Fake fake news: The Iranian time machine

A good rule of thumb for news in the Internet age: If there's a "Ha, ha, silly foreigners" story circulating on the Internet, and if 90 percent of the people writing about it are citing the Telegraph, it's probably mostly fake, or at least highly misleading. (See Putin's Boyz II Men booty call or Sarkozy's fromage fatwa.)

I suspect this is the case with the story of an Iranian scientist claiming to have invented a time machine, which has been making the rounds today. (To be clear, I realize that no one actually thinks he did invent the time machine. I'm disputing whether or not the news story is real.) 

The Telegraph story that kicked all this off reports:

Ali Razeghi, a Tehran scientist has registered "The Aryayek Time Traveling Machine" with the state-run Centre for Strategic Inventions.

The device can predict the future in a print out after taking readings from the touch of a user, he told the Fars state newsagency.

Razaeghi, 27, said the device worked by a set of complex algorithims to "predict five to eight years of the future life of any individual, with 98 percent accuracy".

As the managing director of Iran's Centre for Strategic Inventions, Razeghi is a serial inventor with 179 other inventions listed under his own name. "I have been working on this project for the last 10 years," he said.

"My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5-8 years of the life of its users. It will not take you into the future, it will bring the future to you."

Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post reports that the original Fars item has now disappeared. There is also a Farsi interview with Razeghi on another site. (Here's a Google-translated version -- it's hard to tell but the tone of the interview seems somewhat incredulous and mocking.)

After that things only get murkier. The "Centre for Strategic Inventions" sounds official, and gives the impression that some sort of legitimate Iranian organization is endorsing this claim, but a Google search for references to it without "time machine" doesn't turn up anything. There is a "Center for Strategic Research," but that seems to be a foreign-policy think tank. 

If you search for the original article's Farsi name for the center, which Google translates as "Inventors and innovators in strategic guidance center," you just get items about the time machine, including some expressing outrage that Western news outlets are picking up on this story. 

If Ali Razeghi were a prominent scientist, one would expect he would turn up relatively high on a Google search. But he seems to be outranked by some Tehran bro's social media profile.

So until I see evidence to the contrary, I'm going to assume that if this story is true at all, it's actually just about one obscure crank saying ridiculous things -- a phenomenon that is hardly unique to Iran.

Update: A second interview, translated here by Arash Karami of Al-Monitor makes clear that no one every actually claimed to have invented a time machine, just an "a kind of agent-based modeling program that would predict an outcome given a set a of circumstances or situations."

Even that claim seems a lot more dodgy the more we learn about Razeghi -- or is it Zareghi?:

Zareghi also wouldn’t answer questions about his education background. When asked he said that he had “10 years of research history.” When pressed two more times about his degree, Zareghi finally said, “Education has nothing to do with this issue.”

As far as his “state-run Center for Strategic Inventions” that most Western media reported as the center of all of his research and 179 inventions, it’s a private company run by Zareghi himself. He said that he has registered his “time machine” with his own company but has not yet taken it to official government agencies for registration or approval.


Indian officials fortify elephant-vulnerable polling stations

In India, elephants are revered as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Ganesh -- but that doesn't mean Indians want the huge animals showing up at voting booths. State elections are slated to take place across the country this year, and the Hindu reports today that 68 polling stations are thought to be "vulnerable for elephant attacks."

To address the proble, the country's election commission has enlisted the help of the Forest Department, whose buses will cart election staff to "areas where man-elephant conflict is rampant" -- mainly polling stations in Alur, Arkalgud, and Sakleshpur. The department will also teach officials and police officers the "dos and don'ts" of avoiding an elephant encounter in the region.

The Forest Department has been protecting poll-goers in this manner ever since the big mammals began disrupting elections in the 1990s. In April 2009, for instance, the department sent guards to the northeastern region of Meghalaya to protect voters after a rampaging elephant killed four people there the month before, according to the Times of India. The guards were armed with "self defense weapons" -- drums, cymbals and even some elephants of their own.

AFP/Getty Images