Monday, August 1, 2011

                                       Head Shot- A Physicist Analyzes the Assassination
                                                             John Delane Williams

Andy Winiarczyk (Last Hurrah Book Shop) recently called me and suggested I might be interested in a newer book, Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination, by E. Paul Chambers. [1] Andy’s synopsis perked my interest. Chambers holds a Ph.D  in physics; Currently, he is working on development of renewable energy for Bellatrix Energy. As many of us who have become interested in pursuing the mysteries of the JFK assassination, Chambers is an outsider, or, as Baars [2] refers to them , a nucleator . A nucleator is a scientist with considerable expertise in an area of science who then applies their expertise to another area). Because of at least a slight similarity of backgrounds with Chambers (My first Ph.D. was in statistics [3]), I gladly accepted Andy’s suggestion. I was somewhat disappointed with portions of Chambers’ work(and, of course, there are criticisms).

Chambers organized his book into ten chapters, and like a lot of newcomers to research on the assassination, he takes the Warren Report to task—this seems to be a rite of passage for new critical assassination researchers. For myself, I am content that many researchers before me have done a sufficiently good job of criticism of the Warren Report that, in my opinion, we don’t need to have another proof that the Warren Report lacks credibility. [4] For those who do seek additional proofs, the book by Chambers is a worthy addition. Chambers uses Edward Epstein’s Inquest [5] as his guide to addressing the Warren Report in general, and the single bullet theory in particular. On the other hand, Chambers uses the works by Gerald Posner [6] and Vincent Bugliosi [7] to contrast his findings and interpretations.

Chambers states, regarding Bugliosi ,”Many in the news media and in the general public now consider Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History the last word on the subject.  However, his physics is wrong, and his science is, frankly, impossible.” [8] Chambers described his background thusly;  “My background in detonation physics and high speed photography of explosive events allows me to properly and accurately assess the scientific data set associated with the assassination.” [9]

The Beginnings of the Warren Commission
Chambers addresses the beginning meeting of the Warren Commission, which occurred on January 27, 1964. This was an emergency meeting, called to address allegations that Lee Harvey Oswald had been either an “undercover agent” or “paid informant” of the FBI. The only reference to the FBI “problem” was Bugliosi [10]. This is curious. Through of Freedom of Information request, Harold Weisberg secured the transcript of the first meeting of the Warren Commission and published it in toto, with interpretive notes. The transcript published by Weisberg [11] is a primary document, and perhaps the most important ever published about the manner in which the Commission would work. Why depend upon a second hand source of dubious merit when the primary source is available? Doing a good literature review is a necessary part of scientific research.

Chambers goes to some length to explain the scientific process to a presumably less scientifically             sophisticated readership.  While he goes about saying scientific research is self-correcting, i.e., if someone either misinterpreted data, or simply had a non-representative data set, other researchers will point this out. He doesn’t make it clear how long this process might take. For example Galileo, whom Chambers refers to several times, suffered for his contributions to science. What he doesn’t mention is that Galileo’s experiments ran afoul of the church, which led to his imprisonment and excommunication from the church. He died as an excommunicant in 1642. The excommunication was removed in 1985, as I remember. In fairness, Chambers does cover the Galileo issue more thoroughly in the Epilogue. When science confronts those in control, acceptance may be a long time in coming. Yet another example of a scientist whose fame came years after his research being discarded and dying in scientific obscurity after giving up on his experiments was Gregor Mendel. Upon his death in 1884, his papers were all destroyed in a disagreement with the civil government on taxation of religious properties; Mendel was an abbot at a monastery . Only in the 20th Century was his work appreciated for its importance. [12] Science is filled with controversies. Many years may pass before a view is finally accepted. Theories guide scientific practice, until more useful theories are developed. Theories are to be used only until they fail to correctly predict the outcomes of experiments. When they fail, they are to be discarded. Those who continue to believe in failed theories no longer continue to be scientist. Consider that a Flat Earth Society continues to exist. Unfortunately, Chambers oversimplification obscures this dialectic in science. Being a scientist is a lot messier than Chambers implies. Yet, by other comments in his book, I’m sure that he knows this.

                                                             The Medical Evidence
Chambers does a reasonably good review of the medical evidence. For me, I kept thinking, ‘Why has he not even referenced the extensive work of Douglas Horne’s seminal effort on the medical evidence, which was published about six months before Chambers finished his book? Horne’s exhaustive effort (over 1000 pages on the medical evidence alone) is the centerpiece on his report of the work of the Assassination Records Review Board. [13] In fairness to Chambers, his interest in the medical evidence was in relation to its usefulness in applying his knowledge base in physics.

Regarding the official autopsy performed in Bethesda, in Chambers view, the autopsy is of little value regarding reconstructing the facts of Kennedy’s death.  Most importantly the data are unstable. The head wound moves from the side of the head in the Zapruder film to the lower rear, occipital region, to the top of his head at the autopsy, to the top front of his head in the x-ray. These reports are inconsistent with both the Zapruder film and the reports of the physicians at Parkland Hospital. The Harper fragment was originally identified as an occipital bone (from the rear of Kennedy’s skull).  A…“ recent evaluation by Dr. Joseph Riley, a neuro-anatomist, indicates that the bone is instead from the parietal (side) portion of the skull.”  [14] The Harper bone fragment being a parietal bone is consistent with the Zapruder film, showing a wound to the right side of Kennedy’s head. Using a blowup of Z-333, the only apparent wound is to the right side of Kennedy’s head; in Z-333, the top rear part of Kennedy’s head, hair and skull are intact. The results of the official autopsy are at variance with the Zapruder film.            

Was the Zapruder Film Altered?

In this chapter, I was hoping to see Chambers address the Zapruder film with his own independent analysis. Instead, he relies heavily upon  Wrone’s The Zapruder Film: Refraiming Kennedy’s Assassination [15 ]. Chambers dismisses in particular the work of a scholar who holds both a Ph.D. in physics and an M.D., David Mantik’s article in Assassination Science [16]. Rather than provide his own analysis regarding Mantik’s article, Chambers stated, “These works, have been widely criticized, however, as documents that distort facts and suffer from serious errors and omissions. A most telling argument against these claims has been advanced by Harold Weissberg in his books Whitewash and Never Again!” [17]. As an aside, Chambers refers to Mantik as a “medical doctor”. Mantik is a medical doctor, but also a Ph.D. physicist, or in that sense a colleague of Chambers. Lest one conclude that Weissberg had leveled this criticism at Mantik, Never Again! [18] was published in 1995; Mantik’s article was published in 1998. We know that Chambers was still writing the book as late as June 16, 2010 (from his references). Why did he not review Doug Horne’s chapter (almost 200 pages long) in Inside the Assassination Record Review Board [19], which was published in 2009? Horne explains at length how two different groups worked separately on November 23-24, 1963 on the Zapruder film at a C.I.A. secret facility in the Kodak plant in Rochester, New York. Earlier, Horne described in detail the workings of one of the groups working in the C.I.A. laboratory [20].  He also points out that he sees Wrone’s work to be less than honest. Wrone reported that Horne indicated that Time turned the Zapruder film over to be altered. In the article by Horne, a report of an interview with Homer McMahon mentions the Secret Service delivered the film to the C.I.A. film laboratory in Rochester, NY. [21]

I’ll also offer an observation of my own. Whether or not there was an alteration, there is a clear discontinuity in the Zapruder film between Z-132 and Z-133. Z-132 shows the motorcycles preceding the limousine; the limousine is not yet shown. Z-133 shows the limousine after it has already made the turn and is heading down Elm Street [22]. Missing is the entirety of the turn, which reportedly had limousine driver William Greer driving poorly, almost driving the limousine up on the North curb near the Texas School Book Depository’s front door. The limousine would have covered a minimum of 20 feet, and perhaps as much as 40 feet between Z-132 and Z- 133. The reported speed of the limousine was 12 mph. At 12 mph, the limousine would travel 17.6 feet a second. As it happened, the Zapruder film had approximately 18 frames per second, so that at least 20 frames are missing between Z-132 and Z-133. [22] While Zapruder might have stopped the camera momentarily, the turn of the limousine onto Elm Street is definitely missing. Whether the frames are missing by Zapruder’s hand, or by an alterationist, it is propitious to the Secret Service that the incompetence of the Secret Service driver is hidden from the public eye.  In my opinion, Chambers, like many of the early critics of the Warren Report, used the Zapruder film for doing their calculations to discredit the Warren Report.  Of course, if alterations were made, those alterations are a withholding of facts regarding the assassination and can by themselves be seen as being part of a conspiracy. Some of the other missing information might also be due to Zapruder’s handling of the camera, for example, the apparent stop at the time of the fatal shot, which is not apparent on the film. There are other possible alterations that would not be at the hand of Zapruder. Whether there are alterations or not, it seems simplistic to view the film in an all or nothing at all manner. The film is not a perfect representation of reality even if there were no alterations. Insofar as alterations are hypothesized, do they render the film worthless? I think not. In any event, the film is ambiguous, but useful.

The Shooter on the Grassy Knoll

Presumably the raison-d’etre of Chambers’ book was the process of identification of the type of weapon used in Dealey Plaza for the fatal shot, and the location of the shooter. To do this, he was relying heavily on the Zapruder film, and hence the concern that the film be authentic, though not all of his analysis is tied to the Zapruder film. Chambers asserts that the bullet that killed Kennedy was likely a small caliber frangible round that fragmented inside his head. That it was a frangible bullet is deduced from the many bullet fragments seen by witnesses, without an exit wound; Chambers surmised that the point of entry was the right side of his head where the flap was visible after the shot (and on the Zapruder film as well). “The bullet that caused the extensive tissue jetting observed in Z-313 was a high velocity round traveling at or near 4000 ft/sec. “ [23] (A Mannlicher-Carcano missile travels at about half that speed). The blood that spewed out of Kennedy’s head would have been forced through the entrance wound, there being no exit wound because of the frangible bullet. The likely weapon to deliver this velocity would be the Winchester .220 Swift. I would point out that the shot would be consistent with a Winchester Swift, but could have been a custom made rifle, or some other rifle with similar ballistics characteristics to the Winchester .220 Swift. I lack the expertise to follow that up. However, I would only elevate the Winchester .220 Swift to being a likely candidate, and not exclusive to all other possibilities, which surely would include custom made weapons. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that a conclusion such as Chambers makes in identifying the model of gun used is not a statistical interpretation, but only that the model may be a likely candidate. In a later chapter, Chambers acknowledges that the fatal shot was likely fired a Winchester .220 Swift, or a rifle with similar characteristics. It would be interesting however, to check into the distribution of these (and similar) guns that were existing in 1963. Chambers also surmises that the Grassy Knoll was the most likely place where the shooter was located. While Chambers does an excellent job of analyzing the information that he has gleaned from the Zapruder film, he concludes that the weapon was a Winchester .220 Swift; it seems tenable to me , but I’d like to see others address his analysis, trying other possible weapons, giving their confidence limits for the different weaponry. As Chambers says himself, science is about repeatability. If there is no other suitable candidate, then the most likely candidate has been identified—but someone could still look into the records of the whereabouts of Winchester .220 Swifts in 1963. One of the important points about Chambers presentation is that, for those who are not trained in physics, Chambers explains the aspects of physics directly applicable to understanding the scientific base of his argument.

Why it Matters

 When Abraham Lincoln became the first president to be assassinated, a conspiracy was quickly exposed. The exposure of that conspiracy was important, because history matters. One could argue that we still don’t have all the details about the conspiracy that ended in Lincoln’s assassination. There is some disagreement as to whether Mary Surratt was a part of that conspiracy (she was the landlady at the boardinghouse where some of the conspiracy planning took place; she was hung shortly after the assassination), more was publicly known about the Lincoln conspiracy shortly after the assassination than is yet known about President Kennedy’s assassination. If “The truth shall set you free” then we have been held captive from the truth about President Kennedy’s assassination for forty-eight years and counting.

1.       Chambers, E.P. (2010). Head Shot: The Science behind the JFK Assassination. Amherst, NY : Prometheus Books.
2.       Baars, B.J.  (1986).The Cognitive Revolution in Psychology. New York: Guilford Press.              
3.       A second Ph.D. was received in clinical psychology.
4.       Just a brief selection of books that disprove the Warren Report would include: Harold Weissberg’s Whitewash-The Report on the Warren Report (1965). Frederick, MD: Author; Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment (1966). New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston;  Sylvia Meagher’s Accessories After the Fact (1967). New York: Vintage; J. Gary Shaw, Cover-Up (1976). Austin, TX: Thomas: Henry Hurt’s Reasonable Doubt (1985). New York: Holt, Rinehart &Winston; Robert Groden & Harrison Livingstone’s High Treason (1985). New York: Conservatory Press; Jim Marrs’ Crossfire (1989). New York: Carroll & Graff; Dick Russell’s The Man who knew too Much (1992). New York: Carroll & Graf; Walt Brown’s Treachery in Dallas (1995). New York: Carroll & Graf; Assassination Science (1998) Peru, IL: Catfeet Press , edited by Jim Fetzer; and Gerald MacKnight’s Breach of Trust  (1995). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. There are several other excellent refutations of the Warren Commission findings.
5.       Epstein, E.J. (1966). Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.  New York: Bantam.
6.       Posner, G. (1993). Case Closed. New York: Random House.  
7.       Bugliosi, V. (2007). Reclaiming History. New York: Norton.
8.       Chambers, p. 8.
9.        Ibid, pp. 8-9.
10.   Bugliosi, p. 346.
11.   Weisberg, H. (1974). Whitewash IV: JFK Assassination Transcript. Frederick, MD: Author.
12.   Carlson, E.A.  (2004). Doubts about Mendel’s Integrity are Exaggerated. Mendel’s Legacy. Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, pp. 48-49.
13.   Horne, D.P. (2009). Inside the Assassinations Record Review Board, Vols I-V. Lexington, KY: Author.
14.   Chambers, p. 94.
15.   Wrone, D.R. (2003). The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas.
16.   Mantik, D.W. Special Effects in the Zapruder Film: How the Film of the Century was edited. In Fetzer, J.H., Ed. (1998). Assassination Science. Peru, IL: Catfeet Press, pp. 263-344.
17.   Chambers, p.188.
18.   Weisberg, H. (1995). Never Again! New York: Carroll & Graf.
19.   Horne, D.P. (2009). Inside the Assassinations Record Review Board: The U.S. Governments Final Attempt to Reconcile the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the Assassination of JFK. Volumes I-V. Lexington, KY: Author.
20.   Horne, D.P. Interviews with Former NPIC Employees: The Zapruder Film in November 1963. In Fetzer, J.H., Ed. (2000). Murder in Dealey Plaza. Chicago: Catfeet Press, pp. 311-324.
21.   Horne, D.P. (2009). P. 1227.
22.   Images of an Assassination: A New Look at the Zapruder Film. (1967, 1995). Washington DC: MPI Media Group, The LMH Company.
23.   Chambers, p. 207.

           To be published in JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly