Accuracy or Agenda?
In a couple of posts commenters have raised issues about Almost Astronauts. The book’s editor, Marc Aronson, challenges readers to bring objections to his blog, but no one has yet. Though some of our commenters mentioned "inaccuracies" and "questionable sources"…this real gist of the issue seems to be about "slant" or "propoganda" in Stone’s text.
One commenter mentions checking out historian Roger Launius’ comments, which I eventually found on Amazon attaced as a customer review to one of Stone’s sources, Stephanie Nolen’s Promised the Moon. I also found James Oberg’s 2007 article helpful in synthesizing some of the disgruntlement over Nolen and Ackmann’s books, which Stone uses as sources.
Not having read Stone’s sources completely, the thing I find interesting about complaints lodged at Stone’s book, referencing this debate, is that the story as Launius and Oberg attempt to set it out is as Stone sets it out as well. Stone just has a different angle. Commenter’s question Stone’s sources, probably because she relies heavily on the books Launius condemns; but she also uses Weitenkamp’s The Right Stuff: The Wrong Sex, which Lanius calls the "authoritative work on this subject."
In reading over the arguments to Stone’s sources, it seems to me that the arguments lodged at Stone are partly borne of the agenda of this older debate.
This is not to say that Stone doesn’t clearly take a position; but I think the "facts" are very clearly laid out in her book, and in fact the dramatic tone that she takes–which so many detractors seem to have a problem with–helps identify her narrative as a perspective, a point of view.
One of my colleagues takes issue with her tone for a different reason: the story is compelling enough, she says. Stone doesn’t need to hit us over the head with it. While I occasionally found myself wishing Stone would turn it down just a notch, I really appreciated her style. One can just lay facts "out bare" in a way that suggests objectivity, while being no less subjective than Stone is. Look at Oberg’s article, where he lists "Truth #1, #2" etc…. but under those "historical facts" mixes in claims: probably extremely reasonable and justified, but claims nonetheless. Compare to Stone, p.55, where she lays out "the bare facts: Domino number one, Domino number two"…then says: "This explanation is clear, simple, straightforward–and fairly meaningless." And then goes on to make her claims, also reasonable and justified. Stone is saying: "here’s the ‘facts’, and here’s my interpretation of them." Oberg says simply "here’s the truth."
Stone says on p.50:
"Organizations do not like to be told that they are wrong, that they have left out qualified people, that they need to change."
And that’s apt here. Launius’ (a curator for NASA) and Oberg’s (a veteran of NASA’s mission control)comments are very helpful in giving perspective to Stone’s book, and I’m not taking issue with them at all since they’re taking on books that I haven’t read. I just find that applying their arguments to Stone doesn’t completey hold…and, in fact, just reveals a different agenda.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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