It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Exasperated Experts

OK, one more bit from Taibbi's "The Great Derangement", this one showing that we aren't alone in having to manage our exasperation in dealing with bizarre conspiracy theories. Regarding the "9/11 was an inside job" ideas:
The enthusiastic belief in the pure, almost mathematical precision of the conspiracy, with its unshakable faith in the unthinking, automatic participation of these long lists of faceless members of the cultural establishment, all coldly eager to get in on the killing of innocent Americans - it freaked me out. ...
Was I losing my mind? To make absolutely sure, I spent much of November 2006 calling structural engineers and architects and pestering them with questions about 9/11. Most of the ones I reached seemed ready to reach through the phone and snap my neck in half for even bothering them with the dreaded "controlled demolition" theory. ...
"Let me ask you a question," hissed Mir Ali, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Architecture. "If you get sick and you need an operation, where do you go? Do you go to a restaurant? A bicycle store?" ... "It's the same with this. How many of these people are structural engineers? How many? You people, always you are calling me!"
"But I'm not one of..."
From there he veered into a long tangent ... [concluding] "The air outside the building wants to rush in, do you understand?"
"No" I said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Well, then, how can you say you know what caused the building to collapse?"
"I didn't," I said. "I'm calling about somebody else's theory about..."
But he was off on another tangent by then, ranting angrily into the phone. I got similar responses from more than a dozen other engineers and architects, all of whom said that no one in the field took the controlled demolition seriously...
Our critics seem convinced that we are "rude and arrogant" and are "hiding something", but there comes a point where trying to be reasonable is just a waste of time. Sometimes innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire, but after all, you still have to get some real work done. This story indicates that this pattern is common across fields that get caught in conspiracy theories.

2 comments:

climatesight said...

I'd like to read that book now...

Arthur said...

Michael - my favorite video illustration of this sort of frustration is Sesame Street's Cookie Monster in the Library scene (the above is a search query, click the first result and it should be the video).

If a normally perfectly calm, quiet, collected person gets really angry, there's usually a good reason :)