[FPSPACE] Fwd: [HASTRO-L] Astronomy history via ADS full text statistics?

David Portree dsfportree at hotmail.com
Tue Jan 1 17:36:19 EST 2013

A lot of people like oral history, but unless it's supported by documentation contemporary with the events being discussed in the interview, it's not much more than nostalgia. It's rare for oral history interviewers to get past the stories astronauts and other luminaries have told for years. The best oral history is oral history of people who haven't been interviewed hundreds of times, because they generally say what they remember, not what has become the official story. And, they are often more than willing to supply copies of significant supporting documentation, since it's usually the first time their work has received any attention in decades.
David S. F. Portree

dsfportree at hotmail.com
dportree at usgs.gov

From: ljk4 at msn.com
To: fpspace at friends-partners.org
Date: Tue, 1 Jan 2013 17:14:19 +0000
Subject: [FPSPACE] Fwd: [HASTRO-L] Astronomy history via ADS full text	statistics?


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-----Original Message----- 

From: dfischer at ASTRO.UNI-BONN.DE 

Sent: 1/1/2013 3:24:07 PM 

To: HASTRO-L at listserv.wvu.edu 

Subject: [HASTRO-L] Astronomy history via ADS full text statistics? 

The three-part article on Martian canals in the astronomical literature




is probably more interesting for its methodology than for its conclusions

(which, after so many graphs and words, is simply that there was

"lingering interest" in Martian canals for decades after Antoniadi

seemingly closed the issue in 1909) - is this a valid approach to

"data-mine" vast amounts of literature? There is *no* way to find out

whether an article represents an original study pro or contra the

existence of the canals or is simply a historical review!

Incidentally if you run "Martian canals" through

http://books.google.com/ngrams/ - which some historians *are* promoting as

a new great tool to figure out the popularity of certain terms over time -

you get basically the same graph: nothing at all before the 1880's, a peak

around 1908 - and "lingering interest" til today, with a modest second

peak around 1960. All that in about 2 seconds ...


P.S.: Here's something else to ponder re. methods - the "small step"

affair. Neil Armstrong always contended - including in his authorized

biography - that he came up with his famous words between touchdown and

stepping out of the LEM. Yet now his brother has claimed in an interview -

see e.g.






- that he was shown the line by Neil on a piece of paper before Apollo 11

even left Earth. Not that this has any impact on the history of space

research but it throws some light on the value of oral history. Figuring

out which light is left as an exercise to the reader ...

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