Talk:Tom Van Flandern

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RFC[edit]

RFC on Tom Van Flandern's Deep Reality Physics[edit]

Non-Encyclopedic statements lacking notability and verifiability?[edit]

The Mainstream Work section of the article currently includes two sentences that seem rather un-encyclopedic, both referenced to Van Flandern's obituary, written by his close life-long friends David Dunham and Victor Slabinski.

After describing the date conversion algorithm, the article says "This was used in countless business applications worldwide." The word "countless" seems like boosterism, and could not be verified. Could we tone that down a little? I suggest revising the wording to say "The algorithm was available for use in business applications." This is about as much as we can verifiably say. (Who knows how many business applications actually used it - or even how many business applications actually convert from Gregorian to Julian dates?)

The second sentence that seem a bit boosteristic is in the paragraph on the "low precision orbits" paper. The article says "The paper set a record for the number of reprints requested from that journal." This could conceivably be true, but again the only source is the recollections of two close friends writing an obituary 30 years after the paper was printed. How do they know this? For a statement like that, it would be nice to have an independent verifiable source. Lacking that, perhaps we could just make the verifiable statement "According to Van Flandern's obituary, the paper set a record for the number of reprints requested from that journal."Urgent01 (talk) 16:04, 19 November 2013 (UTC)

Asteroid Citation - Advocacy and Boosterism[edit]

I think the citation for the asteriod written by Van Flandern's life-long friends is not suitable as the sole source for the claims it contains, because it doesn't come from an independent source (it was written by his close friends soon after his passing), and asteriod citations don't pass any kind of scholarly peer review. The specific claims in that citation are not supported by any reputable secondary source. For example, there is no verifiable source for the claim that Van Flandern "improved the accuracy of the GPS system". In fact, to the contrary, Van Flandern is notable for having mis-understood and mis-represented the functioning of the GPS system. The other claims in the asteriod naming citation are similarly unsupported.

In fact, even mentioning the asteroid naming at all is marginally suitable for this Wikipedia article, because it tends to be misleading to readers who don't know how easy it is to get an astroid named after someone. After Van Flandern passed away, his family members and life-long friends, such as fellow Lesage gravity enthusiast Victor Slabinski, and long-time friend David Dunham (who was first introduced to his wife by Van Flandern), and the boosterific Dennis Smith took it upon themselves to manufacture as much praise and notability as they could, including the asteriod naming, the flattering obituary, the Moonwatch commemorative plack (Which was engineered by Smith), and of course this Wikipedia article. The latest External Link added to this article (by the same editor who has re-inserted the asteriod citation and more Moonwatch articles promoted by Smith) is primarily an homage to Dennis Smith, and a description of his (somewhat embarrassing) hero-worship of his life-long friend Van Flandern. Honestly, this kind of thing doesn't belong in Wikipedia. This isn't a fond obituary of a dear friend, it's an encyclopedia article. Can we tone down the boosterism? Let's focus on reputable, independent, secondary sources please.Urgent01 (talk) 23:51, 6 December 2013 (UTC)

I think sourcing is indeed the key here. Do you have any source material that I can reference that backs up any of your claims? Everything I've read on the subject speaks highly of the program and doesn't mention anything about a bunch of buddies doing favors for each other or self-promotion. If you are going to make accusations like those, you need to back it up.StarHOG (talk) 15:55, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
What "program" are you talking about? Moonwatch? Or Asteroid Naming?
In any case, there is certainly well-sourced evidence that people like Dennis Smith have been engaging in boosterism for Van Flandern. For example, there's an article in which Smith admits that he was the one who advocated for the commemorative Moonwatch sign in Cincinati honoring his boyhood friend (and then it promptly shows up, complete with photo, in this article), and we know life-long friends Slabinski and Dunham wrote the obituary, and we know Van Flandern's son edited this Wikipedia article soon after Tom's passing, etc. We also know, by their own statements, that some other editors of this article were personal friends of Van Flandern. So there is no question about the boosterism. And the asteroid naming, which realistically can only have been proposed by friends (see below), especially considering Van Flandern's bridge-burning with mainstream science. We also have the internet posting of David Dunham in Jan 2009 shortly after Van Flandern passed away:
"Besides our close astronomical collaboration, I am also indebted to Tom personally, he was a great friend who helped secure my employment with Computer Sciences Corporation in 1976 in spite of poor recommendations from my previous two "old school" bosses who did not appreciate my work... Tom also introduced me to his employee, Joan Bixby, whom I married in 1970... An asteroid will be named for Tom with the next batch of Minor Planet Circulars at the next full moon on February 9. - David
This, along with the similarity between the obituary (which we know was written by Dunham and Slabinski) and the asteroid citation, leads me to think that Dave was instrumental in proposing the asteroid naming.
However, I agree that sourcing is the key, and unfortunately there is no published sourcing for asteroid naming. I've actually studied the process by which an asteroid, if it has not been named for more than 10 years after its discovery, is "up for grabs", and anyone can propose a name for it. The organization that keeps track of the names does not do the proposing themselves, nor do they write the citations (if there is a citation). This is done by whoever proposes it, which is typically friends or relatives of the person (or fans, like the fans of Frank Zappa or Ringo Starr). There have been asteroids named for all kinds of frivolous reasons (even pets), and many of the citations are comical or whimsical. But to your point about sourcing, we simply have no published source for it, because frankly asteroid naming is not regarded as a peer reviewed or authorative secondary source. So the unsourced citation certainly doesn't belong in the article. In fact, the whole naming itself only belongs if it can be properly sourced. So I think the burden is on you to identify the source, i.e., who proposed the naming and who wrote the citation. If you cannot provide this, then I think Wikipedia rules say it doesn't belong in the article.Urgent01 (talk) 17:06, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

Operation Moonwatch - Undue Weight? Dennis Smith?[edit]

The current article seems to have become weighted down with coverage of "Operation Moonwatch", which was sort of like the Boy Scouts for amateur sky watchers in the late 50s and 60s. Just having been a Boy Scout, or even an Eagle Scout, with lots of merit badges for starting fires and tying knots, etc., isn't really a notable achievement. The Wikipedia article on Project Moonwatch lists only one "prominent person" who participated in Moonwatch and later went on to have a career in science, namely James Westphal, but the article on Westphal doesn't even mention Moonwatch... and rightly so, because it's a rather trivial thing - not that being an eagle scout is trivial to the people involved, but in the larger scheme of things, it isn't really significant. In contrast, this article on Van Flandern has a large image of a silly Moonwatch sign (which was created at the urging of Van Flandern's long-time friend Dennis Smith), and 4 of 10 External links are to Moonwatch articles. None of this is related to the subject's notability. I think we ought to trim back some of the Moonwatch stuff, especially since it seems to be focusing more on Dennis Smith rather than Van Flandern. If someone wants to create an article for Dennis Smith, they should propose that separately.Urgent01 (talk) 07:28, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

I'd like to know where you are getting all this from, or it your personal opinion? There are already several sources on this page listed such as cincinnati.com, Xavier University, and the Ohio Historical Society that all say the program and the participants were pretty special, especially the part under Tom's direction which is what we're talking about here. You blabbering about them all being friends and inflating their egos and the program wasn't special sounds like your opinion to me.StarHOG (talk) 16:10, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
I'm getting much of "all this" from the links in the article, e.g., the joint interview with Van Flandern and Slabinski, and the embarrassing articles about Moonwatch.
I think I can speak objectively about it, because I had no personal involvement in "Operation Moonwatch". If I had been personally involved in it, especially if I had been a personal friend of Van Flandern's in the Moonwatch activities, I would recuse myself immediately from this discussion, since I wouldn't have the objectivity necessary to edit this article. Also, the fawning articles that energetic boosters like Dennis Smith have managed to get into the local papers on this subject are not very high quality sources, because they are not independent and not peer reviewed. None of the personal reminicences of by-gone days that these boosters manage to get printed in local papers is subject to rigorous fact checking (and how could they check, since it's just the memories of old friends). Those papers are not scientific journals, they are just reporting human interest stories. When you say those papers all say "the participants (in Moonwatch) were pretty special", well, I would say my grandma Edna was "pretty special", and I could probably get an article about her into the local paper here, and even a commemorative plack placed somewhere around here for her good deeds. Who is going to object? But that wouldn't justify making an Wikipedia article about her.
Wow, I tried to help edit this article with a new user ID to try and reduce the amount of hateful banter that I thought my Akuvar user ID was drawing, but I see now it isn't me you want to argue with, you are ready to rip anyone a new one for trying to improve the article and you'll play your old tricks with anyone, deleting the entire asteroid naming citation from the article because you can't have your way and insert your belittling comments about how easy it is to get an asteroid named after you. To actually accuse this new ID, StarHOG of having a personal interest and should recuse himself must be the most hypocritical thing I've ever read from you. I am tired of your personal vendetta against Van Flandern, you couldn't shut him up in real life so you try to do as much damage to him now that he can't defend himself. We've been at this for almost 5 years and it has made me weary....but I think you thrive on it, which is a fantastic testament to your hatred of the man.Akuvar (talk) 00:37, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
I don't think you've addressed any of the issues with the article. Again, I think the asteroid citation is not suitable, because it contains unsourced claims, such as improving the accuracy of the GPS, which are not supported in any independent source. If you can find an independent and reputable source saying that Van Flandern improved the accuracy of the GPS, then that would be good to put in the article. But the asteroid naming citation (written by his close friends soon after his passing) does not qualify as a suitable source for those claims. Remember, this is not a fond obituary of a dear friend, it's an encyclopedia article with certain standards of notability and verifiability.Urgent01 (talk) 01:29, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
I say again, let's tone down the coverage of the boosterism organized by Van Flandern's personal friends. This article is not about Operation Moonwatch, nor about Van Flandern's friendship with Dennis Smith.Urgent01 (talk) 17:24, 7 December 2013 (UTC)