Friday, October 18, 2002

SO NOT DAWKINS VS. GOULD UPDATE: Tim Noah wrote his Chatterbox about it today and gleans from Mrs. Gould's corrections to the Langewiesche World Trade Center articles six things he got wrong:

1. The most loot-worthy cache at Ground Zero was $250 million in gold and silver ingots stashed in a vault belonging to the Bank of Nova Scotia that was buried under the collapsed Building 4 of the World Trade Center. It was never disturbed. But Langewiesche reports that when a team was finally able to reach it, it discovered that "others had been there before, attempting to pry open the vault's door and to cut it from above, in both cases unsuccessfully." Unbeknownst to Langewiesche, the police ultimately concluded that the initial team had been wrong—the damage had been caused not by attempted burglary, but by "old distress."
2. Langewiesche reports that the firemen lost 343 people "out of a force of 14,000." The actual size of the fire department force (during fiscal year 2002) is 15,000. This discrepancy probably reflects when Langewiesche or the Atlantic's fact-checkers checked the figure, which of course never stays static—people are constantly being hired, fired, and retired. In that sense, it's probably unfair to call this an error at all.
3. Langewiesche reports that "as many as 250" firefighters "lay unaccounted for in the ruins." The actual number was 253.
4. Langewiesche reports that diesel excavators uncovered the remains of a fire truck driven underground by the collapse of the South Tower. Inside were found piles of new jeans from the Gap. "It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the looting had begun even before the first tower fell, and that while hundreds of doomed firemen had climbed through the wounded buildings, this particular crew had been engaged in something else entirely, without the slightest suspicion that the South Tower was about to hammer down." The jeans weren't from the Gap; they were from Structure. Shearer also denies that the jeans were "stacked neatly" and answers Langewiesche's speculation that they were stolen with the somewhat less persuasive speculation that they were blown in. Langewiesche answers that he has the details of this scene "from more than two people" and that "not to write that story would have been propagandistic."
5. Langewiesche writes that "after the site matured," there were no volunteers on the pile—only on its periphery. Apparently he overlooked Rhonda Shearer and her daughter, London Allen.
6. Langewiesche describes looking out a window "one day in spring" and seeing an exposed PATH train. The PATH train was exposed between Feb. 20 and March 1, so it couldn't have been spring (which didn't start until March 21).

Noah points out these are pretty middling errors and I would tend to agree. The most problematic one is the firetruck with Gap jeans that were actually Structure jeans which comes down to whose version of that scene you believe. But Shearer's call for the shredding of the book--as opposed to just debunking it--is killing her credibility dead with me. I like my theory that the massive gravity of Stephen Jay Gould's intellect was the only thing keeping Shearer's in its orbit, which is now spinning out of control and causing all kinds of havok to the citizens below.

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