Scepticism and 9/11

By Kevin Ryan

  Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann.

In early November 2007, I had a chance to debate the issue of 9/11 Truth on the Thom Hartmann radio show, with an avowed supporter of the official story, Skeptic magazine’s Michael Shermer. It was an interesting experience, and some good information was communicated, although the format did not allow for a detailed discussion.[1] One thing this debate did reveal was the need for true scepticism in our society.

I was aware that it took months for Hartmann’s producer to find a legitimate defender of the official version of 9/11. Apparently those who knew something of the official story would not publicly support it, and those who would publicly support that official story didn’t know anything about it. That fact in itself is a testament to the progress made by the 9/11 Truth Movement over the last few years.

But in September, after receiving an unsolicited email from Shermer, I invited him to join me for the Hartmann debate. From Skeptic magazine’s “9/11 Conspiracies” issue last year, it was clear that Shermer was not aware of many of the facts about 9/11 either. But he was well known for his stance on the issue, and I felt this was a chance to follow-up on Hartmann’s offer. With that in mind, I approached the debate carefully, with respect for my opponent, the audience and the host.

It didn’t take long during to understand Shermer’s position on 9/11. He did not bother with facts about the events themselves, and appeared to be motivated only through a “monster under the bed” perception of “conspiracy theories”. Even after admitting that the official version of events is itself a conspiracy theory, he maintained that conspiracy among oil company executives and politicians is somehow unbelievable, while conspiracy solely among people who just happen to live on the last remaining oil-rich land is to be expected.

Additionally, Shermer’s performance showed that he is not what most people would call a sceptic, at least not in matters that are important to people. I had suspected this myself, and had to check the definition of scepticism to be sure. What I found was that scepticism is about questioning claims that are generally accepted, or are given by supposedly authoritative sources. Skeptics are not people who simply take contradictory positions without regard for evidence, however, and after rational discussion sceptics usually agree with the case that best fits the evidence.

On several issues, Shermer has taken a decidedly non-sceptical approach. The events of 9/11 are one example, and global warming is another. It took him years to come around on the issue of global warming, even after the IPCC had satisfied nearly all scientists with their assessment of the situation in 2001. Shermer continued as a leading sceptic of global warming, telling us not to worry about it, until his well-publicized “flipping point” in 2006.[2] It seems his scepticism might have more to do with business interests than it has to do with reason.

At the start of our debate, Shermer responded to my scepticism about the history of al Qaeda by suggesting that our government gets in bed with bad people all the time. At that point, I wasn’t sure whose side of the debate he was on. But it soon became clear that Shermer was only ready to talk about the demolition hypothesis, and then only in the sense that he wanted me to prove that hypothesis. Although I could have given more detailed evidence, it was gratifying to know that this last remaining, relatively legitimate defender of the official story had only a few points of unsubstantiated speculation to support his supposedly reasoned scepticism.

Shermer was clearly not sceptical of any of the claims made by the only authoritative source on the topic, the current U.S. government. He had no response when I asked how each and every member of the U.S. chain of command could have been indisposed for just those two hours on September 11th, or how al Qaeda could have been behind the effective stand-down of the nation’s air defences during that time. He could not say why the 9/11 Commission left so many of the most important facts out of their report, or what it meant for U.S. government scientists to finally admit that they could not explain the “collapse” of the Twin Towers. His final plea was that we just accept that al Qaeda did it because they said they did it, and we should take them at their word.

This strange approach to scepticism is a good example of the growing attempt by corporate media representatives (Shermer also works for FOX TV) to convince us to believe the opposite of what we see and hear. We’re told that the best way to stop terrorism is to start endless wars in the Middle East, and the best way to protect our freedoms is to give up our freedoms and, paradoxically, anyone who questions the government’s conspiracy theory is a “conspiracy theorist”.

Within that kind of framework, some people might really believe that Michael Shermer is a sceptic. But what we find is that Sceptic magazine is not skeptical of things that matter to people today, like electronic voting machines or media consolidation. Instead, this publication aims to protect us from “bad ideas” like the possibility of UFOs, or the belief in God. Shermer must know that if people are really going to be skeptical, they will be so about authoritative claims that affect their lives in serious ways, like the rationale behind the “War on Terror”. And as I said during the debate, the absurd attempts to keep people from questioning 9/11 have so far amounted to just so much speculative distraction.

The truth is that there is no aspect of the official story that cannot be severely criticized, or shown to be completely false. Two reports, one from the 9/11 Commission and one from a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, known as NIST, constitute the official version of events for 9/11. And both of these reports are riddled with inconsistencies and outright falsehoods.[3, 4] Additionally, we know that many involved in producing those reports had serious conflicts of interest.[5, 6, 7]

In the end Shermer and I did agree on one thing, and that is that the truth is likely to be simple. His version of simple, however, is that terrorism is about astoundingly lucky acts of random vengeance, with the Gods of Science turning a few blind eyes here and there. On the other hand, to me the simple truth is more likely to be that terrorism is a co-opted tool, used by a powerful few to help secure their strategic interests. In any case, when such truth becomes not only simple, but also obvious, we need to start being truly sceptical.


[1] Air America/Thom Hartman 9/11 Truth Debate: Kevin Ryan vs. Michael Shermer, MP3 found at Portland Independent Media Center, LINK

[2] Michael Shermer, The Flipping Point, Scientific American, June 2006, LINK

[3] David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2005). Griffin summarizes the omissions and distortions in “The 9/11 Commission Report: A 571-Page Lie,” 911 Visibility Project, May 22, 2005 LINK.

[4] Kevin Ryan, What is 9/11 Truth? – The First Steps, Journal of 911 Studies, August 2006, PDF LINK.

[5], The Kean Commission: The Official Commission Avoids the Core Issues, LINK

[6], 9/11 Commission: The official coverup guide, LINK

[7] Kevin Ryan, Looking for Truth in Credentials,, March 13, 2007, LINK

About the writer:

Kevin Ryan is co-editor of the Journal of 9/11 Studies, LINK and the former Site Manager for Underwriters Laboratories in South Bend, Indiana.