Wednesday’s Book Review: “Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission”

Don-Thomas-book-cover-204x300Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission. By Don Thomas with Mike Bartell. Akron, Ohio: Ringtaw Books, 2014. Foreword by Senator John Glenn. Introduction by Senator George Voinovich. Illustrations, references, index. 406 pages. ISBN: 978-1-937378-72-1. $24.95 USD. Hardcover with dustjacket.

I received in the mail on the same day two books about astronauts and their mission activities. One was Orbit of Discovery, a first person narrative of astronaut Don Thomas aboard STS-70 in 1995 with a crew made up entirely of Ohioans. The second was Jay Barbree’s biography of Neil Armstrong, a book he claimed was authorized by the family although that is questionable. Orbit of Discovery is much the superior of the two books.

A core question is whether or not there is a use for a book about a single mission, in this case STS-70 in 1995. Don Thomas, a Cleveland native, and Mike Bartell answer that question in the affirmative with this engaging book. Thomas served as a mission specialist; he was chosen as an by NASA in 1990 in the thirteenth group of astronauts. He eventually flew four Space Shuttle missions; this is the story of the second of them. It is a strong memoir, describing both his earlier career and then focusing on this singular mission in 1995.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this mission was its routine nature. It was not a first or last of anything, it was not a Hubble servicing mission, it was not a deployment for a major space probe, it did not do anything out of the ordinary. It did deploy a TDRS communications satellite and undertook some microgravity research. It represents NASA’s Space Shuttle Program as it was just beginning to hit its stride with the Shuttle/Mir program and the ramp-up for the building of the International Space Station. It was also a mission emblematic of NASA seeking to push down the cost of individual shuttle missions and to ensure more efficient operations.

This mission on Discovery is hailed as being flown by the only “all-Ohio” crew. Not quite true; only four of five crewmembers were Ohioans. But the pilot for the mission, New York-born Kevin Kregel, had been given honorary Ohio native status by Governor George Voinovich. The “all-Ohio” crew, therefore, was something of a stunt but it was a pleasant one that is easy to accept.

What is most interesting about Orbit of Discovery is how Thomas weaves his transition from Cleveland to space into an account of a single mission, telling stories both humorous and poignant that capture well a NASA human spaceflight program that was exceptional but not closely followed by the public. It is a truism that few Americans paid much attention to the shuttle program in the 1990s. The public was favorably disposed toward the shuttle program but they viewed it as routine and unremarkable. This mission epitomized the routine nature of shuttle efforts in that era, but this account shows clearly that it was anything but unremarkable.

Throughout its 30-year history the Space Shuttle has been an important symbol of United States technological capability, universally recognized as such by both the American people and the larger international community. Nothing demonstrates this more than the missions of the shuttle program in the 1990s. Orbit of Discovery demonstrates this American exceptionalism quite well. In this post-shuttle era, this book reminds us what it was like to undertake a human space mission in the heyday of the shuttle program. At some level it is similar to the “I Was There” account by Henry S.F. Cooper Jr. when he published his book, Before Lift-off: The Making of a Space Shuttle Crew, in 1990. That work told in a similarly compelling manner the story of a 1984 shuttle mission.

Posted in History, Space, Space Shuttle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The NACA’s Quietly Effective Director of Research: George W. Lewis

George W. Lewis

George W. Lewis

I have been researching the early history of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and decided to share some information about one of its formative leaders. Very few people today have heard of George W. Lewis (Mar. 10, 1882-Jul. 12, 1948), but he was in his time an internationally renowned aviation pioneer and chief executive of the NACA during the interwar and World War II years. This blog post is intended to give him his due, and to remind us of the difference he made in the development of aeronautical technology in the United States.

He was born at Ithaca, New York, the son of William H. and Edith Sweetland Lewis. During his early childhood his family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and there he received his elementary and high school education. In 1908 he graduated from the Sibley College of Engineering, and received the degree of M.E. from Cornell University in 1908, and the degree of Master Mechanical Engineer M.M.E. in 1910. He was a member of the Swarthmore College faculty from 1910 until 1917, then became Engineer-in-charge at Clarke-Thompson Research, Philadelphia, where he remained until 1919.

Lewis, already interested in aviation, joined the NACA as Executive Officer in 1919, and became its Director of Aeronautical Research in 1924. His work in that position helped to shape in a fundamental way the course of aeronautical research and development in the United States for the next quarter century. In 1919 the NACA staff totaled only 43 people, including the research staff of NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, located at Hampton, Virginia.

Lewis set about to expand and remake the NACA into a premier research organization by recruiting and inspiring young scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to enter federal service, usually for less pay than they could find elsewhere. He promised them, however, an opportunity to perform cutting-edge research and to try sometimes hair-brained ideas that had little immediate commercial application. His efforts worked and by the time of his retirement in 1947 the NACA enjoyed an exceptionally positive reputation for innovative aeronautical research and development.

Under his leadership the NACA built an effective, balanced, research team that pioneered novel methods of flight research; new ideas for recording instruments; and new methods and facilities for research on engines, propellers, structures, seaplanes, ice prevention, helicopters, and many other branches of aerodynamics. He developed and made use of variable density, full scale, refrigerated, free flight, gust, transonic, supersonic and other types of wind tunnels, the core instruments the NACA engineers employed to advance aerodynamic knowledge.

Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes were among the attendees at Langley's 1934 Aircraft Manufacturers' Conference. Conference guests assembled underneath a Boeing P-26A Peashooter in the Full-Scale Tunnel for this photo. (NASA Phtoto L-9850)

Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Howard Hughes were among the attendees at Langley’s 1934 Aircraft Manufacturers’ Conference, at which George W. Lewis was a central figure. Conference guests assembled underneath a Boeing P-26A Peashooter in the Full-Scale Tunnel for this photo. (NASA Phtoto L-9850)

Lewis’ greatest challenge came in a radical expansion of the NACA in response to the rearmament of Europe beginning in the mid-1930s. Lewis personally traveled to Europe via the Zeppelin Hindenburg to investigate the aeronautical development then underway. He visited Nazi Germany and was both impressed and disquieted by its aeronautical research and development activities. He learned that Luftwaffe chief and Hitler stalwart Hermann Goering was “intensely interested in research and development.”

With Goering’s force, Germany greatly expanded aeronautical R&D, decentralizing it at three major stations: one for research on new aircraft, one for fundamental research without application to specific aircraft designs, and one for the development of new propulsion systems. It was a powerful combination, especially when Reich marks were flowing to fund accelerated experimentation. In his report Lewis remarked:

It is apparent in Germany, especially in aviation, that everyone is working under high pressure. The greatest effort is being made to provide an adequate air fleet. Every manufacturer is turning out as many airplanes as possible, and the research and development organizations are working on problems that have an immediate bearing on this production program.

To maintain American primacy in aviation, Lewis advised, the nation should immediately start the NACA’s expansion.

Lewis followed this trip in 1939 with another that confirmed his initial impressions. He found that in just three short years since 1936 Hitler had multiplied German air research facilities until they were five times the magnitude of those available in the United States. This challenge to American leadership was clearly presented to the President and the Congress by George Lewis, who arranged also to spend May 1939 in Germany, touring the new air research facilities. In June he testified before Congress in detail, and reported the opinion of numerous German scientists and professors, that war would start before the next snow fell.

Congress approved the doubling of the NACA’s facilities and staff at Langley, and the construction of a second major NACA station, the Ames Research Center, at Moffett Field, California. A year later Congress authorized the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory at Cleveland, Ohio, later renamed the Lewis Research Center in honor of George Lewis. This facility was later renamed in honor of John Glenn, with Lewis’s name attached to the flying field.

NACA research facilities built during Lewis’ regime cost about $80,000,000 and, although often new in concept and design, proved exceptionally useful in enabling the United States to place into the air combat aircraft on a par with or superior to Axis equipment. When failing health caused him to resign as Director of Aeronautical Research in 1947, the seventeen members of NACA signed a testimonial praising Lewis for “inspiring leadership.” They declared: “…the Committee’s research organization has won the confidence and respect…of the aeronautical world, and made scientific and technical contributions of inestimable value to the national security…Our heartfelt thanks for all he has done…and congratulations for 28 years of exceptionally meritorious service to his country.”

Lewis’s health became poorer thereafter. He died at his summer home near Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Jul. 12, 1948.

Posted in aeronautics, aviation, History, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Proposed Historical Paper: “The Battle over Cosmology in Recent America: Intelligent Designers, Science Communicators, and the Home Schooling Movement”

I will be participating in an historical workshop at the University of Manchester on the intersection of “Science, Religion, and Entertainment Media” in June 2014.  I am proposing the following paper. Comments are welcome.

“The Battle over Cosmology in Recent America: Intelligent Designers, Science Communicators, and the Home Schooling Movement”

Since at least the Copernican revolution beginning in the sixteenth century cosmological issues have been hotly contested between the various types of knowledge—especially scientific and religious knowledge—but in the latter half of the twentieth century in the U.S. divergences over beliefs about cosmology have intersected in ways not perceived earlier. Much of this is the result of efforts to foist “young Earth creationism” on all scientific knowledge regardless of religious ideals, secular emphases, or scientific training and expertise.

Not a little of this is related directly to cosmology. The National Air and Space Museum receives several complaints each week over our discussion of the Big Bang such as this one from several years ago: “There is a disservice you’re committing by making this ‘collision theory’ out as ‘the way’ the universe, the earth and the moon were created. It is only a theory as is the extinction of the dinosaurs and evolution of birds on earth. Either make it more clear that this is only a theory or introduce another theory such as ‘Creation’ and let the visitor leave educated in truth and not in theory.”

Such ideas have been promulgated rather haphazardly in the past, but in the last thirty years the efforts have been more organized, sophisticated in both packaging and communication, and increasingly aimed at educational systems. Where public school systems have been much in the news, the home schooling movement has quietly been educating a generation of children in theories concerning cosmology, young Earth creationism, explanations of biblical miracles, etc., using a range of textbooks, DVDs, speakers, guided visits to museums, and other processes.

This presentation will focus on science communication concerning cosmology, especially the Big Bang and the age of the universe (the subject I know best), and the assault on scientific theory through the home school movement and restructured and specialized museum experiences (such as the Creation Museum in Kentucky).

Posted in Personal, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America”

41eDhNtV57LBoiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America. By Kate Zernike. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Co., 2010.

I should no longer be surprised by journalistic accounts. They always have the same strengths—and there are some in this book—and weaknesses which are also present here. Kate Zernike’s Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America epitomizes well journalistic strengths and weaknesses. First the strengths; it is a well-written account that humanizes the people associated with the Tea Party. We learn quite a lot about several key organizers at the grass roots level, how they came to focus on this arena, and engage in the political activism engendered in the 2009-2010 time frame.

We also learn that the Tea Party is much more than an Astroturf organization ginned up by well-funded organizations. Those organizations were present, of course, but they were tapping into a broad discontent with the American culture and seeking to channel it to their agenda, which they succeeded in doing only to a certain extent.

Zernike emphasizes people who had usually not been politically active previously but were distressed by what they saw happening around them. Keli Carender, for example, came out of liberal household in Seattle to become a spark plug in the movement. Zernike also profiles Diana Reimer from a suburb of Philadelphia who had a mortgage under water and had been stretched economically to the point where the middle class lifestyle she expected was at risk.

There are many other ordinary Americans mentioned in this book and what we see to the last one is that they are not crazed racists, radicals, or right wing nutcases. They were reacting, and to some extend continue to react to a set of issues that they see crippling them personally and society as a whole. The result was an emotional and almost primal opposition to what they saw as the status quo.

I would add, and this is one of the weaknesses of this work, that the desperation felt by the Tea Party protestors on the American right was also the same desperation felt on the left manifested in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Both groups differed over where to place the blame for the current situation, and offered different remedies for it, but they both tapped into the zeitgeist of anxiety felt by many Americans. Both sides expressed a sense that the game was rigged, that there was no possibility of success for the ordinary citizen, and that the ruling elites was either unwilling or incapable of making any systemic changes to the structure of society. Hence, a revolutionary/populist effort to change from without was in order.

This is a very good book in many ways. I would like greater analysis, more scholarly rigor, and a broader perspective. But this is what it is, and it is a good start at helping to understand the Tea Party protests.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Re-Direct: “NASA-Russia Cooperation: What You Need To Know”

The international Space Station from STS-130  in December 2010.

The international Space Station from STS-130 in December 2010.

Marcia Smith at Space Policy On-Line has a terrific blog post entitled, “NASA-Russia Cooperation: What You Need To Know.” It details the present kerfuffle over U.S./Russian cooperation in space. The information is outstanding; the perspective insightful. I recommend it as the best analysis I have seen on this subject.

Posted in Politics, Space | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Announcement: Mutual Concerns of Air and Space Museums Conference, April 11-14, 2014

The Mutual Concerns of Air and Space Museums Conference is a unique, international meeting starting today in Washington. It focuses specifically on the needs of the air and space museum community and features three days of panel discussions and concurrent sessions. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, this conference serves both large and small museums, conference sessions cover relevant topics, like fundraising, preparing the next generation of museum staff, planning and executing unique educational activities, archiving collections, and exhibiting. Information about the meeting is here, and the agenda is below.

2014 Agenda


3:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Conference Registration

5:00 – 6:30 p.m.

Marketplace and Opening Reception/Networking (light hors d’oeuvres)

6:30 – 7:30 p.m.


News from the Field

This is your opportunity to give a three-minute update on what’s going on at your museum. When the bell rings, you’re done. If you would like to give an update, please email by April 9 with your name, museum and the topic you’ll discuss.


Registration, Marketplace, and all sessions at the Marriott Crystal Gateway

6:45 – 8:00 a.m.

Marketplace and Breakfast Breakfast provided

8:00 – 9:30 a.m.

Welcome and Opening Plenary Session:

Recovering Aircraft from Extreme Environments – RAF Museum Dornier 17 Recovery Project Update


  • Ian Thirsk, Head of Collections Division, Royal Air Force Museum


  • Stephen Quick, Director General, Canada Aviation and Space Museum

This session carries on from the Royal Air Force Museum’s 2013 Mutual Concerns presentation and will bring delegates up to date with the Museum’s Dornier 17 recovery project. The session will highlight the lessons learned during and after the aircraft’s successful recovery from the Dover Straits in June 2013, focusing on the practical challenges and the on-going conservation program, plus the options for future exhibition of this important artifact.

9:30 – 9:50 a.m.


9:50 – 11:20 a.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Let’s Get Social! Using Social Media to Reach, Engage with, and Expand Your Audiences


  • Sarah Banks, Manager of Online Engagement, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Elissa Frankle, Social Media Strategist and Community Manager, US Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Victoria Portway, Chair, Web & New Media Division, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum


  • Cathleen Lewis, Museum Curator, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

This session will relate how the National Air and Space Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have incorporated social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc., in their efforts to reach and engage with their audiences, as well as attract new audiences. Members of the Web and New Media Department at the National Air and Space Museum and the Marketing Department of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will explain various approaches and strategies for employing social media for education, programs, exhibitions and special activities, and how to scale these for any size museum.


—  OR  –


Beyond Tours


  • Beverly Clevenger, Chief Curiosity Officer, Curiosity Unlimited Consulting
  • Karen Hinton, Director of Development, Planes of Fame Air Museum


  • Troy Thrash, President and CEO, Air Zoo

According to AAM Roundtable Reports, “the potential for museum educators to make significant and enduring contributions to the future of American museums has never been greater.”  In response to this challenge, the presenters of this session will explain how to transition from being a museum that offers informal tours to one that offers educational programming. Participants will learn how to build museum programming from the ground up and strategies that can be used immediately to attract schools, teachers, students, and a new community of learners. The session will be interactive and will demonstrate effective instructional strategies, present examples from case studies, and encourage inquiry and sharing of stories to address the needs of the participants. Developed specifically for small museums, this session can nevertheless be valuable for larger museums.

11:20 – 11:50 p.m


11:50 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Preparing for a New Arrival


  • Richard Beckerman, Museum Consultant, Museum Consulting Services
  • Shawn Dorsch, Museum Board President, Carolinas Aviation Museum
  • Scott Marchand, Director of Collections and Aircraft Restoration, Pima Air & Space Museum


  • Stephen Ryan, Director, Freeman Ryan Design

Air and space museums of all sizes are excited about receiving prominent new collections and artifacts. For small museums, a significant acquisition can change their future entirely. For large museums, it can enhance their marketing potential and attract larger audiences. But how should museums prepare for that carpe diem moment? This session will present how a small museum pursued an Airbus A320, a large museum planned for a B-36, and another large museum shifted its display of a space shuttle.

Participants will learn about the advantages and disadvantages of seeking important new collection items, how to pursue a special collection or artifact, who should be involved in such a pursuit, and how to grapple with the fact that we don’t always get exactly what we want. The presenters will examine funding issues concerning the display, conservation, and transportation of aircraft that often do not fly anymore. They will also discuss how to plan where to place large objects in the museum and how to create a display that attracts paying visitors, while enticing them to come back. Last but not least, the panelists will discuss what an iconic artifact can do for the future of a museum, making all this effort worthwhile.


—  OR  —


Connecting the Community: Crowdsourcing History


  • Jenny Cousins, Project Leader, American Air Museum in Britain
  • Jude Richter, Social Media Community Manager and Historian, US Holocaust Memorial Museum


  • Seth Margolis, Director of Education Programs, The Museum of Flight

If, as Thomas Carlyle noted, history is the new poetry, crowdsourcing is the new jazz—-an accessible and personal approach to conducting historical research. Current technology for crowdsourcing historical projects can create a corps of researchers that are force multipliers for museums. This session explores two unique programs, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Remember Me? Project, which is an online global effort to identify photos of children displaced after the Holocaust, and the American Air Museum’s Roger Freeman Collection, an upcoming ‘virtual museum’ that encourages individuals to add their own information or to research any photograph that captures their imagination.

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.


Lunch on your own

2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Practical Digital Photography in the Museum Environment


  • Jon Barrett, Volunteer, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Carl Bobrow, Museum Specialist, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Eric Long, Senior Photographer, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Benjamin Sullivan, Photographer/CIS/IRM, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • James Walker, Volunteer, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum


  • Ken Rahaim, Still Image Digitization Program Officer, Smithsonian Institution

Quality images of museum objects are important to all institutions and are imperative for collections management, research, restoration, and conservation. They are also an important resource for publication purposes, public relations, fund raising, and website material. This session, presented as a discussion and workshop, will demonstrate that basic photographic equipment and some easily obtainable skills are all you need for producing such images.

Collections staff, contractors, and volunteers will discuss and demonstrate digital photography techniques and methods for processing images for many applications. The session will commence with a short introductory talk, describing the requirements and good practices for successful image capture. It will then shift to four individual hands-on demonstration workstations covering large object imaging, small and medium size object imaging, lighting and post-production work, and copy stand photographic techniques. An array of topics will be considered throughout the presentation, including instruction on file formats, file size, processing of RAW verus JPEG files, metadata, and color management. Participants will depart with a foundation for ensuring consistent results in their image work.

Participants are encouraged to bring their cameras with them.


—  OR  —


So What’s Your Story? Integrating Marketing and Development through Storytelling


  • Jason Fish, Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
  • Sherri Heintz Kerr, Marketing Director, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
  • David Kerr, Chief Operating Officer, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum


  • Richard Beckerman, Museum Consultant, Museum Consulting Services

This session will show you how to capture the attention and hearts of guests, members, and donors by conducting a needs assessment that leads to integrating all marketing and development activities while containing costs. In part one, the National Atomic Testing Museum will present a visitor-centric needs assessment for digital media—a key storytelling component—and how it is planning to use mobile and tablet devices to streamline exhibit graphics and marketing materials. For part two, the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum presents how it developed a consistent, branded narrative that has increased attendance, membership, and funding without additional staff. An integration toolkit, budget line checklist, and other take-home resources will help you make the most of your brand, budget and staff.

4:00 – 4:15 p.m.


4:15 – 5:30 p.m.

Plenary Session:

What Do We Do Between Mutual Concerns: How Can an Association Best Serve The Community


  • Jeffrey Cannon, Museum Consultant
  • Dan Hagedorn, Curator and Director of Collections, The Museum of Flight
  • Benjamin Kristy, Aviation Curator, National Museum of the Marine Corps
  • Allan Palmer, Executive Director and CEO, Atomic Testing Museum
  • Kate Simmons, Director of Programs and Administration, Heritage Flight Museum
  • Joshua Stoff, Curator, Cradle of Aviation Museum


  • Christopher Terry, Board Member, National Aviation Museum Society

For more than two decades, the Mutual Concerns conference has brought together the leading professionals from our industry to share ideas, techniques, and inspiration. Why should the camaraderie and open communication end with closure of the final session?  Many in the aviation and space museum community have called for an organization where peers can openly discuss challenges, seek information, share best practices, and be a venue to privately discuss wants and disposals of aircraft and artifacts. Such an organization would be a bridge between Mutual Concerns conferences.

There is a movement afoot to create such an Aviation & Space Museum Association that can serve as a source for information, ideas, documents and best practices. As a group we possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that, through informal networking, can only improve the professionalism of those in the field, or new to it. Such an association could offer support, discussion, assistance, and friendship without fear of repercussions or political motives. This session will discuss what such an association can bring to the greater air and space museum community. The session attendees will be active participants in helping to define the scope and end products from such an association.

5:30 p.m.

End of Saturday Sessions

There are no formal events for the evening, but there is an optional activity (additional cost listed below).

7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Optional Segway Tour of National Mall and surrounding area

Join us on an hour and a half evening tour that departs from the National Museum of American History and highlights various sites on the National Mall, as well as near-by memorials, Tidal Basin, Capitol, and surrounding area.

$45 per person optional, additional cost. Travel to the tour will be by Metro.

Find out more at Smithsonian Tours by Segway


Marketplace and all sessions at the Marriott Crystal Gateway

6:45 – 8:00 a.m.

Marketplace and Breakfast

Breakfast provided

8:00 – 9:30 a.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Collaborate to Increase Your Museum’s Capacity to Serve Girls in STEM


  • Julia Cannell, Public Programs Manager, The Museum of Flight
  • Tam O’Shaughnessy, Cofounder and Chair, Board of Directors, Sally Ride Science
  • Maxine Scheer, President, Scheer Intelligence LLC


  • Karen Peterson, CEO and Co-Principal Investigator, EdLab Group  and the National Girls Collaborative Project

Collaboration is the key for leveraging resources and strengthening air and space museums’ capacities to encourage the participation of girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This session is a call to action and will introduce recent research findings for planning effective programming that will be transformative in the lives of girls and young women. It will teach participants how to create, sustain, and leverage partnerships to increase museum capacity to provide STEM programming for girls. The presenters will introduce case studies from large and small aviation museums that used a proven model, tools, and resources developed by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) and teach participants how to replicate these methods.


—  OR  —


Assessing the Assessment Programs


  • Bruce Bleakley, Museum Director, Frontiers of Flight Museum
  • Tiffany Davis, Collections Curator, College Park Aviation Museum
  • Amy Rogers, Administrator, 1940 Air Terminal Museum


  • Megan Lickliter-Mundon, Project Developer, Freeman Ryan Design

Thinking about undertaking an assessment program? You might have done some research on the American Alliance of Museum’s MAP program, the StEPS program of the American Association of State and Local History, or the Conservation Assessment Program with Heritage Preservation. They all sound great, but what do they really entail? In this panel, three representatives of small to medium sized air and space museums that are currently going through the process will tell of securing board, staff, and volunteer buy-in, making small but significant changes to existing policy, and the benefits of internal strengthening. If participants are on the fence about beginning one of these programs, following the session they should feel better equipped to ‘pull the trigger’.

9:30 – 9:45 a.m.


9:45 – 11:15 a.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

In Pursuit of the YoCo: The Elusive Prey of the Museum World


  • Amanda Ohlke, Adult Education Director, International Spy Museum
  • Julia Cannell, Public Programs Manager, The Museum of Flight


  • Seth Margolis, Director of Education Programs, The Museum of Flight

As museums look to grow their impact, the young professional or Young Cosmopolitan (‘YoCo’) has been identified as a key target

demographic—yet this group has proven to be the great white whale of audiences. The International Spy Museum has experimented with a range of initiatives, while the Museum of Flight has recently introduced a nascent program in hopes of attracting this mysterious yet coveted crowd. This session will discuss the different strategies both museums employed and ask you to decide for yourself whether the YoCo is the legendary Moby Dick or the mythological kraken of the heritage industry.


—  OR  —


Reaching Beyond the Museum’s Walls – Videoconferencing Programs in Air and Space Museums


  • Matthew Gross, Visitor Services Coordinator, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Sarah Knights, Outreach Education Coordinator, The Museum of Flight
  • Elizabeth Anne Wilson, Discovery Station Program Manager and Electronic Outreach Coordinator, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum


  • Doug Baldwin, Chief, Educational Initiatives, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Education outreach without the vans!  Learn how to use new technologies to instantly connect with classrooms across the country. In this session, the presenters will walk participants through the development and implementation of videoconference programs.  Beginning with an overview of program types and content, the session will also provide information about funding, equipment options, beta-testing, implementation, reach and impact, and lessons learned.  Whether your museum is large or small, discover the potential for connecting with widespread and diverse audiences through videoconferencing!

11:15.a.m. – 1:00 p.m.


Lunch on own

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Museum Mobile is Not Optional: Making the Best Choices, or How Not to be a Fuddy-Duddy


  • Allan Palmer, Executive Director and CEO, Atomic Testing Museum
  • Cia Romano,  President, Interface Guru


  • Victoria Portway, Chair, Web & New Media Division, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

It’s 2014, and museum visitors expect a mobile assist when visiting your collection. As a 2012 Oxford Journals study states, “Visitors using a mobile guide visited [a] museum longer and were attracted to and spent more time at exhibits where they could get information from the guide.”  But we know mobile applications cost money, which museums usually do not have to spare. So, what should museums think about today when considering their mobile site?

Join us in this session to examine the differences between so-called “mobile websites,” apps, and the best practices in responsive design (the site reshapes itself to the device). We will discuss how to identify your requirements for a mobile site, app, or guide, how to reduce risk and extend shelf-life, and how to work with vendors. This session will also help you evaluate which choices are best for your museum.


—  OR  —


How Far Do You Go with Your Aircraft? Aircraft Restoration and Preservation Standards of Museums


  • Richard Kowalczyk, Chief, Preservation and Restoration Shop, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Casey Simmons, Restoration Specialist, National Museum of the United States Air Force
  • Chad Wilcox, Aircraft Maintenance Technician, Eagles Mere Air Museum


  • Elizabeth Garcia, Chief, Collections Division, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

This session will feature a round table discussion that explores aircraft restoration and preservation standards of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Eagles Mere Air Museum. The presenters representing these museums will discuss the following questions: What is a first rate restoration? What does “preservation” entail or not entail? Should museums share common standards? How do museum philosophies and missions affect museum aircraft restoration/preservation projects?

2:30 – 2:45 p.m.


2:45 – 4:15 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Audience Research: Visitor Observations in the Museum of Flight


  • Peder Andreas Nelson, Exhibits Developer, The Museum of Flight


  • Kirsten S. Büchner, Principal and Owner, Insight Evaluation Services

Based on experiences gained in a recent visitor study at the Museum of Flight, this session will describe recommended standards, techniques, and tools for conducting audience research projects in aviation museums. In 2013, the Museum of Flight’s Exhibits Department began conducting a series of visitor observation projects in six of its gallery spaces. The designated galleries ranged in size and exhibit content from the historical society-sized Boeing Red Barn to the vast Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. The goal of the project was to assess family groups’ behavior and formulate recommendations for exhibit remediation. The data collected proved extremely useful for refining and augmenting the exhibits, as well for improving the Museum’s cross-departmental master plan.


—  OR  —


Accessing Objects Big and Small: Utilizing Artifacts for Special Needs Audiences


  • Barbara Johnson Stemler, Museum Educator for Access Programs, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • Cindy VandenBosch, Co-Chair, Museum Access Consortium


  • Sheri Levinsky, Assistant Vice President of Education, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Making museums accessible for visitors with special needs should go beyond ADA compliance. Drawing from several years of experience with successful and growing accessibility programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the presenters of this session will demonstrate best practices in the museum accessibility field. Presenters from both the Curatorial and Education teams will share cross-departmental approaches to sharing collections with visitors with special needs and explain the necessary logistical planning to provide unique and engaging programs that meet the needs of a wide range of visitors. Presenters will also share ideas for scaling resources both up and down to accommodate diverse budgets and staff constraints.

Participants will be exposed to a large variety of resources, ranging from models and verbal description techniques to visual supports and tactile line images, while learning how these can be applied to teaching complex issues and large artifacts, like those at many air and space museum collections.

4:15 p.m.

End of Sunday’s Sessions

There are no formal events for the evening, but there is an optional activity (additional cost listed below).

6:00 – 8:00p.m.

Optional Visit to the International Spy Museum


See the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on display. Enjoy optional dinner on your own in Chinatown after the tour.

$16 per person optional, additional cost. Travel to this tour will be by Metro.

Find out more at the International Spy Museum


All sessions at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall

Complimentary shuttle provided at the beginning and end of day between the Marriott Crystal Gateway and the National Air and Space Museum.

7:00 a.m.

Buses depart the Marriott Crystal Gateway for the National Air and Space Museum

7:30 – 8:45 a.m. Breakfast and free time at the Museum

Breakfast provided

8:45 – 10:15 a.m.

Plenary Session:

Technical Study and Conservation of the “Bat Wing Ship” Horten H IX V3; Background, Challenges, Discoveries


  • Lauren Anne Horelick, Objects Conservator, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Russell Lee, Curator, Aeronautics Division, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Peter McElhinney, Conservation Fellow, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Anna Weiss, Conservation Fellow, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum


  • Malcolm Collum, Chief of Conservation, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

This session will describe the unique collaboration between conservators and curators at the National Air and Space Museum to stabilize the “Bat Wing Ship” for transportation and final assembly. The presenters will describe the methodology for studying and caring for a plywood aircraft, thereby introducing a larger audience to the state-of-the-art research conducted on the Horten H IX V3. The discussion will cover the different methodologies that characterize the work of curators and conservators, regardless of museum size, and introduce the audience to overriding ethical considerations, which are relevant to all museums. The presenters will also describe the many shades of gray that exist between the traditions of full restoration and the philosophies of conservation that value the preservation of authentic materials.

10:20 – 11:35 a.m.

Concurrent Session:

Looking to the Skies: Connecting Museum Visitors to Astronomy


  • Sarah Knights, Outreach Education Coordinator, The Museum of Flight
  • Katie Nagy, Astronomy Education Program Manager, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum


  • Andrew Johnston, Geographer, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Visitors of air and space museums often seek experiences that connect them to space voyages and exploration. The tools of astronomy can assist with that by helping visitors understand the sky, see how it changes over time, and by connecting them to places beyond Earth. In this session, we will describe how museums have utilized telescopes and public programs to enhance museum visitors’ experiences. We will explain how programs aimed at giving people an opportunity to interact with telescopes can take place in classrooms, observatory domes, and outdoor settings. We will also examine how planetarium programs can be used to describe the visible sky and encourage visitors to watch the sky after they leave the museum. This session is of special interest to museums with modest or large telescopes.

—  OR  —

Cataloging Your Way Book by Book


  • Dydia DeLyser, Board Member, Heritage Flight Museum
  • Karen Hinton, Director of Development Planes of Fame Air Museum
  • Polly Khater, Discovery Services Manager, Smithsonian Libraries


  • Patricia Williams, Supervisory Archivist, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Do you have trouble saying “no” to donors who want to give you their books and magazines? Do you have boxes of these donations piling up under your displays? This session will describe how the Planes of Fame Air Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Library approach cataloging donated books and materials using both staff and volunteer resources. The Smithsonian Libraries has dedicated staff and funds that work year round to catalog and describe collection materials, while Planes of Fame Air Museum, with the help of volunteers, was able to catalog donated books that had accumulated over 56 years in just three days. Whether you have trained staff or no staff and limited funds, exploring these two different approaches will help your museum find a method that will work for enhancing your library.

11:35 a.m. – 1:45 p.m.

Free time, touring at the Museum, and break for lunch

Lunch on your own.

11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. Highlight Tours

You are welcome to tour the Museum on your own or sign up for one of the insider tours.

1:45 – 3:00 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Living History: Adding a Dimension to Your Educational Programming


  • Bob Welch, Manager, Museum Education Programs, Frontiers of Flight Museum
  • Mychalene Giampaoli, Education Specialist, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Intelligence


  • Bruce Bleakley, Museum Director, Frontiers of Flight Museum

Using “Living History” programs is wonderful way make aviation and space flight history and technology come alive for all ages. Depending on your resources you can uses highly-trained and motivated volunteers or paid actors who can present first-person accounts of their character’s adventures, whether as “Orville Wright,” “Amelia Earhart,” or as lesser known figures in aviation and space. Session participants will learn how a Living History program can enhance their educational curriculum and their efforts to engage the public, both onsite and as a part of outreach activities. The speakers will offer suggestions for the selection and training of volunteers and actors in addition to the use of costuming and props for more effective presentations. This presentation will be of use to all museums, but is scalable to smaller museum since it will feature some relatively low-cost way to enhance an organization’s educational offerings and outreach efforts.


—  OR  —


The Next Frontier: Educational Collaborations and the Space Shuttle Program


  • Michael Hulslander, Manager of Onsite Learning, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
  • Jennifer Kennedy, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate
  • Christopher Mailander, Director of Exhibits, The Museum of Flight
  • Kenneth Phillips, Curator, Aerospace Science, California Science Center


  • Laura Hansen, National Outreach Manager, Smithsonian’s Affiliations

The era of the space shuttle may have drawn to a close, but shuttles are finding new life in education at museums across the country. The retirement of the shuttle fleet presents unique educational and collaborative opportunities for a greater community of organizations to explore space history through STEM programs.

In this session, three museums will present case studies demonstrating unique exhibition and educational plans for the retired space shuttle fleet with the goal of sharing experiences and resources that would benefit other museums interested in using the space shuttle program in their educational offerings. California Science Center will discuss plans for the new facility that will house Endeavour and the immersive experiences intended to encourage creativity and innovation. The Museum of Flight will share the hands-on experience (not possible with decommissioned orbiters) that visitors have when they climb into the three-story full-body trainer at the museum. The National Air and Space Museum will talk about the installation and exhibition of Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

3:00 – 3:15 p.m.


3:15 – 4:30 p.m.

Concurrent Sessions:

Fundraising Today


  • Carol Green, Director of Development, Pacific Aviation Museum- Pearl Harbor
  • Andrew Watt, President and CEO, Association of Fundraising Professionals


  • Laura Gleason, Director of Leadership Giving, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

As the economy continues to inch its way to recovery, many museums are still trying to figure out what it means to raise funds in the climate that has emerged. Social media is gaining prominence as the Millennials participate in more social causes, while older generations are more comfortable with traditional fundraising methods. What’s a fundraiser to do?

In this session, participants will hear from the President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals to get an overview of current fundraising practices, find out which methods are currently enjoying success, hear about where the field is going, and discover what it all means for their museums. Participants will also learn about which skills are required to be a successful fundraiser in today’s economy. The Director of Development for the Pacific Aviation Museum will recount experiences at her museum and discuss plans for funding their museum’s future growth.

—  OR  —

Warplanes to Siberia: The Story of Lend-Lease via the Alaska-Siberia Air Route (ALSIB)


  • Jeff Geer, President and Chairman, BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation
  • Alexey Krivalov, Advisor to the General Director, Russian Aviation Co., Ltd
  • Jim Meinert, Executive Director, The History Museum
  • Tracy Spaight, Director of Special Projects,


  • Allan Snowie, Board Member, BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation

Seeking a safe passage to fly a bi-plane to Alaska, an all-but-forgotten air route originating in Great Falls, Montana was re-discovered and its story has evolved into a project of international scale.  In the summer of 2013, the BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation successfully flew the first leg of this route to Fairbanks as part of a flight-recreation and film documentary Warplanes to Siberia. Few people have ever heard of the Lend-Lease Air Route (otherwise known as the Northern Route and the Alaska-Siberia Air Route) or know of the key role it played during the Second World War.  A vital support network for the Soviet Union in which nearly 8,000 military aircraft were delivered, it was one of the great logistical efforts of the 20th century; yet, seventy years later, this little-known chapter of history remains a mystery.

The story of Warplanes to Siberia is significant in that it tells of the mutual concerns and cooperation of three great nations —Russia, the United States, and Canada—not only then, but now.   Find out how a small group of dedicated business, education, and aviation professionals, working with leading historians, has managed to gain such global recognition.  Panelists include representatives from the BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation, Russian Aviation Co., Ltd, Heritage Flight Museum, and The History Museum.  “… museums are there to protect and preserve items with the hope that someday they will tell a story that will inspire and educate people.” -  Jim Meinert.  An entire untapped and forgotten archive, across three nations, lies waiting to be discovered.

4:30 p.m.

Sessions Conclude

4:30 – 4:45 p.m.

Critiques, door prize drawings, and closing remarks


Annapolis, MD Day Trip

9:30 a.m.

Shuttle departs from the Marriott Crystal Gateway

10:00 – 11:30 a.m.

Tour College Park Aviation Museum and College Park Airport

College Park Airport is the world’s oldest continually operating airport. It was founded in 1909 when Wilbur Wright gave flight instruction to the first military aviators. The museum’s collection highlights the history of early aviation at the College Park Airport.

Find out more about the College Park Aviation Museum.

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Lunch in Annapolis, Maryland

Sample Maryland blue crab or other local favorites with this provided lunch.

1:30 – 3:00 p.m.

Tour of the United States Naval Academy

USNA Tour highlights include Lejeune Hall, Bancroft Hall, Tecumseh Court, Herndon Monument, Main Chapel (when open) and Crypt of John Paul Jones, Revolutionary War hero. Find out more about the US Naval Academy.

Free time in the USNA museum featuring the history of sea power and development of the US Navy. Find out more about the USNA Museum.

3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Free time in downtown Annapolis

5:00 p.m.

Shuttle arrives at the Marriott Crystal Gateway


This field trip fee is $80. This fee includes

  • Admission to all venues
  • Lunch in Annapolis
  • Roundtrip transportation from the Marriott Crystal Gateway


—  OR  —

9:30 a.m.

Tour of Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibit’s Central 

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Guided behind-the-scenes tour of the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibit’s Central. Find out more at Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central.

The field trip fee is $35. This fee includes

  • Behind-the-scenes tour of the facility
  • Roundtrip transportation from the Marriott Crystal Gateway
Posted in aeronautics, aviation, History, Space | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy”

bookThe Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy. By Alex Zhavoronkov. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

This is a fascinating book and overall Alex Zhavoronkov is to be commended for putting it together. It is also something of a frustrating book. My initial thoughts on seeing the title was that I would learn about the latest advances in gerontology, especially new and promising interventions that will push back the inevitable aging process that we all experience. If the twentieth century was the century of physics, and I believe it was, the twenty-first century has all the signs of becoming the century of biology. We are learning more about life than at any time in human history and it is transforming everything around us. How this applies to the aging process is critical, so this book’s emphasis on understanding this process is most welcome. Zhavoronkov includes some explanation of what is taking place in laboratories and hospitals around the world present here and I was delighted to see it. I wish it has been more in evidence and more systematically presented.

Zhavoronkov spends the majority of the pages of this book focused on the difficulties at a macro-level of an aging population among the six billion plus humans on this planet. He spends more time than I expected on the problems of social security and health care in the United States and in other industrialized nations than probably should be the case for a biologist whose research depth into these areas is not sufficient to draw all of the conclusions that he does. For instance, he believes we have to pursue efforts at human rejuvenation to extend productive lives and to allow more people to contribute to society for longer. His definition of the problem of mounting pensions and health care payments in retirement is to increase the work life of all humans. I don’t deny that this is one possible solution to the problem, at least a part of it, but does this make sense as THE public policy option of choice when there are many other approaches one might pursue that are more simple and elegant. I’m all in favor of extended life spans; I doubt this alone will solve all the economic disparities we see in modern society.

I was especially intrigued by a statement by Zhavoronkov declares early on: “We will soon be able to slow the aging process itself” (p. 1). Really, no caveats or adjectives qualifying it? I wish I had that much certainty about whether or not the Sun would rise tomorrow! He then discusses some of the recent breakthroughs; blustering that while we will all get older we will extend our productive capacities into our centenary years, in the process ending the problem of burdensome pensions and extravagant health care costs. This will start slowly, he notes, with life expectancies extending first for a decade or two but by the middle of the twenty-first century quite a bit more. The elimination of disease, chronic conditions, and the bugbears of aging such as arthritis, dementia, cardiovascular disease, and cancer all portend a future of happy, healthy, and productive individuals living a Methuselah’s life. As someone getting older, I hope he is right. As a realist, I’m not so sure. I am a type 2 diabetic and while it is presently under control I have been reading for years about a cure that is almost ready for deployment. I am constantly disappointed by these promises. I fear that same will be true here as well.

In the end The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy is a scintillating book. I recommend one read it for the information it contains, and it contains quite a lot, but I also urge that one read it with a critical mind analyzing its claims.

Posted in Personal, Politics, Science | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Call for Submissions: 2014 Sacknoff Prize for Space History


textbook-thumb-200x282-80797First awarded in 2011, the annual prize is designed to encourage students to perform original research and submit papers with history of spaceflight themes. The winner receives a $300 cash prize, a trophy, and the possible publication in the journal, Quest: The History of Spaceflight. It is open to undergraduate and graduate level students enrolled at an accredited college or university. 

Submissions must be postmarked by 20 June 2014, with the winners announced in August. Manuscripts should not exceed 10,000 words, be written in English, and emphasize in-depth research, with adequate citations of the sources utilized. Originality of ideas is important. Diagrams, graphs, images, or photographs may be included. The prize committee will  include the editor of Quest: The History of Spaceflight and members of the Society for the History of Technology / Aerospace Committee (SHOT/Albatross).

Although works must be historical in character, they can draw on disciplines other than history, eg. cultural studies, literature, communications, economics, engineering, science, etc. Comparative or international studies of the history of spaceflight are encouraged. Possible subjects include, but are not limited to, historical aspects of space companies and their leaders; the social effects of spaceflight; space technology development; the space environment; space systems design, engineering, and safety; and the regulation of the space business, financial, and economic aspects of the space industry. 

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Scott Sacknoff at

Details on the 2014 prize:

A 2014 Flyer for Posting:

Posted in History, Space | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Re-Direct: In the Batter’s Box

It’s the home opener for the Washington Nationals today so I thought it would be interesting to point readers to this blog post concerning two of my favorite subjects: baseball and aerospace. This post was written by archivist Elizabeth Borja of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Check out In the Batter’s Box for some pictures from 1956 of Kansas City Athletics team members and U.S. Air Force officials posing with some of the tools of their trades.

Posted in aeronautics, aviation, Baseball, History, Sports | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe”

Pseudo-Science WarsThe Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. By Michael D. Gordin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Introduction, acknowledgments, abbreviations and archives, illustrations, notes, index. 291 pp. ISBN: 978-0-226-30442-6. Hardcover with dustjacket, $29.00 USD.

Virtually no one under the age of 45 has ever heard of Immanuel Velikovsky; almost everyone over 45 has heard of him, has an opinion about his ideas, and still discusses these ideas among themselves, at least once in a while. Velikovsky published in 1950 the path-breaking, but crackpot book, Worlds in Collision, a work that created a storm controversy both in the scientific community and among the general public.

Scientists criticized Velikovsky’s ideas as pseudoscience, and condemned them as being without foundation. His supporters were legion, however, and agreed with him that “The historical-cosmological story of this book is based in the evidence of historical texts of many people around the globe, on classical literature, on epics of the northern races, on sacred books of the peoples of the Orient and Occident, on traditions and folklore of primitive peoples, on old astronomical inscriptions and charts, on archaeological finds, and also on geological and paleontological material” (Worlds in Collision, preface).

In Worlds in Collision Velikovsky argued that about the 1500 BCE, Jupiter expelled from its core a wandering body that passed one of more times near Earth, changed Earth’s axis, orbit, and climate, and then settled into a stable orbit around the Sun where it became known as Venus. Numerous catastrophes recorded in myth, legend, and history, according to Velikovsky, resulted from this close encounter with a wandering Venus. The claims offered in the book found virtually no support in the scientific community; they were denounced in the most virulent terms in periodicals and from the podiums of many scientific meetings. Carl Sagan even took time in his classic Cosmos miniseries in 1980 to debunk Velikovsky’s ideas.

The position of the scientific community was well expressed by Harrison Brown in 1955: “All the defenses of Velikovsky’s views that have come to my attention have been written by nonscientists unfamiliar with the facts. Many of the defenders appear to believe that scientific arguments can be won with rhetoric or by taking a public poll and assessing how many persons are ‘for’ a d how many are ‘against’ the theory” (p. 106).

This debate, which raged for decades, died down after Velikovsky’s death in 1979 and the theory expressed in Worlds in Collision is a footnote of the history of science. Michael D. Gordin, a talented historian at Princeton University, uses this story to illuminate a key issue in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. How do we separate science—whether good, moderate, or bad—from theories that might have the accoutrements of science but are something else altogether? In other words, how to we know that some idea is scientific or pseudoscientific?

Some pseudoscience might be outright cases of fraud; such was not the case with Velikovsky who firmly believed he had found the answer a broad range of disasters, etc., recorded in various legends around the world. He presented a rationale argument, at least for many people and used everyone to read his book and make up their own mind. For the scientists he suggested they either disprove his theories—which were non-scientific and therefore non-testable—or teach the controversy. Sound familiar?

Rather than a sustained analysis of the Velikovsky affair, although there is more than enough of that in The Pseudo-Science Wars, Gordin uses it as a touchstone to explore other debates over scientific theory, or pseudo-scientific ideas, focusing on Freudian psychology, Lysenkoism, creationism, global warming deniers, and other related issues.

This raises the fascinating question that Gordin seeks to understand, where is the demarcation point between science and pseudoscience? I am more convinced than ever after reading this book that Justice Potter Stewart was right, when asked how to define obscenity, he could not do so but he knew it when he saw it. Astrology and phrenology were once respected scientific pursuits; few still believe they have anything to offer other than a mildly amusing diversion.

Likewise, cryptozoology is considered a pseudoscience involving the search for new species of animals thought to exist but which have not been found. The searches for Bigfoot, Yeti, or Chupacabra are often cited as examples of such silliness. Yet, scientists discover new species regularly—mostly they are microbial but recently the Tapirus kabomani was identified. It is a large pig-like mammal, which reaches a length of 4 ft., weighs about 243 lbs., and lives in the Amazon. In such an environment is cryptozoology a pseudoscience or not?

These are the core issues Gordin wrestles with in this fine book. Velikovsky’s theories, while riveting and strangely attractive, bore no relationship to anything that might be considered a scientific theory. Whether he was right or not concerning his ideas is unknown, and unknowable.

In that sense it is very much like the new creationism, which is neither testable nor resolvable one way or another. Gordin makes an important point at the end of his book. “Fringe theories proliferate because the status of science is high and is something worthy of imitating. They are a sign of health, not disease” (p. 210).

Posted in History, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment