Thursday, March 17, 2011

MIT's Reading of Japanese Nuclear Disaster Linked to Interest Groups

In unfolding of the Japanese nuclear disaster, one article attributed to an MIT scientist have been widely circulated on the Internet, and picked up by many traditional media as the base for appealing public calm. The author, Dr. Josef Oehmen, claimed to be a research scientist working on MIT, and claimed there was nothing to worry at all, with an undertone 'unless you were not even half as intelligent'.

The name Josef Oehmen does not ring a bell, understandably we are no insider of the nuclear research. As a matter of fact, few if any insiders can recognize the name. Everyone with some levels of education to be capable of forming a concern over the nuclear disaster must have heard of MIT, which is more important of course.

While what's happening at the Fukushima Power Plant was so obviously bad, that even a layman can tell, even a layman would be curious about what makes the MIT to lend its name to a nobody to offer a 'scientific' lecture that contradict to anyone with one eye (yep, that's a singlular form) can see. When a mad man comes up with a theory telling people a ball will fly away when you release it on the moon, people know it's not likely but few would have the luxury of proving wrong. However, when a mad man comes up with a theory telling people a ball will fly away when you release it at home, you can tell he must not be talking science. Now, the scenario is that the mad man claimed to be an MIT scientist, and MIT acknowledged, although with some reluctance. The Nuclear Science and Engineering Department of the MIT adopted the story, with a few 'adjustment', and put it on the main department portal.

So who is Dr. Josef Oehmen? The Genius Now website, understandably being curious on the case, learned Dr. Josef Oehmen was not a faculty or an 'ordinary researcher', but one associated with a military-industrial-academic group called the Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI).

The investigation also revealed the original article received sharp criticism of academic fraud and intellectual dishonesty. Educated readers gave point by point rebuttal of statements made by Dr. Josef Oehmen. However, all were timely removed.

While real experts and observers alike are puzzled on Dr. Oehmen's absurdly bold exclamation, the MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) harshly adopt the article on a Sunday after-hours on its brand-new (one day old, to be precise) official Hub of Nuclear Information, citing it "a good starting point" for a scientific explanation. Many obvious holes and flaws in the original article were fixed progressively without revelation and nor marks of corrections. The MIT went extra miles to claim the article will be revised in real time with status update from Fukushima. The only thing stays current about the now 'official' MIT article is its update time-stamp under the title, which gives a false impression that the article itself stays correct as MIT had promised. At the bottom of the same page, the status update from Japan halted two days ago. Even MIT couldn't align development on the ground to the 'timely and accurate information' promised by the article together any longer, as it showed.

The original article has been widely circulated on the Internet, particularly through social media such as the Facebook. It is very interesting as to 'the mechanisms used to spread the original, and entirely specious, article across the web.

The US will lose any high ground it used to entitle to criticize communist regime's practice of using paid informant disguised as regular people to spy on fellow citizens and steer public opinions.

The MIT will lose any residual reputation it once enjoyed, if it can't place academic ahead of politics, or government funding.

The Strange Case of Josef Oehmen

In the wake of the nuclear incidents in Japan, a great deal of information and misinformation has been spread – some of it deliberately. It’s understandable that people misunderstand, or mishear. Misrepresenting yourself to claim you’re an expert is something else. We expect that from industry and politicians – we don’t expect it from a PhD employed by a school as well-respected as MIT. But that’s just what’s happened, and is still happening now.

On Sunday, March 13th, I saw an interesting link on Facebook. Since the previous Friday, I’d been posting update information on the Japan disasters, and had been one of the first people to post that there might – and I stressed might – be nuclear problems. So when I saw a link saying “MIT scientist says no problems”, it’s only natural to read it.

The post originally came from Let’s first note that the name “Jason Morgan” does not appear on the morgsatlarge site. The site has one post (now redirecting to another site, which we’ll get to). Apparently, it was created yesterday. The “about” info is “About morgsatlarge English teacher, F1/ UFC enthusiast. Japan resident, quake survivor, and most importantly a husband to an amazing woman, and father to a beautiful baby girl.”

Jason is on Twitter, though, and thinks his “scientist friend” stuck his neck out for him, and is telling the truth. He’s had a Twitter account longer than last week, and he says Oehmen’s married to his cousin and is an “awesome guy”. Sounds pretty benign, what with his claims the article will be published on, and has been vetted by nuke folks at MIT.

Jason had JUST been at the Japanese immigration office when the quake hit. And he sure enough was genuinely worried about the nukes, based on his tweets, in one of which he says he’s “shitting himself”. Nothing real suspicious here.

In the Google cache for the site today, we see this (no longer on the site):

“I do not work for the nuclear industry. I am an English teacher, from Australia, living in Kawasaki, Japan. My friend Dr J. Oehmen is a family member, and by far and away the most intelligent person I know. Feel free to believe/disbelieve whatever we have written. There are no conspiracies, however if you need to, feel free to make some up….

This post is by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston.
He is a PhD Scientist, whose father has extensive experience in Germany’s nuclear industry. I asked him to write this information to my family in Australia, who were being made sick with worry by the media reports coming from Japan. I am republishing it with his permission.”

The site I got linked to, though, was a repost from something called The Energy Collective. (link) This ONE instance of the article has been shared over 5000 times on facebook, and over 32k times in total.

The Energy Collective is a Siemens AG lobbying/influence/astroturf organization – it says Powered by Siemens right up front. They present as a “Nukes for the Environment” type. The author of the piece here is Barry Brook, who lists himself as a “Professor of Climate Change” on the site. He is – at the University of Adelaide – and is a strong proponent of nuclear power. In other words, he has credentials on climate change, and is pro-nuke. Then let’s note that this is a repost of something Brooks posted on BraveNewClimate. We’ll get back to the crosspostings later.

In his introduction he says “Below I reproduce a summary on the situation prepared by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston. He is a PhD Scientist (sic), whose father has extensive experience in Germany’s nuclear industry. This was first posted by Jason Morgan earlier this evening, and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here. I think it is very important that this information be widely understood.”

So let’s look at that “awesome guy”, Josef Oehmen.

Does he have a PhD? – indeed he does. In supply chain risk management. And yes, he’s a “Research Scientist” – that’s his part of his actual job title, not what he does. (LAI Research Scientist appears to be his title.) He’s not in a traditional department – he works for something called the Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI), which is a military-industrial-academic project. As of today, his information page clarifies that he is not involved with nukes at all.

It adds “Josef is working hard with a team from MIT to provide an appropriate response to the interest the post has generated. The original blog will be migrated to an MIT site, managed by a team of experts from MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. The link will be posted here when it becomes available.”

In the Twitter page set up yesterday, he says ”Josef is a research scientist in mechanical engineering and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology“. His about page says “He is a mechanical engineer by training, working on product development processes.” Interesting, not quite the same thing. He also says “MIT setting up information hub on nuclear situation in Japan incl my original post:” on his Twitter page.

Ok, that’s really interesting. Because was registered yesterday, through That was a Sunday, right? And while the contact information says it’s for MIT, the admin contact is given for an independent contracter, with the contractor’s phone number. The contractor is a graphic designer who has done prior work for the department. (here’s his site:

There are only a couple of links from the department site – added well after normal working hours on Monday night.

Before “mitnse” killed the comment and rss functions on this site, you could see that rss feed said the site was “maintained by students” in the NSE department. No such students have identified themselves. And while the originally, highly erroneous post has been redacted, the editors have not seen fit to identify themselves.

So – “students” on the site, “experts” in the announcement of it.

The comments were filled with statements about “intellectual dishonesty” and “academic fraud”, as well as point by point rebuttal of many statements Dr Oehmen had originally made. They were killed 5 minutes after I posted the following:

“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, 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.”

As you can see, Siemens AG comes up again. Not surprising, because it recently became an “industry partner” of MIT/LAI. But there is almost certainly another connection. Dr Oehmen is German. If his father spent much time in the German nuclear industry, there is a very very good chance that he worked – or works – for Siemens.

LAI’s website says “LAI accelerates lean deployment through identified best practices, shared communication, common goals, and strategic and implementation tools honed from collaborative experience. LAI also promotes cooperation at all levels and facets of an enterprise to eliminate traditional barriers to improving industry and government teamwork.” about-lai.

What that doesn’t say is who the industry partners are. Oddly, they are all major defense contractors. And the only one I’ve found so far with any direct connection to nuclear power plants is Siemens.

I’ll be looking deeper at this story, including the mechanisms used to spread the original, and entirely specious, article across the web. It’s still spreading now, mostly from people who would be horrified at this.

The Seagull firstly learned of the article on Chinese media, such as the Zaobao of Singapore, a reputed mainstream traditional media in Chinese, and the Solidot, a slashdot knockoff in Chinese, also at Wenxue City, a site frequented by overseas Chinese, as timely comment made by next door scientist "麻省理工博士:为什么我不担心日本核电站". Dr. Josef Oehmen's arguments sounds all authoritatively scientific while being lightly humorous, there are so many factual and seemingly deliberately made factual mistakes in every paragraph. Suspecting it is a work of some Chinese writer, the Seagull Googled the name 'Josef Oehmen', and found the aforementioned link.

By all means, the 'Dr. Josef Oehmen of MIT' case will be studied across the globe. Rest assured, it will go to textbook. What's not clear is which textbook it belongs to.

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