Monday, July 12, 2010

Debunking the 3/26 Conspiracy “Science”

I have not, until now, seen the report of the The Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group linked elsewhere, so let’s begin there. You can read the whole thing for yourself, but for your convenience, I’ll reproduce something about the composition of the investigative group itself. Emphasis mine:

The Joint Civilian-military Investigation Group (JIG) conducted its investigation with 25 experts from 10 top Korean expert agencies, 22 military experts, 3 experts recommended by the National Assembly, and 24 foreign experts constituting 4 support teams from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Sweden. The JIG is composed of four teams–Scientific Investigation Team, Explosive Analysis Team, Ship Structure Management Team, and Intelligence Analysis Team.

Here is a summary of its findings. Apologies for the long quote.

The basis of our assessment that the sinking was caused by a torpedo attack is as follows:

* Precise measurement and analysis of the damaged part of the hull indicates that a shockwave and bubble effect caused significant upward bending of the CVK (Center Vertical Keel), compared to its original state, and shell plate was steeply bent, with some parts of the ship fragmented.

* On the main deck, fracture occurred around the large openings used for maintenance of equipment in the gas turbine room and significant upward deformation is present on the port side. Also, the bulkhead of the gas turbine room was significantly damaged and deformed.

* The bottoms of the stern and bow sections at the failure point were bent upward. This also proves that an underwater explosion took place.

Through a thorough investigation of the inside and outside of the ship, we have found evidence of extreme pressure on the fin stabilizer, a mechanism to reduce significant rolling of the ship; water pressure and bubble effects on the bottom of the hull; and wires cut with no traces of heat. All these point to a strong shockwave and bubble effect causing the splitting and the sinking of the ship.

We have analyzed statements by survivors from the incident and a sentry on Baekryong-do.

* The survivors made a statement that they heard a near-simultaneous explosion once or twice, and that water splashed on the face of a port-side lookout who fell from the impact; furthermore,

* a sentry on the shore of Baekryong-do stated that he witnessed an approximately 100-meter-high “pillar of white flash” for 2~3 seconds. The aforementioned phenomenon is consistent with damage resulting from a shockwave and bubble effect.

Regarding the medical examination on the deceased service members, no trace of fragmentation or burn injury were found, but fractures and lacerations were observed. All of these are consistent with damage resulting from a shockwave and bubble effect.

The seismic and infrasound wave analysis result conducted by the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM) is as follows:

* Seismic wave intensity of 1.5 degrees was detected by 4 stations.
* 2 infrasound waves with a 1.1-second interval were detected by 11 stations.
* The seismic and infrasound waves originated from an identical site of explosion.
* This phenomenon corresponds to a shock wave and bubble effect generated by an underwater explosion.

Numerous simulations of an underwater explosion show that a detonation with a net explosive weight of 200~300kg occurred at a depth of about 6~9m, approximately 3m left of the center of the gas turbine room.

Based on the analysis of tidal currents off Baekryong-do, the JIG determined that the currents would not prohibit a torpedo attack.

As for conclusive evidence that can corroborate the use of a torpedo, we have collected propulsion parts, including propulsion motor with propellers and a steering section from the site of the sinking.

The evidence matched in size and shape with the specifications on the drawing presented in introductory materials provided to foreign countries by North Korea for export purposes. The marking in Hangul, which reads “1 [Hangul not reproducible] (or No. 1 in English)”, found inside the end of the propulsion section, is consistent with the marking of a previously obtained North Korean torpedo. The above evidence allowed the JIG to confirm that the recovered parts were made in North Korea.

Also, the aforementioned result confirmed that other possible causes for sinking raised, including grounding, fatigue failure, mines, collision and internal explosion, played no part in the incident.

In conclusion, The following sums up the opinions of Korean and foreign experts on the conclusive evidence collected from the incident site; hull deformation; statements of relevant personnel; medical examination of the deceased service members; analysis on seismic and infrasound waves; simulation of underwater explosion; and analysis on currents off Baekryong-do and collected torpedo parts.

* ROKS “Cheonan” was split apart and sunk due to a shockwave and bubble effect produced by an underwater torpedo explosion.

* The explosion occurred approximately 3m left of the center of the gas turbine room, at a depth of about 6~9m.

* The weapon system used is confirmed to be a high explosive torpedo with a net explosive weight of about 250kg, manufactured by North Korea.

Now, pause and breathe deeply, because what I’m about to say is going to shock the bejeezus out of you. There are left-wing Korean professors who are questioning that North Korea sank the Cheonan.

I’ve never really bought the analogy between the Cheonan Incident and the September 11th attacks, but in one sense, the analogy holds up well. In both cases, persons of low emotional intelligence have constructed elaborate arguments to facilitate the belief that their own governments (rather than an external attacker) caused a national tragedy. The conclusion that an external enemy really did carry out a successful attack is hard for some people to accept for a variety of reasons. I suppose for some, the consequent sense of vulnerability and fear may be too much to accept. For more, I suspect that it’s based on simple malice toward their own government, or perhaps even a degree of emotional or ideological identification for its enemies. And because emotional intelligence and academic intelligence are two completely different things, a mind that combines low emotional intelligence and high academic intelligence is only going to construct its justifications more elaborately.

All of this may be a complicated way of saying that I’m completely unsurprised to see left-wing Korean academics say things like this:

Researchers J.J. Suh and Seung-Hun Lee say the South Korean Joint Investigation Group made a weak case when it concluded that North Korea was responsible for sinking the Cheonan.

Speaking in Tokyo Friday, the two said the investigation was riddled with inconsistencies and cast “profound doubt” on the integrity of the investigation. “The only conclusion one can draw on the basis of the evidence is that there was no outside explosion,” Suh said. “The JIG completely failed to produce evidence that backs up its claims that there was an outside explosion.” [Chosun Ilbo]

Reading this, you’d think these two distinguished academics had collaborated in a detailed scientific study or critique of the International Joint Investigation. You would think that these men were highly qualified experts in some relevant field of study, such as naval engineering, metallurgy, or forensic science.

And you would be wrong. Suh, whom the Chosun describes as a “researcher,” is none other than Professor Jae Jung Suh, a Professor of Korea Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. That’s right. Korea studies. And in that field, Suh’s previous analysis includes his early 2009 prediction, via the left-wing Hankyoreh, that relations with North Korea were at “an important turning point” — and I suppose they were! — and that President Obama would soon energetically engage North Korea and build momentum for His Vision of a world without nuclear weapons. As early as this year, Suh, via the left-wing Foreign Policy in Focus of John Feffer infamy, had aligned himself with calls to give North Korea a peace treaty in exchange for denuclearization, an objective that North Korea had by then firmly renounced. In this 2007 piece, edited by Feffer himself, Suh seemed irrationally exuberant over the visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, and used this as a vehicle to oppose the relocation and consolidation of the USFK into larger (and less vulnerable) posts, which Suh worried would advance the Pentagon’s “neoliberal militarism.” Overall, however, the tone of Suh’s writing isn’t (or wasn’t, anyway) particularly acerbic or doctrinaire. What it really exhibited was a sincere but striking naivete about North Korean history, behavior, and intentions, which gave his analysis a dismal predictive value.

Suh, in other words, is no more qualified as an authority on engineering, shipbuilding, or forensics than John Feffer — who has at least conceded North Korea’s probable culpability — or me. Yet even after the two halves of the Cheonan had been raised, Suh suggested that a more likely cause of its loss was a South Korean mine. Suh offers no evidentiary or scientific basis for that speculation, which is nonetheless revealing. His views can be ignored with confidence.

Another of the “scientific” critics of the international investigation, the former naval officer and shipbuilder Shin Sang-Chul, has stated that the Cheonan was rammed by another ship, a conclusion that’s facial nonsense to anyone who has seen the two halves of the destroyed ship.

Lee, who is at least a physicist, is harder to dismiss, and it’s not quite fair of me to leave hanging the implication that he’s “left-wing” when none of his online writing reveals what his political views might be. His CV reveals that he also used to teach at Johns Hopkins, which probably explains how me met Suh. His particular field of specialty, however, is quantum mechanics, and the subject on which he writes really falls within the disciplines of metallurgy and forensic science. Were Lee to be called as an expert witness at trial, a competent lawyer would likely be able to get a court to disqualify him as an expert on the matters on which he opines here.

As to the substance of Lee’s argument, which you can read in greater detail here, the Ministry of Defense has responded in detail, suggesting that Lee bases his conclusions of conditions of temperature and pressure that aren’t anything like what the fragments of the Cheonan torpedo would have experienced. And given that the destruction of the Cheonan was the result of a pressure wave moving through cold water, this is just common sense. But for people who simply don’t want to believe that North Korea sank the Cheonan — even highly intelligent people — that may be too much to ask.

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