe.   There is no conspiracy, just facts proving a case.

Nevertheless, Professor Smith says,

The Founders would view today’s norms against conspiratorial suspicion as not only arrogant, but also dangerous and un-American.

There's a big difference between vigilance and paranoia.  And the Founders understood that suspicions are meaningless and even dangerous without evidence.  That is why the Declaration of Independence listed so much evidence.  Our system of laws is based upon finding and presenting evidence, not on developing or investigating unsubstantiated suspicions of conspiracies. 

Professor Smith also cites several actual conspiracies from the more recent past, but fails to realize that most of the real conspiracies he cites were the result of politicians or political operatives doing as Professor Smith suggests: Starting with a suspicion and then looking for evidence to "confirm" that suspicion.

According to Professor Smith:

Officials in the Nixon administration did conspire to steal the 1972 presidential election.

Did they?  In reality, no one seems to know for certain exactly why Nixon's operatives decided to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Some think it was because Nixon and his people suspected that the DNC was funding anti-war groups as part of a conspiracy to turn the American people against the war.  Others think it was because Nixon's people suspected there was a conspiracy to get evidence of financial misdealings between Nixon, Howard Hughes and their associates.  The team that did the burglary was called "the plumbers unit" because they were trying to fix suspected leaks of confidential inside information.  

It was unsubstantiated suspicions which caused Nixon's people to bug the DNC headquarters.  They were looking for evidence to confirm their suspicions.  They were doing what Professor Smith wants everyone to do: Start with a suspicion and then hunt for "evidence" to confirm that suspicion.


Also, according to Professor Smith:

The Bush-Cheney administration did collude to mislead Congress and the public about the strength of its evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush-Cheney administration had a suspicion that Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9/11 terrorists and they looked for evidence to support that suspicion.   They then interpreted everything they found as "evidence" confirming their suspicions.  If they were shown evidence that disproved their suspicions, they mostly ignored it or they claimed it was just the Iraqis or some Left Wingers covering up the facts.  They were doing what Professor Smith wants everyone to do: Start with a suspicion and then hunt for "evidence" to confirm that suspicion.

NEITHER of those conspiracies was uncovered by starting with a suspicion and then looking for evidence to "confirm" that suspicion.   The first was uncovered when one of the "plumbers" left evidence of a break-in at the scene of their crime - tape over the lock of a door.  The second was uncovered when evidence found during the war showed the stated beliefs of the Bush-Cheney administration were total nonsense.

One might also ask whether the Bush-Cheney administration involved conspiracy theorists or True Believers.   Were they conspiring to do something illegal, or did they truly believe something that later turned out to totally false?  Were they conspirators or were they just ignorant and stupid?  The evidence seems to indicate the latter.   

To my pleasant surprise, the introduction to Professor Smith's book also includes a long comment about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  That section begins by explaining that initially the anthrax attacks were thought to have been perpetrated by the same Muslim terrorists who were responsible for 9/11. 

Soon, however, the FBI investigation reached the conclusion that the anthrax came from a strain developed by the U.S. military at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland. This discovery should have caused investigators and the public to wonder if the events of 9/11 might likewise have been connected in some way to the U.S. military.

Facts clearly mean nothing when a conspiracy theory is being concocted.  Facts are supposed to drive an investigation.  An investigator goes where the facts lead him.  But, Professor Smith wants everyone to assume there are conspiracies everywhere.  So, if a crime may have occurred at a military laboratory, it should be assumed that all recent or past crimes somehow also involve the military, regardless of what the facts say

Professor Smith complains:     

There were no calls for investigators to look for U.S. military personnel with multiple connections to air defense, war games, and germ warfare. There was never any effort to identify government officials who were involved in national defense policy and who owned or had recently purchased stock in pharmaceutical companies that manufactured medicines for preventing or treating anthrax infections. To the contrary, rather than look for people linking anthrax, 9/11, air defense, and biological weapons, the investigation was narrowed to lone microbiologists who were considered to be disgruntled, emotionally troubled, or opportunistic.

What Professor Smith seems to be saying is that, once it was learned that the Ames strain was primarily used by USAMRIID,  investigators should have assumed there was also some kind of massive conspiracy to blame 9/11 on Muslim terrorists when the U.S. military and U.S. government were really responsible.  Why?

It is routine police protocol to look for patterns in burglaries, bank robberies, car thefts, and other crimes, and to use any patterns that are discovered as clues to the perpetrators’ identity and the vulnerabilities to crime that are being exploited. This method of crime analysis is shown repeatedly in crime shows on TV. It is Criminology 101. There is no excuse for most Americans, much less criminal investigators, journalists, and other professionals, to fail to apply this method to assassinations, election fiascos, defense failures, and other suspicious events that shape national political priorities.

No excuse?  Actually, we have a very good excuse: That kind of thinking is both ignorant and crazy.  Yes, the modus operandi of a criminal might be used to connect him to a new crime, but does that mean we should assume that because Nixon's aides "conspired to steal the 1972 election" by breaking into Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate that means the U.S. military was behind the anthrax attacks of 2001?  Should people assume a connection?  What connection!?  What connection was there in 2001 between Nixon's aides and USAMRIID?  Apparently, the connection that Professor Smith sees is simply a belief that everything bad that happens anywhere in America is all part of one big, massive government conspiracy that goes on and on and on through one presidential administration to the next and next and next, without anyone ever doing anything to stop the constant string of conspiracies.

"I never cease to be dumbfounded by the unbelievable things people believe."
                                                        - Leo Rosten

Criminology 101 says you do not stick with a bad theory when the facts clearly say the theory is bad.  You do not rationalize and distort the facts to make them fit the bad theory.  When you discover new facts which indicate your original hypothesis is wrong, it generally means your original hypothesis is wrong and in need of serious revision or replacement.  It does not mean the facts should be ignored or distorted to make them fit your original hypothesis.

Professor Smith doesn't seem to understand that the objective of an investigation is to find what really happened, not to prove a belief or hypothesis is correct.  An hypothesis is just a tool to use until you've found the facts and evidence which shows whether the hypothesis is right or wrong.  If the hypothesis does neither, then it is clear you need a better hypothesis to find the truth.

Professor Smith's beliefs are so bizarre, off-the-wall, weird, and demonstrably wrong, that I had to go through them one by one to try to figure out what he truly believes.  I think that's what they teach you to do in Psychology 101.

What will happen in April - after his book is actually published?  What will others have to say about it?  Unfortunately, we'll probably see some important people publicly agreeing, while all those who disagree will just ignore the book.  "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  I think that's what they teach you in Good Manners 101.

On the other hand, when you see something that is provably crazy, you should point out that it is provably crazy.  I think that's what they teach you in Citizenship 101.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 17, 2013, thru Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 2013 - Hmm.  Someone just brought to my attention an interesting article in the Boston Globe about how "Web sleuths help solve cold cases."  That title is very misleading, however, since these "web sleuths" don't actually solve crimes, they identify previously unidentified bodies.   According to the article,

In 2007, a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) census of coroners, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies estimated that there may be as many as 40,000 unidentified individuals — more than a sold-out Fenway Park — stowed in the back rooms of morgues and buried in unmarked graves across the country. The federal agency, a research and development arm of the Justice Department, called the little-known reality “the nation’s silent mass disaster.” 

Over the course of 11 years, the "web sleuths" have figured out who 66 of those 40,000 people were.

It seems like someone could just put the missing persons data into one computer file and the unidentified body data into another file and run a program that could find a lot more matches than 66 in eleven years.  But, it's probably not as simple as it seems.  It would cost money and some people wouldn't want their taxes to go toward a project that doesn't provide a payback to them personally.  And, it would require laws to be passed to force local, state and federal agencies to put information into the database. Conspiracy theorists would undoubtedly find some evil intent behind such a law.  And, too, Republicans would probably complain that it reduces personal incentive to find one's own missing relatives, and it encourages people to leave searching for lost loved ones to the government. 

February 22, 2013 - I don't know if anyone has been following the latest "discussion" on my interactive blog, but it's a pretty good example of the "value" of "discussing" things with a True Believer.  There is no real "discussion," of course, since it's like talking to a wall.  But, if you try to come up with different words and different arguments every time to you talk to "a wall," the time spent can have value.  It allows you to hone and refine your own thoughts and arguments.  And, quite often, what you say or write can spur a new idea or a new perspective.  That's always worthwhile.

When not "discussing" things with "the wall," I've been reading and rereading the introduction to Professor Lance deHaven Smith's upcoming book "Conspiracy Theory in America."  It's a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a true conspiracy theorist.   I've been trying to write an analysis, but I keep honing and refining things.  And I have to do a lot of research to see how Professor Smith's beliefs compare to reality.

I don't know if any of it will produce anything of value, but the studying and researching can be very interesting.  I'm hoping to have something worth reading by Sunday. 

February 19, 2013 - This morning, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal are both reporting that the Russian meteorite weighed 10,000 tons, which is a thousand times more than "scientists" were previously estimating.  In fact, the Fox News article has a photo with a caption that says,
"A 10-ton meteor streaked at supersonic speed over Russia's Ural Mountains on Friday."  The photo is followed by the article which begins,
 
The meteor that crashed to earth in Russia was about 55 feet in diameter, weighed around 10,000 tons and was made from a stony material, scientists said, making it the largest such object to hit the Earth in more than a century.

Previously, Fox News said,

The Russian meteor -- estimated to be just 10 tons and about 15 meters or 49 feet wide -- entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph and shattered about 18-32 miles above the ground.

And The Huffington Post even had a headline that said,

10-Ton Space Rock Explodes Over Ural Mountains

So, which is it?  10 tons or 10,000 tons?  Another source says it was 10,000 pounds, which would be 5 tons.

The Huffington Post now says,

The meteor that exploded over Russia Friday was slightly larger than previously thought and more powerful, too, NASA scientists say.

And, the NASA web site says,

The estimated size of the object, prior to entering Earth's atmosphere, has been revised upward from 49 feet (15 meters) to 55 feet (17 meters), and its estimated mass has increased from 7,000 to 10,000 tons.

The Washington Post, CBS News, the PBS News Hour, The Christian Science Monitor and hundreds of other news outlet all previously said it was 10 tons, and that's what I wrote in my (A) comment for February 15.  However, when I look at the PBS article more carefully I see it says,

The meteor weighed an estimated 10 tons, and fell through the Earth's atmosphere at approximately 33,000 miles per hour, according to the Russian Academy of Sciences.

And the Washington Post says,

The Russian Academy of Sciences estimated that the meteor weighed around 10 tons and was traveling at 10 to 12 miles per second (roughly 30,000 to 45,000 mph) when it disintegrated.

Ah!  Okay.  The 10-ton estimate evidently came from the Russian Academy of Sciences.   It was the first estimate from scientists, so it was the one everyone in the media used.  At some point in time, NASA initially estimated 7,000 tons and later revised that upwards to 10,000 tons.  But they weren't the first scientists to make an estimate. 

Is there a lesson to be learned from this?  Unfortunately, many people will probably learn the wrong lesson: Facts mean nothing, and scientists cannot be trusted.

But, the better lesson is that estimates are NOT facts, and first estimates from scientists are often wrong and typically nothing more than "educated guesses."   And, when the media turns the estimates into headlines, there are millions who will see the first estimates from the time when the story was just breaking, but not see the revised estimates and actual scientific findings that come out after the story stops making headlines.

Sometimes it seems that the whole debate over the anthrax attacks of 2001 is the result of people who still believe the first reports about the letters and argue that the later reports were concocted to cover up and explain away the "correct" conclusions they made from the first reports.  Every Anthrax Truther seems to be locked into believing initial reports and disputing later reports.

I accepted the 10-ton estimate for the Russian meteor.  Why?  I had absolutely NO reason to dispute it.  I now accept the 10,000-ton estimate.  Why?  Because I have absolutely NO reason to dispute it.  Does that make me wishy-washy?  Maybe - if "wishy-washy" means your mind is open to new and better facts.

If some top scientist would suddenly argue and provide solid evidence that the meteor actually weighed an estimated 5,000 tons, would I change my mind again?   Maybe, but first I'd have to study exactly what the scientist is claiming and why, and then I'd have to wait to see what NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences have to say about the new estimate.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.   Fool me three times? ... Don't even try it.

February 18, 2013 - Hmm.  Someone just brought to my attention something that could easily have spawned another "conspiracy theory."   It's about this photograph:
Omaha manhole blasts - not really
Click HERE to view a larger version.  Click HERE to view a big discussion of the photo.  Click HERE to read an article titled "Incredible Photo Shows Pillars of Fire Bursting from Manholes in Downtown Omaha."  Click HERE to read what really happened.

It seems there was an explosion that blew the cover off of a manhole, followed by fire in the manhole.  Someone took the above photo of the "pillar of fire" coming from the manhole.  BUT, the photo also shows the reflections of five streetlights that look very similar to the real "pillar of fire" that is nearest to the center of the photo.  So, people on the Internet assumed that the photo showed SIX "pillars of fire" as manholes blew one after another like a string of firecrackers.

Plus, the photo was sent around the Internet without anyone identifying the source.  That made it very suspicious.  People wondered if it was faked.  But, a reporter checked it out by tracking down the point from where the photo must have been taken, eventually locating the photographer who had taken it and then sent it to a friend.  She was totally unaware of the sensation her photo had created on the Internet.    

Or maybe it's a really part of a conspiracy by the Omaha Department of Public Works to get funding to upgrade their sewer system by raising everyone's taxes!  And that means the reporter must be part of the conspiracy!  Hmm.

February 17, 2013 - Finding the 2008 article "Conspiracy Theories" by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule was very enlightening for me.   In the past, it often seemed as if I was out there all alone arguing against the conspiracy theorists and True Believers.  Not only is the Sunstein article very interesting, but the authors use as references writings that I knew nothing about until I read their article.  Here are some of them:

"Changing Conceptions of Conspiracy" by Graumann & Moscovici (1987)
"Conspiracy" by Daniel Pipes (1999)
"A Culture of Conspiracy" by Michael Barkun (2003).
"Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate" by David Coady (2006)
"Political Conspiracies in America" by Donald T. Critchlow et al (2008)
"Conspiracy Theories" by Mark Fenster (2008)

Now I see that a lot of what I figured out over the past 11 years was also figured out by many others.  Those "experts" just use more "highfalutin" words than I do.  

What I've been saying for years is "arguing beliefs against facts" is called "crippled epistemology" by authors Sunstein and Vermeule. 

What I have been calling "illogical reasoning," Sunstein and Vermeule call "identifiable cognitive blunders."

I've been saying that there doesn't appear to be any way to convince anthrax Truthers that they are wrong.  Sunstein and Vermeule say that conspiracy theories have a "self-sealing quality," because the people who debunk the theories are seen as part of the conspiracy. 

Sunstein and Vermeule also use the term "degenerating research program," in which they say "contrary evidence is explained away by adding epicycles and resisting falsification of key tenets."  I really had to research that one to figure out what they meant.  Ironically, the best explanation I was able to find appeared in a book that seems to have been written to debunk Sunstein and Vermeule's paper.   The book
"Cognitive Infiltration" by David Ray Griffin says on page 72:

 In a progressive research program, the theory on which the program is based becomes progressively confirmed, as each theory-inspired discovery leads to further discoveries.  In a degenerating program, by contrast, the advocates,
rather
than being led to new confirming evidence, are forced to defend the
original theory by explaining away apparently
disconfirming evidence - in
ways analogous to the addition of
epicycles to save the geometric theory of
the universe - and
by simply refusing to admit that any evidence, no matter
how damning, has falsified the theory.

Ah!  Okay!  So, "degenerating research program" is just a highfalutin way of saying that someone is using a theory that requires them to rationalize and explain away more and more evidence which shows their theory is wrong.  It's like the belief that the sun goes around the earth.  People who held that belief for centuries were forced to create more and more complex explanations for why the movement of the stars and all the other scientific evidence said the opposite was true: the earth went around the sun.

A "progressive research program," on the other hand, should be confirmed by all the new evidence that is found, and ideally can even predict things which will later be found.

I just call that a good (progressive)
hypothesis versus a bad (degenerating) hypothesis.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. 
                                                           
- Albert Einstein

Everything is simpler than you think, and more complex than you imagine.
                                                            - Johann Goethe

(I had to pause to research David Ray Griffin. 
I learned that he is a professor of philosophy of religion and theology, emeritus, at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, and he's written over 30 books, including
"Debunking 9/11 Debunking," "The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up and the Expose," "The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7," and "9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes Against Democracy Succeed."  He could be the most prolific 9/11 Truther in America, and it's fascinating to see all the impressive credentials of the "experts" who favorably review his books and other 9/11 conspiracy books, which all seem based upon "crippled epistemology.")

But, I digress. 

While a lot of what what Sunstein and Vermeule write is very similar to what I've found - just worded differently - they very quickly go off into beliefs with which I do not fully agree.  For example,
Sunstein and Vermeule say on page 3:

Those who hold conspiracy theories do so because of what they read and hear. In
that sense, acceptance of such theories is not irrational from the standpoint of those who
adhere to them.

As a result of talking with Anthrax Truthers for over 11 years, I tend to somewhat disagree with the both sentences.  To me, Sunstein and Vermeule seem to be viewing the "problem" from the "wrong" angle.  Yes, conspiracy theorists and True Believers do not see their beliefs as "irrational."  However, the key issue is not why people "hold" conspiracy theories, the key issue is how they acquired or developed those theories in the first place.   You have to acquire a belief before you can "hold" it. 

Sunstein and Vermeule seem to argue that people "hold" conspiracy theories because someone else handed (or told) the conspiracy theory to them, and what they read and were told seems to be "right."  That may define the "problem" Sunstein and Vermeule see, if a lot of people accept conspiracy theories that way.  But, from my experience, the real "problem" is the people who develop their own conspiracy theories and then go out to preach those theories to others.  When they cannot find followers, they often join with others who also have unique theories because together they share one common belief: The official version is wrong.   

I see no real "leaders" in such collections of individuals.  Some may become more prominent because they have very impressive credentials or because they have written books or papers promoting their conspiracy theory.   But they aren't really "leaders," they're just "experts" who the rest in the group can cite as also believing that the official version is wrong.  It's an agreement that the official version is wrong that binds them together, even though they often are in total disagreement over what is right.

In the realm of Anthrax Truthers, I cannot recall ever encountering anyone who does not have a unique theory (many or most of which do not even require a conspiracy, just stupidity on the part of the government).  The word "anthrax" isn't mentioned anywhere in the paper by Sunstein and Vermeule.  But, on page 4 they do list a bunch of other conspiracy theories:

Consider, for example, the view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; that doctors deliberately manufactured the AIDS virus; that the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 was caused by a U.S. military missile; that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud; that the Trilateral Commission is responsible for important movements of the international economy; that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed by federal agents; that the plane crash that killed Democrat Paul Wellstone was engineered by Republican politicians; that the moon landing was staged and never actually occurred.

I think the last theory on their list is another key to understanding that conspiracy theorists (and True Believers) generally aren't a movement with a leader who gives people beliefs to "hold," they are a collection of individuals who simply cannot believe "the official version" for as many reasons as there are theorists.

Even moon landing conspiracy theories have "experts" with impressive credentials who promote such theories.  The first person to write a book claiming the moon landings were faked was William Kaysing who was Rocketdyne's head of technical publications.   Wikipedia lists 13 other theorists, and it appears that each one of them had a slightly different theory.  (Several believe we actually did go to the moon, but they believe that all the photos and TV and film footage were faked in order to keep secret the military technology that was used.  So, we went to the moon, but we didn't go using the civilian techniques or equipment NASA says we used.) 

Sunstein and Vermeule seem to have totally missed the facts which indicate that every conspiracy theorist has his own unique theory.  At the bottom of page 8, they even seem to dismiss the idea by viewing things from what I consider a totally wrong angle:

B. How Conspiracy Theories Arise and Spread

1. Crippled epistemologies. Why do people accept conspiracy theories that turn
out to be false and for which the evidence is weak or even nonexistent? It is tempting to answer in terms of individual pathology. Perhaps conspiracy theories are a product of mental illness, such as paranoia or narcissism. And indeed, there can be no doubt that some people who accept conspiracy theories are mentally ill and subject to delusions.  But we have seen that in many communities and even nations, such theories are widely held. It is not plausible to suggest that all or most members of those communities are afflicted by mental illness. The most important conspiracy theories are hardly limited to those who suffer from any kind of pathology.

Who ever suggested that all or most conspiracy theorists are mentally ill?  (Some certainly are, but not all or most).  Sunstein and Vermeule seem to ask the wrong question, so they get a wrong answer.  The question should have been:

Why do people develop conspiracy theories that turn out to be false and for which the evidence is weak or even nonexistent?

My observations indicate that people generally develop conspiracy theories, they do not accept them from someone else.  And, they generally do so for reasons that have to do with individual history, and not with individual pathology.  When they accept someone else's argument, it is generally because they can fit it into their own beliefs.  But, they very rarely fully accept the other person's beliefs.  Nevertheless, they still join with the other person because they have a mutual goal: to prove that "the official version" is wrong.  They probably believe they can sort out who is right after they convince the world that "the official version" is wrong.

In the last 2/3rds of the Sunstein and Vermeule paper, it seems clear that they are looking at a specific type of conspiracy theory: Political conspiracy theories developed by some kind of leader to bring others into his flock.  These are false conspiracy theories that can also be dangerous to the country.  (We saw an example of that Friday when
Vladimir Zhirinovsky claimed that the meteorite that exploded over Russia was really the U.S. testing a new weapon.) 
Yet, Sunstein and Vermeule seem to apply general rules to other types of conspiracy theories that really only apply to that one type.

Starting at the bottom of page 4, Sunstein and Vermeule wrote:

Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined.

Within the set of false conspiracy theories, we also limit our focus to potentially harmful theories. Not all false conspiracy theories are harmful; consider the false conspiracy theory, held by many of the younger members of our society, that a secret group of elves, working in a remote location under the leadership of the mysterious “Santa Claus,” make and distribute presents on Christmas Eve. This theory is false, but is itself instilled through a widespread conspiracy of the powerful – parents – who conceal their role in the whole affair. (Consider too the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.) It is an open question whether most conspiracy theories are equally benign; we will suggest that some are not benign at all.

Under this account, conspiracy theories are a subset of the large category of false
beliefs, and also of the somewhat smaller category of beliefs that are both false and
harmful.

How do you tell which conspiracy theory beliefs are false, and how can you tell which false conspiracy theory beliefs are harmful?  That's where Sunstein and Vermeule get into philosophy:

A further question about conspiracy theories – whether true or false, harmful or
benign – is whether they are justified. Justification and truth are different issues; a true
belief may be unjustified, and a justified belief may be untrue. I may believe, correctly,
that there are fires within the earth’s core, but if I believe that because the god Vulcan
revealed it to me in a dream, my belief is unwarranted. Conversely, the false belief in
Santa Claus is justified, because children generally have good reason to believe what
their parents tell them and follow a sensible heuristic (“if my parents say it, it is probably
true”); when children realize that Santa is the product of a widespread conspiracy among
parents, they have a justified and true belief that a conspiracy has been at work.

Sunstein and Vermeule then go off into discussions of how conspiracy theories can be dangerous and how the government should respond to dangerous conspiracy theories.  That's all out of my territory.

I developed my analysis of conspiracy theories totally independent of Sunstein and Vermeule, but I see I can incorporate a lot of what they argue into mine.  "Crippled epistemology" is the area where we most fully agree, so our personal individual findings and beliefs aren't as important as the overall goal of understanding why conspiracy theorists cannot accept the facts and what can be done to limit their influence.

(It hasn't escaped me that this is another situation where two people have individual theories, but because they agree on a key point, they can work together.   Nor has it escaped me that that's the basis for democracy - working together for a common goal in spite of individual differences.)

Anthrax Truthers use a "crippled epistemology."  They argue beliefs instead of facts.  And they use a "degenerating research program."  They rationalize things which do not fit their theory to make them fit, and they totally ignore facts which they cannot make fit.  This also applies to Moon Landing Truthers, 9/11 Truthers, Climate Change Truthers and most other types of Truthers.  Yet, nearly all Anthrax Truthers think that the Moon Landing Truthers are nuts.  Many think the 9/11 Truthers are nuts.  And many probably also think the JFK Assassination Truthers are nuts.  Yet, they all inexplicably think they are some kind of majority.

To make it clear to everyone - including the Truthers - that they are not a growing "majority," it appears that three things need to be done:

1.  Show that they are individuals with individual beliefs, NOT a group.

2.  Show that their reasoning is flawed, illogical, and ignores the facts.

3.  Show that they all use common tactics to avoid looking at the facts.

What's the best way of showing those things?  There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people who read the questions.   Everyone who wants to give it a try should probably do it their own way.

As for me, my next chore is to learn more about epistemology.  As I understand it,

False propositions cannot be known.  Therefore, knowledge requires truth.  Something has to be true before it can be known.

However, if you don't believe a thing, you cannot know that thing.  Therefore knowledge also requires belief.

But, belief is not knowledge.  Therefore, knowledge also requires justification.

Justification assures that a belief is not just a wild guess.

So, truth, belief and justification are together necessary to have knowledge.

And I believe I truly have the justification to say this is already giving me a headache. 

Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 10, 2013, thru Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 15, 2013 (B) - I suppose I should have expected it, but I didn't.  Someone just sent me an Internet news story which reports:

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Russian Liberal-Democratic Party, said that no meteor fell in the Urals on Friday – the US “tested a new weapon” over the region, he claimed.

Now the question is: How many people will believe Zhirinovsky?  How many people will think that all the facts are just made up by NASA and/or other government agencies to deceive the Russian people in some way?  Should the Russian government respond to this conspiracy theory, or should they just ignore it and hope it will be seen as absurd?

Clearly, the American government should just ignore it.  The scientific facts have already been made clear.  And those facts are a better rebuttal than anything some government official can say.  A statement by the U.S. government would just bring Zhirinovsky's comment to the attention of more people and give it some "legitimacy," because the U.S. Government felt it needed to try to convince people it wasn't true.

These are issues addressed in the last half of the paper "Conspiracy Theories" by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule that I finished reading this morning.  They are issues I very much want to leave to others to explain and argue.  But, I have to wonder: Did Zhirinovsky come up with that theory because of something he could not believe, or did he come up with it because he saw an opportunity to try to frighten the Russian people into supporting some kind of action he wants to take?  I strongly suspect the latter.  But we'll probably never know for sure.  

February 15, 2013 (A) - Hmm.  We just got a very nice demonstration of something that just doesn't seem likely or reasonable, so a lot of "Cannot Believers" could start developing theories.

My first thought when I heard about the 10 ton meteorite that hit in the vicinity of Chelyabinsk, Russia, yesterday was that it had to be connected to the 130,000 ton asteroid that is going to pass about 17,100 miles from the earth this afternoon.  But, according to CNN:

NASA spokesman Steve Cole told CNN that scientists had determined that the Russian meteor was on a very different trajectory from the asteroid.

"They are completely unrelated objects -- it's a strange coincidence they are happening at the same time," he said.

So, if you spend the time to do a little research, you will see they cannot be connected.  But, if you cannot believe they are not connected, you probably wouldn't do the research to find that you're wrong.  And, in some ways, it's a lot scarier that two large objects from space can come so close to earth and NOT be connected.  It's like having two people shoot at your car on the same day, one missing and one punching a hole in your windshield, but the police say that there's no connection between the shootings.  Huh?     

February 14, 2013 - The claim by Professors James Tracy and Lance deHaven Smith that the CIA dreamed up the term "Conspiracy Theorist" in the 1960's as part of some kind of conspiracy to discredit conspiracy theorists brings to mind a massive conspiracy theory from the 1940's that I researched long ago.

When I wrote my WWII novel "Clipper," I didn't mention the conspiracy theory.  The entire novel takes place just before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so the conspiracy theories had not yet been developed.  However, the central character of the novel goes on her mission because a world war seemed imminent in the weeks before the actual attack.  (President Roosevelt had to break off a vacation in Warm Springs, Ga, to return to Washington on November 30, 1941, because it seemed certain that the Japanese were going to attack somewhere on that day.  And, the military in the Pacific area was tired of going on one alert after another because it appeared the Japanese were about to attack somewhere - most likely in the Philippines or Indo China.)

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there were a lot of people (and there are still some around today) who felt that President Roosevelt knew about the attack ahead of time and did nothing to prevent it, because he wanted America to get into a war with Germany and Italy, even if that meant also fighting the Japanese.  

There are web sites that promote that conspiracy theory HERE and HERE, and there are at least three books on the subject, "Day of Deceit," "The Pearl Harbor Myth" and "Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy."  But, those books were all written long after the 1960's.  And I don't know that anyone between 1941 and 1960 ever actually used the term "conspiracy theorist" in a book, magazine or newspaper to describe a person who had a conspiracy theory about Pearl Harbor. 
So, while conspiracy theories were around long before the 1960's, it might be hard to find solid evidence that people were using the term "conspiracy theorist" before the JFK assassination caused lawyer and conspiracy theorist Mark Lane to come out of the woodwork.  Mark Lane wrote an article promoting a JFK conspiracy theory four weeks after the assassination.

What the JFK assassination and Mark Lane apparently did was cause publishers and other conspiracy theorists to realize that there was money to be made in writing and publishing books and articles that promote conspiracy theories.  People started labeling Mark Lane as a "conspiracy theorist" almost right away.  But, there's probably no way to convince conspiracy theorists that the CIA didn't invent the term first.


February 13, 2013 - I received an email this morning from someone who felt that people are now going to construct conspiracy theories about Christopher Jordan Dorner,  the ex-cop cop killer in California who died in a shootout and house fire yesterday.

I didn't see anything that people would consider to be unbelievable about Dorner's story, so I argued that, until there is something that people cannot believe, there won't be any foundation on which to build a conspiracy theory.

In response I received a link to an article which says a conspiracy theory is already under development.  Evidently, the group called "Anonymous" feels that Dorner was a "law abiding citizen" who wrote a manifesto  detailing wrongdoings by the Los Angeles Police Department, and the group "Anonymous" is now arguing that some in the LAPD conspired to kill Dorner and keep the "truth" from becoming public. 

The group "Anonymous" evidently isn't creating a conspiracy theory because of anything they cannot believe; they are creating an artificial conspiracy theory out of pure malice.  It's their way of undermining authority.  They want to foster distrust of authority of any kind.  And, if their efforts influence people to find things they cannot believe about "the official story," maybe some of those people will develop their own individual versions of the conspiracy theory.  Time will tell.   

February 12, 2013 - This morning, since debates on my interactive blog seemed to have died down and things seemed very quiet, I took a look around the Internet to see if there was any mention of the new Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense article by Martin Hugh-Jones et al.  Google couldn't find anything at all.  So, I took a look to see if there were any new comments from Florida State University professor James Tracy.  What I found wasn't particularly interesting, but I then I happened to stumble across information about a new book by another Florida State University Professor.  The book"Conspiracy Theory in America" by Lance deHaven Smith will be published by the University of Texas Press in April.  The book description begins this way:

Ever since the Warren Commission concluded that a lone gunman assassinated President John F. Kennedy, people who doubt that finding have been widely dismissed as conspiracy theorists, despite credible evidence that right-wing elements in the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service—and possibly even senior government officials—were also involved. Why has suspicion of criminal wrongdoing at the highest levels of government been rejected out-of-hand as paranoid thinking akin to superstition?

Have the conspiracy theories really been "rejected out-of-hand as paranoid thinking" or have they been rejected after very careful examination?  I feel like I've been arguing solid facts against mistaken beliefs for over eleven years without making any headway. How do you change the minds of people who cannot be persuaded by facts or by logic?

Here's the first part of the book's Table of Contents:

Introduction: High-Crime Blind
  • A Curious History
  • A Flawed and Un-American Label
  • Naming the Taboo Topic
  • Perceptual Silos
  • Causes and Consequences
  • The CIA’s Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy
Professor James Tracy also talked about the "CIA's Conspiracy-Theory Conspiracy."  In my January 14, 2013 comment, I quoted Professor James Tracy from an interview he did on a South Miami radio and TV station:

The term "conspiracy theorist" was devised in the 60s and it was utilized by the CIA to quiet academics and authors and journalists because there's nothing worse than being called a conspiracy theorist because then your judgment on a wide variety of concerns  that comprise your livelihood are called into question.

Conspiracy theorists see conspiracies everywhere, even in the creation of the term "conspiracy theorist."  And, when you try to show them that they have no true evidence of these conspiracies, they start seeing you as part of the conspiracy.  But, Professor Smith's book is the first I've seen which seems to argue that conspiracy theorists are true Americans, and anyone arguing against them is unAmerican.   He even has a label for them: "Conspiracy Deniers."

In the Introduction to his book, Professor Smith provides some really interesting leads to several information sources which dispute his point of view, and  which he seems to see as unAmerican.  I found one particularly interesting article "Conspiracy Theories" by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule of the Harvard Law School.  They appear to have originated the conspiracy theory descriptive terms "self-sealing" and "echo chamber."  Here's what the Abstract for their article says:

Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.

"Crippled epistemology" seems like another term worth remembering.   Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature and scope of knowlege.  It questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and the possible extent a given subject or entity can be known.  Interesting stuff.  Here's what the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy says:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.

Professor Smith writes this about Sunstein's and Vermeule's paper and their use of the term "conspiracy theorists":

This fatal defect in the conspiracy-theory concept makes it all the more surprising that most scholars and journalists have failed to notice that their use of the term to ridicule suspicions of elite political criminality betrays the civic ethos inherited from the nation’s Founders. From the nation’s beginning, Americans were fearful of secret plots by political insiders to subvert constitutional governance. Those who now dismiss conspiracy theories as groundless paranoia have apparently forgotten that the United States was founded on a conspiracy theory. The Declaration of Independence claimed that “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” by King George proved the king was plotting to establish “an absolute tyranny over these states.”

And Professor Smith also writes:

This is remarkable, not to say shocking, because the concept is both fundamentally flawed and in direct conflict with American legal and political traditions. As a label for irrational political suspicions about secret plots by powerful people, the concept is obviously defective because political conspiracies in high office do, in fact, happen. Officials in the Nixon administration did conspire to steal the 1972 presidential election. Officials in the Reagan White House did participate in a criminal scheme to sell arms to Iran and channel profits to the Contras, a rebel army in Nicaragua. The Bush-Cheney administration did collude to mislead Congress and the public about the strength of its evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. If some conspiracy theories are true, then it is nonsensical to dismiss all unsubstantiated suspicions of elite intrigue as false by definition.

Since I don't see any mention of the anthrax attacks of 2001, I doubt that I'll be buying Professor Smith's book.  But, I will be studying the introduction to his book very carefully, and I definitely will be reading the paper by Sunstein and Vermeule. 

And, I'm still looking forward to buying and reading Edward Jay Epstein's new book, "The Annals of Crime" when it comes out next month.  A True Believer has been quoting parts of the book on Lew Weinstein's web site.  The quotes show the book to be what I expected: the beliefs of a conspiracy theorist who seems to think that unanswered and irrelevant questions are more important than hard solid facts.  Here's one quote:

My assessment is that the FBI failed to find the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. Indeed, it failed twice. Its first wrong man was Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, whose career was ruined by its 24/7 investigation of him; the second wrong man was Dr. Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide under its relentless pressure. In a case such as the anthrax attack, in which the weapon leaves microscopic traces everywhere, the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes’ dog-that-did-not-bark is the conspicuous absence of evidence. The FBI investigation was possibly the most massive in history in terms of expended man-hours. Consider then what evidence the FBI did not find that would have implicated their final suspect, Dr. Ivins.

Consider what evidence the FBI did NOT find?  Only a true conspiracy theorist would consider imaginary evidence that was NOT found to be more important that the evidence that was found.  Bruce Ivins was an experienced microbiologist who knew how to clean up after himself, and he dealt with anthrax spores every day without leaving lethal spores all over the place.  Yet, on the occasion when he committed a crime, Dr. Epstein feels Dr. Ivins should have left "microscopic traces everywhere."  Why?  Evidently, because Dr. Epstein cannot believe that there is any way that Dr. Ivins could have made dry spores without leaving "microscopic traces everywhere."  And he cannot believe that Dr. Ivins was capable of cleaning up after himself.

And, if you explained to Dr. Epstein how easy it was for Ivins to make dry spores without leaving microscopic traces everywhere, there seems little doubt that the response would be that there is no irrefutable proof that Ivins made the spores that way.  It appears that no proof of any kind is required to develop a conspiracy theory, but only irrefutable proof is acceptable to question a conspiracy theory.  And, anyone who tries is probably part of the conspiracy and their irrefutable proof should not be believed anyway.  So, their proof should be rejected "out-of-hand."  Studying actual evidence is just a trick to confuse people!  "They" want you to think that the conspiracy theorists are mistaken!  It's all part of "the government's" plot!  Can't you see that!?  Ignorance is the only defense!!

conspiracy theory books - or are they?
The world has already ended conspiracy

February 10, 2013 - Uh oh.  I awoke this morning with a sudden realization that I may have been looking at "conspiracy theorists" and True Believers somewhat incorrectly for about 11 years.   I don't know if I'd call it an Epiphany, but it was certainly a very interesting revelation.   (This comment was entirely written this morning, so I'll probably be modifying it throughout the day.  What you are currently reading is version #8.)

Yesterday, the subject of "good conspiracies" came up on my interactive blog and I mentioned it in Saturday's comment on this site.  (A surprise birthday party is the best example of a "good conspiracy.")  That discussion got me to thinking about various kinds of Truthers, and particularly the kind of Truthers I most frequently debated with prior to the anthrax attacks of 2001: Moon Hoax Truthers.

The people who believed (and mostly still believe) that America never went to the moon and that it was all a government hoax (a.k.a. "conspiracy") never talked much about why the government would do such a thing.  The theorists didn't seem to think it was an evil conspiracy.  But they never suggested it was a "good conspiracy," either.  Mostly they just talked about why they did not believe it had really happened, and they used "junk science" to argue that pictures taken on the moon should have shown stars in the sky, not a black sky.  They argued that an astronaut standing in the shadow of the moon lander should have been in total blackness, but NASA pictures showed they were not totally black.  They argued that in a
vacuum you wouldn't leave a clean footprint.  They argued that in a vacuum the flag being planted by astronauts wouldn't appear to be briefly waving. (These are junk science arguments debunked on "Mythbusters.")  Etc.

I personally knew a couple people who just could not believe that astronauts actually went to the moon.  I specifically remember that at the company where I worked at the time there was one very smart, college-educated woman who just could not accept it.  To her, it was totally impossible for humans to travel safely to the moon and back, and it seemed that no evidence could ever change her mind.

Thinking about that made me think about the Climate Change Truthers.  I haven't had that much contact with those Truthers, but from what I read, they just cannot accept that humans can affect the climate of an entire planet by such simple everyday things as having too many cars and burning too much coal and oil.

Last night, I went to bed with their arguments still turning over in my mind.  When I awoke this morning, it seemed to me that if you scratched the surface of a "conspiracy theorist," underneath you'd find a True Believer.  I.e., you'd find someone who truly believed it was impossible to go to the moon, someone who truly believed it was impossible for humans to affect the climate of an entire planet, someone who truly believed that it was impossible for an airplane crash to bring down a modern skyscraper, or someone who truly believed Muslim terrorists must have sent the anthrax letters, or someone who truly believed the American government sent the anthrax letters as part of some diabolical plot.

However, those last two didn't quite fit the pattern of the others.  The others truly believe things because they believe the alternative to be impossible.  But, that didn't seem to be the case with Anthrax Truthers who believed that Muslims or the CIA (or Dick Cheney or Jews or drug companies or some other group) were responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001.  Did they all think it was impossible for Bruce Ivins to have made the attack anthrax all by himself?  Many of Dr. Ivins' friends felt that way.  From what I've read about and heard from Martin Hugh-Jones (one of the Truther Trio responsible for the
new article in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense titled "Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax"), it appears he feels that Ivins could not possibly have done it.

But what about the other two authors of that article? 

It appears that Dr. Rosenberg found it was impossible to believe that it was just a coincidence that within weeks of the U.S. government trashing the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC) of July 2001 because it addressed only government labs and didn't address the possibily of a rogue terrorist organization launching a biological or chemical attack upon America, that argument was validated by an actual terrorist attack that was supposed to look like a non-government-sponsored terrorist attack.

And Dr. Jacobsen seems to believe it is impossible for anthrax spores to aerosolize and kill the way the attack spores did without some form of sophisticated weaponization.  In the 2003 article in Science magazine titled "Anthrax Powder: State of The Art?" he argued that van der Waals forces would bind spores together unless some sophisticated process was used to prevent it.  Here are two sections from the Science article:

       One group, comprised mostly of microbiologists and molecular biologists, argues that this material could have been a do-it-yourself job, made by someone knowledgeable but with run-of-the-mill lab equipment on a modest budget. This contingent includes one well-known bioweaponeer, Ken Alibek, who defected from Russia to the United States in 1992.
       The other faction thinks that the powder mailed to the Senate (widely reported to be
more refined than the one mailed to the TV networks in New York) was a diabolical advance in biological weapons technology.  This diverse group includes scientists who specialize in biodefense for the Pentagon and other federal agencies, private-sector scientists who make small particles for use in pharmaceutical powders, and an electronics researcher, chemist Stuart Jacobsen of Texas.

and

“If there’s polymerized glass [in the Senate samples], it really narrows the field [of
possible suspects],” says Jacobsen, who has been following the anthrax investigations
keenly. “Polymerized glasses are exotic materials, and nanotechnology is something
you just don’t do in your basement.”          

That's when I realized that I may have been looking at these conspiracy theorists and True Believers from the wrong angle.  And, I've been giving them a wrong label.  It appears they should more properly be labeled "Cannot Believers."

Some people simply cannot believe that a lone gunman could single-handedly concoct a plot and fire a rifle with such accuracy to kill an American President in a moving vehicle.

Some people simply cannot believe that a single airliner striking a modern skyscraper could cause the entire building to collapse like a house of cards.

Some people simply cannot believe that it's just a coincidence that there were mass shootings using military assault weapons at the time when some in the government were looking to crack down on the civilian possession of such weapons.

Some people simply cannot believe that it is possible for humans to travel all the way to the moon and back and live to tell about it.

Some people simply cannot believe that it is possible for ordinary daily human activity to affect the entire atmosphere of a planet the size of the earth.

Some people simply cannot believe that smoking causes cancer when there are so many people who smoked all their lives and never got cancer.

Some people simply cannot believe that a virus would naturally appear to kill mostly homosexuals when it was clear there were so many people opposed to homosexuality.

Some people simply cannot believe that the anthrax attacks could come so soon after the 9/11 attacks without the same people being responsible for both attacks.

Some people simply cannot believe it was just a coincidence that there was a biological weapons attack from terrorists so soon after America trashed the BTWC because the BTWC did not address attacks from terrorist organizations.

Some people simply cannot believe that a lone individual can create super-sophisticated anthrax powders with the properties exhibited by the senate anthrax powders.

Some people simply cannot believe that someone they knew, particularly a socially inept person like Bruce Ivins, could commit the horrendous crime for which he was accused.

And, because these individuals cannot personally believe these things, they develop personal theories to account for what must have "really happened."  I.e., either some people in the government must have conspired to make it appear that the impossible happened, or the people in charge of investigating such things are so incompetent that they actually believe the impossible happened and cannot see how impossible it is.

It all fits!  It explains everything.  It explains why each "Truther" has a unique theory: They developed the theory themselves to explain how what they personally believe to be impossible could be claimed by the government to have actually happened. 
Find out why they cannot believe the facts (some possibilities: personal experience, prejudice, hate, anger, egoism, paranoia, narcissism, distrust, class warfare, ignorance, stupidity, etc.), and you have the potential for a nearly infinite variety of personal theories.

This seems to mean that conspiracy theories are NOT what the conspiracy theorists actually believe.  Conspiracy theories are concocted and developed because of what people CANNOT believe. 

That's a very different ball game.  

It suggests that additional information MIGHT have an impact on them.  It says they are generally arguing from ignorance, thus some additional facts just might make a difference.   People just need to find out what it is that they believe to be impossible, and explain to them what it is that they need to understand to see that it is possible.

I think that's what some government scientists have been trying to do, and it's what the authors of "Recursive Fury" recommended.  But, it also seems that a lot more can probably be done to address and debunk the specific things that individual scientists and other highly vocal "experts" believe to be particularly "impossible."

The two main "impossibilities" seem to be that (1) it would have been "impossible" for Dr. Ivins to make the attack spores in his lab without anyone noticing, and (2) that it would have been "impossible" for Ivins to have "weaponized" the spores with silicon, because Dr. Ivins had neither the equipment nor training to do so.

In my new book and on my web page about "How Bruce Ivins Made The Anthrax Powders," I explain how incredibly easy it was for Ivins to make the powders without anyone noticing.  In my book and in my December 17, 2012 (A) comment I described three simple tests which should prove how the silicon got into the attack spores.  If those tests work as expected, they would be undeniable proof that Ivins could have made the attack spores.  People might still find they cannot believe that a seemingly quiet, gentle and kind man like Bruce Ivins would do such a terrible thing, but with solid proof before them that shows he could easily have done it, they should find it hard to argue that Ivins could not have done it.  

The new label "Cannot Believers" seems too odd a term to be widely accepted, so, I'll probably continue to label them as "Truthers," since they all claim to be looking for the "truth" which will explain why what they believe to be totally impossible could not have been done as easily as the government says it was done.

Lastly, I'm thinking "The Cannot Believers" would make a great book title.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 3, 2013, thru Saturday, February 9, 2013

February 9, 2013 - In a discussion today on my interactive blog, a Truther pointed to the first "thought process" in the six common thought processes of conspiracy theorists I listed yesterday, and he questioned if there if such a thing as a "good conspiracy."

I responded by mentioning the example of a "good conspiracy" that the writers of the "Recursive Fury" article used: Planning a surprise birthday party.

Then I tried to think of a "good" government conspiracy.  I thought about politicians working together (conspiring) to develop some kind of bill to aid the blind or to aid people inflicted with some kind of disease.  I would call that a "good conspiracy," but, I suppose in the world of politics there would be people who would call it an "evil conspiracy," since it would mean taking some of their tax money and giving it to someone else.

In the middle of the discussion, "Anonymous" popped in to argue his belief that Muslim terrorists were behind the 2001 anthrax attacks.  He cited a scientist who agrees with his beliefs, and I cited FBI scientists who disagree with his beliefs and who have many more facts to support their findings.  Now, I'm waiting for him to call me a "True Believer" because I do not accept his muddled and illogical reasoning. 


February 8, 2013 - Yesterday, I finished studying the research paper "Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation" by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Hubble-Marriott.  It contains many interesting observations and a lot of information, but I have a few problems with some of what the authors wrote.

On pages 11 to 13, they list six common thought processes of conspiracy theorists.   Here are abbreviated versions of those six thought processes:

First, conspiracy theorist always assume the government's intentions are evil.  They never find a conspiracy to do good.

Second, conspiracy theorists see themselves as "heroes" out to expose the "truth."  Some may also see themselves as "victims" out to set things right.

Third, the conspiracy theorist refuses to believe anything that does not fit into the conspiracy theory. Thus, nothing is at it seems, and all evidence points to hidden agendas or some other meaning that only the conspiracy theorist is aware of.

Fourth, to the conspiracy theorist, nothing happens by accident. Thus, small random events are woven into a conspiracy narrative and reinterpreted as indisputable evidence for the theory.

Fifth, when their "evidence" is shown to be undeniably invalid and mistaken, they still believe something must be wrong.  What the government says cannot be right.

Sixth, contrary evidence is often interpreted as evidence for a conspiracy.  In other words, if someone or some new government agency disputes their beliefs, that person or agency must be part of the conspiracy, which proves there is a conspiracy.

While I don't fully disagree with any of those observations about "conspiracy theorists," I can't tell whether or not the authors recognized that the group they label as "conspiracy theorists" probably also contains many "True Believers."  I think any study of subjects which spawn conspiracy theories needs to distinguish between conspiracy theorists and True Believers.  For example, if one looks at True Believers, the first thought process in the list would be very different.  It would read:

First, True Believers generally assume that the government is just incompetent or making a mistake.  They believe that, if the government can just be convinced to look in the right place for the right evidence, everyone will see the real "truth.

And, for True Believers, the third and sixth thought processes are also very different and could probably be combined:

Third, True Believers do not believe anything that doesn't fit into their theory.  So, if some evidence doesn't fit their theory, the evidence either means nothing and can be ignored, or it means no one has yet found how the evidence does fit

Sixth, True Believers cannot comprehend the existence of contrary evidence.  Therefore, they believe "contrary evidence" is just something that someone has interpreted erroneously. 

So, "Conspiracy Theorist" doesn't seem to be the correct way to identify all the people who do not believe that climate change is really happening.  They might more properly be called "Truthers," since they claim to know the "truth" about what is happening, and they know the government is wrong - either deliberately lying or just incompetent. 

The "Recursive Fury" paper does recognize that these "Truthers" also come in other flavors.  The paper also mentions the group which thinks they know the "truth" about the science that links smoking to lung cancer, and the group that thinks they know the "truth" about the science that links HIV and AIDS.   There are many other groups of "Truthers" that they do not mention, most notably the group I've been studying for 11 years: Anthrax Truthers.  So, there are many kinds of "Truthers."     

                                                              Truthers
                     ________________________|_________________________________
                    |                          |                            |                                   |                      |
     Anthrax Truthers   9/11 Truthers  Moon hoax Truthers  Climate Truthers   Etc., Etc.

And, within each group of "Truthers" there are conspiracy theorists, True Believers and possibly anarchists and other sub-groups.  The key fact, however, is that each group does not generally accept the beliefs of the other groups.  Anthrax Truthers very often think that 9/11 Truthers are "nuts," and vice versa.  Climate Truthers probably think that Moon Hoax Truthers are "nuts," and vice versa.
 
It's also nice to see that the authors of the "Recursive Fury" article mention something else I have also noticed, but which the Truthers totally refuse to believe: Truthers are a very small group which might be properly called "The Lunatic Fringe."  In one comment on page 38, the authors of the article focus on climate change conspiracy theorists, but the words they use can be applied to Truthers in virtually every area:

recursive theories, while intensely promoted by certain bloggers and commenters, were largely contained to the "echo chamber" of climate denial.

In other words, the Truther groups communicate in an "echo chamber" where nearly the only things they hear are each other's opinions.  As a result, they believe that they represent a group that is vastly larger than it really is.  The authors explain further:

This confinement of recursive hypotheses to a small "echo chamber" reflects the
wider phenomenon of radical climate denial, whose ability to generate the appearance of a widely held opinion on the internet is disproportionate to the smaller number of people
who actually hold those views (e.g., Leviston, Walker, & Morwinski, 2012). This
discrepancy is greatest for the small group of people who deny that the climate is
changing (around 6% of respondents; Leviston et al., 2012). Members of this small group believe that their denial is shared by roughly half the population. 

In other words, the number of people who actually hold those Truther views are very small, but they are very vocal and, because they argue in an "echo chamber," they falsely believe that "roughly half the population" (or more) agrees with them.

The authors of the article then suggest a method of dealing with the climate change conspiracy theorists:

Thus, although an understanding of science denial is essential given the importance of climate change and the demonstrable role of the blogosphere in delaying mitigative action, it is arguably best met by underscoring the breadth of consensus among scientists (Ding, Maibach, Zhao, Roser-Renouf, & Leiserowitz, 2011; Lewandowsky, Gignac, & Vaughan, 2012) rather than by direct engagement.

So, the authors of the "Recursive Fury" article believe it is best to challenge the beliefs of conspiracy theorists by showing how their beliefs are disputed by the vast majority of experts, instead of arguing with them individually (as I do) by "direct engagement."

Maybe.  But,
there can be great value to arguing with them individually: You discover how they individually think.  It's when you talk with them individually that you see that even in a tight group of Anthrax Truthers they do not agree with one another on much of anything - except that the government is wrong

That may be the main key to really understanding all the "Truthers."  While they may seem like large groups, they are really just individuals, each with his own unique theory.

For me, there doesn't seem much point in trying to show them how their beliefs are disputed by experts, since each one will just use "experts" with beliefs to argue against the experts who use actual facts.  "Experts" with beliefs will argue that the experts with facts are wrong, thus the government is wrong.  If Senator Leahy wants to see the Amerithrax investigation re-opened, they feel that means it should be re-opened because an "expert" with an opinion has said so, even if the other 99 senators have said nothing about the subject and therefore evidently do not feel it should be re-opened.

I agree that little or nothing can be done to change the minds of conspiracy theorists (and True Believers), but I think more can be done to show these "Truthers" that they are a tiny fringe group of individuals who do not agree with one another and that most people consider them to be a "Lunatic Fringe" -- including the other Truthers.

I don't know if there is a way to do that without "direct engagement" of the individual conspiracy theorists and True Believers.  That happened when Anderson Cooper confronted James Tracy about his conspiracy theory regarding the Newtown killings.  But, "direct engagement" of Professor Tracy may have had the side effect of giving Tracy's theory a lot of exposure in the media, which then resulted in a lot of other conspiracy theorists becoming more vocal on their own individual beliefs about the Newtown killings.

Yet, unless you can get the Truthers (conspiracy theorists and True Believers) to explain their beliefs in detail, you cannot show them and the world that they are each a minority of one and not part of a majority of any kind.

People without facts are not so bold when they see themselves as a minority of one.  And that should make it easier to see the difference between those on the Lunatic Fringe and that rare individual who might actually be right and see something that no one else has seen.  It's not too difficult to determine which is which; just check if their argument is based on beliefs or on facts.  People with facts will list those facts and ask experts to check the facts and try to dispute the facts.  People with beliefs will just rant about how the government was wrong in the past, so they must be wrong now, they'll rant about unanswered questions and their beliefs based upon those unanswered questions, and they'll claim to be part of a majority that believes the government is wrong.  They'll generally be unable to explain what they believe is "right," because they have no real facts to support their beliefs, and they know that if they fully explain themselves, even their fellow Truthers will believe they are nuts.


February 7, 2013 (B) - Busy day.  That's fortunate, since it's snowing heavily outside, and I can't get to the health club for my regular workout.  The inbox for the email address I use on this web site is being flooded with junk mail for some reason - as many as 14 per hour.  Plus, someone just sent me another interesting article about conspiracy theories.   It's from Slate.com and is titled "If You Believe They Put A Man On The Moon."   It needs no additional comments from me.   Meanwhile, I'm trying to write down my thoughts about the
"Recursive Fury" article, which has distracted me from writing down more thoughts about the "Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax" article.  Lots of deep thinking on a snowy day.  All the comfort and satisfaction of a cup of hot chocolate without the sugar and calories.

February 7, 2013 (A) - Someone just brought to my attention an Associated Press article titled "DA: Colo. Theater Shooting Victims Being Harassed."  The article says:

Prosecutors say victims and witnesses in the Colorado theater shootings have been pestered by conspiracy theorists, impersonated in court filings and had their addresses and phone numbers posted online.

In a motion made public late Wednesday, prosecutors say some victims are concerned for their safety.

The brief article doesn't say what the conspiracy theorists believe, but I think it's safe to assume that they believe the victims and witnesses are part of some government conspiracy to take away people's guns.  

So, it seems that whenever there is a mass shooting, we can now expect the victims and witnesses to be harassed by conspiracy theorists who think it's all a government plot.  And, if anyone criticizes those conspiracy theorists, the conspiracy theorists will assume that the critics are also part of the plot , i.e., "Recursive Fury."  (See my comment for yesterday.)

February 6, 2013 - This morning I found a proposal for an interesting "headline":

MEMBER OF THE ROYAL FAMILY, KING RICHARD III, FOUND MURDERED IN PARKING LOT, POLICE DECLINE TO INVESTIGATE!! CONSPIRACY??!!

I found it after someone sent me an email suggesting I check out a blog where a new scientific paper is being discussed.  The paper is titled "Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation."

The most interesting response to that headline was from someone in England:

It was a Car Park - we don't have Parking Lots over here.

"Recursive fury?" "Conspiracist ideation?"  I can guess the meaning of those terms, but I decided to look them up.  "Recursive" isn't even in my Webster's.  I had to go to my Oxford Dictionary to find that "recursion" means "the act or an instance of returning."  In American English "Recursive Fury" might be "Anger Bounceback" or "Returning Anger."   Looking up "ideation," I found that it means what I assumed: "to imagine, conceive or form an idea."  So, my American translation of the title of the article would be: "Anger Bounceback: Forming conspiracy theories on the Internet in response to research on forming conspiracy theories."

We saw that recently when Professor James Tracy concocted a theory that there was a media conspiracy to do him harm because of the conspiracy theory he had created about the the media, the government and the Newtown killings.

The "Recursive Fury" article begins with an explanation:

Conspiratorial thinking, also known as conspiracist ideation, has been repeatedly
implicated in the rejection of scientific propositions (Diethelm & McKee, 2009; Goertzel, 2010; Kalichman, 2009; McKee & Diethelm, 2010). Conspiracist ideation generally refers to the propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations (Sunstein & Vermeule, 2009). When conspiracist ideation is involved in the rejection of science, ideations tend to invoke alternative explanations for the nature or source of the scientific evidence.

Which, of course, brings us right back to the latest "scientific" paper from Professor Martin Hugh-Jones, Professor Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, and Dr. Stuart Jacobsen that I've been commenting upon since Saturday.  That Truther Trio rejects the science that helped prove that Bruce Ivins was the anthrax killer, and, instead, they propose that there is an alternative explanation for the nature or source of the scientific evidence: There was either massive ignorance on the part of the FBI or a massive government conspiracy to hide "evidence" that the attack spores were actually made and weaponized via "microencapsulation" in secret at Dugway Proving Grounds.

The Truther Trio doesn't use such damning terminology, of course.   They suggest that the "microencapsulation" (i.e., "weaponization") may have been done as part of some  "classified" work that was both "honest" and "authorized" (i.e., secret, illegal and U.S. government sponsored). 

I've been waiting for some reaction to their article.  So far, I've seen nothing.  If all the scientist readers of ProMedMail.org and the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense, and everyone in the media just decides to ignore their article, is that a conspiracy?

February 5, 2013 - This morning, when I did my regular Google search for "anthrax" and "2001," I found an article stating that someone confessed to the anthrax attacks of 2001.  Click HERE and HERE for two versions of the article.  Both say that an unidentified person wrote an unsigned letter to "authorities" in Florida confessing to killing a 10-year-old Port Salerno girl who disappeared in 1993, and

The writer also claimed to have "killed a Guatemalan male" and decapitated three people besides being responsible for sending anthrax to news media after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The letter writer was assumed to be just a "crackpot," but I'm surprised that some Anthrax Truther hasn't worked it into his or her personal theory about the case.  Or, maybe someone has, but they just never told me about their theory.

February 4, 2013 (B) - Hmm.  This morning I checked Google to see if anyone else was writing about the new Hugh-Jones et al article.  I found links only to the web site for the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense where the article was published, to this web site, to my interactive blog, to an Indonesian newsgroup and to ProMedMail.org.  

This morning there appears to be a new comment on the ProMed page.  It's from Martin Hugh-Jones and reads in part:

As of 1 Jan 2013 the GAO formally initiated a reassessment of the FBI investigation under the leadership of Assistant Director Dr. Sushil Sharma (email: <sharmas@gao.gov>) and I urge any and everyone with knowledge of those pathogen microencapsulation studies of 1999 - 2001 or other similar spore research to contact Dr. Sharma with whatever you know. In this way you will aid and speed the identification of the true perpetrators who utilised the honest products -- microencapsulated spores -- of that research for their criminal purpose.

Whaa?  True Believers and conspiracy theorists have been talking about the GAO review for about two years.   In my February 18, 2011 comment I wrote:

The General Accounting Office (GAO) is currently working on their own review of the Amerithrax investigation.  They were waiting for the review by the NAS to be done first.

But, to be safe, I'll have to mention my new book to Dr. Sharma.   ;-)

February 4, 2013 (A) - Groan!  Yesterday, in my haste to get something written about the new article in
the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense titled "Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax," I failed to recheck everything I wrote.  As a result, I didn't notice that my book uses wrong references for information about how water isotopes showed that the attack spores were probably not made at Dugway.  The references I used mention the University of Utah work, but they don't mention the right page in the right document from the National Academy of Sciences CD.

On my web page "How Ivins Made the Attack Powders ... Allegedly," I use the correct reference information.  There I wrote:

FBI/NAS file B1M9, pages 32 through 44 are a February 22, 2004 report titled "Stable Isotope Characteristics of Anthrax Sample SPS 02.266." (SPS 02.266 is the Leahy spores.)  The report is by Drs. James Ehleringer and Helen Kreuzer-Martin of the University of Utah.  Page 34 says:

With these important limitations, the isotope ratio data from sample 02.266 are

* inconsistent with the spores having been produced with water from Dugway Proving Ground

* inconsistent with the spores having been grown in liquid medium made with any known meteoric water source

* consistent with the spores having been grown on solid medium, perhaps for an extended period of time.

So, the findings by Ehleringer and Kreuzer-Martin show the Leahy spores probably weren't from Dugway, weren't grown in a liquid medium, and appear to have been grown on "solid medium" agar plates over an "extended period of time."

I found the bad refrences this morning while writing a response to a criticism that "Anonymous" (a.k.a "DXer") posted to my interactive blog at around 4 a.m. PT.   So, now he'll be able to point to another minor mistake I made and continue to argue that anyone who makes mistakes of any kind cannot be trusted in anything they write or say. 

ADDED NOTE: A True Believer emailed to me page 13 from the NAS report.   The page has this comment from the NAS: "It was not possible to identify the location where the spores were prepared."  He apparently intended it to contradict some claim I did NOT make that it was conclusively and scientifically proved that the spores were NOT made at Dugway.  But, it seems better proof that the conspiracy theorist "evidence" that the spores WERE made at Dugway is also not scientifically proved. 

February 3, 2013 - Yesterday, I commented about the abstract for the newest junk science article from a trio of Anthrax Truthers consisting of Martin Hugh-Jones and his conspiracy theorist partners, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stuart Jacobsen.   Their latest article was printed in
the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense and is titled "Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax."

After reading the article over several times, I find it to be a masterpiece of obfuscation where they write one thing and imply another.  Plus, it is an excellent example of using junk science to challenge real science.

The title seems somewhat ironic, since the article presents no evidence about anything - only theories - most of which can be easily shown to be nonsense.   And what is the "source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax" for which they suggest they have "evidence"?  They don't explicitly say.  However, the implication seems to be that they believe it was Dugway Proving Grounds.

They use junk science to make that suggestion: Dugway is known to have made anthrax spores that contained the element tin, and trace amounts of tin were detected in the attack spores.  Ergo, the spores may have been made at Dugway.

The trio of Anthrax Truthers, of course, ignore or are ignorant of the fact that it was determined by tests done at the University of Utah that water isotope ratios found in the attack spores indicate they were grown in an East Coast laboratory, and the isotope ratios virtually rule out any place in Utah as the source.  I explain that on pages 212 and 220 of my book "A Crime Unlike Any Other" and provide the references.

Real science has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the element silicon found in the attack spores got there via natural processes, yet the main thrust of the article by the Truther Trio appears to be that the attack spores were "microencapsulated" with some form of silicon, and they use junk science to argue against the real science.   

The article concludes with this:

The evidence indicates that live, microencapsulated Bacillus anthracis spore powders probably existed legitimately at the time of the attacks and were the likely sources of the anthrax in the attack letters. A number of individuals would have had access to such materials, whether legally or illegally. For the letter-sender(s), the presence of additives in the powders would have been irrelevant. For the FBI, a real investigation of the presence of additives may have been impossible without ‘off-limits’ intrusion into classified biodefense matters90.

It was determined very early after the attacks that there were no silicon additives in the attack spores, but that is probably because the FBI looked at the facts, where the Truther Trio clearly begins with an assumption of "weaponization" and then twists and distorts the facts to make them fit that assumption. Note #90 says:

90An appropriately targetted investigation would seek to determine whether Bacillus anthracis had been microencapsulated prior to the letter attacks, and, if so, by whom,
where, when, and the amounts, strains and dispositions of the resulting materials. Parts of such an investigation might still need to be classified.

In other words, an "appropriately targeted investigation" would be one which begins with the assumption that the attack spores were "microencapsulated."

The authors of the article repeatedly try to indicate that they aren't saying that the spores were "weaponized" as part of some secret and illegal bioweapons program, but, perhaps just manufactured in large quantities and stockpiled as part of some secret and theoretically legal "biodefense" program.  Maybe stockpiles of weaponized spores were created to test (and defeat) equipment intended to take air samples for biodefense.  And maybe those spores weren't irradiated to make them harmless but were genuine anthrax bioweapon spores.

And, maybe, someone stole a sample from that stockpile.  They leave it to the reader to think of the illegal stockpiling of illegal bioweapons that would make more sense to their "microencapsulation" scenario.  

Page 5 of the article has this:

Although there is no evidence to indicate that the tin and silicon content of the spores conferred any benefit for purposes of the letter attacks, their presence is meaningful if the attack spores had been prepared legitimately for other purposes. Silicone microencapsulation would have been desirable for increasing the resistance of the spores
to inactivation by hazards such as UV light, ozone or toxic materials38, and for preventing detection of the spores by some methods. (It is at the spore coat, rather than the external membrane (the exosporium) of Bacillus anthracis that these functions occur39).

This seems to be either a deliberate misinterpretation of the facts, or it could be a misunderstanding by the authors.  Or maybe it was  just badly written.  They are mixing what Nature does to protect spores from UV light etc. with what humans have done to protect spores from UV light etc., and they imply that no one looking at a spore can tell whether the silica coating came from Nature or from a military bioweapons facility.

It gets worse in the next paragraph:

In the non-military literature it has recently been shown that single, living Bacillus spores can be encapsulated using layer-by-layer polyelectrolyte nanocoating43, and that individual cells, including Bacillus spores, can then be subsequently encapsulated with silica44; the silica encapsulation greatly enhanced viability by protecting the cell from harsh environments.

However, the article about encapsulation they cite as reference #43 contains this illustration and these images of encapsulated spores:

encapsulating spores

Yet, in spite of this, somehow the Truther Trio argues that the encapsulation is under the exosporium and within the spore coat, just as was observed in the attack spores.  

They don't even comment on the fact that this kind of coating can be clearly seen under a Scanning Electron Microscope, but was NOT seen in the attack anthrax.

They imply that Dugway could make spores that contain silicon in the spore coats just as was detected in the attack anthrax, but fail to provide any evidence of what a coating on an actual weaponized spore made by Dugway would look like.  I have a picture of a Dugway "weaponized" spore on page 176 of my book.  Here's that picture:

 Dugway weaponized spore

The Truther Trio repeatedly implies that the microencapsulation coating would NOT look this, and it would NOT be on the outside of the exosporium.  They imply it would be inside and part of the spore coat, just as detected in the attack spores.  But, they provide NOTHING in the way of evidence.  The evidence says just the opposite of what they imply.  The illustrations above show "microencapsulated" spores.   To prove that "microencapsulation" actually involves putting silicon inside a spore coat, all they have to do is explain how it is done and show how the test results compare to what Sandia National Laboratory found in the actual attack spores.

Sandia slide of silicon in spore coat
In the above image from Sandia National Laboratories, the silicon in the spore coat (colored green) can be clearly seen to be inside the exosporium (colored red).   The Truther Trio seemingly claims "microencapsulation" puts the silicon inside the spore coat, but their evidence says otherwise, and the illustrations from their references prove otherwise.

The Anthrax Truther also repeatedly use junk science gross calculations of silicon amounts in large samples where real science shows details of individual spores. 

FBI documents say the media powder was roughly 84 percent matrix material (afterbirth slime) and 6 percent agar.  The facts indicate that Dr. Ivins washed the spores and growth material out of the plates and then centrifuged the results to separate the water from the rest of the material to ease the process of drying.  According to fellow USAMRIID scientist John Ezzell, that resulted in a non-homogenous material of different colors and different ingredients.  In the New York Post letter there were clumps of spores embedded in dried matrix material:


New York Post anthrax powder

There were undoubtedly also clumps that were pure dried matrix material and no spores.  Thus, any gross examination of the elements in two different samples could easily vary widely.  One sample could have high amounts of silicon and another could have no amount of silicon at all.  Therefore, sample testing for elements is meaningless to the overall powder.  It's junk science used to argue against real science.

The Truther Trio also failed to address how the slime from the growth plates could still be present after all the processing needed to "microencapsulate" the spores.  The facts say that all Ivins did to create the senate spores was to wash away the slime.

Here's another prime example of the junk science from the very first paragraph in the Introduction to their article:

Collection and analysis of an FBI repository of samples from all laboratories known to
possess the Ames strain indicated that several laboratories had Bacillus anthracis that was identical or nearly identical to that in RMR 1029.  There is no public information, however, as to whether any of those laboratories may have produced the attack anthrax, possibly as part of their authorized work1.

"Whether any of those laboratories may have produced the attack anthrax!?"  Where did the Truther Trio get that idea?  Footnote #1 shows the trio got it from their own first article on this subject.   They are citing themselves.  And their claims are false.

Only one other lab had "Bacillus anthracis that was identical or nearly identical to that in RMR 1029."  Battelle possessed an aliquot sample taken directly from RMR-1029.  So, obviously, that sample was "identical or nearly identical to that in RMR-1029."  And the 7-year Amerithrax investigation proved that Bruce Ivins was the anthrax killer, they cleared Battelle, and the FBI reports fully explain why.

The second paragraph of the article says:

It is remarkable that there is no evidence that the FBI tried to determine the chemical forms of the tin and silicon in the attack powders, although that could have been (and still could be) done straightforwardly by spectroscopic methods.  Perhaps the FBI knows the answers but has concealed them in order to keep potentially dangerous information out of the hands of adversaries.

Ah.  Perhaps it wasn't a criminal government conspiracy, but just government officials conspiring to keep secret weaponization techniques and information about means of defeating bioweapons detection out of "the hands of adversaries."

The Hugh-Jones et al theory is that the tin and silicon in the attack spores are evidence of "microencapsulation."  Here's more from the first page of the article:

To explain the substantial presence of tin in the attack spores, which has never been addressed by the FBI, Hugh-Jones et al.5 have proposed that the spores were processed after growth by coating them with silicone, typically a polysiloxane formed by hydrolysis and polymerization of a silane compound, in the presence of tin. Tin catalyzes the cross-linking of polysiloxane chains, which would thereby form an encapsulating silicone coating on the spore coats6 – the location at which tin, and silicon as well, have been found7 in the attack spores. This process, which would explain the presence, location and amounts of both tin and silicon, would require special expertise and sophisticated facilities.
It is an aim of this paper to explore the evidence that the spores used in the letter attacks may have been microencapsulated for legitimate biodefensive purposes before they fell into the hands of the letter sender(s).


Notes 5 and 6, of course, are once again their own article from 2011.  Note #7 refers to a presentation by a Sandia scientist, but then again refers to their own article.

Speculation is their prime argument:

Because of Dugway’s emphasis on improved simulants and on stabilization/survivability, Dugway may be the source of the unique B. subtilis contaminant found in the early attack letters56.

They again source themselves as the "authority" for that speculation.  The ignore the fact that the B. subtilis contamination most likely wouldn't have helped in any way at all to indentify the lab where the spores were made.  B. subtilis is nearly everywhere in Nature, and there's nothing that says that a sample found in lab A couldn't also have been in lab B or C or D or E or F in August and September of 2001.

But some of what they write is just plain muddled.  For example:

A B. anthracis stock sample provided by Dugway to the FBI Ames anthrax repository tested positive in at least one of the four genetic assays used as indicators of relationship to the attack anthrax65, and the NAS committee believed that Dugway probably produced all four of the genetic markers used for assays66.

Really?  Where did the NAS say they believed that?  Reference #66 says,

66NAS Report (op. cit.), p. 108 gives reasons why all four markers probably originated at Dugway; the Report also discusses the probability of false negatives and presents a Table of assay results on 30 repeat samplings of flask RMR 1029 (the putative parental source of the attack anthrax) as an illustration (p. 117).

Page 108 in the NAS report says no such thing.  In fact, a search for the word "Dugway" finds no mention of Dugway in all of Chapter 5 (pages 97-124).  I searched, but I couldn't find any such mention in the NAS report.  Maybe if I had a lot more time I could have found something that the Truther Trio interpreted to mean such a thing.  (The table they mention appears to be on page 143 of the report.  Assuming that "p. 108" is also off by 26 pages, I looked at pages 133-135 and found nothing.  My best guess is that it's a wild distortion of what is stated in the last paragraph on page 131.)

The Truther Trio also make numerous declarations without providing any evidence:

Tin, found by the FBI in substantial amounts on the spore coats of the attack anthrax, has not been discussed or investigated. Tin is toxic to bacteria and therefore must have been acquired by the attack spores after their growth. The quantities are too high to be accidental contaminants. In approximately the amounts found83, tin is known to be a catalyst in the formation of silicone coatings for microencapsulation.  Although there may be other possible explanations for the presence of tin, neither the FBI nor anyone else has put forward an alternative.  The microencapsulation hypothesis is strengthened by the evidence
that government-sponsored programs specifically involving microencapsulated pathogens were in progress at the very time of the attacks.

That's the same kind of illogical reasoning that James Tracy used when he conjured up a conspiracy theory that claimed the Newtown murders were a government plot: there was a security drill going on at another school in the state, therefore the two events could be or must be connected.

Here's another declaration of what must be true - as far as they are concerned:

In addition to the genetic composition of the attack anthrax, the elemental compositions of the spore powders provide equally important clues: the presence of tin, a toxic material that must have been added subsequent to growth; and a uniquely high content of silicon, not in the familiar form of silica nanoparticles.

Needless to say, I could go on and on and on and on and on.  If I had more time, I could also be more concise and clear about how the Truther Trio's article is just junk science and says one thing while implying another.  For the rest of today, I'll undoubtedly be rereading their article and thinking of other things I could write.   What you're reading now is the 7th version.  It may not be the final version.

Earlier in the week, I was trying to figure out what to write for my Sunday comment, and I came up with a bunch of ideas, none of which compares to what I've written above.

I found an article on the Huffington Post titled "How We All Became Alex Jones" which contains this:

Jones might seem like an entertaining character, far removed from the accepted sensibilities of 'proper' society. But in a strange way, he also represents much of how society views itself within our age of internet mass communication. Scary as it might sound, we may in fact all be like Alex Jones - paranoid, narcissistic and anti-elitist.

I don't think we're all "paranoid, narcissistic and anti-elitist," but I could argue that a very large part of America is.  And, I could have written a few hundred words on that subject.

On Tuesday, I had my third annual "Wellness Visit" with my doctor.  My health is excellent, but during the course of the examination, the doctor mentioned that the vast majority of his patients complain about the "Wellness Visit," even though it's fully paid for by Medicare.  They evidently either want more from the free visit or they don't like being asked personal questions about their mental health.  I had to wonder if some seniors might think that a government program which asks about their mental health might be a plot to get evidence to take away their guns.  That came to mind as a result of the massive surge in gun sales prompted by the recently released photo of President Obama firing a shotgun.  The New Yorker's web site has an article which contains this:

“I don’t want to sound paranoid or anything, but now everything Obama has been doing makes sense,” said Harland Dorrinson, who was waiting on a blocks-long line outside a West Virginia Wal-Mart. “He wants to take away all our guns and then he’s going to come shoot us.”

On Thursday, I watched an episode of "Elementary" where Sherlock Holmes discussed conspiracy theorists.  He made a statement to the effect, "I'm not interested in conspiracy theories, I'm intrigued by conspiracy theorists."  I fully understand that statement, and I contemplated writing a few hundred words about it.

I wrote last week about how I've been trying to fix all the broken links I had on my web site as a result of my deleting articles from the Washington Post and also having deleted legal documents from the lawsuits filed by Steven Hatfill and Maureen Stevens.  I fixed the Washington Post links by providing other sources for the articles, and I fixed the links to the legal documents by putting them back on my site (I'd deleted them because I thought they were using too much bandwidth).  The number of errors related to the Washington Post links has dropped dramatically, but I'm still getting errors because a couple Chinese search engines uses lower case file names where my actual file names involve capital letters.   Example:  I use "Hatfill105.pdf" as a valid file name, but they look for "hatfill105.pdf" and get a "404 (File Not Found)" error:

182.118.25.218 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:24:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill105.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
182.118.25.218 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:24:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill106.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
182.118.25.217 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:24:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill131.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
182.118.25.217 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:24:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill108.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
182.118.25.219 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:24:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill107.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
182.118.25.219 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:24:10 -0600] "GET /hatfill132.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404


101.226.166.242 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:29:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill140-7.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
101.226.166.240 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:29:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill140-8.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404
101.226.166.237 - - [01/Feb/2013:04:29:06 -0600] "GET /hatfill140-4.pdf HTTP/1.1" 404


IP addresses
182.112.0.0 to 182.127.255.255 belong to the China Unicom Henan Province Network.   IP addresses 101.224.0.0 to 101.231.255.255 belong to the ChinaNet Shanghai Province Network.

And yet another Chinese search engine keeps looking for records I do not have on my site and h
ave never had on my site.  They look for login records, signup records and registration records:

59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:01:24 -0600] "GET /signup HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:02:03 -0600] "GET /signup HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:05:19 -0600] "GET /signup/ HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:05:25 -0600] "GET /tools/quicklogin.one HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:05:29 -0600] "GET /signup.php HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:05:42 -0600] "GET /index.php?page=en_Signup HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:05:46 -0600] "GET /index.php?do=/user/register/ HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:05:50 -0600] "GET /signup.php HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:06:30 -0600] "GET /registration_rules.asp?FID=0 HTTP/1.1" 404
59.58.153.6 - - [31/Jan/2013:03:06:41 -0600] "GET /register.php HTTP/1.1" 404


IP addresses
59.56.0.0 to 59.61.255.255 belong to the ChinaNet Fujian Province Network.

So, I've got a big part of China trying to find things on my web site that either aren't there or they aren't using the correct names.  And there doesn't appear to be anything I can do to help them or stop them.

Last week I also watched "AnthraxSleuth" argue his theory that an American scientist (not Ivins) was behind the attacks, and that Ottilie Lundgren and Kathy Nguyen were deliberately targeted.   He was arguing with "DXer" who believes that al Qaeda agents were behind the attacks.  In a January 28 post to Lew Weinstein's blog, "AnthraxSleuth" wrote:

I see DXer is still pushing his fantasy about Al Qaeda mailing the Anthrax. Some things never change.

I said it before and I will say it again. [redacted] mailed those letters. I know. I caught him. Did he do it alone? Certainly not. It would take someone smart enough not to go stalking their victims while wearing their name on their pocket to plan a scheme like this one.

"AnthraxSleuth" appears to believe that he was also targeted by the anthrax killer and, as a result, contracted anthrax.  Plus, he believes that the anthrax killer deliberately targeted 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren and 61-year-old Kathy Nguyen simply because those two women were on the same Internet discussion forum as "AnthraxSleuth."

Kathy and Ottillie and I had posted on the same internet message board.

In a January 31 comment from "AnthraxSleuth" this was said:

Believe you me. I certainly did not want to be involved in any of this crap. It cost me thousands in medical bills and cleanup.

I have FOIA documents. Some of which I would be willing to share outside of public forum at this time. Eventually, I will release everything or if something happens to me it is already arranged to be released.

So, it's clear that paranoia is part of "AnthraxTruther's" problem.  But, then he added:

For anyone to believe the nonsense that Ottillie and Kathy died from tertiary or even secondary exposure is ridiculous and completely contradicts peer reviewed, established science on the amount of spores it takes to infect a human with respiratory anthrax.

Ignorance is another one of his problems.  That "peer reviewed, established science" information is outdated and incorrect.  As I explain on page 130 of my new book, the number of spores needed to infect a human with respiratory anthrax could vary from a single spore for a 94-year-old like Ottilie Lundgren to more than 10,000 spores for a healthy soldier. 
 
I could go on and on and on and on and on.

Hopefully, I won't be the only person to comment on the latest junk science article from Martin Hugh-Jones, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stuart Jacobsen.  I look forward to commenting on what others might write.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 27, 2013, thru Saturday, February 2, 2013

February 2, 2013 (B) - Yayyyy!  It's Groundhog Dayyyyy!   "Groundhog Day" happens to be my favorite movie of all time.   And this morning, Punxsutawney Phil predicted that we'll have an early spring.  Plus, this morning I found something on-topic to write about:

Someone just brought to my attention an article on ProMED-mail titled "
ANTHRAX, HUMAN, 2001 - USA (02): SPORE CHARACTERISTICS."  It's about another junk science article in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense titled
"Evidence for the Source of the 2001 Attack Anthrax."  It is, of course, by Martin Hugh-Jones and his conspiracy theorist associates, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stuart Jacobsen.  They are the same dynamic trio who produced the junk science article titled "The 2001 Attack Anthrax: Key Observations" back in 2011.

I've been picking up rumors about this new article for many months.  The abstract for the new Hugh-Jones et al article begins this way:

The elemental composition of the 2001 attack anthrax presents critical clues that were not considered or were misinterpreted throughout the original investigation. Extensive experimental data released by the FBI after the anthrax case was closed make it possible to trace some of the implications of these clues: the substantial presence of tin, a toxic material that must have been added subsequent to growth, and a uniquely high content of silicon in the attack spores.

No Bacillus spore preparations other than the attack anthrax have ever been found to contain such a high level of silicon, although some surrogate spore powders prepared at Dugway following FBI instructions have been cited as evidence that high levels of silicon can be reproduced; however, examination of the experimental data reveals that the silicon in these samples was unquestionably an artifact. The elemental evidence suggests that the attack spores had been coated with silicone (a polysiloxane) in the presence of tin, which catalyzes the cross-linking of polysiloxane chains needed to form an encapsulating coating on the spore coat.

Microencapsulation helps protect biological agents from damage during atmospheric exposure and from the body's defenses during infection, and would defeat some detection methods.

Pure junk science.  My comments regarding the passages highlighted in red:

It's their opinion that "the elemental composition of the 2001 attack anthrax" was "misinterpreted."   That's because the dynamic trio has a different interpretation.

They consider the silicon content of the attack spores to be "uniquely high," even though there was absolutely NOTHING unique about the silicon content.  The problem was that, before the anthrax attacks of 2001, there had never been any reason for anyone to measure the silicon content of anthrax spores.  As a result, everyone was beginning in ignorance and making assumptions.

Individual spores in flask RMR-1030, which were not part of the attack and which were made by Bruce Ivins, had the exact same silicon content.  So, the first sentence in the second paragraph above is just plain false.

The silicon in the spores was unquestionably the result of natural processes, and the suggestion that it is "an artifact," i,e., something artificial created and added by human beings is just plain preposterous.

Lastly, the dynamic trio seemingly suggests the reason why scientists working for the FBI didn't detect the artificially added silicon coating is because such a coating would "defeat some detection methods."  But it cannot defeat the imaginations of the dynamic trio.

And that's just the abstract.  I'll try to write more about this in tomorrow's comment.

February 2, 2013 (A) - Hmm.  This morning I received an email from a True Believer who asked a question that would more typically be asked by a conspiracy theorist: "Ed, why was this marked SECRET?"  He attached page 4 of
a January 29, 2002 interview with Dr. Bruce Ivins, leaving it to me to track down the rest of the document.  I found that it's page 10 of FBI document #847443.  The interview report says on the first page:

CLASSIFIED BY 60324 UC BAW/RS/LSC
REASON: 1.4 (C)

According to Wikipedia, "reason 1.4 (C)" is:

1.4(c) intelligence activities, sources, or methods, or cryptology;

In January of 2002, the FBI was years away from figuring out who sent the anthrax letters, and that particular interview of Ivins appears to be just to get an understanding of who is working with anthrax, who shares information with whom, and  what "experts" might know about  "'underground' publications or web sites describing 'home grown' anthrax" (quote from page 3 of the interview).  In other words, it was intelligence gathering from a scientific source and therefore classified "secret."  Simple.

But, I imagine a True Believer or conspiracy theorist could conjure up a much more sinister explanation.

January 27, 2013 - Last week was a very slow week.  I spent much of it fixing broken links on this web site and doing backups in preparation for updating my computer's operating system.  James Tracy seems to have gone quiet, and very few people were paying attention to Alex Jones's latest theory that the government is making kids gay by putting something in fruit juice boxes.  I received no argumentative emails, and for most of the week there were no argumentative posts about the anthrax attacks of 2001.

Then, at 5:09 p.m. on January 24, someone calling himself "Anonymous" posted a message to my interactive blog.  It was seemingly in response to something I wrote nine months ago, on April 29, 2012.  The time stamp (5:09 p.m.) is Pacific Time, the time that Google uses and puts on all postings.

The message mentioned Ivins' experiments involving rabbits and indicated it was posted by someone who worked with Ivins.  Here is that part of his message:

I know there was a rabbit study going on at that particular weekend because he was doing the time checks for me the weekend in question. We (many at USAMRIID to include myself) have give the information and proof, however it is simply left out. 

The weekend in question?  There is no specific weekend mentioned in my post.  And there is no specific critical weekend in the argument that Ivins made the anthrax powders in his lab.  So, the post wasn't really in response to anything I wrote.  It appears to have been prompted by something someone else said somewhere else.

About 4 hours later that same evening, someone calling himself "
Bill C" posted a message to Lew Weinstein's blog at 12:07 a.m. on January 25.  (I'm not absolutely certain, but I think that 12:07 a.m. is Eastern Time, the time that WordPress uses on their blogs.)  Here's the complete post:

They should fire and restrict every FBI agent involved with falsely accusing Bruce Ivins, that goes for the Justice Department heads and operates. A very clear case of abusive tactics and a questionable death of a prominent scientist. Who the hell do they think there are? Why is Rush Holt and the boys not pushing this matter of investigating the FBI’s conduct. A real sad thing going on here.
 
That post is supposedly in response to something written on November 29, 2012.  But, it doesn't really relate to the November item.  It also appears to be something prompted by something someone else said somewhere else.

The impression I get from these two posts is that a True Believer who obsessively argues that the rabbit experiments explain Ivins' "unexplained" evening and weekend hours in his lab, tracked down and contacted the scientist who was in charge of those rabbit experiments.  The contact was probably done by phone.  The True Believer then gave the scientist his point of view about the entire case.  The scientist may have accepted some of it, but the scientist evidently had his own theory of the case.   

It appears the True Believer provided the scientist with links to places where he could add his voice to the argument that Ivins was innocent and that Ivins couldn't have made the anthrax powders.  The two main places on the Internet for posting such arguments are my blog and Lew Weinstein's blog.

So, starting on my blog, the scientist ranted about things he was told, and he added his own mistaken beliefs that Ivins couldn't have made the anthrax powders:

There was no powder made in B3, there was no equipment that could do it. The only place something of that concentration could be made at was out in Dugway. When the powder was reconstituted it matched what was sent prior to 2001 by Dugway but was completely removed from USAMRIID during one of the "visits".

And, in the short post to Lew Weinstein's blog he just ranted about how terrible it was for the FBI to pick on an innocent man like Bruce Ivins.  I'm barred from posting to Weinstein's blog, so I couldn't make any comment there.

However, I responded to the post to my blog, explaining how easy it was for Ivins to make the anthrax powders.  I'd hoped that the scientist would respond and we could get into some kind of intelligent discussion on the subject.  But, so far there's been nothing. 

Interestingly, the scientist evidently didn't buy into the True Believer's theory that some al Qaeda operative was behind the attacks.  The scientist thinks the powders came from Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah.  In my response, I explained a bit about how Dugway could be eliminated as the source of the powders.

Perhaps I should have asked questions instead of immediately debunking his beliefs.   For example: What did he mean by:

When the powder was reconstituted it matched what was sent prior to 2001 by Dugway

I assume "the powder" means the attack powder.  But, which attack powder?  Doesn't he know that the media powders were very different from the senate powders?  And what does he mean by "reconstituted"?   I assume he means "regrown" or something to that effect.   What does he think was "sent prior to 2001 by Dugway"?  He's probably talking about the samples of the original Ames material from 1981 that Ivins sent to Dugway as seed material for the spores that eventually ended up on flask RMR-1029.  But, the 1981 material didn't match the anthrax powders.  So, what does the scientist think it proves?  He's obviously misunderstanding something.  And, there's nothing I'd like better than to clarify things for him.  But, first he has to respond to my posts.  Unlike the True Believer, I'm not going to track him down to ask what he thinks.

In the second of my two responses, I recommended that the scientist read my book.  My book should clear up all of his misconceptions.  I'd certainly like to hear from any scientist who has read my book (and anyone who just bought it because it's a "true crime story").  So far, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have given me their opinion of the book. 

I know I should be doing everything I can to promote my new book, but, as I've written before, I'm just not a salesman.  So, instead of walking the streets, beating a drum and urging people to buy my book, I'm just waiting for the Government Accountability Office to produce their review of the Amerithrax investigation so I can join the arguments about it.  I'm waiting for Edward Jay Epstein's book to see why he labeled the anthrax attacks an "unsolved" crime, so I can debunk his claims.  (Interestingly, the release date for his book was just pushed to March 12.  It was previously set for February 26.)  And, I'm waiting for the conspiracy theorists and True Believers to initiate some kind of public argument about the case which I can use to point out how my book explains the differences between their beliefs and what the facts actually say.

In other words, I'm waiting for the world to beat a path to my door while knowing full well that the world doesn't even know I exist, much less have a reason to beat a path to my door.  That is definitely not the way to promote a new book.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 20, 2013, thru Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 23, 2013 - Hmm.  Everything old becomes new again.  While fixing broken links, I came across a web page I started to develop on June 9, 2011 but never finished.  It began this way:

Arguments from Ignorance

Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or "appeal to ignorance", is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not been proven false (or vice versa).

Arguments from ignorance cannot be presented in court.  But they can be presented in the media.

That seems to be the logic that is currently being used by the conspiracy theorists, True Believers and anarchists.  They ask ridiculous questions in an "appeal to ignorance."  If anyone cannot prove that their absurd beliefs are false, then they must be true.

Of course, as soon as I posted the above comment, a True Believer sent me an email to declare that, because I listed 12 facts that say Ivins used a child to write the anthrax letters, I'm assuming that I'm right because no one has bothered to provide any facts to prove I'm wrong.  

Only a True Believer would consider listing 12 solid facts to be "an argument from ignorance."  He doesn't believe the facts, so the facts mean nothing to him.

He has no relevant facts which show an al Qaeda agent sent the anthrax letters.  It's just what he believes.  And, if no one can prove to his satisfaction that al Qaeda did NOT send the anthrax letters, then it must be true because it has not been proven false.  That is what is called an "argument from ignorance."

  I'm saying what I've been saying for about 10 years: The facts say a child wrote the anthrax letters.  I'm waiting for someone -- anyone -- to provide evidence to prove otherwise.

January 20, 2013 - On January 14, I wrote that I hoped I wouldn't be writing any more comments about Professor James Tracy.  Those hopes are hereby dashed. 

For the past few weeks, I had been kicking around the idea of writing another book, a short book tentatively titled "When The Lunatics Take Over."  I was thinking about it being a humor book, illustrating about how conspiracy theorists and True Believers think, and what the world would be like if they were in charge.

The idea resurfaced a couple days ago when I watched Anderson Cooper talk once again about the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists (click HERE for the video), this time about how some conspiracy theorists appear to be harassing the families of Sandy Hook victims, claiming they are lying about what happened.   I could have predicted that.

Many times over the years in the anthrax case, if I mentioned the names of scientists who provided me with information, the Anthrax Truthers would start contacting those scientists to harass them about being pawns of the government, and to tell them they are fools for talking with someone like me.

That aspect made it a lot harder to think of writing a humor book.  Some of these people can be malicious and threatening.  They not only believe they are right, they also believe it is their duty to silence anyone who does not believe as they believe.  It's very difficult to find anything humorous in that.

On Friday, Salon.com produced a new article about Professor Tracy in which Tracy talks about his 9/11 theories.   It was a another U.S. Government plot, of course.

“I am simply posing questions,” Tracy says in the classic theorists’ defense.

I also watched a video of Professor James Tracy that I found on his web siteThe 24-minute video video is also from InfoWars.com and begins with the host Rob Dew saying, "You just saw David Knight reading the news and interviewing Francis Boyle." 

Francis Doyle???  After watching the talk with Professor Tracy, I went back to that first part and played it again.

Francis Boyle?  That name is a real blast from the past.  I'd done some research on him and had written about him in December 2006 when I found an article titled, "Boyle: Feds Were Behind Anthrax Attacks."   The article was published a day after another article about Professor Boyle where he talked about the "Impending Police State in America." 

When I did a search for Professor Boyle's name on my site, I found a comment from September 16, 2007 which says that Professor Boyle contacted me for some reason. 

Checking my email archives, I found a message where I was carbon copied - along with eight others including Dr. Edward Jay Epstein.  A True Believer had asked Professor Boyle how he would characterize the probablility that US-Based supporters of Al Qaeda were responsible for the anthrax mailings.


Professor Boyle didn't answer the question, of course.  In his response, he instead asked his own questions based upon his own conspiracy theories - theories which seem based upon ignorance.  
Professor Boyle asked how Al Qaeda got "military superweapons grade anthrax."  "Who gave it to them within the US Goverment?  Why did they do so?"  And, why wasn't the FBI asking such questons?  Of course, Professor Boyle didn't know the answers to his own questions, so he concluded that his lack of knowledge is evidence that there must be a conspiracy of some kind. 

I then did a YouTube.com search for "Francis Boyle" and found numerous videos he's done where he promotes his various conspiracy theories.  The interview on Infowars.com wasn't about anthrax nor about Sandy Hook.  But, doing that research led me to a video advertisement from Infowars.com talking about "Democide" in which this claim was repeated several times:

"The most dangerous thing to you and your family is government."

Wow!   Government is dangerous?  What is the alternative?  Anarchy?  Is anarchy the safe alternative to government?   On what planet would that be true?  Are there safe governmentless countries on this planet?  What are these guys advocating?  We know what they don't want: They don't want anyone to take away their guns.  But what do they want?   What do they want to replace the government?   Some kind of tribal system?  I was no longer in the land of conspiracy theorists and True Believers; I had wandered into the land of anarchists. (They evidently call themselves "Libertarians.")   They also have a magazine:

Infowars magazine cover 

Researching Infowars.com on Wikipedia, I found that it's run by Alex Jones, a radio talk show host based in Austin, TX.  His face was vaguely familiar to me from seeing it occasionally on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where Jones is sometimes shown ranting like a lunatic. 

Alex Jones

Jones seems to do the same thing on his own show.  When I researched Jones, I found that he's much farther out in Right Field than Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. 

That's where I stopped.  I also dropped the idea of a humor book titled "When The Lunatics Take Over."  I could no longer see any humor in the subject.  These "lunatics" aren't funny.  They seemed paranoid and wildly angry.  And their disciples could even be dangerous, since disciples add their own lunatic spin to whatever their leader tells them. 

This was all too warped for my tastes.  And I'm not the right person to fight with them.  Nothing I could say would have any effect on them.  I don't have the "platform."  A dozen literary agents told me that when I tried to get them interested in my book. 

And, I'd realized something else:  As a result of all the attention Professor Tracy's beliefs have received, Tracy seems to be "backing down" or "changing directions" a bit.  He still isn't seeing the absurdity in his beliefs.  But, he started by claiming that no one was killed at Sandy Hook and that it was all just a government hoax, some kind of staged "exercise" using actors to convince people of a need for gun controls.  No harm done.  Then, when it became clear that real children were actually killed, Professor Tracy revised his theory.  Now he seems to be saying that innocent children may have been killed, but he clearly still thinks it was all a government plot. 

So, from a hoax theory where no one was harmed, he shifted to a theory were innocent people were killed.  But, he hadn't just changed one evil government plot for another, he'd created a plot that was far worse than his hoax theory where no one was killed.

When a conspiracy theorist is shown to be wrong, does he always conjure up a revised theory that argues that the government is more dangeous than he originally believed? 

That made me wonder: What would happen if someone pressed him, if someone tried to show Professor Tracy how he's wrong?  I have to assume he would do as the Anthrax Truthers have always done: They just dig in and start believing that the people arguing with them are part of the government conspiracy.  So, Professor Tracy would most likely believe that those arguing with him are government agents attacking him as part of the government's plot to discredit him in the eyes of the American people - and to cover up "the truth" - a horrific murder of 20 innocent children and eight adults.

His blog post for January 12 was originally titled "
Does Anderson Cooper Want James Tracy and/or His Family Members Harmed?  His blog post for January 19 is titled "Higher Education and Academic Freedom Under Attack."

That kind of thinking is something I've encountered many times before.  I've been called an "FBI lap dog" and a "FBI dupe" out to discredit the people who are "telling the truth" about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  In their world, spouting nonsense equals "freedom," and showing nonsense to be nonsense equals "tyranny."

It's a fascinating subject.  But, the more I thought about it, the more it all seemed to be just different varieties of - and different levels of - paranoia.

In America today, there appears to be a sizable underground of anarchists, conspiracy theorists and True Believers who all have different theories, but who all agree that the government is wrong, the government cannot be trusted, and
the government may be out to get them.

It seems that for the past 11 years I've been arguing with people who were just the tip of an iceberg.   There's a lot more to this than I ever noticed before.

However, the rest of the "iceberg" is a territory I prefer to leave to others to investigate and discuss.  My brief peek into their discussions last week was enough.  It was like wandering into a KKK meeting or a Neo-Nazi convention.   It may be important to be aware of the fact that anarchists, anti-government conspiracy theorists and True Believers are all talking at each other, even though it doesn't seem that they ever really listen to one another.  Each one seems to think he is the only person who knows "the full truth."  Since they all seem incapable of changing their minds, and paranoia is rampant among them, it would appear that joining forces would be like trying to build a pedestal out of billiard balls, with no common understanding to glue things together.

At least, I hope that's the case.     

This morning, I listened to a 50-minute interview with Professor James Tracy from yesterday on InfoWars.com.  It's another interesting video for a number of reasons: 

1.  The interviewer, Paul Joseph Watson, addresses some of the more ridiculous claims by Professor Tracy, and Professor Tracy wiggles out of everything by saying that he was "just asking questions."

2.  At about the 27:30 minute mark there's a commercial for survivalist equipment.  So, there seems to be a kinship between survivalists and anarchists.

3.  At about the 30 minute mark, Paul Joseph Watson starts preaching about his own theories about government conspiracies.

4.  At about the 31 minute mark they start talking about 9/11 and Professor Tracy's theory that 9/11 also may have involved some government plot.

5.  The questions from the listeners that begin at about the 35 minute mark seem to be either from people who are advancing their own personal conspiracy theories or from people who are just calling in to hear themselves on the show.  One caller didn't even seem to know basic information about the case.  Professor Tracy responds by preaching his own beliefs.  It's an interesting illustration of how they do not listen to one another.   They all just preach their own theories.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 13, 2013, thru Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 17, 2013 - I just spent three days fixing broken links on this web site, mostly for Washington Post articles.  It's something that I had been wanting to do for years.  Each day when I looked at my web site logs, I'd see dozens upon dozens of 404 error codes, which means someone clicked on a link to go from one page to another on this web site, and the link didn't work.  There were hundreds of broken links on the original main page I had from 2001 through 2004.  Many were because I had to delete all my copies of Washington Post articles when I received a Cease & Desist letter from them in 2007.  (An Anthrax Truther sent them a letter telling them I was violating their copyrights.)  So, the Post article was still listed, but the version of the article I'd stored on this site was no longer accessable.  You'd get a 404 error - "file not found."

Mostly I fixed the errors by finding a new source for the article and linking to it instead of to my copy. 

Other errors were "fixed" by uploading a new web page that just contains a message.  So, previously when someone clicked on a link to a Wall Street Journal article (they also sent me a Cease & Desist letter), they'd get the 404 error code.  Now the link will work, but all they get is a message explaining why the link doesn't go to the article.  (When I use my version of the site in my computer, the links all still work fine and go to my copies of the articles.)


After fixing hundreds of links, most of the remaining 404 error messages are for  legal documents from the Steven Hatfill and Maureen Stevens lawsuits.  As I recall, I deleted those from the web site because of all the bandwidth they were using when search engines would grab dozens and dozens at a time.  There was never really any bandwidth problem.  I was just trying to avoid one.  So, maybe I'll put those pdf files back whenever I see a 404 error code message on my log file.


January 14, 2013 - I hope this will be my final mention of Professor James Tracy:

A South Miami radio and TV station has an interesting interview with Professor Tracy titled "FAU Prof With Controversial Newtown Theories Says He Was Misunderstood."  In the interview, Professor Tracy responds to one question in very familiar way:

Question: The idea that you are some sort of crazy person, obsessed with conspiracy theories. How do you respond to that?

Answer: That is a way to dismiss the discussion of controversial issues and it's been done for years. The term "conspiracy theorist" was devised in the 60s and it was utilized by the CIA to quiet academics and authors and journalists because there's nothing worse than being called a conspiracy theorist because then your judgment on a wide variety of concerns  that comprise your livelihood are called into question. It's time to get beyond these pejoratives because  they stand in the way of more serious inquiry into extremely important events and issues.

Only a true "conspiracy theorist" would have a theory that there was a government  conspiracy behind the creation of the term "conspiracy theorist."  What else would you call someone who has an unverified theory about a vast government conspiracy?

All conspiracy theorists seem to hate being called "conspiracy theorists."  But, would a conspiracy theorist by any other name sound any different?

Here's how Merriam-Webster defines "conspiracy theory":

a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators

And here is a small part of what Wikipedia says on the subject:

A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.

USAGE: The term "conspiracy theory" is used to indicate a narrative genre that includes a broad selection of (not necessarily related) arguments for the existence of grand conspiracies. The term is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at "stealing" power, money, or freedom, from "the people".

and

Academic work in conspiracy theories and conspiracism (a world view that places conspiracy theories centrally in the unfolding of history) presents a range of hypotheses as a basis of studying the genre. According to Berlet and Lyons, "Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm".

I couldn't find that exact quote in Berlet and Lyons' book from 2000, "Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close For Comfort."  But I found this:

Definition of conspiracism 

It's interesting that conspiracy theories are considered to be mainly in the domain of Right Wingers.  I never saw it that way.  And, during the past few days I've been getting emails and posts to my blog about a "Left Wing" individual who appears to be a "conspiracy theorist": Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 

According to an Associated Press article from two days ago:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."

and

He said his father thought the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president, was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship." He said that he, too, questioned the report.

"The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman," he said, but he didn't say what he believed may have happened.

This seems to fall more into the category of people who cannot believe what one person acting alone can dramatically change history.  RFK Jr. seems to believe that the mafia was involved:

He said his father had investigators do research into the assassination and found that phone records of Oswald and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after the president's assassination, "were like an inventory" of mafia leaders the government had been investigating.

He said his father, later elected U.S. senator in New York, was "fairly convinced" that others were involved.

While this might technically be called a "conspiracy theory," there one very BIG difference between this kind of "conspiracy theory" and the conspiracy theories I usually write about:  There is no secret, massive government plot involved. 

It's also a theory about something that happened to someone in his family.  And, it's a theory he's repeating from what his assassinated father told him.  That makes it very different from the usual type of conspiracy theory.

JFK Jr. doesn't seem to be on a campaign to convince the world that there was a conspiracy behind the JFK assassination.  He's not doing any investigation.  He's not posing lists of unanswered questions.  He's just stating his opinion.

However, one email I received also mentioned a different theory from JFK Jr. on a different subject.   Click HEREHERE and HERE for details.  The last link has this headline: "
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. investigates the government cover-up of a mercury/autism scandal."  In this case, RFK Jr. is definitely talking about a government conspiracy to "cover up" a link between autism and vaccinations, a link which most scientists say does not exist - or has not been proved to exist.

Does this second theory meet the criteria to label RFK Jr. as a "conspiracy theorist"? 

I would say so.  He's been on TV (Click HERE) arguing the same subject, and he has blog HERE where he has argued the same subject.  So, he definitely has a theory and sees a government conspiracy to ignore the dangers of thimerosol (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines.  And, he's trying to convince the world that he's correct.

What does this mean?  It means that Right Wingers are not the only people who can have conspiracy theories.  You can find Left Wingers who have such theories, too.  

Until I started doing the research for this comment, I never realized that conspiracy theories were considered by some to be the domain of Right Wingers only.  It was always my understanding that Barbara Hatch Rosenberg - who I've mentioned many times here and in my books - is a Left Winger.  I always thought she saw the Right Wing Bush administration as evil, not governments in general. 

There are probably some very significant and interesting differences between Right Wing and Left Wing conspiracy theorists, but I'll leave that research to others.  It's the similarities in the way ALL conspiracy theorists think - the way they argue, the way they ignore the facts, and the way they use questions instead of evidence - that I find fascinating.

January 13, 2013 - Yesterday, I mentioned the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory concocted by Professor James Tracy of Florida Atlantic University, where he is an Associate Professor of Media Studies.  I spent much of yesterday morning and all of yesterday afternoon reading Professor Tracy's writings and listening to him talk about his beliefs.

Professor Tracy seems to be providing a nearly perfect case study in the thinking of a conspiracy theorist.

And, he also seems to be some kind of True Believer as well.  He doesn't seem to see anything wrong with his reasoning or what he believes.  It appears he cannot understand why others don't see what he sees, and he's on a holy mission to explain to people that he sees the "truth" that others would also see - if only they opened their eyes.
 

Unlike most conspiracy theorists, Professor Tracy is very eloquent, and very vocal in what he believes.  But, what's so fascinating about Professor Tracy's theory is that he seems to assume that in a mass shooting like Sandy Hook, everyone should have done things the way he believes they should be done.  There should have been no confusion, there should have been no erroneous comments from witnesses to the media, every official should have been clear and stated the same things from the official's first arrival on the scene to the end of the investigation, there should be clear and detailed photographs of everything, every person present should have been publicly identified, and there should be no gaps in what is known about the event.

I could probably write a short book about this guy, examining his beliefs, showing how absurd his beliefs are, and how what he believes is based almost entirely on ignorance.   Professor Tracy uses his ignorance as a reason for believing what he believes.

I was truly fascinated by a one
hour-long radio interview with Professor Tracy conducted by Bonnie Faulkner on a program called "Guns and Butter."  You can listen to it by clicking HERE.   I listened to it again this morning, and it's a fascinating example of beginning with a belief and then rationalizing all the facts to make them fit that belief.

There's another somewhat less interesting, even longer radio interview available HERE where Professor Tracy talks with another conspiracy theorist, a talk show host named Kevin Barrett.  Barrett seems to be a rabid conspiracy theorist and keeps bringing up other conspiracy theories that Professor Tracy has never heard of or doesn't want to talk about.

There is an article by Professor Tracy which can be read by clicking HERE.  It seems to be what started him on his current road to infamy.  And there is Professor Tracy's blog HERE, with at least five posts on the subject.  So, there can be no doubt about what Professor Tracy believes.

As an Associate Professor of Media Studies, one would think that Tracy would fully understand how the media very often gets things totally wrong when they first arrive on the scene of some horrific event and no one really knows for certain exactly what has happened.  He should also understand that during and following a horrific event people will not act like robots, and they can do strange and unexpected things which they think are best at the time.  Professor Tracy doesn't seem to understand that chaos is NOT an orderly process.

What makes this to interesting to me is undoubtedly the fact tha so much of Professor Tracy's thinking is identical to the thinking of Anthrax Truthers.  And Tracy's reasoning seems to be all about "unanswered questions," as if  the "unanswered questions" he dreams up are more important than what is actually known.  And, if those "unanswered questions" aren't immediately answered by the authorities, to Professor Tracy it is proof of a conspiracy.  His ignorance of the facts is his evidence of a conspiracy!  

Many of his unanswered questions seem to be the result of total ignorance of how people react in crisis situations and how police and first responders work in such situations.   He just cannot imagine anyone doing things different from the way he imagines they must always be done.

In his article, Professor Tracy sees a conspiracy in the fact that most of the parents of the murdered children didn't want to talk to the media.

“The families have requested no press interviews,” State Police assert on their behalf, “and we are asking that this request be honored.[1] The de facto gag order will be in effect until the investigation concludes—now forecast to be “several months away” even though lone gunman Adam Lanza has been confirmed as the sole culprit.[2]

With the exception of an unusual and apparently contrived appearance by Emilie Parker’s alleged father, victims’ family members have been almost wholly absent from public scrutiny.[3] What can be gleaned from this and similar coverage raises many more questions and glaring inconsistencies than answers. While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place—at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.

So, because most of the parents of the slain children didn't want to talk with the media, to Professor Tracy this suggests the killings never took place.  And the one "alleged" parent who did talk with the media was an "apparently contrived appearance."

The Medical Examiner seemed shaken and stunned, so Professor Tracy writes:

The multiple gaffes, discrepancies, and hedges in response to reporters’ astute questions suggest that he is either under coercion or an imposter.

The reporters questions were hardly "astute."  Some seem idiotic.  Example: "
In what shape were the bodies when the families were brought to check .."
A reporter asked how many boys and how many girls had been murdered.  The M.E. didn't have that answer at his fingertips.   To Professor Tracy this evidently meant the M.E. was either incompetent or an imposter.  In reality, there would be no reason for the M.E. to do or remember such a count, and he hadn't yet finished with all the autopsies.

Professor Tracy asks about two of the adult victims,

why would the school’s administrators run toward an armed man who has just noisily blasted his way into the building?

It evidently doesn't seem logical to Professor Tracy that they might have been trying to stop the killer from getting further into the school.  Apparently, Tracy would have run in the opposite direction, so he believes that's what everyone else would do -- unless there was some kind of conspiracy.

And, he seems to argue that the people from the school who did run in the opposite direction - away from the sound of shooting - were probably the killer's accomplice trying to get away.  The police grabbed some of them with the same idea, but they were later let go.  To Professor Tracy, this means they let the killer's accomplices (or the real killers - if there were any real killers) go free.

In the timeline constructed by Professor Tracy, he finds it suspicious that the local weekly paper, the Newtown Bee, initially reported that they had talked with the school principal about the shooting, yet the principal was one of the first people killed.   To Tracy this cannot be a simple mistake, it has to be evidence of some kind of sinister plot.

Some of Tracy's questions can be answered by simple common sense:

Question: Why weren't first responders immediately allowed into the crime scene?

Common Sense Answer: Because it was a crime scene that had not been secured, and first responders could have become additional victims.  

Another "mystery" seems equally oblivious to reality:

Sandy Hook Elementary is attended by 600 students. Yet there is no photographic or video evidence of an evacuation on this scale. Instead, limited video and photographic imagery suggest that a limited evacuation of perhaps at most several dozen students occurred.

If there are no photos, then it didn't happen?  It took awhile for reporters from distant cities to arrive, and initially there was apparently only one local reporter from the Newtown Bee on the scene.  Most of the children were rushed over to the fire station a few hundred yards away, but others were scooped up by employees and taken away to to their homes or some other safe place.  The first reporters may have been trying to figure out what happened, rather than take pictures.

In one of his radio interviews, Tracy wants to know why the children were taken to the fire station (and first responder headquarters) nearby and not to a museum which was a bit closer.  Or why weren't the children just rounded up and kept in the parking lot in mid-December without any coats?  If he'd asked the question that way, the answer would have been part of the question.   

Photos of the dead bodies will probably be kept as crime scene evidence until the case is officially closed.  And, even then it's difficult to imagine any newspaper printing pictures of bullet-riddled children on their front pages.  An assault weapon was used, which means the bullets did maximum damage.  Many of the high-velocity bullets went through more than one child before lodging in a final victim.  That means lots of blood.  However, to Professor Tracy, the lack of photographs means it didn't happen.

I could go on and on.  Elsewhere he talks about the government hiring actors to portray the families of the victims.  He talks about how the media was part of the conspiracy.   A lot of what Professor Tracy believes leaves me almost speechless.  Example:

Regardless of where one stands on the Second Amendment and gun control, it is not unreasonable to suggest the Obama administration complicity or direct oversight of an incident that has in very short order sparked a national debate on the very topic—and not coincidentally remains a key piece of Obama’s political platform.
 
"Not unreasonable"!?  "Ignorant beyond belief" would be a more appropriate term.

Clearly, Professor Tracy - like all conspiracy theorists and True Believers - doesn't want anyone to answer his questions.  He wants his questions to persuade people that there is something sinister going on.  If he were to be confronted with solid answers, like all conspiracy theorists, he would undoubtedly just ask more questions and/or argue that it cannot be proved that his theory is impossible.

There's a lot to be learned from Professor James Tracy, but it's not in what he argues, it's in the unbelievable things he believes, why he believes the unbelievable, and how he goes about trying to convince others that he can see what no one else can see. 

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 6, 2013, thru Saturday, January 12, 2013

January 12, 2013 - Someone just brought to my attention the stupidest and most bizarre conspiracy theory I think I've ever heard of.  Anderson Cooper described it in detail on his show last night, and it's making a lot of Florida news.   Here's how one article on the web site for the Palm Beach New Times newspaper begins:

Americans have long tolerated if not wallowed in conspiracy theories. Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't alone when he shot Kennedy. Aliens landed in Area 51. We never got to the moon, etc. etc.

But quite possibly the most despicable and callous of all conspiracy theories recently rose from South Florida. James Tracy, an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, has questioned whether the Sandy Hook killings -- in which 20 babies were killed by a haunted and disturbed young man -- ever happened. It could all be a hoax, he says, yet another example of collusion between the U.S. authorities and the "corporate media."

"While it sounds like an outrageous claim," he wrote on his blog, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shootings ever took place -- at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described."

What's so fascinating about it to me is how James Tracy's arguments are so similar to arguments I'm still hearing from Anthrax Truthers.  In the anthrax case, it was all a massive conspiracy to cover up a secret and illegal U. S. Government bioweapons program (or to start a war with Iraq).  In the Sandy Hook case, it was supposedly a conspiracy to impose new gun control laws.

James Tracy cites errors made by officials early in the case, when things were still very confused, as contradicting what was said later, thus (like the anthrax case) proving that things were being made up.  Example: One report says there were no shots before Lanza started shooting children.  But later it's stated that Lanza had to shoot out windows to get into the school in the first place.  To Tracy, this is somehow evidence of a massive government conspiracy.  Also, according to Tracy, the mother of one of the children who was killed didn't look sufficiently shocked and horrified.  Etc., etc.

And, according to Tracy, the media was part of the conspiracy, since the media didn't check the facts and find the people who could prove that some of the children didn't really exist and there was no shooting at all.

It's time to quote
novelist Leo Rosten once said: "I never cease being dumbfounded by the unbelievable things people believe."

January 11, 2013 - This morning, when I did my usual Google search for the words "anthrax" and "2001," an article popped up from "The Global Dispatch" titled "Obama Administration Seeking To Test Anthrax Vaccines On Children."  It begins with this:

Just came across this little piece of news… and it kind of reminded me of when Hitler used children in gruesome experiments

The link takes you to JunkScience.com, from where most of the article originated.  The issue was first raised in October, when The Washington Post, ABC News, Fox News and many others had articles on the subject.  The Post article began this way:

The Obama administration is wrestling with the thorny question of whether scientists should inject healthy children with the anthrax vaccine to see whether the shots would safely protect them against a bioterrorism attack.

The other option is to wait until an attack happens and then try to gather data from children whose parents agree to inoculate them in the face of an actual threat.

I tend to favor the second option, not because of any worries that the first option would be like Hitler doing experiments on children, but because of the difficulties of Mid-East terrorists launching such an attack in America without any warning signs whatsoever, and also because of what I wrote about on page 130 in my new book:

          The one thing that seems very evident, however, is that it probably didn't take 8 to 10 thousand spores to kill Kathy Nguyen.

Age  Location Type  Name              Onset

7 mos ABC-NY   C   child              Sept. 29
23    NBC-NY   C   Casey Chamberlain  Sept. 29
27    CBS-NY   C   Claire Fletcher    Oct. 1
30    NY Post  C   Joanna Huden       Sept. 22
32    NJ PO    C   Teresa Heller      Sept. 27
34    NY Post  C   William Monagas    Oct. 19
38    NY Post  C   Mark Cunningham    Oct. 23
39    NBC-NY   C   Erin O'Connor      Sept. 25
39    NJ PO    C   Richard Morgano    Sept. 26

61    NYC      I   Kathy Nguyen       Oct. 25

63    AMI-FL   I   Bob Stevens        Sept. 30
73    AMI-FL   I   Ernesto Blanco     Sept. 28

          And it probably didn't take anywhere near that many to kill Bob Stevens in Florida, either. The above list of the 12 victims of the first mailing in order by their age shows that all the inhalation anthrax victims were over the age of 60. Age clearly seemed to play a role in who would most likely get inhalation anthrax.
          It's undoubtedly no coincidence that the 1979 Sverdlovsk outbreak in Russia, which took at least 70 lives, didn't kill anyone under the age of 24, even though there were many children in the danger area.

So, it might be a good idea to gather more information on what role age plays in who contracts inhalation anthrax and who doesn't during an outbreak.  What are the statistics from Third World countries where there are occasional natural outbreaks?  There are clear and immediate risks to testing a vaccine on children with the assumption that there might be an anthrax attack some day.  There are less clear and less immediate risks to waiting for such a hypothetical attack and experimenting with vaccinating children then.

This morning I also noticed that Dr. Meryl Nass was playing "the Hitler card" on her web site where she seemingly argues against there being a flu emergency:

Declared public health emergencies provide a potential back door to suspension of democracy.  By declaring frequent, bogus states of emergency for swine flu, flu and the next not-so-dread disease, Americans may be lulled into ignoring the suspensions of the rule of law that may accompany the declarations.  

It's the Patriot Act all over again.  The Patriot Act was enabled by the fog of war.  

Now it's the smog of pestilence that enables the killing of democratic traditions.  In the shadows, the republic is being killed by a thousand cuts.  This is how Hitler did it, too.

It seems to be doctors and scientists with opinions versus other doctors and scientists with different opinions.  The vaccine testing process and the "state of emergency" alerts should be more understandable to almost everyone if there were more facts involved.  The Lunatic Fringe would be the exceptions, of course.


January 9, 2013 - Click on the image below to watch Jon Stewart on August 12, 2002 discuss Dr. Steven Hatfill and the anthrax attacks of 2001.

Daily Show and Steven Hatfill

I awoke this morning wondering if that clip was available on the Daily Show site.  It is.  I didn't mention it in my book, nor did I mention it on this site at the time, but I certainly remember it vividly.  (I think I've watched every Daily Show.)  Here are my comments from just before and just after the time that show erred --- oops, I mean "aired."

August 18, 2002 - After taking a step back outside of the box and looking at the Dr. Hatfill "case" objectively (and from a historical perspective) I found that it's not about the anthrax case, it's all just politics.  It's infighting between those in favor of and those opposed to The Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC).  For details click HERE.

August 10-11, 2002 - Even though the FBI doesn't consider him a suspect, and I certainly don't either, I decided to write down why I don't consider Dr. Steven J. Hatfill to be a suspect.  My reasoning can be found HERE.
I'm going to send Jon Stewart a copy of my book.  He might find it interesting.

January 7, 2013 - It was pointed out to me this morning on my interactive blog that one reason Anthrax Truthers may have found the TV series "Columbo" of special interest wasn't so much related to knowing more about the crime than the detective on the show, it was about what the TV series showed them about how criminals can create false alibis, how they can plant evidence to point at some innocent person, etc.

Therefore, if the Anthrax Truther's own suspect had an alibi, it could be a false alibi created just the way false alibis were created on "Columbo."  And, if all the evidence points to Bruce Ivins, it could be because the real bad guy falsified evidence to make it seem that Ivins did it - just the way the bad guys did things on "Columbo."

In other words, "Columbo" provided a lot of ways to rationalize and explain away the facts so that Anthrax Truthers can continue to believe what they want to believe.

Good point.

Of course, the Anthrax Truthers have to ignore the fact that in every episode, the police detective would quickly see through all the false alibis and manipulated evidence, and he'd arrest the correct culprit in an hour and a half or two hours.

January 6, 2013 (B) - In response to my (A) comment this morning, it was brought to my attention that there was at least one episode of "Columbo" where the audience didn't know who the killer was from the very beginning.  The episode, "Double Shock," starred Martin Landau as identical twins.  And, although the audience witnessed the crime as usual, they didn't know which twin did it.  However, according to one source, one twin did the killing, but both were in on it.  So, it's "an exception that proves the rule."

January 6, 2013 (A)
-
Novelist Leo Rosten once said, "I never cease being dumbfounded by the unbelievable things people believe."  I can fully understand his amazement.  For eleven years I've been arguing with Anthrax Truthers who believe the most unbelievable things.  But, sometimes what they believe is so unbelievable that I have to wonder how they came to believe such a thing.   For example, yesterday I glanced at an Anthrax Truther web site, where I noticed that "DXer" had posted this:  

I come from a land where documents and intercepted communications are king.. A land of Lt. Columbo. Where you go to the bad guy and ask them respectfully if they did it. Some lawyer up. Some politely plead the Fifth. Some say that they are not going to address it. Some ask if I am ever going to mention their name. And some help you understand what the facts are.

So, Lieutenant Columbo of the L.A. Police Department would somehow know from "documents and intercepted communications" who the bad guy was, and Columbo would then respectfully ask "the bad guy" if the did it? 

I think I watched every episode of "Columbo," and I cannot recall any episode where Lt. Columbo knew from "documents and intercepted communications" who committed the crime before he did any field investigating. 
In the real world (and in Columbo's world), police detectives never get to see any "documents and intercepted communications" until their investigation has narrowed down the list of possible suspects to the point where they can justify a search warrant and persuade a judge to authorize "intercepted communications."

Furthermore,
when Columbo's investigation turned up a possible suspect, he might ask the suspect if he did it, but about 99 percent of the time the suspect would simply deny it.  The suspect certainly wouldn't "take the fifth."  No one takes "the fifth" unless they're under oath.

In Columbo's world, "the bad guy" rarely helped Lt. Columbo "understand what the facts are."  (Columbo also wouldn't automatically assume that everything a witness or suspect said was wrong, just because Columbo didn't like the person - or didn't like a book the person wrote.  Facts are facts, whether they come from the bad guy, a good guy, a bum on the street or a person who believes in alien visitors.)  Columbo's job was to sort things out and determine what the pertinent facts are - regardless of the source

But, there was something else about the Columbo comparison that intrigued me.  It wasn't the first time an Anthrax Truther had referred to the "Columbo" TV series as some kind of model for investigative techniques.  In February of 2012 on my interactive blog, a second Truther wrote:

Cleverly)guilty people have "iron-clad alibis"; the innocent don't realize they need them. Didn't you ever watch COLUMBO?

And he later added:

Evidently you didn't watch Columbo.

And, in March 2012 he explained a lot more:

Actually, much of both Columbo's schtick and Jessica Fletcher's schtick wouldn't have been admissible in a court of law. That wasn't the point of those shows. The point of those shows was: the puzzle. Figuring out who done it/how they done it (the focus of MURDER SHE WROTE), or HOW Columbo would figure out what really happened/outwit the well-heeled and usually self-confident opponent.

And HOW Columbo would figure it out frequently involved looking BEYOND 'facts' that everyone accepted in the opening 20 or so minutes of the show: the OSTENSIBLE accidental death, OSTENSIBLE suicide, OSTENSIBLE iron-clad alibi of the perp.

And in June of 2012 a third anthrax truther wrote:

My theory that Dr. Ivins is guilty & innocent, and everything is related to a woman must seem very strange. I'll try to explain without looking like Lt. Columbo.

So, I've got three Anthrax Truthers all using the fictional Lt. Columbo as some kind of master detective.  Why Columbo?   Why not any one of a hundred other fictional detectives on TV shows?

Then it occurred to me.  There was one key factor in nearly every "Columbo" episode that might make that TV series of particular interest to True Believers: Almost every  show began with the audience witnessing the crime.  So, the audience already knows who did it when Lt. Columbo first enters the scene and begins trying to figure things out.  On "Columbo," the audience always knows more than the investigator (Since there was usually no "mystery," the fun of the show was watching Lt. Columbo outwit the bad guy, bringing him to justice in spite of everything bad guy did to cover up his crime and mislead the investigation.)

And all Anthrax Truthers believe they know more and are better investigators than the actual professional investigators on the case.  They may disagree about whether the real investigators are incompetent or deliberately hiding the truth, and they may disagree about who actually committed the crime, but the Truthers all know who did it and they know it isn't the person the professional investigators claim did it.

Anthrax Truthers seem to believe they know from the very beginning who committed the crime.   How?  They evidently divine it. 
It's as if they saw the first part of a Columbo episode and thereby witnessed the crime.  The answer occurs to them as if God gave them a copy of the TV script, and the known solution is therefore not to be questioned by mere mortals who haven't already read the script.  The challenge for the Truther (particularly True Believers) is to get the professional investigators and the rest of the world to understand and see what the Truther already knows

If a True Believer actually contacts a "suspect" who he knows did it and asks the person if he did it, it's not a true question, it's a test to see how the "suspect" will try to mislead an investigator who cannot be misled because he already knows the solution.

Can things be that simple?   It certainly seems to explain how Anthrax Truthers think. 

There's something else that "DXer" wrote in that same post that was also interesting:

The key to being an good intelligence analyst is to have a curious mind and not accept gaps in knowledge.

In real life, "gaps in knowledge" are part of virtually every analysis, and everyone knows that.  That's why an analysis is required.  You don't need an analyst if there are no "gaps in knowlege."  It's what is done with the "gaps in knowledge" that forms the analysis.  It's what an analysis is all about.

According to Wikipedia, most experts say:

Intelligence analysis is a way of reducing the ambiguity of highly ambiguous situations, with the ambiguity often very deliberately created by highly intelligent people with mindsets very different from the analyst's. Many analysts prefer the middle-of-the-road explanation, rejecting high or low probability explanations. Analysts may use their own standard of proportionality as to the risk acceptance of the opponent, rejecting that the opponent may take an extreme risk to achieve what the analyst regards as a minor gain. Above all, the analyst must avoid the special cognitive traps for intelligence analysis projecting what she or he wants the opponent to think, and using available information to justify that conclusion.

Anthrax Truthers seem to spend all their time caught in that "cognitive trap."   The Wikipedia link to "cognitive traps for intelligence analysis" leads to this:

The most common personality trap, known as mirror-imaging, is the analysts' assumption that the people being studied think like the analysts themselves.

I've seen that many many many times, where an anthrax Truther cannot believe that Bruce Ivins would use a child to write the anthrax letters, regardless of what the facts say, because the Truther himself would never have done things that way.  So, the Truther can never even imagine Ivins would have done it.

Interestingly, my new book "A Crime Unlike Any Other: What the Facts Say About Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivins and The Anthrax Attacks of 2001" is in some small ways like an episode of "Columbo": near the beginning of the book we witness the killer commit his crime.  So, the reader knows who the killer is before the FBI even knows there has been a crime.  But, there is no equivalent to Lt. Columbo in my book.  While one or two FBI agents may have been on the case from beginning to end, no single investigator really "solved" the Amerithrax case, although some uncovered key important facts.  The crime was solved by many professional investigators, each doing their job.  Gradually, they sorted things out, discussed their findings, and one by one they realized who the killer must be.  Then they set about collecting evidence to prove it in court.

And, in true "Columbo" fashion, the culprit tried to mislead the investigation, tried to intimidate witnesses, tried to destroy evidence, etc.

But, I can't recall any episode of "Columbo" where the killer committed suicide before Lt. Columbo had the opportunity to look him (or her) in the eye and say, "You're under arrest."  That doesn't make for good TV.  But it is sometimes what happens in real life.

Updates & Changes: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, thru Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 3, 2013 - Having completed the book I worked on for two years and researched for 11 years, I've been staring at my computer screen trying to think of what to do next.  I know I should try a lot harder to promote "
A Crime Unlike Any Other," but I'm not a salesman.  I'm probably the opposite of a salesman, whatever that is.  If I tried to sell ice cold bottled water for a nickle a gallon in the middle of the Sahara Desert, people would just tell me they're looking for the place their neighbor told them about.  Thanks anyway.

This morning, I stumbled across a web page about "How to Promote Your Book" on the Writer's Digest web site.  It contains a link to another page with 7 pieces of advice, which is also interesting.   The #1 piece of advice:

1. Coverage is insanely hit-and-miss, so don’t be afraid to fire in multiple directions.  After my book got mentions in Reader’s Digest and AOL News, I thought it would be a shoo-in for coverage when I notified the local media. Not so. The fact is: You never know who will be interested in your book, so your only option is to blast numerous outlets, big and small, local and not.

"Coverage" means someone wrote an article or review of what your book is about.  Only my local paper did that.  But, I didn't send out many review copies. 

Another serious problem I have is described on the "How to Promote Your Book" page:


you should start thinking about your publicity campaign 6 months before publication and be ready to launch the campaign at least 3 months ahead.

Too late for that.  I'm trying to figure out how to promote my book a couple months after it was published.  So, I'm already badly out of step.  But, I like this piece of advice:

Shrink your sound bite. You’ve spent years, perhaps decades researching and writing your masterpiece. Now comes the hard part: distilling all that’s good, worthy, and interesting about your book into a single sizzling sound bite. We live in an age of shortened attention spans—your sound bite may be your best and only chance to grab media attention.

What is my book about?  It's about a lot more than "What the Facts Say About Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivins and the Anthrax Attacks of 2001."  It's about scientists with opinions disputing scientists with facts.  It's about how just about everyone involved in the case made a stupid mistake at one point or another.  It's about how scientists who are also conspiracy theorists can easily mislead the public.  It's about how the media can get scientists and scholars to say the stupidest things.  And, it's about much much more.

There's nothing preventing me from sending out more press releases.  A well-worded sound bite might get people intrigued with the idea of a book about smart people making stupid mistakes.  Bruce Ivins considered himself to be smarter than everyone else, and he made some of the stupidest mistakes.  There's a good sound bite in that somewhere.

January 1, 2013 - Today seems to be the proper time to look back on the past year and make a couple resolutions for the new year.

The big event for me during 2012 was, of course, the completion and publication of my new book "A Crime Unlike Any Other: What the Facts Say About Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivins and The Anthrax Attacks of 2001."  It took me over 2 years to write the book, and it also represents 11 years of research.

The book was published just as Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, which may be one reason none of my "press releases" to East Coast newspapers had any results.  Other major events about that time may also have caused people to focus their attention elsewhere: The start of the "Fiscal Cliff" debates.  The terrible shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.  And of course, the year-end holidays.  But, I'm hoping things will settle down in this coming new year and people (particularly scientists, college students and "true crime" buffs) will have the time to look around for interesting books to read.

I'm also hoping to get into some productive and interesting discussions about the book.  Whenever I start a sentence with "The facts say ..." it seems to drive some people nuts.  I need to find a way to have productive discussions with people who don't care or don't believe what the facts say.  They are the people who are most vocal on the subject. 

The problem with arguing via emails and blogs is that the other person is usually on a different daily schedule than I am, so there is very little back-and-forth.  It's just one or two messages per day.  Such discussions tend to be a barrage of arguments from them, followed by a barrage of counter-arguments from me.  They then ignore against all the points I made, and they launch a new barrage about points they want to make.  And I follow with a new barrage shooting down their new points.  Finally, they give up in frustration and/or resort to attacking me personally.

Things should be a lot more productive if discussions could be done point by point, i.e., point and counter-point.  Then, if the other side chooses to ignore an important point by changing the subject, that action can be discussed to see why the subject was changed.  Changing the subject can be shown to be the same as conceding a point.

Probably more importantly, in point by point discussions it's not as easy to ignore key questions.  And it is not as easy to ask irrelevant, meaningless or unanswerable questions in order to make it appear that someone has a point when they actually just have a baseless belief that they are expressing in the form of a question.

Point by point discussions are the way disputes are clarified in movies, because they allow the audience to follow what is going on and see who is right and who is wrong.  It would be nice if we could sometimes make life imitate art.

In a movie script, a point by point discussion might go something like this:

Moe: Why didn't AUSA Rachel Lieber mention the 52 rabbits when she wrote the FBI Summary Report?

Joe: Why should she have mentioned them?

Moe: Because I believe those rabbits explain why Dr. Ivins was spending long hours in his lab during the time the anthrax powders were supposedly being prepared.

Joe: Do you have any facts to support that belief?  Ivins didn't mention the rabbits when he was asked to explain his unusual overtime hours.

Moe: There are reports which say he had inoculated 52 rabbits during that time and they were watching for the test results on the rabbits.

Joe: Do the reports say he was doing that work at night and during the "unexplained" overtime hours?

Moe: No.  The reports just say he was doing such work at that period in time.

Joe:  So, it was part of his normal work?  Why would that require a lot of overtime hours when such work never required so much overtime in the past?

Moe: Because it would explain his "unexplained" overtime hours.

Joe: But, the facts say it doesn't explain his unexplained overtime hours.  Ivins didn't use the rabbit tests as his explanation, there are no records which show it as an explanation for his overtime hours, and there doesn't appear to be any reason to believe such work couldn't be done during this normal daytime work hours.

Moe:  But, it's possible that is what he was doing!

Joe:  It's possible, but, there are no known facts which say it happened that way.

Moe:  That's because the FBI never looked for such facts!

Joe:  So, you want the FBI to prove that during those unusual overtime hours Ivins was not doing the same things he did during the day with the 52 rabbits?

Moe:  Yes!

Joe:  You want the FBI to prove the negative?   You want them to prove that Ivins was not doing what no records say he was doing?

Moe:  Yes!

Joe:  And, if that's impossible?

Moe: Nothing is impossible!

Joe:  Oh?  Then, isn't it just possible that Ivins was the anthrax killer?

Moe: No!  That is not possible!
 
Joe:  Why?

Moe: Because I believe someone else did it!

Joe: Do you have any proof that this other person did it?

Moe: I want the FBI to do a proper investigation and find the proof!!

Joe:  They say they did a proper investigation and didn't find any such proof.

Moe:  If they had done a proper investigation, they would have found such proof!!!

Joe:  How do you know that?

Moe:  I'm tired of this argument!  It's clear you are a closed-minded True Believer, you have no interest in the truth, and you will never understand what really happened!

etc., etc.  


Nothing would be resolved during such a discussion, of course.  There's just no way to change the mind of a True Believer except by converting him to a new belief.  And facts evidently aren't enough to do that.  But, the audience and any objective outside observer watching and listening to such a discussion would see why such arguments will never end in a meaningful agreement.  And, they'll see who is really the "True Believer."

My first New Year's Resolution is not to avoid such discussions, but to try to find a way to make them more meaningful and productive.  I'd like to see more public discussions on the topic of the anthrax attacks of 2001, since I think they'll show who is working with known facts and who is working primarily with unsupported beliefs.  That's something that is always worth knowing.

The best movie I watched in 2012: "My Week With Marilyn."
The worst movie I watched in 2012: "The Dark Knight Rises."

There were many movies last year that I couldn't even sit through, but I can't rank movies I couldn't watch all the way.  I rented 95 movies from Redbox last year, 26 six of them I couldn't watch all the way through.  That's 27%.   It seemed like a terrible year for movies.
  But, maybe I became less of an optimist and just took fewer chances that a movie might not be as bad as the ads made it seem to me.  (Yesterday, I watched a very annoying yett "highly-praised" movie called "Looper," which shows Bruce Willis shooting kids!  I thought the movie had a stupid premise, the plot was way too overly convoluted, and from nearly the very first scene there was something seriously wrong with the 2nd lead actor's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) face.  I think they digitally altered it to make him look more like a young Bruce Willis.  It made him look like an android.)

My second New Year's Resolution is to do better job of picking what movies to rent.

Only two resolutions.   Neither requires much strain.  I think I can handle that.



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