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Several space history articles written by one author and published in venues like Ars Technica appear to be plagiarized from other sources.

Plagiarism in several space history articles

<< page 3: similarities between the September 2012 DVICE.com article and Andy Chaikin’s Lunokhod article for Air & Space

Similarities between two other Ars Technica articles and other works

In August, Ms. Teitel wrote an article for Ars Technica titled “How Cold War nuclear testing once made orbit unsafe for Apollo,” which also borrowed text from at least one other source without attribution, the book Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft, written by Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Lloyd S. Swenson and published by NASA in 1979. The entire text of the book is on the Internet. Some of the text in Ms. Teitel’s article was taken from chapter 5 of the NASA book. Other material in her article appears to have been copied in sequence without credit from an article in the March 2012 online edition of Wired, written by space historian David S F Portree, which had correctly cited the primary source material by Messrs. James and Schulte, for the 50th anniversary of the Starfish Prime nuclear test of 1962.

NASA e-book: Chariots for Apollo:
Webb asked Frederick R. Kappel, President of American Telephone & Telegraph Company, to form a group to provide this talent for Apollo. Bellcomm, Inc., the new AT&T division, began operating alongside Holmes’ NASA Headquarters manned space flight engineers in March 1962.

Wired: Starfish and Apollo (1962):
[…] the increased radiation might last until 1967–1968, when NASA hoped to carry out the first Apollo expedition to the moon. The Apollo spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast, would have to traverse the augmented Van Allen Belts, and no one could say what effect their radiation would have on Apollo crews.

Wired: Starfish and Apollo (1962):
James and Schulte noted that the Van Allen belts are inclined relative to Earth’s equator and do not cover its poles. If the belts became impassable, they wrote, NASA would have little choice but to launch Apollo astronauts through the Van Allen belt gaps over Earth’s poles. Unfortunately, Cape Canaveral was poorly placed for polar launches because rockets launched due south or north would pass over populated areas (Cuba and Brazil to the south and the major cities of the eastern seaboard to the north). James and Schulte wrote that a country with polar launch capability might explode nuclear weapons in space to bar a nation without such capability from launching men to the moon. They did not mention the Soviets specifically, nor did they point out that the Soviet Union, with its extensive Arctic Ocean coastline, was well placed to carry out polar launches.

Ars Technica:
In March of 1962, NASA administrator Jim Webb asked Frederick R. Kappel, the president of American Telephone and Telegraph, if the agency could borrow some of AT&T’s talent.

Ars Technica:
[…] early manned missions orbited at 160 miles, well below the […] Starfish-enhanced Van Allen belt.

[…] and the Apollo crews would have no choice but to fly through […] the augmented lower Van Allen belt on their way to the Moon. The new concern became whether this increased radiation environment would last long enough to threaten Apollo.

Ars Technica:
James and Schulte noted that the Van Allen belts don’t envelop the Earth like a bubble. […]. The poles are uncovered. If the radiation levels didn’t go down or further testing made the belts impossible for humans safely to pass through, NASA could launch crews on trajectories that would take them through the polar radiation gaps. […]

Launching north or south from Cape Canaveral would mean launching over highly populated areas. […]

And there were ways for another country to sabotage an American Moonshot that took advantage of the polar radiation gaps. A country with favorable polar launch sites could deliberately detonate nuclear weapons in this space to prevent Apollo from flying to the Moon. James and Schulte didn’t vilify the Soviet Union directly, but they did point out that the nation has extensive Arctic Ocean coastline and an excellent polar launch capability. [sic: also inverts the meaning of the original sentence.]

Readers who look at the original sources and Ms. Teitel’s article will probably find more instances of borrowed text. In the event that it is removed, we have saved screencaps of the Ars Technica article here and here.

In September, Ars Technica published another one of Ms. Teitel’s articles, “The life and death of Buran, the USSR shuttle built on faulty assumptions.” The article uses text that is taken from the copyrighted 2007 book Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle, by the Soviet space historians Bart Hendrickx and Bert Vis, published by Springer Praxis. The Hendrickx and Vis book is not referenced in Ms. Teitel’s article. The similarities are readily apparent by taking a few key phrases from the first paragraphs of the article and putting them into Google’s search engine, which immediately linked to a Google Books scan of the book. The Google Books file does not include the entire book for copyright reasons. Because the book is not easily accessible electronically, it is harder to make a textual comparison. However, our preliminary analysis (which is incomplete), indicates that Ms. Teitel rewrote and condensed sections of the Hendrickx/Vis book before selling her article to Ars Technica:

Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle:
The heart of Buran’s flight control system were two Soviet-built redundant computer sets known as the Central Computing System and the Peripheral Computing System, each consisting of four identical computers called “Biser-4” (“Beads”).

Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle:
Propellant was transferred from the forward to the aft reaction control system to meet center-of-gravity requirements for reentry and landing. Finally, the automatic systems commanded the orbiter to maneuver its tail toward the direction of flight in preparation for retrofire.

Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle:
Finally, at 6:24.42 GMT, just one second earlier than planned, Buran landed at a speed of 263 km/h, […].

Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle:
Tass, on the other hand, was typically brief and businesslike in its landing announcement:

Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle:
Only hours after the mission the Central Committee of the Communist Party sent the obligatory congratulatory message to the Energiya-Buran team.

Energia-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle:
On 6 May 1989 the Energiya-Buran program was again on the agenda of the Defense Council, chaired by Gorbachov.

While acknowledging the success of Buran’s mission and praising the work of the people involved, the Council expressed dissatisfaction with the progress made on devising payloads and missions for the Soviet shuttle.

Ars Technica:
At the heart of the orbiter were two redundant Soviet-built computers known as the Central Computing System and the Peripheral Computing System, each consisting of four identical computers called Biser-4.

Ars Technica:
Propellant was transferred forward from rear tanks to meet center of gravity requirements, and the orbiter maneuvered itself so that it was leading with its tail, orienting its engines for the deorbit burn.

Ars Technica:
Battling headwinds and crosswinds, the orbiter touched down just one second earlier than planned, traveling at 163 miles per hour.

Ars Technica:
The end of the mission was publicly marked by a brief and businesslike announcement from TASS.

Ars Technica:
Within hours of the shuttle’s landing, the Central Committee of the Communist party sent a congratulatory message to the Buran-Energiya team.

Ars Technica:
The future of the Energiya-Buran program was on the agenda of the Defense Council’s May 6, 1989 meeting, which was chaired by Mikhail Gorbachov, then-general secretary of the Communist party. The council expressed dissatisfaction with the plan Buran representatives laid out for the shuttle.

Readers who look at the two works will probably find more instances of borrowed text. In the event that it is removed, we have saved screencaps of the Ars Technica article here and here.

Conclusion

All of the original works that Ms. Teitel plagiarized required substantial amounts of research and effort to develop. Our article on Polyus-Skif, which would not have been possible without the work of Konstantin Lantratov, involved hundreds of hours of meticulous translation and consultation with sources. Andrew Chaikin conducted extensive research for his article on the Lunokhods, which is what made it unique and also attractive for copying. Neither of those works, however, involved as much work as their respective authors put into the Energia-Buran and Chariots for Apollo books.

Historians naturally build upon the works of others, and professional norms require that they acknowledge when they do so, and use quotations when borrowing text. However, in the cases we cited above, Ms. Teitel went beyond simply basing her writing upon our work; Mr. Chaikin’s work; the work of Messrs. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson; the work of Mr. Portree; and the work of Messrs. Hendrickx and Vis. She copied, pasted, and partially rewrote our entire article as well as the others and then sold the resulting articles to commercial publications.

Ms. Teitel, like many writers today, promotes her work across multiple websites. She currently has a blog on the Popular Science website. In addition to writing for Scientific American and DVICE.com, she also has an older blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Facebook page for her blog, and a YouTube channel. The older version of her blog includes whole text, or links to, many of her articles.

Given that the four articles we looked at all included text taken from other authors without attribution, space historians would be wise to peruse her other articles (linked to from her older blog) to determine if any of these articles look similar to their own work. We found the four examples discussed above because we were familiar with these subjects, but historians with other specialties are better suited to find similarities in other subject areas. In particular, considering that we found evidence that three of the four articles published by Ars Technica were problematic, it would be logical to look at the fourth, “What might have been: Visiting Mars and Venus with Apollo-era hardware.” That article looks suspiciously like the earlier work of Mr. Portree, who has had several detailed blog posts over the years, as well as a NASA monograph, that have addressed Mars and Venus flyby studies (some of Mr. Portree’s older blog posts are no longer available). In addition, a January 2013 blog entry, “The U-2 with Fictitious NASA Markings,” also looks suspicious given the author’s lack of other writings on the U-2 spyplane. Readers might also check her numerous recent articles on DVICE on a range of subjects, including Soviet space. Editors who have overseen Ms. Teitel’s work would also be wise to check their authenticity.

Finally, we note that Ms. Teitel’s older blog includes this statement: “If you’re interested in reproducing any of my articles in whole are [sic] in part, please feel free. I only ask that you credit me as the author and include a link back to my website.” This was a policy that she herself did not follow in acquiring the works of other space historians.


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