The most dangerous game: disinforming the public
Posted by Charles II on March 16, 2011
Barry Ritholtz has provided an alarming example [confirmed by Justin Elliott at Salon] of what appears to be the nuclear industry using a post by an unqualified person to make a claim–now disproven by events–that a significant release of radiation from the Fukushima plant was impossible.
The basic story is this. A person calling himself Jason Oehmen, who appears to be an MIT research scientist with a MechE specialized in supply chain risk management, made a post expressing confidence that there would be no significant release of radiation from Fukushima. According to an author at GeniusNow (original post; currently unavailable to bandwidth, temporarily available via Ritholtz here), this appears to have been reposted at The Energy Collective, a site “powered by Siemens.”
The board of the Energy Collective (Scott Edward Anderson of VerdeStrategy and TheGreenSkeptic–and a FOX News commentator, Marc Gunther ex-Fortune magazine and a “compassionate capitalist“, Christine Herzog who is involved in the SmartGrid idea that we could be energy independent if we just had the right switches installed, Jesse Jenkins who is Director of Energy and Climate Policy at what appears to be a greenwasher, The Breakthrough Institute, Geoffrey Styles, Managing Director at GSW Strategies and “subkect area expert” of a Petroleum Council study devoted to showing that oil companies can remain profitable even with the introduction of alternative energy, and Dan Yurman, who writes for a nuclear indust) appears to be devoted to using climate change to argue for nuclear energy. Reading their bios is to understand how utterly corrupted and compromised is the mainstream US environmental movement. According to GeniusNow, links to the article has been reposted on Facebook 5000 times and 32,000 times overall.
The original post, however, is gone (edited Energy Collective version here appears to be a copy of a post from MITNSE–with different headers– of which more later). If you can read Spanish, German, or Japanese, you might be able to find it. To give you a flavor of it, here’s my flash translation of the introduction to the Spanish version, which the website has conscientiously edited, fully showing a long list of errors of fact by this author:
I am writing this text (12 March) to give you all some degree of secure peace regarding some of the problems in Japan, which is the safety of the Japanese nuclear reactors. That is to say, the situation is serious but under control. The text [i.e. of the post] is long! But after reading it, you will know more regarding nuclear centers than all the journalists of the world put together.
There have not been and “will” not be any significant release of radiation.
By “significant” I mean a level of radiation more than that which you would receive in–say, a long-distance flight or drinking a glass of beer which comes from certain areas with high natural levels of radiation.
I have been reading each notice published regarding the incident since the earthquake and there has not been even one(!) bit of news that was precise and free of errors. By “free of errors”, I don’t refer to journalism that tends to the “anti-nuclear” which is something normal nowadays but I refer to evident errors regarding the laws of physics and nature, as well as an enormous misinterpretation of the events, due to an (obvious) lack of fundamental and basic knowledge regarding how nuclear reactors function and are operated. I have read a 3 page report from CNN in which each paragraph contained an error.
Now, without defending the quality of journalism at CNN, such blanket assertions are pretty obviously complete bulls–t, which would lead any responsible website not to post them at all. But the errors in fact alleged by FullMyHenXu are so numerous that they should lead anyone with any degree of professional dignity to refuse to have anything further to do with the author.
But this is not what happened. MITNSE (a website which claims to be maintained by students of the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering and which is in fact linked from the official departmental website) chose to reprint an edited version without noting the numerous errors in the original. I don’t care about the disclaimer at the top, the failure to re-write the piece from scratch and the involvement of the Department in this bit of wretched scholarship–I suppose to provide its author with some fig leaf of respectability–should be a cause of concern. Does MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering have the standards to disown this and, I would suggest, to discipline whoever arranged for their department to be used in this manner?
To quote GeniusNow:
“So far, although I see a link to this site from NSE, I don’t see any discussion of it. And frankly, Mr/MS mitnse, as far as I can tell you’re actually Ismail Subbiah, graphic designer occasionally on contract to MIT. The links between Siemens AG, Dr Oethman, Barry Brook [The Energy Collective], and MIT/LAI (which has cleverly been avoided – lets do bring that up, shall we?) suggest that no matter why the article was written in the first place, it’s become a major piece of disinformation masquerading falsely as academic opinion.”
I can’t verify the bit about Subbiah, but there’s certainly a lot to suggest a Siemens role in spreading this disinformation.
Now, there’s no surprise to find that a nuclear power company would use Astroturf to spread pro-nuclear propaganda. But this is a crisis in progress. Japanese people who should be making every effort to leave the area have been told that they are at no risk. If a single one was persuaded to stay, then a crime of international proportions has been committed. In any event, the public has been lied to, and we need to know a great deal more about how this happened.
There are so many lessons packed into this one event. Here are a few:
* The gatekeepers against disinformation are us. The heartening news is that hundreds of posters rebutted the assertions.
* Allowing corporations to engage in political matters is dangerous to public safety
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