Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Creation of a "Fact"

A few days ago I saw a link to a blog posted on Twitter claiming that Stephen Hawking was hypocritical for boycotting Israel, because he had travelled to Iran and China, two internationally recognized human rights violators. While I disagree with Hawking's refusal to travel to Israel (the fact that Israeli technology made the computer chip that allows him to communicate is particularly frustrating), I was curious about the trips to China and in particular to Iran. The author of the blog claimed that Hawking had gone to the July 2007 Physics Olympiad held that year in Tehran. I searched for the following "Stephen Hawking International Physics Olympiad Iran". On the very first page there was a .pdf for the "38th international physics olympiad, iran 2007", hosted on a Canadian website (Since then it has moved down from the top of the page to the bottom due to the smear articles showing up higher). I clicked on the link, performed a search for the text string "Hawking". There was one match:

"Stephen Hawking was even expected to talk during the Olympiad before medical reasons prevented him to travel."

So unless this is a lie, or the page was doctored in some way, it appears impossible for Stephen Hawking to have attended the conference, unless he was hidden in the back somewhere and no one saw him.

I did not make a big deal about it at the time because frankly its a minor issue, and the blog it was posted on is unimportant. Since then, the Jerusalem Post has posted an article by Alan Dershowitz using this blog as proof that Hawking's visit occurred, despite the fact that I could spend 30 seconds of my life doing simple research and discovering that this "fact" is not true.

Similar to the nonsense about the Iron Dome that was spread by poor research methodologies and then thrown all around by the major news outlets (debunked by me here), a simple lack of basic understanding of research methods has caused a probable lie to be spread. 

I would ask that everyone, especially those in the media, have the decency, the honesty and the integrity to question their sources, no matter how brilliant and honest they have been the in past. Otherwise we will be burned by the another Ahmed Chalabi and end up in another war that no one wants to pay for. 

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