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  Columbia: Final Voyage (Phil Chien)

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Author Topic:   Columbia: Final Voyage (Phil Chien)
ASCAN1984
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posted 01-05-2007 04:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was just wondering if anyone has read the book "Columbia: Final Voyage" by Philip Chien. I saw it and I was thinking of getting it. I have "High Calling" by Evelyn Husband and the excellent "Comm Check" by Bill Harwood and Mike Cabbage.

contra
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posted 01-05-2007 05:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for contra   Click Here to Email contra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's an excellent book. It's really a must have if you are interested in the last flight of Columbia. I highly recommend it.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-05-2007 08:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would be very wary. Read the reviews on Amazon, in particular what I wrote.

In short, last year Phil Chien was fired as a reporter because he made up quotes and sources. He invented people that he quoted in several articles.

If he did this for his articles, how do we know that he did not do this for his book?

There are a lot of stories that people could tell you about him, and few people who know him were surprised by this turn of events.

contra
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posted 01-05-2007 08:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for contra   Click Here to Email contra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow, I'm really shocked to hear this. I did not know that. What a shame. Thanks for the information.

cspg
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posted 01-05-2007 09:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wouldn't rely on Amazon reviews to form a definitive opinion (some people write "reviews" on items they haven't read or seen...), but Dwayne's remarks makes me wonder about the publisher (Copernicus which is subsidiary of Springer if I'm not mistaken).

If he did screw up as a reporter, then what would make me think that it's not true for everybody else (okay, that's being slightly paranoid)?

The guy deserves to have a place to respond (see his website).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-05-2007 10:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Chien had an opportunity to respond and chose not to, when The Associated Press (among others) contacted him following Wired's article. "Things have been distorted and taken out of context, but I don't want to say anything more than that," Chien said.

There is enough of a public record to support what Dwayne and others found about fake reviews (just search the groups such as sci.space.history).

A few years ago, I served as Chien's editor for a now offline website. While I never witnessed him making up any alter-egos, some of his other actions/claims while he was working for us were at best dubious.

It would be good if, as suggested by Dwayne in his review, someone were to do a close reading of Final Voyage for any discrepancies.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-05-2007 03:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by cspg:
I wouldn't rely on Amazon reviews to form a definitive opinion (some people write "reviews" on items they haven't read or seen...).
Okay, you misunderstood me. But it's really my fault. I wanted to give you a short, fast way to see what the complaints were about the author. I thought that what I wrote on Amazon would be helpful. Unfortunately, I think you will have to do more digging to find out the story. Here's a good place to start.
Wired News has removed three articles from its website after an internal investigation failed to confirm the authenticity of a source used in the stories.

"Tribal Curse Haunts Launch Pad" (June 27, 2006), "NASA Boosts Heart-Monitoring Tech" (July 7, 2006) and "Don't Flush It -- Breathe It" (July 14, 2006), all by Philip Chien, relied in part on quotes and citations from Robert Ash, described in the first two stories as a "space historian" and in the last as an "aeronautical engineer and amateur space historian."

In a phone conversation with Wired News editors, Chien had identified Ash as a professor of aeronautical engineering at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Reached by phone this week, Ash said he is not a space historian and has never participated in interviews with Chien. Ash is an aeronautical engineering professor at the university and has been involved in numerous NASA projects.

Chien is a freelance space reporter who has worked for online, print and television news outlets, and recently authored a book on the Columbia space shuttle disaster. He's written seven stories for Wired News, two of them in 2004, the other five in the past few weeks.

ASCAN1984
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posted 01-05-2007 03:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, that is very disappointing. I was really looking forward to reading this book but now I can't ever read it as I cant trust what I am reading.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-05-2007 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by cspg:
The guy deserves to have a place to respond.
As Robert pointed out, he has had a place to respond. These are not baseless charges, because Wired magazine checked them out themselves and gave him the chance to respond.

I don't want to go into this subject too deeply here, because I'm not in the business of casting aspersions without direct information myself (even when I think they're totally accurate), but I'll give a little bit of background.

I'll start out by saying that I barely know the guy (more below), but I know people who know him much better and have told me many stories, many of which are quite amusing. Let's just say that it's not like the things he did at Wired were completely out of character--people who knew about other things he has done consider this stuff unsurprising.

I have personally met Chien only once, over a decade ago at a shuttle launch, where he was rather stand-offish toward me when I first approached him and said that I had read an article that he had recently written for a magazine. I think I then traded no more than two e-mails with him over the next five years or so (and I do mean two e-mails, no more).

I had a few personal opinions of him based upon his articles. One was that although he might be an expert on current shuttle operations, he was weak on the subject of military space programs when he occasionally wrote about them. My other personal opinion of him was that he appeared to cut corners in some of his articles--he occasionally would state a fact or claim that information did not exist when I suspected that he had merely not attempted to gather the information himself. I should add a third personal opinion, which was that he tended to over-inflate the importance of his work. I will confess that on a few occasions I actually did some research and wrote some articles because I thought he had done some sloppy work. In other words, Chien prompted me to write a few articles.

Two examples:

In an article in the mid-1990s he claimed that no photos had ever been released of the DoD payload on shuttle mission STS-51J. This prompted me to wonder if he had ever even tried to obtain such photos. So I submitted a FOIA request for photos from the mission and as a result I obtained the first declassified photos of a classified payload deployment from the shuttle, the DSCS III satellites on STS-51J. I published these in Spaceflight.

In 1998, the NRO released a videotape of a classified communications satellite and a radar satellite both under construction. Chien took the videotape and got screencaps of the satellites and then wrote an article where he claimed that he had "exclusive photos." Well, I had the same videotape and I thought that this seemed like an exaggeration. So I sent a FOIA request to the NRO and I obtained some quality prints of the satellites. The versions I obtained were much better quality than what he had grabbed from the video.

Anyway, in both of those instances I detected a pattern that he later exhibited in the incidents that got him in trouble: he cut corners in his research (i.e. rather than do the work, he was lazy), and he also bragged about his own importance.

In the Wired articles and also with promoting his book, Chien invented sources. In several cases he invented sources to provide quotes for his articles instead of doing the work and getting real quotes from real people. In the case of the book, he invented sources to praise his book. See the similarities?

I'll add a little more in another post.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-05-2007 04:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Okay, a little more on this story:

Shortly after Chien's shuttle book was published, I noticed several posts on the Internet praising the book. The people doing this were totally unfamiliar to me and I Googled around a little bit and discovered that they had not posted before. Based upon this limited information, I concluded that this was Chien flacking his own book under a pseudonym. Not a hanging offense, but a little shifty, if you ask me. In addition to the ones that have been named, I've discovered at least one other pseudonym that Chien used, on the FPSpace mailing list. There he posted as a woman who had nothing but praise for her "good friend Phil Chien." The pattern was the same: somebody who had never posted before suddenly started making posts about this great book written by Chien. It was blatantly obvious that he was doing this. But like I said, it's not a hanging offense (except that some publications strictly forbid their employees from doing this).

Then last summer Chien wrote the Wired.com article about SLC-6 at Vandenberg that got him fired. Now I happen to know quite a bit about SLC-6 and the bogus "tribal curse" that Chien wrote about. When I read that article on the web, I quickly suspected that what Chien had primarily done was rip-off an article written by Roger Guillemette for Florida Today's Space Online website back in the 1990s (no longer accessible, unfortunately). Okay, that's not a hanging offense either, because lots of people use other writers as source material. But I really suspected that Chien had not done any additional research on his article.

The other thing that piqued my interest was when he quoted "space historian Robert Ash." Now I'm a space historian (although I currently get paid for what is usually called policy analysis, even though my job title is much more vague). I write space history. I have gotten paid to write space history. I have even had a government job with "historian" printed on my business card. I deliver papers at space history conferences and I regularly converse with other space historians. And I had never heard of anybody named "Robert Ash." I figured that this guy was not _really_ a space historian. My guess was that he was a retired Air Force guy who claimed that he was writing a book about Vandenberg or something and so Chien simply called him a "space historian" even though he has no formal historian credentials. (After all, it's not like we space historians have membership cards or anything.) I did not suspect that Chien had made up the guy and made up the quotes. But once again, I thought that he was being lazy, or sloppy, or slightly dishonest. So I'll admit that while I know many other people were not surprised when Chien got caught for making up sources, I was a little surprised.

But trust me, my stories are minor. I know people who can tell some real whoppers about the guy. Like I said, he's a character...

cspg
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posted 01-06-2007 01:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dwayne, Robert, thanks a lot for the informative posts. If Chien had a chance to respond but refused adds a lot of credibility to your respective posts. It's a shame.

So basically we're dealing with a questionable "journalist" (or whatever), questionable amazon reviews (okay, not I never paid any attention to or based my opinion on those anyway) and maybe worst of all, a questionable publishing company (or at least a subsidiary of that company, Copernicus/Springer-Praxis). I can only hope that Chien didn't screw up his book as he has apparently done with his articles and that someone qualified did a thorough review of his manuscript before it went to press. It would be interesting to hear from the publisher.

In all, it's a pretty pathetic story. Thanks again for sharing the info.

ColinBurgess
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posted 01-06-2007 02:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm not defending Chien in any way, but I've read his book, and as a backgrounding account of the everything to do with the flight it's quite comprehensive. But I came away disappointed because I felt it lacked a lot insofar as characterising the seven crewmembers (Cantrell and Vaughan did a far better job of this in "Sixteen Minutes From Home"), and in events surrounding the actual break-up of the shuttle. Without being morbid, I was expecting far more information on what was going on in the crew cabin prior to the break-up, or at least some speculation, but there was nothing.

So I didn't really think too much of Chien's book even before reading this very enlightening discussion.

jrkeller
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posted 01-07-2007 07:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jrkeller   Click Here to Email jrkeller     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I bought this book before it was discovered that the author was writtings his own reviews. If I'd known he was doing that, I wouldn't have purchased the book. I read about 3/4 of the book before I learned of the authors self promoting reviews, and stopped there.

I found the book fairly interesting. I especially like the section on Kalpana Chawla and her first mission. He doesn't let her off lightly for her mistakes on her mission and I was glad to see that.

What I didn't like about the book is that nothing is referenced; however, you can purchase a CD from his website which gives you that information. Or I believe it does.

This whole incident reminds me of those people who sell moon hoax/UFO/The Face on Mars. They write there own reviews on amazon and other places and of course change extra for the information.

ea757grrl
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posted 01-07-2007 09:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ea757grrl   Click Here to Email ea757grrl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I bought this book back when I first saw it available (and yep, that's one of my reviews of it on Amazon.com). Until this came up on cS here recently, it was the first I'd heard of any controversy about Mr. Chien.

While I don't have the background or qualifications to thoroughly vet the work, I can say that I did find the book of considerable value, and it did contain many photographs I hadn't seen elsewhere.

The companion CD-ROM (which you have to order separately, which was kind of a pain; I wished it had been included as the Apogee books do, but then again I ain't in the publishing business, so I don't know how the business works) was also useful, and in some ways is a little more handy than the book because it has a good bit of multimedia in it, including some color versions of photos included in the book.

Other than that, I can say only that I've been following this thread with interest. I'm not going to throw out my copy by any means (it's still too useful), but I guess I won't be looking at it quite the same way again. It's a book I'm glad I have, but I doubt I'd have wanted to pay list for it now that these questions have been raised.

That's sad, because so much of what I liked about this book was that it wasn't solely fixated on those final few minutes -- it was also about everything else.

ASCAN1984
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posted 01-08-2007 03:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Did he write the book after he got fired? The reason I ask is is it possible that he straightened out his ideas and did it all properly with no funny business.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-08-2007 09:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No, the book came out in January 2006 and he got in trouble in August 2006.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-08-2007 09:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by jrkeller:
This whole incident reminds me of those people who sell moon hoax/UFO/The Face on Mars. They write there own reviews on amazon and other places and of course change extra for the information.
Just to be clear: I have no reason to believe that the reviews on Amazon.com are fake. He wrote fake reviews on Usenet and at least one other place. For instance, this review at the FPSpace list-serv, by "Julie Miller" is almost certainly Chien.

It has all the trappings of his fake reviews: somebody who has never posted anything before suddenly showing up and singing the praises of Chien's book.

The Amazon reviews often have a "real name" ID below them. I believe this means that the person writing the review has ordered from Amazon before using a credit card, so the name on the review and the name on the credit card match. However, you might click on each reviewer's name and see if they have reviewed any other books. If the only book they have ever reviewed is this one, and they praise it to high heaven, that looks a little odd.

Gilbert
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posted 01-08-2007 01:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gilbert   Click Here to Email Gilbert     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Chien had a tent set up in Mercury Park at the first launch attempt for STS-121. I spent some time talking with him there and purchased his book and CD. I have not yet read it, and now I'm not sure I want to read it. Chien did seem like an enthusiastic space journalist. The news of his 'problem' is disappointing.

KSCartist
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posted 01-08-2007 03:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have the book and I've met Phil Chien a few times. When things were going well for him-he was very stand-offish. It was only when he shot himself in the foot and was no longer a journalist in good standing at KSC did he reach out (to sell his book-obviously).

I am curious how he persuaded family members to cooperate with him. Didn't Jon Clark write the forward? I wonder what they think of Chien now?

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-08-2007 03:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by KSCartist:
When things were going well for him-he was very stand-offish. It was only when he shot himself in the foot and was no longer a journalist in good standing at KSC did he reach out. (to sell his book-obviously)

Regarding the first point: that was my own experience as well -- the only time I ever met him he treated me like I was some little kid who was bothering him.

Regarding the second point: he got banned from KSC about a year before he had his problem at Wired.com.

ASCAN1984
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posted 01-08-2007 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jon Clark wrote the forward. My goodness that is a surprise. What did he say in it?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-08-2007 03:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not to pile on, as I think the point has been well-made regarding Chien, but I did remember a specific story from a colleague that pertains to Final Voyage.

Though I'm not clear on the connection, in the course of researching/writing his book, Chien sought photographs from the Flag Day ceremony held at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. It was a NASA event but apparently NASA did not have a photographer present (or Chien was unaware or unable to find photos from NASA). He contacted the AMNH for assistance obtaining the images he needed.

When my colleague (who at the time was with the museum) replied to Chien's request with a query as to why he needed the photos and how they would be used, what credit would be given to the museum, etc., he became belligerent, nearly demanding that the photos be released to him. He acted as if he was entitled to the images, even though they were not public domain. His attitude was such a surprise that the person handling his request contacted me to learn if anyone had encountered Chien and his strange behavior before.

Incidentally, we (collectSPACE) did have a photographer at that event, Ben Cooper, but my colleague at the AMNH didn't volunteer that information to Chien.

ASCAN1984
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posted 02-26-2007 12:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am nearly finished reading the book and I can say one thing sticks out. I need to be careful with my words but he keeps on saying, almost boasting, that he had done all of these different things with the crew. Almost smug as in 'I knew the crew and you didn't.' I really hated that. As for the book it is well written and full of detail but I cannot trust what he says. I kept thinking that after every thing I read, is this true? Did he really speak to that person? Did they really say that?

Dwayne Day
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posted 02-26-2007 01:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ASCAN1984:
Almost smug as in 'I knew the crew and you didn't.'
There were other journalists who were following that launch and I know that some of them were irked by his claims that he was essentially the only person reporting about it. It's just not true.

Fra Mauro
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posted 06-19-2009 03:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just finished "Columbia: Final Voyage." All in all an excellent book with very interesting perspectives on the mission. The chapters about the experiments are very detailed and perhaps not the book's strong point but it is a great testimony to STS-107.

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