Saturday, May 15, 2010

Another academic goof (groan)

I was editing an article at the start of the week about the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, which included a number of thigh-slapping moments.

Nearing the end of his very superficial analysis of the summit, our author realised that he hadn't said anything about China (because none of the American commentators he'd been plagiarising had said anything about China), so he threw in a hasty paragraph about how China was so gosh-darned important these days that the summit would have been meaningless without its participation - and there had been anxiety beforehand as to whether comrade Hu might boycott it because of the tensions in Sino-US relations at the moment, so we should all be jolly grateful that he eventually decided not to. Really? Yes, the Chinese President saved the day by not behaving like a petulant child (for once).

Having softened me up with that humdinger, my author then floored me with the flabbergasting concluding observation that if every country in the world followed China's example of espousing "no first use of nuclear weapons", there wouldn't be any nuclear security problems at all. Ahem. That does rather seem to imply that the author thinks it would be perfectly OK for every country in the world to have nuclear weapons - so long as they promise never to use them (just like China does, with fingers crossed behind its back, and murmuring "Unless we're really, really provoked...." under its breath).

But even this dangerous fatuity (is that a word? I think it is, or ought to be) was not the nadir of this particular article. Oh no - the one thornbush from which I could not extricate myself was this: the writer had quoted a figure from an International Atomic Energy Agency report on 'missing' nuclear materials. Unfortunately, he hadn't distinguished between all nuclear materials and weapons-grade ones. And he hadn't specified whether the number of incidents quoted was a ten-year total (in fact, I think the period referred to was one of fifteen years), an annual average over that time, or a peak annual figure.

He hadn't made this clear because, rather than referring to the original IAEA report, he had simply copied a passage from this garbled summary of it from the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua. I've complained before that Chinese academics seem blithely unaware of the important difference between primary and secondary sources.


stuart said...

"...if every country in the world followed China's example of espousing "no first use of nuclear weapons", there wouldn't be any nuclear security problems at all."

Hahaha. Priceless.

In response to the Japanese PM's criticism that China was alone among P5 nations at the UN in continuing to accumulate a nuclear arsenal, the Chinese FM retorted that "China is the only member that has always adhered to a no first use policy" (or words to this effect).

Apart from the BS strategising designed to maintain an element of surprise if ever things came to an apocalyptic head, I don't recall the policy ever being put to the test.

Froog said...

China, I fear, is one of those very psychologically primitive regimes which still sees nuclear weapons as a kind of phallic compensation.

Plus, of course, they're trying to bolster their geopolitical clout by representing themselves as the champion of the developing nations, so.... if poor, despised, downtrodden little countries like Iran and the DPRK want to have a nuclear programme of their very own, well, naturally they should be allowed to do so. Nay, encouraged. Nay, facilitated. (Especially if my uncle's brother-in-law can make some dough from selling the technology to them.)