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Redesigning Scientific Literature

Scientific literature has a traditional style and format, which evolved over many years and likely has its merits, but this no longer reflects how people read these papers:

“I start by reading the abstract. Then, I skim the introduction and flip through the article to look at the figures. I try to identify the most prominent one or two figures, and I really make sure I understand what’s going on in them. Then, I read the conclusion/summary. Only when I have done that will I go back into the technical details to clarify any questions I might have.”

– Jesse Shanahan, master’s candidate in astronomy at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut

Shanahan’s habit reflects nicely the theme from most of the people quoted in the story linked above. As it turns out, few people—especially the target audience of professional researchers—read a study the way it’s presented, which means the presentation is wrong. Scientists, researchers, academics and intellectuals now have to deal with a flood of papers as human knowledge expands. The outline of these papers should reflect this reality.

Here is how a standard paper is organized:

Abstract
Introduction
Materials and Methods
Results
Discussion
References
Acknowledgments

It should be an easy task to rearrange the sections of a scientific paper in such a way as to match the needs of the primary readership. The first change that’s required is very easy: Don’t bury the lede, the conclusions of the paper should not be buried somewhere in the middle of the latter third of a paper. Abstracts normally state the conclusions of the study, and I believe the abstract as it exists is pretty much perfect. A well-written abstract is one of the most wonderful experiences in a world of technical literature that is generally dreadful as the phrase “technical literature” implies. Therefore, the abstract remains at the top.

Next would be a “select” graphic, preferably just one graphic but two or three would be fine. A graphic is perhaps the most important element of a study, as it turns data into something visual, which is easier to grasp. If warranted, a select graphic should appear just below the abstract. Properly captioned, this should assist the readers in understanding the magnitude and importance of the results of a paper. Some papers won’t have graphics, and in its place we could perhaps find a table or equation.

The results of the paper, written in clear language, is perhaps the most important part of the paper. It is very important to not overstate the conclusions, and to make any issues of context clear and explicit. It should be the first thing people read, after the abstract. In all likelihood, the conclusions section will end up being the only section of the main body of the text to be read.

Following this should be the discussion section, including clear references to previous research in the topic (I would even bold those references to make them easier to find). These references are important—several researchers mentioned it—because it allows them to immediately see the study in relation to previous literature and they can even see any bias (such as avoiding an important previous study). The introduction section is eliminated, any concepts that have to be introduced to understand the problem or study can be mentioned in the discussion.

The actual methodology of the study is only useful to those trying to replicate the study or specialists in the field and we therefore put it at the end. It will contain all the nitty gritty details of how everything in the study was done, with all the excruciating minutiae and jargon and acronyms a subfield specialist would demand. Personally, I would still attempt to make everything in the paper accessible to non-specialists. Ideally, even the methodology section should be written in clear enough language that someone outside the field can understand how the research was done. However, as long as the conclusions and discussions are clear, the methodology section can be as incomprehensible as the authors feel is necessary to communicate their own expertise.

Finally, all the tables and graphics should come at the end, including a reproduction of anything used at the top of the paper.  A standard reference section should follow, with any acknowledgments coming at the very end. Here is the final outline:

Abstract
Select Graphics or Tables
Results or Conclusions
Discussion (with any introductory material and a select summary of previous research)
Methodology
All graphics and tables
References
Acknowledgements

A physicist friend of mine from college (we shared an addiction to handball) told me “If it’s not in the first or last sentence of the abstract, it didn’t happen.” So maybe this was all for naught.

DB Cooper Notes: February

  • Obviously, the big story in the Cooper world is still the McCrone Labs Analysis of the particles pulled from Cooper’s tie. I’ve been getting emails and have been following leads. The recent focus has been on manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest, especially Tektronix, which did some electronics work for Boeing.
  • Tektronix has a nearly complete employee yearbook from 1959 to about 1971, it has pictures of nearly every employee, about 18,000 total people. I failed to get a copy, but it wouldn’t take too long to go through every picture. This is exactly the sort of thing that can solve this case. The tie should be easy to photo-match, we know what the tie clip looks like and we know there’s some kind of tie tack on it too.
  • Whether the evidence collected will ever reach the threshold necessary to prove any suspect is Cooper is an open question. It appears that most of the guys at the Cooper Forum want either a bill from the ransom, or the parachute before they’ll even consider someone a suspect. This is an unattainable evidentiary standard. The money, even if Cooper got away with some of it, would be gone now, laundered and spent. If Cooper survived, the parachute was either buried or destroyed, and in either case it can’t be linked to an individual. In my mind, absent DNA, the only way to really connect someone with the hijacking would be a photo of them wearing the tie. From there, other circumstantial evidence should appear.
  • The “Gunther Hypothesis” got a good discussion on the Cooper Forum, and it took a bruising. No criticisms were raised that I wasn’t expecting, but even if we found out who Gunther was writing about, it wouldn’t persuade anyone the individual was DB Cooper. Again, there is an unobtainable evidentiary threshold to reach.
  • There’s still plenty of actual investigation left in the Cooper case, especially concerning the Tena Bar money find. I’m hopeful some of it gets done, but it’s unlikely since the funding isn’t there.
  • Was clicking around the NamUs database, looking at the stories behind several dozen unidentified bodies in the PacNW. The running theory among those that believe Cooper died in the jump is that Cooper was a transient, and the number of unclaimed bodies belonging to transients is impressive. These were people dead to the world before they actually died. Had Cooper been one of these people, it’s believable no one would have missed him over the Thanksgiving weekend. However, it’s hard to believe Cooper was such a transient. The tie tells a story, and even if the tie was some thrift store purchase, Cooper’s behavior during the hijacking speak to someone well socialized, possibly well-educated and certainly intelligent and familiar with aviation. It’s very unlikely he was some random hobo.
  • I’ve spent over two years on this case, and it’s probably time to move on to the next project. I’ll be following the case for the rest of my life, but I’m now looking at other topics to write about. I think I’ll be sticking to true crime but let this serve as a warning to those now following my blog because I’ve been focused on DB Cooper: I’m moving away from the Cooper case.

Skyjacker

January DB Cooper Notes

  • Sales of the book have been pretty good, thank you all. However, no one has reviewed the book on Amazon.com yet, and that tends to be a really big deal when it comes to how Amazon cross-promotes products. If you’ve read the book, please give it an honest review on Amazon.com. Print Copy Here, Kindle Edition Here.
  • I purchased an NB6 container along with an old military reserve container. Playing around with the equipment, it looks like it would be an easy matter to store some of the money in the reserve container and secure everything with paracord. The Reserve container then could be easily clipped to the main harness. There’s room for about 130,000 dollars in the reserve container (not including the parachute). I’ll have to get a parachute to see how much money could be carried with the reserve parachute.
  • Geoffrey Gray recently released some of the FBI files he had which included interviews with 305 passengers. Of interest for me was Nancy House who reported seeing Cooper with a burlap or canvas bag about the size of the attache case.
  • Shutter at the DB Cooper Forum has run several flight path simulations which have shown that the FBI map is, while not perfect, pretty close. One of the controversies of the map are the timestamps, which are not spaced at regular intervals. If the timestamps are close, and the generally accepted time of 8:13pm for the jump is also close, Cooper landed around Battleground and no farther south than Orchards.
  • Important show on the Travel Channel (tonight). Tom Kaye has some new stuff, and the teaser trailer had Geoffrey Gray on it talking about some of the passenger interviews he has from the FBI files. I’ll be updating this post during and after.

Update

Kaye’s findings that Dan Cooper worked in CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) production is interesting. Anyone who has read my book will know that I make my case on Kaye’s earlier findings regarding titanium particles found on the tie. I await to hear Kaye’s interpretation. My suspect worked a sales job in Industrial Chemicals. As such, we would expect him to be exposed to a wide range of particles like the ones listed on Kaye’s website.

 

First, Do No Harm. A Rogue One Review

Here’s something a little different, I know it’s not DB Cooper but after two years I think I’ve covered the case pretty well, it’s time to move on. The Review contains spoilers, but spoilers won’t ruin the movie for you, I promise.

With any new Star Wars movie, the first question that needs to be asked is “did it do harm to the Original?” Did the filmmakers, for reasons of convenience or avarice or ignorance, harm in some way the memory of what made Star Wars the most beloved fictional franchise in history? To quickly answer this question in regard to Rogue One: No. Not only does Rogue One do no harm, it even fixes some issues with A New Hope. This is quite an accomplishment considering the movie ends minutes before the start of A New Hope. Rogue One is a good standalone sci-fi movie, which is an accomplishment for any Star Wars film, and more importantly, a worthy flag bearer in the growing Star Wars canon.

It will forever be difficult to make a new Star Wars movie because the filmmakers have to strike a balance between originality and mimicry. Make the movie too reminiscent of the Original Trilogy and it will be accused of plagiarizing and manipulating nostalgia for the sin of greed. If the movie is too original and fails to connect to what has come before, then audiences will accuse the film of infidelity. Over time. I believe this will become a larger problem, especially as audiences change over time with shifting technological culture. Thanks to the prequels, the bar is very low right now, and the folks at Disney have cleared it by miles.

Rogue One opens… somewhere. I’m not actually sure, as we visit so many planets in a short period of time. Regardless, the Empire has come for an engineer, Galen Erso. In the course of kidnapping Erso, Imperial agents kill Galen’s wife, and a young girl, Galen’s daughter, escapes. We shoot ahead about a decade and meet the daughter again, who is now serving a prison sentence for crimes we hear about, but never actually see.

The Daughter, Jyn Erso, is rescued by the Rebels. Based on her reaction. she was rescued against her will. The rebels need Jyn, I think, because Galen Erso is rumored to have sent a defecting cargo pilot with a message to warn the Rebellion about an Imperial superweapon. I’m not even sure how the Rebels know they need Jyn Erso or where to go to rescue her, since she’s living under an assumed name. This part of the film is painfully convoluted and reeks of poor writing or failed reshoots or corporate suits interfering with the movie. I’m not 100% certain what happened, but the end result is a mess. Even the witty dialogue and pumped up action doesn’t save this part of the film from being boring. In fact, the entire movie struggles to get its main cast into a position for the big ending. There are a lot of questions about these scenes, now that I have time to think about them.

What makes everything worse about these scenes is the movie is constantly throwing references for the diehard fans. Characters from the original trilogy get glorious cameos throughout, most of which work fine, especially in the third act. But…. This forty-five minutes of the movie, from Jyn’s jailbreak to the roundtable at Yavin Base, all I can remember is the bright green light from the emergency exit sign (which is, distractingly close to the screen at my theatre) and the sound of the family behind me assaulting their bags of popcorn.

Eventually, the film finds its mojo and the audience is treated to seeing the rebel base on Yavin IV. Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, our new cast of characters, the disparate members of the Rebel Alliance, they all get crammed into a roundtable discussion about the Death Star and the future of their resistance movement. It sounds like an awful scene, now that I write it down, but it worked. We see a Rebellion on the verge of collapse before it has really started. We understand the stakes, which are even bigger than losing a planet or two to the Death Star. We see the desperation and despair. Our main characters become the catalyst for the entire Rebellion through their resolve.

Here the Big Dumb Ending starts. And it is glorious. The story comes together, the characters begin to shine, we start to connect emotionally to the people and the story, the action was exciting and reasonable, no cartoon physics or poor effects. The movie even fixed some of the nitpicker objections sourpusses like to bring up to belittle the Original Trilogy.

Rogue One has wonderful cinematography, a serious tone that captures the uncertainty created by the modern war against terrorism, wonderful performances by a vast cast of characters, including some from A New Hope (Seriously). It suffers from some combination of poor writing or poor editing in post-production. It’s far from perfect, but for half the movie I forgot about that stupid Exit sign and I have no idea if those hogs behind me stopped eating or if I was just that absorbed in the story. That’s just about the highest praise I can give a film.

Print Edition Now Available: Finding DB Cooper

finding-cooper

Available now at Amazon.com

And Createspace

Cooper Book Update

I have been busy the last few weeks formatting and editing the print edition of Finding DB Cooper. It should be ready to go by early November. I have lowered the price of the Kindle version. Once the print book is published, the current Kindle version will be replaced with the second edition, which includes about 40% more material. According to the Kindle Publishing dashboard, it can take a day or two for the new price to publish.

LD Cooper is still Not DB Cooper

*I did a shorter profile of LD Cooper based on what I could learn about him from the popular press. More information is now available to us since Marla Cooper published a “raw” and “unedited” version of her book about her uncle’s possible connection to the DB Cooper hijacking. She did this to coincide with the History Channel’s documentary on the case.*

The story of LD Cooper exploded on the media like a fireworks show and disappeared just as quickly. Media fawned over Marla Cooper, a photogenic forty-something, when she announced that her uncle Lynn Doyle Cooper was the real DB Cooper. Rumors persisted that her story was so convincing the FBI might even close the book on Dan Cooper. LD was the “most promising” suspect ever in the case. Details were difficult to come by until recently when Marla published a book about her uncle’s connections to Norjak.

Lynn Doyle Cooper was a surveyor in Washington state who served in the Korean War. His brother once worked for Boeing and might have picked up knowledge about the 727 there. Marla claimed the two conspired to commit the hijacking, using handheld radios to meet up after LD jumped out of N467US. Marla further remembers seeing her two uncles on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. The two arrived in a car; LD was badly hurt and covered in blood. Marla stated her two uncles later went to the home of a fourth brother who took the two in. One of Marla’s cousins later confirmed LD was badly hurt. In the days and weeks after the hijacking, her uncles scoured the woods searching for the lost money, but never found a single twenty. The Radio ended up in the junk drawer, and the whole episode was lost to time. At least until Marla’s father talked about the events just before he died, rekindling the whole affair.

Marla brought her story to the attention to the FBI and SA Curtis Eng. This is where the story gets interesting. Eng is infamous for being an unemotive and impatient statue when dealing with people and their crazy DB Cooper theories. Something about Marla’s story caught his attention. When Marla talked about how her uncle had lost the money in the jump, Eng got very excited. Apparently Eng was sick of hearing stories about genius Cooper suspects planting money on Tena Bar to fool those meatheads at the FBI. So Eng pursued the matter, giving Marla an extensive polygraph exam, which she passed. The FBI later tested DNA and looked for LD’s fingerprints to check against the evidence collected from the airplane at Reno. The DNA produced no match, the fingerprint analysis came up with nothing, and no physical link was ever made between LD and Norjak.

Taken at face value, the story is interesting but it’s no more compelling than any of the other stories about Cooper suspects from people like Jo Weber. The forty-year-old memories of a then eight-year-old girl about her uncle being hurt on Thanksgiving day ain’t exactly what I’d call… promising… It’s actually pretty thin. We can take all of Marla’s memories as Gospel truth, and it still doesn’t warrant the investment Eng made. Other than Marla’s recollections of the night she saw her uncle LD badly injured, she makes zero connections to Norjak.

Why isn’t LD Cooper DB Cooper? First, LD Cooper’s military record did not include any parachute training that we know of, and LD Cooper otherwise had no experience parachuting or skydiving. Marla suggests LD’s military records are incomplete, or fabricated. Regardless, no one can put LD in a parachute harness.

Some of LD’s DNA was tested against the tie, and no match was found (from Marla’s book, it sounds like they tested LD’s daughter and mother; having the mother tested would allow them to look only at LD’s DNA). At least one fingerprint of LD’s was tested against the samples taken from the aircraft, again to no success.

And of course, LD did not work with titanium. Nor did his brother, who Marla claims loaned the tie to LD. Marla even produced a photograph of her uncle wearing a skinny black tie with a tie tack that looks like the tie tack from DB Cooper’s tie. But, the tie tack looks like it was inserted from the right (opposite of DB Cooper) and the photo is from 1964. The tie was available in 1964, but according to Marla her uncles were all blue collar guys who didn’t wear ties very often. Funerals and weddings, basically. None of them would have been wearing the tie often enough (or any tie often enough) to put the density of particles Kaye found on DB Cooper’s tie.

Once again, for the story to work the tie must have been purchased at a thrift store, sometime very soon before the hijacking. Just like all the other suspects. There are more problems. The Cooper brothers were all hard-drinking men, borderline alcoholics. I doubt, based on Marla’s description of their behavior, that any of them could hijack an aircraft and not drink. DB Cooper ordered one drink, and spilled about half of it. One drink, over six hours. Not the behavior one would expect from a heavy drinker.

Eng is quoted by Marla as saying LD had “the background for this hijacking.” Which is odd, since LD didn’t have any first-hand knowledge of aviation. It’s possible his brother Dewey, who worked at Boeing on the 727s, might have known about the rear-stairs being a good skydiving platform, or about the indent-flap settings. But overall, the stuff DB Cooper knew about the 727 exceeded what we’d expect LD Cooper to know.

Marla is adamant about her recollections, but they are the recollections of an eight-year-old girl. I’m sure her uncle LD was hurt at some point (my guess would be a DUI-related car accident) and at some point was being driven around by her other uncle. I wouldn’t be shocked if they did search for Cooper and his money. But nothing about her story matches the description of DB Cooper as an “executive type” patiently waiting for hours to jump out of an airplane, sipping a single order of bourbon.

New Book: Finding DB Cooper

finding db

Now Available on Kindle

Robert Wesley Rackstraw is not DB Cooper

Everyone knows “that guy.” That guy who always tells a big whopper of a story. That guy who’s always bragging about what he’s done. That guy who HAS to be lying about winning the four gold medals at the Sarajevo Olympics. However, part of you believes That Guy, because some of his stories are true, he really does have an old picture of himself and Richard Nixon. He really does have a scar from a bear attack. Rackstraw is That Guy. Thomas Colbert (TJC) believes Rackstraw is DB Cooper. (Most of the information found here is from TJC’s website and book.) Rackstraw is a living person, but after his love affair with the media in the late 1970’s during his murder trial, and the subsequent History Channel special about him 2016, make him a public figure in my estimation.

Rackstraw went into the army in the 1960’s, attending the infantry jump school at Fort Benning in 1967. In 1969, he becomes both a fixed-wing and helicopter pilot. Rackstraw serves in Vietnam. According to crime television guru and author Thomas Colbert (TJC), Rackstraw does some freelance work for the CIA while there. When Rackstraw returns stateside, he gets embroiled in a messy divorce. The Army decides to look into Rackstraw’s background after he’s accused of domestic assault. They find that Lt. Rackstraw lied about his college credentials, and lied about his rank and military decorations. He is forced to resign from the military.

From Alabama, Rackstraw heads to the Pacific Northwest where he works as a charter pilot for realtors who need aerial photographs. He spends a lot of time in the area, up to and after the Cooper hijacking. He eventually ends up working for a floor and deck laying company in San Francisco. Rackstraw’s career in crime begins in earnest at this time. He will often wear a suit and tie around shipyards, looking like a supervisor or office worker. This allows him to steal valuables with impunity. Sometime during this period, Rackstraw meets longtime confidant Dick Briggs (who later became a drug dealer in the late 70s). By the mid-1970’s, Rackstraw was on law enforcement’s radar. He was implicated in the theft of military weapons and explosives; check-kiting, ramming his vehicle through a business competitor’s building, stealing goods, stealing dynamite and murdering his stepfather… Among other crimes. He goes on trial for murder in July of 1978. Rackstraw shows up in a wheelchair, claiming to be a disabled veteran of five Vietnam campaigns as a Green Beret captain. His actual service record doesn’t show up until after the trial. He is found “Not Guilty.”

In October of 1978, still looking at criminal charges for his other hobbies, Rackstraw fakes his own death. He is heard sending a “Mayday” call over the radio, claiming to ditch into the sea near Monterey Bay. Rackstraw is eventually found and arrested by police in January of 1979. He spends the next year in jail before being released. Law enforcement clears him of being DB Cooper at this time. He stays out of trouble, and out of the media spotlight, for the next seventeen years. He becomes a college instructor with degrees in economics and law, before getting into trouble again. This time around the charges are mundane, DUI and resisting arrest. The public becomes familiar with Rackstraw again in 2016, when he is prominently featured as a Cooper suspect in a History Channel special on Norjak.

Why is Rackstraw a Cooper suspect? For one thing, he claimed to be our mysterious hijacker on at least one occasion while he was in jail. He abandoned his confession almost immediately, probably when he found out he could still be charged with the hijacking. There are other reasons too, Rackstraw lived in the Pacific Northwest, knew the area from his job as a pilot, and his whereabouts during the hijacking are unknown. Rackstraw has the skills Cooper needed. He went through jump school and would have been quite comfortable with parachuting gear. He may have learned in Vietnam that the 727 was being used as jump platform for secret missions being done by the CIA. He has the criminal background Ralph Himmelsbach was looking for. (Though Rackstraw’s career would be the reverse of what we expect: he would have started with the big heist, then moved on to smaller thefts and cons before working his way back up to murder.) Rackstraw even has a relative named “Ed Cooper” who might have inspired the Dan Cooper alias.

There’s always a catch, however. Rackstraw would have been in his late 20’s at the time of the hijacking. Some reports on Cooper put him as old as 60, but most witnesses put the hijacker in his mid to late forties. Rackstraw doesn’t have the swarthy complexion Cooper is reported to have. Tina Mucklow, the stewardess who spent the most time with Cooper, did not think Rackstraw was the hijacker when she was shown his picture and video on the History Channel special.

The biggest hurdle in connecting Rackstraw with Cooper remains the Tena Bar money find. TJC claims Rackstraw had his friend Briggs give the money to Dwayne Ingram to “find” on Tena Bar, thus throwing the feds off his trail. There are a number of problems with this theory, chief among them the fact the money had obviously been exposed to the elements long enough to alter the bills substantially. They had clumped together into a single, solid mass. The rubber bands attached to the bills crumbled away when touched. There was a field of money shards found up and down the bar, and there is video of FBI agents unearthing fragments of money at least a foot deep into the sand. There is simply no possibility the money was planted there in the late 1970’s as Colbert claims.

When you’re looking for DB Cooper suspects, a military-trained con man with the gift of gab and a long history of stunning crimes is a good place to go looking. But you can’t ignore the fact he was investigated by law enforcement and cleared of the hijacking. He never worked in an industry that used pure titanium. And none of the main witnesses in the case identify him as Dan Cooper. However much Rackstraw may be “That Guy,” he’s not our guy. He’s not our hijacker.