BYU supports Dr. Steven Jones . . . er, wait

There’s nothing like a strong dose of irony to get you going in the morning, particularly when it involves people at BYU. I opened up The Daily Universe (BYU’s free weekday newspaper) to read this letter by university alum Eric Rasmussen commending the school for its "hands-off" position regarding Dr. Steven Jones’ controversial work implicating the U.S. government in a conspiracy to commit the attacks of 9/11:

BYU professor Steven Jones has been getting lots of press this week in anticipation of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Professor Jones leads a cabal of academics who believe the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government, with Jones offering his credentials as a BYU physics instructor among his bona fides to conclude that physics dictate the planes alone could not bring down the towers, it had to be government planted explosives.

Jones is a quack, coming up with plausible scenarios for gullible people; his theories have been debunked by exhaustive research and reporting by the 9/11 commission (of course they’re in on it, Jones might say).

But I thank goodness for Professor Steven Jones.

This country needs dissenting voices, as does the BYU campus. I was an undergrad when nude sculptures by Auguste Rodin were pulled from the art museum, and protest ensued; and it’s every few years that questions about academic freedom surface at BYU because of its sponsorship by the church and potential conflicts in that arrangement.

Jones’ touting of controversial research can stand as a testament to academic freedom at BYU; I applaud him for his boldness and the university for staying the heck out of his way. I think his conclusions are wrong and border on reckless, but I defend his ability to voice them and the academic freedom BYU affords its professors.

Eric Rasmussen

Washington, D.C.

I then turn to The Deseret News to read this late-breaking story on the same subject:

BYU places ‘9/11 truth’ professor on paid leave

Brigham Young University placed physics professor Steven Jones on paid leave Thursday while it reviews his involvement in the so-called "9/11 truth movement" that accuses unnamed government agencies of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.

BYU will conduct an official review of Jones’ actions before determining a course of action, university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. Such a review is rare for a professor with "continuing status" at BYU, where Jones has taught since 1985.

Jones became a celebrity among 9/11 conspiracy-theory groups after he wrote a paper titled "Why Indeed Did the World Trade Center Buildings Collapse?" The paper was published two weeks ago in the book "9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out" and lays out Jones’ hypothesis that the three towers fell because of pre-positioned demolition charges — not because of the planes that hit two of the towers.

When Jones began to share his demolition theory publicly last fall, he politely declined to speculate about who set the charges other than to say terrorist groups couldn’t have been the source.

Then, later, he started to speak publicly about research conducted at BYU on materials from ground zero. He said he found evidence of thermite — a compound used in military detonations — in the materials.

In recent weeks, after becoming the co-chairman of the group Scholars for 9/11 Truth, Jones seemed willing to go further, implicating unnamed government groups but not President Bush.

Last fall, BYU faculty posted statements on the university Web site that questioned whether Jones subjected the paper to rigorous academic peer review before he posted it at physics.byu.edu. Jones removed the paper from BYU’s Web site Thursday at the university’s request.

Efforts to reach Jones Thursday night were not successful. Jones told the Deseret Morning News on Wednesday that his paper had gone through an unusual third round of peer review in what is now an apparently unsuccessful effort to quell concerns on campus.

"BYU remains concerned that Dr. Jones’ work on this topic has not been published in appropriate scientific venues," the university statement said.
Jenkins said BYU’s reputation was a consideration, too.

"It is a concern when faculty bring the university name into their own personal matters of concern," she said.

The university issued an official statement regarding its recent actions:

"Physics professor Steven Jones has made numerous statements about the collapse of the World Trade Center. BYU has repeatedly said that it does not endorse assertions made by individual faculty. We are, however, concerned about the increasingly speculative and accusatory nature of these statements by Dr. Jones. Furthermore, BYU remains concerned that Dr. Jones’ work on this topic has not been published in appropriate scientific venues. Owing to these issues, as well as others, the university has placed Dr. Jones on leave while we continue to review these matters."

Personally, I think the university did the right thing. The issue at stake here is not whether Jones’ theories are correct, but whether he is using the university’s name and resources to lend credence to his ideas, which are not being published in peer-reviewed journals and held up to the light of scrutiny that all academic research should.

It is rather funny, though, to read Eric’s letter congratulating BYU for its forbearance on the same day that this story appeared. I wonder if The Daily Universe staff saw this story coming through the wire late last night and decided to insert a little journalistic humor for news buffs like me. Well, guys, I got the joke.

(By the way, no link yet exists to Eric’s letter on newsnet.byu.edu, so it’s quite possible the editors were actually caught off-guard by today’s story and don’t want to risk embarrassing themselves or Eric by reprinting his letter.)

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