Aaron Bastani at  The World Transformed  in 2017 (Image: John Lubbock, Wikimedia)

Aaron Bastani at The World Transformed in 2017 (Image: John Lubbock, Wikimedia)

With over 50,000 followers on Twitter and often acting as a stand-in for the Labour front bench in the media, Aaron Bastani has become an influential voice in British politics. He’s the co-founder of Novara Media, where he is also a senior editor and contributor. In 2017, The Guardian reported that Novara had ‘200 contributing writers, 700 supporters and 10,000 committed viewers and listeners’, while Bastani claimed its Facebook content reached three million people during the last general election.

Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader, Bastani has also become a frequent pundit in the mainstream media, with appearances on the BBC’s Daily Politics and This Week , Sky News, Channel 4 and others. While many see him as a fresh new commentator on the left, he has been criticised for, among other things, airing various conspiracy theories about the novichok attack in Salisbury and calling the British Legion’s annual poppy appeal ‘white supremacist’.

In 2019, Bastani will have a book published by Verso, titled Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto. He’s in a strong position to replicate the success of books by Owen Jones, Laurie Penny and other left-wing commentators. His credibility both as a commentator and writer is heavily bolstered by his impressive-seeming academic credentials. Verso’s website states that he ‘holds a PhD from the New Political Communication Unit, University of London, examining social movements in the digital environment which fail to correspond to the traditional logic of collective action’, and his doctorate has often been cited in his media appearances and articles, as can be seen at The Guardian, The London Review of Books, appearances at academic institutions and on panel discussions, and in Novara Media’s bio of him.

Bastani is a public figure, and his credentials are worth scrutinising. Especially as it turns out that he is hiding something. On reading his PhD thesis, I found that he had committed several extremely serious breaches of ethics in it. The details are below, but in summary he deliberately concealed the prominence of his own role in the field he was researching. He:

  • Omitted key facts about the extent of his involvement in events he analysed;

  • Failed to discuss or cite multiple sources relevant to his research because they identified his true role;

  • Failed to discuss or cite any of his own articles that revealed his true role;

  • Failed to take into account that his activities shaped and disrupted the events he was analysing;

  • Failed to declare his very clear conflict of interest as a result of the above, because it would have invalidated the entire thesis.

I think these omissions and deceptions are an obvious breach of Royal Holloway’s regulations on academic misconduct, notably clause 2(f).

I put my points to Bastani via email last week. He denied one point: that he had written or even known about two pseudonymous articles in The Guardian that used his initials for its name and cited his work. It is likely unprovable either way, but it’s hard to see why else it isn’t in his thesis: one would think two articles in the national press by one of his main case study organisations would have to be included as part of his narrative of its success in spreading its message, so the omission points the finger squarely at his being the author.

Other than that point, he refused to answer my questions. Instead, he became evasive, abusive and finally blocked me from emailing him. I’ve informed the university of my findings and they have acknowledged receiving them, but as they might take a long time to address while Bastani is likely to continue his high-profile punditry and publish his book, I’m presenting what I found here as a form of due diligence for the media. Even while he was accusing me of suffering from a mental disorder, Bastani repeatedly told me that he welcomed public scrutiny of his research and that he was looking forward to me publishing this article. Here it is.

*

I’ve been aware of Bastani for some time, and often been baffled that such a high-profile journalist, commentator and soon-to-be published author could so often make pronouncements that seemed to be extremely poorly researched. My Twitter feed seemed to throw a lot of these up, such as his claim in 2013 that the UK government armed Assad’s regime with sodium chloride (ie table salt).

But I knew he had a PhD. That’s no small thing, and so I recently wondered on Twitter about the discrepancy. Almost at once, a mutual friend put me in touch with Sam Taylor. A few days earlier, he had asked Royal Holloway’s library for a copy of Bastani’s thesis. They didn’t have it, for reasons that remain unclear: Bastani initially claimed this was because of outstanding library fines, then that it was unavailable because he might later publish a book drawing on some of the research in it. He eventually sent Sam a copy of it, after which he immediately took to social media to insult him, including recording an Instagram video in which he said ‘this guy has a face like a slapped arse, glasses, balding, looks like the paradigmatic example of a technocrat, a boring moderate’, adding ‘there is something very strange in politics when people like that are actually the biggest paranoiac fantasist cranks out there’.

This reaction seemed like a gigantic red flag to me: people who genuinely welcome scrutiny of their research and have nothing to hide from it don’t generally resort to bullying. I asked Sam if he could forward me a copy of the thesis, which he did. Bastani also offered to send it to me, although by then I already had it.

Titled Strike! Occupy! Re-Tweet! The Relationship Between Collective and Connective Action in Austerity Britain and written under his then-name Aaron Peters, Bastani completed it in March 2015 and passed his viva in September that year, with no corrections requested. While reading it, I asked Sam for advice and followed up various points he had spotted.

Bastani had two ‘case studies’: the UK student protest movement, including the UCL occupation, and events staged by UKUncut. He explains that he collected data for these via ‘participant observation’ and stresses that while doing so he had made clear ‘whenever necessary’ that his ‘primary reason for participating was observation.’

He observed that these two movements didn’t have leaders per se but instead a core of influential activists, or ‘networked individuals’, including the likes of Owen Jones, who had previously worked for Labour MP John McDonnell’s leadership campaign. Bastani interviewed many of these people, some of whom were by his own admission friends. Even with the acknowledgement, this seemed like a clear conflict of interest: the familiar problem of being an embedded reporter exacerbated by the natural instinct to side with those we know and like. One of his main interviewees was his friend Guy Aitchison, who he identified as a key activist and, along with journalist Laurie Penny, a prime mover in making a demonstration outside TopShop in London on 29 November 2010 happen.

Much of the thesis read less like academic research and more like the minutes of organizing demos written by a hanger-on, with excruciatingly detailed chronologies of meetings in pubs and retweets from the likes of Johann Hari. My first impression was that Bastani had conned a university into giving him a PhD for researching some demos organized by his friends, concluding from his ‘fieldwork’ (going on the demos with them) that – quelle surprise! – said friends were at the vanguard of a radical new way of organizing protest (largely coordinating online and tweeting hashtags).

But after discussing it with Sam and digging a little deeper, we realized it was a lot worse than that. Bastani had gone against his own caveats, misleading and omitting crucial information. He wasn’t simply researching his friends’ activities, and he wasn’t merely a hanger-on. In fact, he was just as much of a key player in these events as the people he was ‘researching’, and he had gone out of his way to hide it.

This wasn’t simply a hunch: there was ample proof of it. If his thesis has one key theme, it’s the connections, mediated through social media, which allowed ideas to cross-pollinate between groups like the UCL Occupation and UKUncut. But Bastani was a huge part of that connective tissue, and he systematically covered it up by leaving out anything and everything that exposed his pivotal role. He did this because he knew that an observer-participant researcher can be a member of the orchestra, but they cannot be the conductor. Even if there’s more than one conductor, as here. Bastani had frequently tweeted back and forth with Guy Aitchison, Ben Beach, UKUncut and other ‘networked individuals’ he had identified as key to the movement, and in many of these he was clearly organizing events with them. Yet although several tweets are cited in the thesis, none of these were.

BASTANI TO UKUNCUT.jpg
UNCUT TO BASTANI FOR WEB.jpg

There was a lot more he had chosen to omit. In 2011, Laurie Penny had written an article for The New Statesman about the most prominent activists in the UK student protest movement. She focussed on two: Ben Beach, who she called ‘the Justin Bieber of the new left’, and Aaron Peters, ‘a former member of David Miliband's Labour leadership campaign team with a tendency to pull an Incredible Hulk act when out on protests’. In the photo accompanying the article, Bastani posed with a mask, black bloc style. Penny wrote that ‘Peters and Beach are the sort of leader that this staunchly leaderless movement would otherwise have.’ This is an article in a mainstream left publication about the movement Bastani was studying in his thesis, but he didn’t mention or cite it once.

Bastani had also co-written an article with Guy Aitchison. This wasn’t cited in the thesis, either, but not only is it on the same topic, it even opens with an image of the phrase Bastani used for his title. The article was also collected in Fight Back: A Reader on the Winter of Protest. In its review of that book, The Islington Tribune noted that contributors included ‘Guy Aitchison and Aaron Peters, key figures in the UCL occupation and tax justice pressure group UKUncut’.

And that demo at TopShop? In this Youtube clip, you can see that Bastani wasn’t just there – he actually led the demo.

BASTANI TOPSHOP 2.jpg

That video, Penny’s article and the other evidence (such as multiple press images like this) all destroy his claim in the thesis to have upheld ‘the highest standards of objectivity’, and also prove he was dishonest about his role. To top it all off, Bastani openly boasted about helping to direct UKUncut to the Daily Mail, adding ‘I am quite fortunate in that my PhD is all about this. I am almost my own case study.’ So he knew exactly what he was up to: there is no suggestion in the finished thesis at all that he is in any way one of its chief subjects.

It now seemed clear that this was someone who had conned a university into giving him a PhD for researching a protest movement and its most prominent members, while concealing that he himself was one of them. Bastani’s PhD was really a study of himself and a few mates.

I decided to email Bastani. The university wouldn’t be able to help me if he had deceived them by concealing all this, but it was possible I had got some or even all of it wrong, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to set the record straight. The emails started out cordially enough, but despite his repeated claims to welcome scrutiny of his research it soon became clear this wasn’t true. On sending him my list of concerns, he was very dismissive, proclaiming himself disappointed by my ‘bland’ and ‘silly’ questions.

As the email exchange went on Bastani became more evasive, and more aggressive. Then, in what felt like a panicked attempt to preempt anything I might write, he went after me on Twitter. He started by tweeting to suggest I was a sad sack loser, then suggested I was a ‘fruitloop’ and finally threw out the idea I was racist because he’s ‘a working class brown guy’.

As well as these insults and attempts to undermine my questions, he also tweeted that my claims about his research were ‘beyond outlandish’ and ‘completely unsupported’. In private, he’d dismissed them to me as silly and bland – now he was saying they were serious. I asked him if he could explain that discrepancy, and said he was free to quote publicly from our emails to show where I’d alleged anything outlandish or unsupported. He didn’t take me up on that, but instead blocked me via email and shortly afterwards on Twitter.

By this time I had found yet more evidence of his deceptions, most of which I’ve discussed above. I couldn’t press him any further on these, but I think his reaction to my initial set of questions has already done my work for me. As he gave me permission to make our emails public, you can read them through and see for yourself. If you want to read the thesis to check my claims against them, you’ll have to ask him for a copy. I think my points are very clear, and his resorting to insult and other tricks to avoid answering them tell their own story.

[Edit: Bastani has now made it available to download, so it seems the embargo wasn’t that important after all. The version he has now made available does contain references to Paolo Gerbaudo’s work, but the version he sent to Sam did not.]

*

Me to Aaron Bastani, December 28 2018

Dear Dr Bastani,

Sam Taylor forwarded me your PhD thesis, which I've been reading with great interest. I'm thinking of writing about it, because it appears to me it has several serious misrepresentations, omissions and ethical transgressions. On the other hand, it could be that I've misunderstood or misinterpreted these issues, and I don't want to make allegations publicly without checking with you first if I possibly can. May I call you, and if so on what number, to ask you some questions on the record, or email you them at this address? Either works for me. If you'd rather not respond to my questions, that's of course your prerogative. But I thought I'd ask.

Yours,

Jeremy Duns

Bastani replies, December 28

Hello Jeremy. Please put these in writing and I will respond fully. Regarding ‘ethical transgressions’ these tend to be addressed in the literature review. 

Best, A

Sent from my iPhone

Me to Bastani, 29 December

Dear Dr Bastani,

Thank you for your response. As I said in my previous email, it may be that I’ve misinterpreted or misunderstood some or even all of the following issues, in which case thank you for clearing them up, and my apologies for the inconvenience of doing so.

Some background: after seeing quite a few over-the-top and ill-researched tweets from you, I wondered how you had managed to get a PhD. Someone put me in touch with Sam Taylor, who by coincidence had wondered the same and was interested in reading your thesis. You know the real sequence of events, and it doesn’t reflect well on you at all. Yes, he asked Royal Holloway if you had a PhD, but accepted their answer that you had at once. While I wouldn’t like what appeared to be someone gearing up to criticise me for my research much either, as I have nothing to hide what I most certainly wouldn’t do is immediately make a false claim about them publicly (that he didn’t believe you had a PhD, something he never alleged) and then publicly abuse them several times, including attacking their physical appearance on video to my sizeable number of followers. Your response was to bully, and such shoddy behaviour immediately suggested to me you had something to hide. I think my instinct was right.

Here are my questions:

At various points in your thesis, you try to defend yourself from an obvious criticism of it: that as a participant in the protests you were writing about, your research is biased. You never claim to be entirely objective or impartial, as that would be absurd, but you repeatedly try to dismiss the issue as a problem in your case, as in this section:

‘A further purported deficiency of participant observation is that critics view the kinds of data that it collects as personally subjective, incapable of replicability and therefore unscientific. Such a criticism stems from the perceived centrality of the attitudes and perceptions of the researcher in data collection, with the claim being that different researchers in identical field settings will inevitably see and record different data, something that would not occur with the application of questionnaires or in-depth interviews (Gobo 2008). This same criticism could be levelled against almost any qualitative method however and reporting or describing what one observes in the field is not the same as interpreting it. Indeed it is reasonable to say that data collected by participant observation, or indeed any ethnographic method, is replicable so long as the researcher attempts to uphold the highest standards of objectivity and is clear as to how data is collected.’

My main concern is that I don’t think your claim to have attempted to uphold ‘the highest standards of objectivity’ holds water, mainly because you have gone to some lengths to conceal that you were a much more significant participant in this movement than you pretend. My current view is that you’ve misrepresented your role in the movement you write about, both as a participant and as a writer about it. You’ve done this by omitting several key books and articles from your thesis’s body text, endnotes and bibliography, as well as several key facts. You appear to have been deliberately, repeatedly deceptive about this, and I think it creates several serious conflicts of interest.

Most notably, you didn’t cite any of your own previous writing on this topic, which is highly unusual. There are several reasons to do so. One, of course, is connected to ego - ‘look, I do know my onions on this stuff and have published quite a bit already on it, go me!’ A more serious reason connected to that is that in showing you have already conducted research in this field you bolster your credibility, especially if previous relevant writing is in high-impact or widely read publications. Another reason for self-citation is that the examiners can see how you have developed your arguments and research. And another is transparency: that you aren’t simply cutting and pasting from previous work. This is very widely established practice, and as you will be aware most of the time it involves people citing themselves far too much, so it’s very surprising you don’t do it at all, especially as you had written a lot of articles that are very relevant to cite.

You discuss Left Foot Forward and Open Democracy as being key to the movement because, despite not having large readerships in comparison to the mainstream media, they were being read ‘by the right people: editors, producers and journalists’, and this enabled more coverage. You write that, along with Liberal Conspiracy, Left Foot Forward was ‘crucial in filtering the UCL occupation to the mainstream media and with it a wider audience’.  You cite three articles from Open Democracy, and have no citations for Left Foot Forward at all. There are a lot of articles from both these sites you should have cited – those written by you:

https://leftfootforward.org/2010/11/anti-cuts-networks-more-flexible-and-effective-than-big-organisations/

https://leftfootforward.org/2010/12/2011-open-source-political-activism-progressive-politics/

https://leftfootforward.org/2011/01/open-source-consensus/

https://leftfootforward.org/2010/11/the-student-movement-2010-the-rise-of-the-dissent-entrepreneur/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/aaron-peters/game-is-up-unrest-policing-and-war-on-underclass

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/aaron-peters/reproduction-of-movements-without-organisation-ukuncut-ows-occupymovement

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/aaron-peters/and-so-occupy-everything

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/aaron-peters/goodbye-year-of-new-movements-bring-on-2012-and-occupy-everything

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/aaron-peters/game-is-up-unrest-policing-and-war-on-underclass

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/guy-aitchison-aaron-peters/open-sourcing-of-political-activism-how-internet-and-networks-

https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/aaron-peters/uk-uncut-responsibility-and-logic-of-networked-activism

This is a significant body of work, all exploring the topics of your thesis, in publications that you yourself identify in it as being key to promoting the message of the protesters. On top of all those reasons to cite them, in many of these articles you also wrote about precisely the same events as your thesis, often providing what would be very useful contemporaneous accounts of them and the way they were received. Several also act as blueprints for points you develop further in the thesis. One of these articles even features a logo with your thesis title, while another was even tweeted by your PhD supervisor:

https://twitter.com/andrew_chadwick/status/9673922383454208

Some of your articles were even republished in a book, Fight Back: A Reader on the Winter of Protest, published in 2011. Again, there is no citation from you of this. It’s a gaping omission, and the reason for it is fairly clear, I think – you’re concealing how large a role you played in disseminating the message, and that you were a prominent writer on websites you identify as being key to the movement’s success.

Then there’s this article in The Guardian, by ‘Alex Pinkerman’:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/dec/03/topshop-philip-green-tax-avoidance-protest

There are several reasons you should have cited this article, and this one by the same author:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/27/uk-uncut-peaceful-protests-against-cuts

That first Guardian article is a call in a national newspaper by a spokesperson for UKUncut to attend one of the key events you write about as one of your cases studies as an ‘observer first, participant second’, ie the Topshop protest on November 29th 2010. This article had a far greater reach than many others you cite, and is much more directly relevant than almost any you cite. You discuss in some detail the article in The Guardian by UKUncut coordinating committee member ‘Sam Baker’. You cannot have possibly missed the two by UKUncut spokesperson ‘Alex Pinkerman’, and yet you don’t mention them at all, or list them in your bibliography.

Isn’t this because Alex Pinkerman is you? Firstly, the initials are AP, and your name was Aaron Peters at the time (and in the thesis). Secondly, you made precisely the same points as the first few paragraphs of the first article, barely rephrased, at the protest itself, as can be seen in the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0Z3kBqurIY

You also link to one of your own articles under your own name:

http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/11/anti-cuts-networks-more-flexible-and-effective-than-big-organisations/

That’s an ego-driven citation, I think, and with the two other points it’s quite the tell.

Even if Pinkerman wasn’t you – and come on, it obviously was – that video has you stating the same points as the article begins with, showing you had read it. You didn’t cite it, or the video, for the same reason: they seriously damage your thesis. In the video, you are not simply attending a protest you write about as you claim in your thesis: you are the leader of that protest. Among other things, you cajole the crowd:

‘All of us are being fleeced by these oligarchs! Hundreds of them are screwing an entire nation!’

It’s you leading the protest, and you who wrote an article in the national press asking people to come to it.

You didn’t discuss or cite your articles in The Guardian, or those you wrote for other websites during the period you were researching, or that video, because all show that you weren’t simply researching friends and acquaintances, but your own activities. It’s hard to imagine a stronger conflict of interest: it’s virtually impossible to remove bias when the subject of research is oneself.

You were claiming to research a movement you were peripherally involved in, when in fact you played a leading role in it. Far from trying to address this, you concealed it. You did that because any semblance of impartiality falls apart when you read those articles or watch that utterly damning video. You write in detail about an event, without revealing your role in drumming up support for it in a national newspaper and leading it on the day. It’s also impossible to take you seriously when you discuss the aims of the black bloc and don’t reveal you were a part of it, or when you criticize a spokesperson for UKUncut for her interview on Newsnight, without saying you too were a spokesperson for UKUncut, albeit under a pseudonym, and that she was discussing behaviour you had indulged in, when you don’t reveal either of these crucial pieces of information.

More concerning is that your adviser was evidently aware of this – the tweet I link to above is to an article by you that prominently features the video of you leading the Topshop protest on November 29th.

Some of the direction of these questions will of course be familiar to you from Daniel Boffey’s 2010 article in The Mail, for which you were interviewed on the record:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1341599/Bodybuilding-fanatic-Aaron-Peters-brings-chaos-Britains-high-streets-ringleader-anti-tax-avoidance-movement.html

You don’t mention or cite this article in your thesis, either, I think for obvious reasons: it too destroys your claims to any kind of objectivity or as an ‘observer first and participant second’. The idea that you were simply going on these protests and asking some questions while there is blown out of the water by you repeatedly boasting that you were integral to organising them. You also kicked a massive hole in the ethics clauses in your thesis by admitting to the Mail you were, in effect, studying yourself.

The article states you spend ‘60 hours a week helping to direct UK Uncut.’

And quotes from you as follows:

‘UK Uncut is going to grow beyond anyone’s imagination. There will be lots of things going on [during the Christmas period]. The goal is to try and get billionaires to pay tax to the exchequer, but also to educate the average Brit.’

‘I’m a reasonably good orator and my knowledge, organising and understanding of the direction in which we are going forward is quite useful.

‘I am quite fortunate in that my PhD is all about this. I am almost my own case study.’

In addition, you boasted about organising a UKUncut action in one of your Left Foot Forward articles:

‘A UKUncut event by the name of ‘The Feeling is Mutual’ was recently organised by myself and several other participants within the network to highlight co-operative models of business as being superior to those that seek merely to extend shareholder value and little else.’

https://leftfootforward.org/2011/01/open-source-consensus/

In your thesis you say you participated in UKUncut events, but not that you organized any of them. There are also numerous tweets between you, the UKUncut account and others in the lead-up to events you write about – but while you list them all as being key players in the movement, you’re virtually the only one who isn’t. (Another is Chris Coltrane, but perhaps he was one of your anonymous informants.) You even claim in the thesis that:

‘In the case of UKUncut I was somewhat less fortunate and enjoyed less of an inside- track than I had done with the student movement, although my ability to access the field was made possible by my participation in the latter and the crossover - as I will later make clear - between these two episodes at their most connective.’

This is a misrepresentation. You didn’t just have an inside-track, but were a leading light in UKUncut: writing as a spokesperson for them in a national newspaper, legitimizing their aims and spreading their message through web publications you yourself identify as instrumental to doing just that, and being closely involved in organizing several UKUncut events.

An additional ethical concern here is that you were also influencing the course of your own research. Without your article as ‘Alex Pinkerman’ in The Guardian, it may have been that that TopShop protest would have been attended by far fewer people. By calling for people to turn up in a national newspaper, you were influencing what you were writing about. Even taking in the idea you were not Pinkerman, your actions at the protest show you whipping up the crowd and stirring them on. If you had simply been on the protest, rather than leading it, there might not have been as much to write about. This is a clear conflict of interest.

Some of your other omissions are also interesting. I find it very surprising that you make no reference anywhere to Regeneration, edited by Clare Coatman and Guy Shrubsole (Lawrence & Wishart, 2012). This has a chapter by Guy Aitchison and Jeremy Gilbert reflecting on the student movement. Gilbert discusses the black bloc problem in depth, and would have been very useful to have quoted, even if to disagree with (as your conclusions broadly do). Aitchison is a friend of yours who you discuss at length in the thesis and even interviewed for it – you can’t have not known about this contribution from him to the field, so why have you ignored it? He even cites you in the discussion!

‘We could talk here about out how networked, rhizomatic forms of organisation, encouraged by what Aaron Peters and myself have termed the ‘open-sourcing’ of political activism, are well suited to short energetic bursts, whilst bureaucratic, arborescent forms allow for long-term strategy development, learning and planning.’

Of course, this reveals that you, like he, are someone deeply involved with and leading the debate within the movement you’re pretending to be even slightly dispassionately observing for the purposes of getting around the problem that you’re really ‘researching’ you and your friends’ own ideas and activities.

Similarly, Chris Coltrane’s chapter in that book is a case study on the same topic as one of your case studies, UKUncut, and you are well aware of him as you tweeted him many times during the period in question, including asking him to come to events and sharing event information with him. Together, these both cover your two case studies in depth, by significant players. Why have you missed all this out?

You also don’t discuss or cite any of the work of Paolo Gerbaudo, most obviously Tweets on the Streets, published in 2012. That is not just a key text in this field, but is on exactly the same area as you cover in your thesis. Did you not even know about it, or is there some other reason for the omission?

In essence, your field work consists of you attending some demos, some of which you don’t reveal you were instrumental in organising, promoting and leading, and pretending that a few interviews you conducted with ‘informants’ constitutes anything other than anecdotal and highly partial evidence for your conclusion that, what a surprise, you and your mates are forging a radical and important new path ahead.

You make no mention in your thesis of your two arrests, one of which led to a conviction for a public order offence and a suspended sentence. You’ve publicly admitted that happened in at least two places, but not in your thesis. It’s highly relevant to it, though, because despite your T-shirt being grey, you were clearly a member of the black bloc, something you discuss in detail in the thesis without ever mentioning your own involvement. In accusing the police of violence but not revealing your own violence in this movement, you concealed a serious conflict of interest in your research.

Those are my chief concerns. I’d be delighted for you to prove me wrong about all this.

Yours,

Jeremy Duns

Bastani to me, December 29

These are surprisingly bland, silly questions Jeremy. If you want to publicly criticise misapplication of a methodological method please feel free to. 

Regarding ‘Alex Pinkerton’ I’m not him and have never heard of him. As you can see where I have been involved I have been perfectly happy to use my own name. 

Regarding Paolo Gerbaudo, he is mentioned in the final chapter. The literature review builds on a literature of dozens of relevant academics going back to the 1960s (Mancur Olson) and even the 19th Century (Durkheim). In terms of the ‘collective action literature’ he is marginal and that isn’t his research agenda in ‘Tweets in the Streets’ (I presume you know how a PhD works). 

In fact Paolo Gerbaudo was one of two external examiners for my viva. 

As a robust piece of research I look forward to my PhD being criticised. It was not in the RHUL library as I intend to write a book where its findings are a major part. 

I trust your no doubt excellent contribution to the literature will be in a peer-reviewed journal? Presumably you have a PhD in social science too? 

Finally, would you also like to read my excellent MSc thesis on EU trade and aid policy? I think you’d enjoy it.

Let me know if I can help you any further. I look forward to reading the piece.

Best wishes, Aaron 

Me to Bastani, 29 December

Thanks for the swift reply, Aaron. I note your denial of ever having even heard of 'Alex Pinkerton' despite him citing your work in The Guardian and you then parroting his first few paras almost word for word while leading the demo he called people to attend. It's not the most convincing of denials, let's say. 

I note you didn't answer any of my other questions, but instead chose round dismissal and an appeal to authority. I don't have a PhD in any field, just a lowly BA in English literature and language. However, I have worked as an editor for many years, including for a peer-reviewed journal, and this gave me more than enough experience to spot your massive conflicts of interest, fudges over your own role in the movement and prominent omissions to conceal it. You haven't denied any of that, I notice. It's also given me enoguh experience to spot an attempt to close down an uncomfortable set of allegations by high-handed dismissal. 

I might well publicly criticise your 'misapplication of a methodological method', but if I do I probably won't use that language.

What page do you mention Gerbaudo's work on? I can't see that anywhere. As he was one of your examiners, no discussion of Tweets and the Streets would seem to me to be even more striking - in terms of full-length books on the rise of social media and its use in emerging protest movements, I would have thought he'd disagree that his research was 'marginal' to your thesis, which covers precisely the same area. You could very easily switch the titles of his book and your thesis, in fact. You can throw in some more jargon to try to bluff me if you fancy, but I doubt it will work. Straight answers are usually a better bet.

Yours,

Jeremy

Bastani to me, December 29

Regarding Paolo it should be towards the end. I defended the PhD for 4 years Jeremy, that’s the point of the exercise. 

Publish whatever you like. In the academy, which is where this document was forged, that is done with peer review by scholars. I can only repeat I look forward to an English BA critiquing a political science PhD with little knowledge of the literature or research universe. 

Good luck. A

Sent from my iPhone

Me to Bastani, 30 December

Hi again, Aaron. I still don't see any reference to Gerbaudo's work. What page/s, please?

You seem to think citing the authority of a PhD will impress me, when you forget that I've read yours. My brother-in-law has a PhD in theoretical physics that I admit is far beyond my comprehension - but yours is just you 'researching' activities by your friends and acquaintances while concealing your own role as a leader in the movement. It's not as hard to follow or as you think, especially as I've edited dozens, if not hundreds, of peer-reviewed articles. I can spot bluffs and fudges in academic writing from a distance. Peer review by scholars can be wrong, even in hard science that involves researching concrete facts and not 'demos I've been on', but part of the process is also how authors respond to questions. You insist you look forward to any criticism of your 'robust piece of research', but have now twice refused to answer any of my questions other than the one about 'Alex Pinkerman'.

I got something wrong about that article, incidentally, though it looks to me to be even more damning than I first thought. 'Pinkerman's first article was on December 3, so was calling for attendance at the December 4 TopShop demo rather than the one a few days earlier. You were at and write about both of these demos. But 'Pinkerman' starts their article by making precisely the same points you did in person when leading the protest outside TopShop in Oxford Circus on November 29. So is it your claim that this UKUncut spokesperson drew on your claims about Green to write their article, while also citing one of your articles, while using a pseudonym with your initials, to call for people to attend a demo you went on and then wrote about... and you knew nothing about any of this and that is why you didn't cite it? It's not as if the Guardian was irrelevant here: you write in detail about 'Sam Baker's article in the paper. How did you miss 'Pinkerman'? 

If my questions were truly 'bland' and 'silly', you'd have answered them instead of trying to swerve them by suggesting my little brain can't possibly hope to understand your research - or, say, a video of you leading a demo you claim to have been an observer of first and participant second.

So, sorry, but this bluffing won't work on me. You're a self-described chancer.1 I think people will be more than able to make up their minds about whether or not my questions have misunderstood your 'methodological methods', and how rigid the peer review process was here. I will simply note you twice refused to answer my detailed questions and instead dismissively appealed to authority in this way. It's rather a telling reaction, I think. If you do fancy changing your mind and answering my questions, I will of course be all ears.

Yours,

Jeremy

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GS_yXcmbLY This promotional video by Novara Media also includes footage of you leading the November 2010 TopShop demo, and the voice-over also positions you as being a central part of the student movement rather than, as your thesis tries to suggest, some bod who just went along and interviewed some folk while you were milling in the crowd. Oops.

Bastani to me, December 30

You’ll have to forgive me Jeremy but I don’t understand the nature of the questions. You are questioning the veracity of the data collected? The appropriateness of the research method? The weaknesses of the conclusions? These are relevant questions, hopefully mitigated in anticipation in the literature review, rather than your gibbering nonsense. 

I’m afraid you are going to have to get it through your thick, conspiratorial head, that people you don’t like and disagree with can and do meet the criteria for successful doctorates. ‘Chancers’ don’t survive a robust, prolonged process - not that you would have the first idea. 

Best wishes, Aaron 

Me to Bastani, 30 December

'Glibbering nonsense' now! 'Thick' and 'conspiratorial'. It's not exactly the same as welcoming criticism, this. 'Chancers' was your description, not mine, incidentally, or do you not read footnotes either? You would not be the first chancer to have been awarded a PhD, especially as you have concealed crucial information in the thesis.

How can you not understand my questions? They're straightforward. The appropriateness of your research method, broadly, yes - but I'm asking more specifically why you failed to cite all your own previous writings on this topic, failed to cite others, including Gerbaudo (who you repeatedly state you do, but refuse to say where), why you concealed that you were instrumental in organizing and even lead events you write about, and how you square your claims to have been an 'observer first, participant second' with all of that? They aren't mitigated in the literature review. 

You've presented yourself as a student who went on some protests and are doing your best to impartially examine the movements involved, while hiding that you played a key role in them and even wrote as an observer about a demonstration you are on film as leading - weren't you?

I hope that is a clear enough question for you to understand.

Jeremy

Bastani to me, December 30

Paolo is in the final chapter. He was also, as said, the external supervisor. You are perfectly welcome to contact him. 

Secondly, I don’t quite get why one has to cite blogs one has previously authored in a PhD, do you think this is a requirement of some kind? 

Thirdly, I say in PhD - in the literature review - what my political commitments are and discuss replicability. As it is an exploratory study, not a quantitative generalisable one, there is a different emphasis - namely to generate hypothesis for later academic investigation by others (again, this is how PhDs work). This is all very clearly explained and three separate academics viewed it is sufficient to receive a pass with no corrections. 

Participant observation isn’t ‘impartial’, rather the limits of it are triangulated with interview data. Again, this is all documented. 

I’m very keen to read the ‘expose’. When will it be up? 

Me to Bastani, December 30

Where in the final chapter? I see no reference to Paolo Gerbaudo  or his work anywhere. Which article or book do you reference, and on which page? Third time of asking now.

They're not just 'blogs', Aaron - you wrote those articles on sites that you yourself identified as being instrumental to the student protest movement and UKUncut, and cited three articles from one of them written by others for that very reason. A requirement? No. But all of your articles on those sites are highly relevant, as they are about the topic of your thesis, provide contemporaneous information and were published on websites you identified as being significant to the events you write about. I explained all this before. It's very unusual not to cite your own relevant work at all, and I think the reason you didn't is because to do so would have made it clear you were a much more instrumental voice and part in these movements than you claim in the thesis. My question is: what is your reason for not citing them? 

You keep stating, in effect, that you having a PhD means that your PhD must be fine. Adding in some jargon doesn't change that academics can get things wrong, and can also be misled, which is what I think you've done, and which your response so far only seems to suggest further. Most people would have answered the questions rather than publicly attach the questioner as a 'fruitcake' and privately call them 'thick'. I explained in my initial list of questions that you pay lip service to your political commitment and do not claim to be wholly objective, which would be impossible and absurd - the point, of course, is that you concealed just how involved your role was, eg you write about a demo as an 'observer first, participant second' when anyone can see from the film of it that you were leading the demo. Use of words like triangulation don't magically make this not so.

I'm not sure when it will be up, or even if I'll write it, or where. So far you're providing quite a lot of extra material on Twitter and in this exchange, and I'm still vaguely hoping for some actual answers rather than bluffing and abuse. Can I quote from our emails? You've referred to them on Twitter just now in a dismissive way.

One last question: you claim your PhD was not in the RHUL library because you ‘intend to write a book where its findings are a major part’, ie that it was embargoed in case you want to use material in it in a book in future. Do you stand by this? Because a) you told Sam Taylor it wasn't there due to outstanding library fines and b) it should then have been listed in the catalogue marked as embargoed, which it wasn't. So what's the truth here? 

Jeremy

Bastani to me, December 30

Regarding your last question, both. There's been no impetus to do it because I plan to convert it into a book (as my supervisor will attest). 

You are free to share private communications, I can hardly stop you, but that will mean I won't be communicating further with you as generally I distrust anyone sharing verbatim details from non-public disclosure. 

Warm wishes and good luck, Aaron

Me to Bastani, December 30

Hi again.

If it's both, the library should have marked it as embargoed - any idea why they didn't? I'll ask them, I guess.

I generally don't like sharing personal communications, either, verbatim or not. The verbatim is a nice add by you, as of course without it you are contradicting yourself because you referred to our emails here in public earlier today, when you tweeted in reference to them:

'Because the nature of assertions made in private communications are beyond outlandish and completely unsupported. The idea it’s equivalent to academic inquiry is equally outlandish.'

I've replied to that tweet as follows:

'Aaron, I don't think you can show this from our emails at all. Please feel free to quote anything you think I've asked you that is either outlandish or unsupported, or admit you're misrepresenting my questions to you.'

I'll be interested to see if you can take me up on that offer. I doubt it, somehow.

I note you once again ignored all my other questions and points, and refused to indicate where you have cited Paolo Gerbaudo's work (for the fourth time, I believe).

Jeremy

Bastani to me, December 30

they aren't quoted though, are they, Jeremy - which is what you are asking. As someone with evidently obsessive-compulsive tendencies you might notice that? Nor do I mention you.

thats enough from me. I'll be blocking this email. 

best, A

Me to Bastani, December 30

No, they aren't quoted - which is why you added 'verbatim' to your email. You won't quote these emails because there's nothing outlandish or unsupported in my questions at all, and you know it. You just claimed it in public, and I've called your bluff on it. You didn't mention me by name because, as you well know, it was in a thread replying to me, and in which I had just made it clear I was the one asking you questions about your thesis.

You've so far resorted to calling me sad, thick, conspiratorial, a fruit-loop and are now going even further in suggesting I have a mental disorder. All for asking you rather straightforward questions about your thesis. As with Sam Taylor, your response to enquiry about your thesis is to pretend to welcome them while dishing out abuse and distractions. In throwing your proverbial toys out of the pram in this way, you've repeatedly avoided a series of valid questions about your research. I don't know who you think you're fooling - but it isn't me.

I'm sending this to you despite you saying you're blocking it because I suspect you'll read it anyway.

Thank you for the revealing responses,

Jeremy

 

Thanks to Sam Taylor and Guy Walters for their generous and helpful guidance on drafts of this article.