Sunday, May 19, 2013

Outsourced Trolling, Weak Replies and More Bad Research:
Javedanfar's Former Students Unsuccessfully Defend Their Mentor

In response to a recent article I wrote addressing a number of false statements made by Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar in an April 22 Guardian op-ed, a few comments were posted on Muftah, an online magazine for which I am an editor, and where my article was originally posted.

The comments, in general, are inane and eye-roll worthy.  Still, as they were clearly posted at the explicit urging of Mr. Javedanfar himself (rather than own up to - or somehow attempt to defend - his obvious errors), I thought they merited some sort of reply.

Below are the three comments as they appear on Muftah, followed by my reply.  Tova's comment, the third, is by far the most substantive, as it contains at least some semblance of an attempt to try to poke holes in my analysis of Javedanfar's report.  It doesn't.  Quite the contrary, in fact, it reaffirms Javedanfar's (and, apparently, his supporters') unfortunate lack of basic research skills and analytic acumen and further demonstrates how rampant falsehoods and conventional wisdom continue to proliferate when it comes to discussing Iran's nuclear program.

The three commenters, who call themselves Valerie, Ali Soltani, and Tova, are all located in Israel, namely Herzliya, where Javedanfar lectures at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), a private university.

Here they are:

  1. Valerie says:
    Meir Javedanfar is one of the most respected experts in the study of current Iranian affairs. I interviewed him and quoted his articles many times for my MA dissertation. Who is the writer of this article? has he ever spoken to Mr Javedanfar?
  2. Ali Soltani says:
    Its difficult to know whether the author is criticizing arguments or personally attacking the other person. It seems that the writer has a lot of anger issues against Javendanfar. Did they use to be friends? Very badly written.
  3. Tova says:
    I am a former student of Mr Javedanfar. I know he is busy and does not want to waste his important time on replying to articles which use the word “muck” as a description of his name. I can understand why.
    But with his permission, I will clarify the most glaring inaccuracy of this article.
    This article says that Iran had said before that it wants to make nuclear fuel.
    There is a difference between saying and doing. Iran has said many things that it has not done. The fact remains that Iran started converting 20% enriched uranium to fuel after the imposition of the EU oil sanctions. This was confirmed by the IAEA report in August 2012 which stated that Iran had recently started doing so.
    2- The writer of this article seems to have very little understanding of the difference between nuclear fuel. He says that Iran inserted fuel rods at the beginning of 2012 and because of that Mr javedanfar is wrong. Absolutely not. Mr Javedanfar clearly points to 20% enriched uranium being converted to fuel, not 3.5% which is what happened with fuel rods at the beginning of that year.
    He accuses Professor Javedanfar of ” dearth of actual insight – or basic research skills”. This is most true about the writer of this article after his failure to read Professor Javedanfar’s article properly before comparing it to “Muck”, which of course shows lack of professionalism and ad hominem attack.
    3. In another article, the writer of this article says Mr Javedanfar is lying because IAEA report which he pointed to in this Guardian article does not say Iran was working on a nuclear trigger. Mr Javedanfar clearly showed in this article that the IAEA does say that, yet the reporter has never corrected his false accusations. One has to ask why.
    Truth being a rare commodity indeed, when it comes to the writing of this shoddy “fact check” article which falsely accuses Professor Javedanfar of being a “show off” as well as other personal attacks.
    I hope Professor Javedanfar does not mind me writing this. I know he has many important lectures to give and conferences to attend to. But we as his former students will stand up against such personal attacks, shoddily covered up as “fact checking”.

This was my response:

It is delightful to see Mr. Javedanfar task his former students with defending his honor and scholarship. That they seem not to be aware of the English phrase “muck and mire” – on which the title of the article is a variation – is of no consequence. Anyone reading the piece will see that it contains no ad hominen against Mr. Javedanfar, merely a critique of his analysis based on a whole lot of fully-sourced evidence.

It should first be noted that, in none of the responses above or in Javedanfar’s own brief responses made on his Twitter account, is the veracity of the documented timeline, events described or statements quoted challenged or questioned.

Javedanfar’s primary claim that “the Iranian government had refused to even address its 20% enriched uranium process” with the P5+1 prior to the announcement of EU sanctions in January 2012 is demonstrably false. His defenders in this forum conveniently ignore this point outright, focusing instead on a more minor point presented towards the end of my article. Yet this is the central point made by Javedanfar in his Guardian analysis – that Iran is now negotiating over its 20% stockpile as a direct result of EU sanctions, thus vindicating the efficacy of the sanctions – a point which falls flat when one looks at a calendar and reads what Iranian officials had been saying for quite some time, long before the announcement of EU sanctions. On this, both Javedanfar and his acolytes are silent.

Considering this timeline cannot actually be challenged based on facts, Javedanfar's defenders like Tova (see above) skip this point all together. Rather, we see the focus turned to Javedanfar's ancillary contention that Iran only started converting some of its 20% stockpile to fuel plates after the EU announcement.

As made perfectly clear in my own analysis above, Javedanfar is employing a post-hoc ergo propter hoc argument here. Iran's intentions and technical progress had been evident for months; their publicly-declared intention was clearly to convert their 20% stockpile to plates usable in the TRR. Iranian officials had been saying as much and scientists had been working to achieve this goal for a year-and-a-half before the EU sanctions were agreed upon. The cause-and-effect claim made by Javedanfar doesn't work.

Yet, Javedanfar's defender above claims that my pointing this out constitutes "the most glaring inaccuracy" in my article simply because "[t]here is a difference between saying and doing." Unfortunately for Tova and Mr. Javedanfar, this is not much of a counter-argument as the stage had been set long before the EU sanctions announcement for this process to begin, up to and including testing the fuel conversion on 3.5% LEU before beginning to convert the 20% material.

In short, Iran wasn't just "saying" – it was also "doing"; no, not the actual conversion (I never claim as such), but the research and development, industrial installation and testing necessary to begin 20% conversion.

The IAEA confirmed in its November 8, 2011 Safeguards report (GOV/2011/65 F.33-37) that, as of mid-October of that year, Iran had continued installing "process equipment for the conversion of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 into U3O8 [triuranium octoxide]" at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Esfahan.

In early October 2011, Iran had also informed the IAEA that it had transferred a small amount of enriched material to the R&D section of its Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) in order to "conduct research activities and pellet fabrication," for the purposes of making nuclear fuel. On October 15, 2011, the IAEA inspected the TRR and "confirmed that, on 23 August 2011, Iran had started to irradiate a prototype fuel rod..."

More importantly, the report stated, "On 22 October 2011...[the IAEA] confirmed that Iran had started to install some equipment for the fabrication of fuel for TRR [at its Fuel Manufacturing Plant in Esfahan]. During the inspection, the Agency verified five fuel plates containing natural U3O8 that had been produced at the R&D laboratory at FMP for testing purposes."

October 2011 comes before January 2012.

In this regard, my timeline and Mr. Javedanfar’s are the same; only he omits everything that happened before January 23, 2012 in his analysis of Iran’s 20% conversion progress, while I include a few years of vitally important context.

For Mr. Javedanfar to claim Iran made the decision to convert its 20% stockpile to fuel plates only after the EU announcement is an assumption conjured only to bolster his support for sanctions and is unrelated to the historical record. As the logical fallacy goes, just because the sun comes up after the rooster crows doesn't mean the rooster’s crowing caused the sun to rise.

The other point made by the above commenter relates to an issue of false attribution in another opinion piece written by Javedanfar in The Guardian and which I addressed nearly two years ago. It seems clear that Javedanfar has asked his dear defender to bring up this old news in order to discredit my own writing, which, to be honest, is kind of sad. It’s also a bad idea since he’s already officially lost that argument.

To recap, here's exactly what Javedanfar wrote in The Guardian in May 2011:
Last week brought new indications that the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran want to make a nuclear bomb.
The disclosure was part of the newly released nine-page report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It stated that "Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon".
As seen above, what he wrote was, "It stated…." IT STATED. But it – the "newly-released" IAEA report he refers to – didn't state that, contrary to the only meaning that sentence, especially with its inclusion of quotation marks, could possibly have in the English language. No, only The New York Times stated that in its lede. The IAEA report never mentions "experts" saying anything about anything. The report merely details the accusations inferred from forged Israeli documents that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

This is precisely the issue I brought up at the time about Javedanfar’s false attribution, which serves to lend IAEA credibility to a speculative and alarmist statement actually made by David Sanger and William Broad, whose writing on the Iranian nuclear program has long been littered with unfounded inferences and disingenuous innuendo.

But more to the point, Javedanfar didn't write, "according to The New York Times…" before quoting the paper. He explicitly wrote that the IAEA report itself came to those conclusions when it did not.

Beyond this, the allegations about the "neutron generation and associated diagnostics" (to which Javedanfar is implicitly referring) had already been noted by the IAEA in its February 2011 report and therefore was not a "new indication" or a "disclosure" as he declared.

Furthermore, the nuclear triggering technology allegation had already been eviscerated by linguist George Maschke and investigative journalist Gareth Porter years earlier. The "uranium deuteride" initiator claim is taken specifically from phony documents reported upon by the Times of London in December 2009. Porter has dismantled this hoax here and here.

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear trigger claim comes from the same font of forgeries that AP reporter George Jahn relied on for his widely-mocked Evil Nuclear Graph of Doom nonsense published in November 2012.

What Javedanfar omits from his commentary is that the authenticity of such documentation has long been questioned; instead he accepts the allegations made by anonymous tipsters in the Israeli government as proven fact. This is irresponsible.

In his 2012 memoir, former IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei explains, "The accuracy of these accusations has never been verified; however, it is significant that the conclusions of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate were not changed, indicating that they, at least, did not buy the ‘evidence’ put forward by Israel." (The Age of Deception, p.291)

More to the point, the above commenter suggests that Javedanfar's claims have been verified and yet, with reference to me, "the reporter has never corrected his false accusations. One has to ask why."

This is amazing. Here, again, is the Guardian article being discussed.

Scroll down to the bottom of the article. Here, clear as day, is a correction – added by the Guardian editors earlier this year, after being appraised of my exposure of Javedanfar's false attribution – which reads in full:
This article was amended on 11 January 2013. In the original, the phrasing implied that a quotation in the second paragraph was from an IAEA report. It was actually from a New York Times article about the IAEA report.
It appears that Javedanfar's own editors found my analysis more compelling and factual than Javedanfar's rendering. The above commenter makes no mention of this. One doesn't need to ask why.

In her conclusion, the above commenter describes my analysis of Javedanfar's recent Guardian piece as a "shoddy 'fact check' article which falsely accuses Professor Javedanfar of being a 'show off'..."

At no point does Tova challenge a single fact presented by me in the above article. Furthermore, never once in my article do I accuse Javedanfar of being a "show off" or make any suggestion to that effect (What does that even mean? What would he be showing off? His lack of factual information?), so it makes no sense that the phrase is in quotation marks.

Tova concludes by writing, "I hope Professor Javedanfar does not mind me writing this. I know he has many important lectures to give and conferences to attend to." Well, yes, Javedanfar's time must be precious enough for him to outsource a weak rebuttal to a "former student" like Tova and acolytes like "Valerie" and "Ali Soltani." His students also appear to believe he's a professor, when he's not; he's a lecturer. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Yet while Tova's humility is endearing, it's also phony. Why would Javedanfar "mind" her replying when her comment itself begins by admitting that she is undertaking the task of responding to my article "with his permission"?

I do hope this clears things up, Tova – and Meir. In the future, rather than pretending you haven't been caught presenting faulty information, you should probably just apologize for the error and then move on. What you've done here is kind of embarrassing.



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