How flying changed from a craft to a science: Chapter 1 available

I have just uploaded Chapter 1 of my book manuscript. It summarizes four revolutionary changes in how people flew. It outlines some themes of the full book, including People and Work and Is Science Inevitable?. And of course it includes a few gripping tales of accidents averted – or not.

Commercial aviation today is very safe and scientific. But it wasn’t always. Please send comments, anything from typos to critiques.

Over August I will put up some photographs and key tables from the full book.

Who Will Debunk The Debunkers? Reality and Myth in history of science

Separating historical truth from myth is as hard in science as anywhere else. This article has several examples, including whether Darwin got his ideas from someone else, and a dispute about whether Semmelweis was really ignored after his discovery of the link  between hand-washing and disease.

Semmelweiss teaches doctors to wash their hands c 1850 – it is still an issue today

The Hamblin article [about a supposed misplaced decimal point], unscholarly and unsourced, would become the ultimate authority for all the citations that followed. (Hamblin graciously acknowledged his mistake after Sutton published his research, as did Arbesman.)

In 2014, a Norwegian anthropologist named Ole Bjorn Rekdal published an examination of how the decimal-point myth had propagated through the academic literature. He found that bad citations were the vector. Instead of looking for its source, those who told the story merely plagiarized a solid-sounding reference: “(Hamblin, BMJ, 1981).” Or they cited someone in between — someone who, in turn, had cited Hamblin. This loose behavior, Rekdal wrote, made the transposed decimal point into something like an “academic urban legend,” its nested sourcing more or less equivalent to the familiar “friend of a friend” of schoolyard mythology. Source: Who Will Debunk The Debunkers? | FiveThirtyEight

I found a similar myth about aviation checklists. It’s a myth that they were invented because of the crash of a B-17 bomber prototype in 1935. The first B-17 checklist was in 1937, and by then many Navy aircraft had more complete checklists. Including one published before the 1935 crash.

As far as I could tell when I researched this, the B-17 checklist story was first told in a 1965 book by Edward Jablonski. Since then the myth has been passed from article to article to book, such as Atul Gawande’s generally excellent book, Checklist. The crash did happen, but checklists were invented independently of it.

Tumblr? Pinterest? What should I use?

What’s a good place to put supplemental information, especially photos and tables, for my book? I have a lot of old photographs, and putting them into the book itself gets expensive. Some are in color and some are very large. Here are a few examples.
I could set up my own site, or use my publisher’s, but places like Tumblr know how to run photo sites. The ideal features I want include being able to link to pictures on other sites (due to copyright restrictions), able to create tables of contents, etc. Straight chronology won’t suffice.

Obvious candidates

include Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram. I don’t use any of them except to dabble, so I don’t know their strengths. Possibly Twitter or Facebook?

All advice welcome. Email me, or post comments here.

Changing flying from a craft to a science: what went right, and what went wrong, in World War II

I have just finished  a working paper called  NOT FLYING BY THE BOOK: SLOW ADOPTION OF CHECKLISTS AND PROCEDURES IN WW2 AVIATION. It tells how, in 1937 shortly before World War 2,  the American air forces invented a much better way to train new pilots, and to fly complex aircraft and missions. What they invented is now used all over the world, by all licensed pilots and military aviators. But during the war, even American pilots resisted switching to the new way of flying. The only full-speed adopters were the strategic bombing forces attacking Germany and Japan. The US Navy, despite being one of the 1937 inventors, did not fully make the switch until after 1960!

Precise flying was a matter of life or death.

Precise flying was a matter of life or death.

POMS talk: Aviation 1940 = Medicine 2005

B-17 Throttles

B-17 Throttles (Photo credit: rkbentley)

On Sunday I gave a capstone talk at the Production & Operations Society meeting in Denver.  I oriented my talk toward a comparison of health care now, with aviation’s transition to Standard Procedure Flying in the 1940s and 50s. BOHN POMS Standard procedure flying 2013e

As in medicine now, experienced expert flyers who did not use standard procedures were still better than newly trained pilots who did. And there was resistance to the changes. But aviation had a couple of advantages in making the transition: New pilots who did not learn SPF died quickly, usually in accidents. And the old experts got rotated out of combat positions (United States Army Air Force), or eventually got shot down no matter how good they were. (Germany)

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