In January 2011 one of the ASCE Journals (the Journal of Engineering Mechanics) published a paper by Jia-Liang Le and Zdenek Bazant entitled "Why the Observed Motion History of the World Trade Center Towers is Smooth". This paper attempted to calculate the velocity loss of the falling upper section of World Trade Center Building 1 (WTC 1 / North Tower), when it landed on the first intact story, and claimed that this 'jolt' (loss of velocity) would be too small to observe. This conclusion is unsound, as it is based on assumptions about the tower that conflict with information provided in the NIST reports on 9/11 and contains internal contradictions and inconsistencies. A Discussion paper pointing out these problems was submitted to the same journal in May 2011, but after keeping the paper in review for 27 months the journal's editors finally declined it in August 2013 on the grounds that it is "out of scope" for the journal. The following is a summary of the events surrounding these papers.
The Le and Bazant paper was apparently written in response to a paper by Graeme MacQueen and Tony Szamboti ("The Missing Jolt: A Simple Refutation of the NIST-Bazant Collapse Hypothesis", Journal of 9/11 Studies, 2009), although the authors simply referred to MacQueen and Szamboti's work as "... a new objection, pertaining to the smoothness of the observed motion history of the tower top, ... raised and disseminated on the Internet."
Prior to Le and Bazant's paper being published in 2011, Szamboti, a mechanical engineer working in Philadelphia, had been discussing this issue of the smooth downward motion of WTC 1, or "missing jolt", with Richard Johns, a Canadian philosopher of science. Johns, whose first degree is in engineering mathematics, was puzzled as to why the intact steel columns below the fire zone had offered so little resistance to the falling mass and sought expert advice. Szamboti was able to confirm Johns' suspicion of inconsistencies (concerning the resistance of a buckling column) in an earlier 2001 JEM published paper by Bazant.
Not surprisingly, when Le and Bazant's new paper on the "missing jolt" problem was published, Szamboti and Johns read it carefully. They were astonished to find errors of a very clear and unambiguous kind, apparently stemming from the use of input values that differed from those provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in their WTC report. For example, in calculating the resistance of a column as it buckles, using Bazant's "3 hinge" buckling model, the key value is the column's plastic moment (denoted as "Mp"). Le and Bazant simply state this to be 0.32 MNm, for an average column on the first impacted floor. They do not derive it, as one would expect, from more fundamental data, such as the average column's physical dimensions and the type of steel used. Moreover, when Szamboti and Johns calculated the Mp themselves, from the data provided by NIST, they obtained the value of 0.64 MNm, which gives the columns double the resistance assumed by the Le and Bazant paper.
After finding this, and other significant errors which drastically affected the conclusion of the Le and Bazant paper, Szamboti and Johns wrote a Discussion paper correcting the Le and Bazant inaccuracies and submitted it to the Journal of Engineering Mechanics in May 2011, within their five-month window for discussion of a paper from the time it was published. They then waited for a full year, until May 2012, to hear results of a peer review. At that time they were told their paper was rejected by just one reviewer, as a second reviewer did not respond. However, when they read the review they were surprised at its lack of justification for rejecting their paper and responded with a rebuttal, showing it to be incorrect on almost every point. The rebuttal forced the Journal of Engineering Mechanics to reconsider the Szamboti and Johns Discussion paper, informing the authors that it would only require an editorial review and would not have to go back through a peer review process.
A full year passed with no action by the Journal of Engineering Mechanics editors. Frustrated by this further delay, in May 2013 Szamboti and Johns sent a letter asking about their Discussion paper's status directly to the chief editors, Kaspar Willam and Roberto Ballarini. After three additional months passed, in August 2013 Willam and Ballarini informed Szamboti and Johns that their Discussion paper was "out of scope" for the Journal of Engineering Mechanics.
It is not possible for a Discussion paper, one that simply corrects errors in a paper that is already published, to be out of scope for a journal. Therefore Szamboti and Johns viewed this verdict as clear proof that the editors were unwilling to allow Le and Bazant's paper to be corrected. When asked directly whether he would be publishing at least an errata for the Le and Bazant paper, Ballarini replied that he would not, since (in his words) "I am not an expert in forensics, and therefore do not plan to perform an analysis of the WTC collapse myself." Of course a civil engineer of Prof. Ballarini's ability and experience would at least be able to repeat the simple calculations involved, using the public NIST data that Szamboti and Johns referenced, to see if he got the same answers.
An appeal explaining the issue was sent to the Director of ASCE Journals, Angela Cochran, asking her to intercede. She quickly remanded the matter to the Engineering Mechanics Institute Board of Governors, which is the ASCE committee that has oversight over the Journal of Engineering Mechanics. Incredibly, the President of the Board of Governors, Roger Ghanem, stated in a letter to Szamboti and Johns that, while he was apologetic for the delay in processing their paper, he felt they were treated fairly and stood by the original review and rejection. This was all done without finding any error in Szamboti and Johns' work, or explaining how a Discussion paper could be out of the journal's scope. In further email discussion, Prof. Ghanem cagily stated, "While your paper may very well be within the scope of the Journal, the Board's review of your case was concerned with whether or not the submission was treated fairly and in a manner that is consistent with the policies of the Journal of Engineering Mechanics."
The Szamboti and Johns paper showed the Journal of Engineering Mechanics editors, in a definitive way, that the Le and Bazant paper was grossly incorrect and that correction of their inputs gave results which were in complete opposition to their claims. Amazingly, the Le and Bazant paper still sits on the Journal of Engineering Mechanics uncorrected. Since nothing was done by them to correct it, after their being alerted to the inaccuracies, the ASCE editors and their Board of Governors are now in violation of their own ethics and complicit in what can only be considered a deliberate misleading of the engineering profession and the public in general regarding the WTC collapses.
The Szamboti and Johns Discussion paper critiquing it, the JEM review comments and their rebuttal to it, and the resubmitted Discussion paper are at Journal of 9/11 Studies