About the "Russian Conspiracy Theory"

On Tuesday, January 8, I got an email message from Washington Post correspondent Eli Rosenberg with a request for an interview. He wrote: "Steven Austad recommended that I reach out to you," and this is the best possible recommendation for me, so I agreed.

Eli asked me to confirm that my early doubts on Jeanne Calment longevity record were published in 2000 by academic journal "Population and Development Review", and asked to provide some more details, which I did.

Then he asked me a strange question: "What was the motivation of the authors of a new study?"

I thought that this was a strange question for two reasons:
First, the answer was so obvious to me: curiosity (that was my answer).
Second, I was puzzled why he asked me this question rather than asking the authors themselves.

It all became clear when the Washington Post article has been published: it had the "Russian Conspiracy Theory" in the title, and discussed the vaguely threatening letters sent by Valery Novoselov to a number of researchers involved in Calment age validation. The WaPo readers were presented with an outlandish idea of government-sponsored Russian attack on Calment validators.

I wrote my opinion on this topic at my facebook page, mentioning a famous quote:

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

I even got a "like" from Steve Austad for this comment!

My prior interactions with Novoselov suggest that (in my opinion) it was Novoselov's inexperience in conducting civilized academic correspondence, that led to perception of his letters as veiled menaces by some of his addressees, and that consequently provoked an idea of the Russian Conspiracy Theory, to which I don't subscribe.

As Novoselov is now looking for "traitors" trying to politicize the issue, he should start out by looking in the mirror first.


This text was published at facebook on January 30, 2019