So, it seems that NASA has been a little irked by media stories that it is predicting the imminent collapse of civilization. This story, started off by 9/11 conspiracy theorist Nafeez Ahmed at the Guardian, has somehow gone viral. Over 100,000 people have shared Mr. Ahmed’s original story on it Facebook.
Nafeez Ahmed says:
As I explained here this study has been greatly hyped up and exaggerated by Mr. Ahmed to suit his agenda, and it is very clear that none of the other news outlets who re-hashed his story bothered to read the study itself. The fact that Mr. Ahmed never bothered to link to the study, give its, or spell the lead author’s name properly may have had something to do with it. Fact checking however should never get in the way of a good story.
Here is NASA’s statement:
“A soon-to-be published research paper ‘Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies’ by University of Maryland researchers Safa Motesharrei and Eugenia Kalnay, and University of Minnesota’s Jorge Rivas was not solicited, directed or reviewed by NASA. It is an independent study by the university researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity.
“As is the case with all independent research, the views and conclusions in the paper are those of the authors alone. NASA does not endorse the paper or its conclusions.”
All of this of course should have been known, and probably was, by Mr. Ahmed. However trumping up credentials is something he is rather fond of. Just read the About section of his personal website. There he gives a rather lengthy resume. This includes a boast about how his work was discussed in Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens however was not exactly praising Mr. Ahmed, instead he was calling him a “contemptible” man who concocts half-baked conspiracy theories.
Similarly he talks about how his conspiracy theorist utterings about terrorist bombings were “used” by various investigations. By “used” he means that he sent them a copy of his work, which anyone is free to do. Whether they used them for anything other than recycled paper is unclear.
This is a pattern throughout Mr. Ahmed’s work. Hyping up the credentials of himself, and the sources he uses. But it is saddening that a hyped up a story of his should go viral, with so few calling bullshit on it. It is time bullshit detection kits were put to greater use.
And despite NASA issuing this statement, Mr. Ahmed continues to hype up NASA’s links to the study.
Update: Mr. Ahmed has deleted one of the tweets I mention above. Obviously he is trying to fool people into thinking he never claimed it was a NASA study. Fortunately the Google cache of Ahmed’s tweet still exists. I have taken a screen shot.