A few weeks ago, in an article where I discussed some new ideas for fundamental physics research, I briefly touched on an incident in which Paul Frampton, a well-known theoretical physicist, got involved in 2011. The paragraph in question read:
Among the people I met at ICNFP this year are two remarkable physicists. One of them, Paul Frampton, is known just as much for his interesting new theoretical physics ideas as for a very unfortunate incident that brought him to spend two years time in Argentinian prisons.
The story is retold in excruciating detail in a long article by the NYT magazine, so I will not discuss it here, but if you are curious and in a hurry, basically he got seduced by an imposter who pretended to be a successful bikini model, and convinced to travel to Bolivia and then Argentina to meet her; in Buenos Aires he was given a luggage "of sentimental value" to bring back to Europe. Needless to say, the empty suitcase actually contained 2kg of cocaine. He was found guilty because his phone contained messages that implied he had understood the contents of the suitcase but he had nonetheless tried to board a plane with it.
After I published the article Paul contacted me for reasons connected to the new physics signature he sponsors, which could be something we start a search on in CMS data. In passing, he mentioned that he denies having written those text messages, and to prove it he hired a professional forensic linguist, Dr. John Olsson. He graciously attached to his email the report produced in 2017 by the linguist, and allowed me to make it available here.

You can read the report yourself if you wish. I did, and now I admit I tend to believe that Paul is saying the truth about those messages. While this does not prove he was unaware of the contents of the suitcase, it does substantially alter the weight of the case for his incrimination. Of course, the matter was settled long ago as far as Argentinian justice is concerned, and even the case between Dr. Frampton and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the Provost used these text messages to dismiss Frampton, is something of the past. However, I do understand that Dr. Frampton correctly wishes to set the record straight, so I am quite supportive of his attitude toward full disclosure of this document.

Of course, being a bastard deep within, I find this too good an opportunity to resist delving into some nit-picking of the report. In it, Olsson starts by offering unrequested explanations of (1) his impartiality and (2) his credentials. I consider these two as clear instances of excusatio non petita, and indeed they rather raise more doubts than they can dispel. For, if you are a renowned professional, you would probably loathe writing something of the kind at the top of your report. But I may be biased in this respect and the two explanations could be the result of a specific request by his client.

The document discusses the text messages sent by Frampton's mobile by comparing the language and grammar they contain with those of three emails which were also part of the evidence used by the Provost. Frampton admits to having written the emails, whose content however is liable to have more than a univocal interpretation, but denies having written the text messages. He explained to me that the Argentinian police may have planted the texts in his phone after getting in possession of the device. I do not know if it would be easy to falsify in a untraceable way the time and date of the messages, but I guess it would not be too hard to do; yet if one were to go that way, why not doing a better job with the text, too? However, since the text messages were enough to convict Frampton, maybe my doubt on this are misguided. 

Olsson's report is a bit strange in its contents overall. The linguist does argue that the presence of many abbreviations (it's vs it is, don't vs do not, etc.) in the text messages is in stark contrast with the email messages; but he fails to acknowledge that people do write quite differently on a PC keyboard and on a small cellphone. I find the content and syntax of some excerpts of the text messages much more telling - indeed, the absence of the subject or pronoun in many sentences from the text messages suggests that a Spanish native speaker or anyway one fluent in a pro-drop language (such as Spanish, Italian, Romanian) may be the author, as is the misspelt word "situacion".

I found rather hilarious one sentence in the report:
49. The spelling ‘coca’ is used throughout the texts. As an internet search confirms, most nonspecialists are not aware of the correct spelling of ‘coca’ and many confuse this spelling with ‘cocoa’. The use of the spelling ‘coca’ in these
messages suggests someone with specialist knowledge.

So here's a Dr. Olsson, experienced professional forensic linguist as per his previous uncalled-for explanation, admit obtaining confirmation of his doubts from an internet search, and use the latter as a way to convince his readers; in doing so, he is indirectly claiming Dr. Frampton, a man of the highest education and intelligence, may not be able to spell drug names. Further, he suggests that you need to be a drug dealer or some other specialist to be able to spell correctly the word "coca", while letting go with other Spanish-induced spelling mistakes. Incidentally, coca-cola is the first word that my son Filippo uttered in his whole life, at age 0.9 years. I did not hand him paper and pencil back then, but I like to believe he would have been able to scribble something more similar to "coca" than "cocoa". That's why I can't help laughing if I re-read the above sentence.

But I am a bastard. Who cares what Olssen writes. I do believe Frampton was Framed somehow, so whether in a moment of discomfort, months into the ordeal, he did caress the idea of getting even and f**k the f***ers, or whether indeed he was all-round innocent, is not something too relevant. In fact, I would like him even more as a human being if the former were the truth.


Tommaso Dorigo is an experimental particle physicist who works for the INFN at the University of Padova, and collaborates with the CMS experiment at the CERN LHC. He coordinates the European network AMVA4NewPhysics as well as research in accelerator-based physics for INFN-Padova, and is an editor of the journals Reviews in Physics and Physics Open. In 2016 Dorigo published the book “Anomaly! Collider physics and the quest for new phenomena at Fermilab”. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon.