People say untrue things all the time. Sometimes what they say is so untrue I feel obliged to respond. I'm not sure that is healthy though. Today I'd like to discuss an example which shows why. The example involves the alleged chemical attack on Douma, a city in Syria, on April 7th, 2018, by the Syrian government. Many people have alleged this attack didn't happen, claiming reports of a chemical attack were a fabrication created by a conspiracy of people seeking to create negative sentiments for the Syrian government.
These claims were first brought to my attention by Steve McIntyre, of Climate Audit fame, when he challenged the mainstream narrative about the attack. I quickly noticed McIntyre's commentary was biased and one-sided, but when I tried to discuss it, I quickly found my comments on his site would disappear when I submitted them. I pointed this out, only to have McIntyre give a series of deceptive responses.
I won't dwell on the matter today. Anyone who cares can see the issues laid out here. The reason I bring this up today is solely for context. Because of my attempts to call McIntyre's posts about this alleged attack into question, a user by the name Ron Graf e-mailed me to say McIntyre was right. I responded to him explaining why what he said in his e-mail was untrue, saying I didn't want to talk to him about the issue any further. A couple weeks later he showed up to this site to try to get me to talk about the issue again.
This created an awkward situation for me as Graf's comments on this site were deceptive given the exchange we had in e-mails. For instance, his first comment said:
Brandon, you accused Mc of mental imbalance for his skepticism on Syria's use of chemical weapons in April. It turns out the official evidence now greatly supports Mc's early analysis.
And gave some additional remarks which were directly shown to be false in the e-mail exchange we had had just two weeks prior, an exchange Graf didn't even disclose had happened. This created an awkward situation as demonstrating the deception carried out by Graf would require sharing private communication. Even now, I'm not sure how to handle that. As a sort of compromise, I'll share just this e-mail I sent as a response:
I am afraid I have no interest in discussing this matter as you've clearly misrepresented what you cite. Not only have you misrepresented what the findings were, but you've portrayed them as coming from a finalized report which concluded the analysis being done. That is simply not true. The findings were clearly labeled as being in an *interim* report where entire sections have yet to be written. The report further states it is based upon analysis of only a portion of the samples taken as they have not gotten around to analyzing the rest yet. Even with these limits, the report notes a number of cases where chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples.
I have no idea how you interpret this interim report as conclusive proof no chemical weapons were used, but quite frankly, given that portrayal is your starting point, I can't see any value in pursuing the matter. This is particularly true given my criticisms of Steve McIntyre were never based upon whether or not chemical weapons were used, but upon the faulty logic he used to argue none were used. It is perfectly possible for a person to reach the right conclusion for the wrong reasons so even if your portrayal of this report were accurate, it would do nothing to address anything I said.
Ultimately, I have neither the time nor interest to hold a discussion in which a person says accusations chemical weapons, possibly including chlorine gas, were used have been conclusively proven false by pointing to an interim report which says chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples. What the presence of those chemicals means is something I do not know, but neither do the authors of the report, a fact they made clear.
(On a fundamental note, any report which merely states it failed to find evidence of something is not a report which conclusively proves that something never happened.)
Despite not arguing anything I said in this e-mail was false, Graf showed up to this site and started trying to re-argue points he had made in our exchange without ever addressing anything I said to him in private. The exchange which followed was fruitless, and it eventually led to Graf receiving a "soft ban" (details of how this works can be found here).
My impression is Graf wasn't willing to listen to anything which contradicted his views. That included contradictions like, "That quotation you posted isn't real, you fabricated it." As such, when he claimed an official report came out proving chemical weapons weren't used in Douma, it didn't matter how many errors in his logic I could point out. He would never believe otherwise.
The reason I bring this up today is that e-mail I sent Graf seems to have been prescient. The central issue in my response is the report in question was not final as not all evidence had been examined, yet even so, they found evidence which at least sounded like it might suggest a chlorine based chemical weapon had been used. I recently found out the final report had been published last month, and it says:
Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon on 7 April 2018 in Douma, the Syrian Arab Republic, the evaluation and analysis of all the information gathered by the FFM—witnesses’ testimonies, environmental and biomedical samples analysis results, toxicological and ballistic analyses from experts, additional digital information from witnesses—provide reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine. The toxic chemical was likely molecular chlorine.
There are many details in the report which could be discussed, and perhaps someone could fine flaws in the report which undermine its conclusions. That's not the issue to me though. I'm curious about something more fundamental. Graf rushed breathlessly to contact me about the interim report (which he falsely labeled an official, final report) as proof my criticisms of McIntyre's commentary on the alleged Douma chemical attack were wrong. I immediately noted the report wasn't final, large sections hadn't been written, significant evidence hadn't been examined yet and the evidence examined made it at least sound like a chemical attack may have happened.
Pointing all that out accomplished nothing. I said I wouldn't form conclusions on a preliminary report written without having examined all the evidence. It turns out the conclusions of the final version of the report were quite different from those of the preliminary. I pointed out the preliminary version of the report found "chlorinated organic chemicals" and hadn't reached a conclusions to what they meant. I also pointed out not all evidence had been examined yet. The final report says further examination of those chlorinated organic chemicals and of evidence that hadn't been examined before indicates a chemical attack happened.
My comments were prescient at the time, but they made no difference to Graf. Now that we have the final version of the report, and it clearly contradicts Graf's viewpoint, should we expect things to be any different? It's worth noting Graf hasn't e-mailed me about this final version of the report, nor has he posted about it anywhere.
This isn't to say Ron Graf is a terrible person unlike regular folk. Quite the opposite. Lots of people believe in seemingly outlandish things. Conspiracy theories are discussed on national news stations on a daily basis. Blogs are filled with discussions of them. My impression is there's no point in responding. Today's post shows just one example.
Will pointing out errors by people who allege conspiracies like these accomplish anything useful? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that out.