Identity Politics and the Supposed Inventors of GPS

Last June, I attended my monthly nonfiction writers meeting. Afterward, I spoke to the black gentleman sitting next to me. He mentioned that he’d just found out that a black woman invented GPS. I said that was strange since my father invented it. He chuckled and said that I was holding out on him. I looked it up and a Dr. Gladys West was the person. She worked on the Geoid.  She did valuable work but is one of many people at that level. I dismissed it; errors about the origins of GPS are rife and in spite of my extensive writings about it I’m a relatively obscure person.

More recently, the articles about Dr. West have multiplied.  Yes, the contributions of women and minorities have sometimes been ignored. But the reverse is starting to become the case.

Her work was valuable, but she did not invent anything.  Invent is defined as to “to design or create something that did not exist before.”[i]

 

The Air Force award states:

 

Dr. Gladys West is among a small group of women who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems.  Hired in 1956 as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, she participated in a path-breaking, award-winning astronomical study that proved, during the early 1960s, the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.  Thereafter, from the mid-1970s through the 1980s, using complex algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth’s shape, she programmed an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer to deliver increasingly refined calculations for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model, a geoid, optimized for what ultimately became the Global Positioning System (GPS) orbit.[ii]

 

GPS was created in 1973. The major issues were the orbits, how time is transmitted to the receiver, and the nature of the signal. The first two came from Roger Easton’s Timation system (my dad). The last came from primarily from the Air Force/Aerospace Project 621B. Dr. West played no role in these decisions. She worked using data from space tracking systems. My Dad designed two space tracking systems. The order of priority should be clear.

 

Recently, there have been headlines such as “The Men Behind GPS Just Won a Prestigious Engineering Prize. Not on the Prize List: a Woman.”[iii] The article asked why Dr. West was not included.  It could more properly have asked why no one who worked on Timation was included. There have been many other similar claims, especially in the black press.[iv]

 

The Timation Development Plan, published in March 1971, posits a navigation system with[v]:

  1. 27 satellites in 8 hour circular orbits at 55 degrees of inclination (appendix had 24 satellites at 12 hour orbits if atomic clocks were available).
  2. Accurate clocks would transmit time to the receivers. 4 satellites would provide 3D position.
  3. Ground stations in the U.S. or secure U.S. territories would update the satellite clocks and predictions of the satellite’s orbit (Dr. West was one of the people contributing to this).
  4. The satellites would transmit using both spread spectrum and side-tone ranging signals.

A comprehensive testing procedure was envisioned. Two Timation satellites had been built and another one was on the way (renamed NTS-1, it was launched in 1974 and carried the first atomic clock into orbit).

The first formulation of GPS were similar to this plan. Later, the system was changed to six planes rather than three (and the number of satellites, originally 24, is now around 31).

This is what an inventor produces. No such documents from Dr. West have been provided since none exist. She was not inventing anything; she was doing good work on one aspect of GPS.

 

 

[i] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/invent

[ii] https://www.afspc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1707464/mathematician-inducted-into-space-and-missiles-pioneers-hall-of-fame/

[iii] http://time.com/5527654/gps-engineering-queen-elizabeth-prize-women/

[iv] https://www.businessghana.com/site/news/general/179481/Dr-Gladys-West-The-Black-Woman-Who-Invented-The-GPS-Gets-Honored-By-U-S-Air-Force-At-The-Pentago

[v] http://www.gpsdeclassified.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/NRL-7227-Timation-Development-Plan.pdf

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Author: Richard Easton

Co-author of GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones.

17 thoughts on “Identity Politics and the Supposed Inventors of GPS”

  1. I am siding with the matriarchy, Richard. I want to eat. Besides I think it will tick you off. A twofer. (jk)

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  2. In life truth is the first casualty. People want to have a good story so they go with what pushes their agenda. In the military, there is stolen valor. In other places there is inflated resumes and outright lying. As to journalism and awards, they are out to sell papers and make their awards look good. As my a sister-law said to my brother, “Life is not fair. Get used to it.” Even so, I wish it was.

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  3. Richard, continue to fight the good fight. It’s undoubtedly frustrating and it may seem futile but if no one speaks up, the lies become the new truth.

    Identity politics has made it important for people to associate with their group, however that is defined. This leads to frustration that their team doesn’t look good. Members of team X (fill in any identity group) feel bad because their team has few accomplishments. This just makes people miserable for no reason and causes them to retcon history to make team X look good.

    I’ll repost the comment I made over at the other place in Richard’s post on this topic:

    The same thing happened with the film Hidden Figures, which greatly exaggerates the role of several black women in the Apollo program. Jack Crenshaw, one of the engineers who designed the Apollo trajectory to the moon. An excerpt from his blog:

    From what I can gather, it’s [the film] a very different story, and absolutely _DOES_ seem to claim that these three women saved the space program. It also, I’m told, portrays all the white guys as incompetent nincompoops.

    THAT, I can tell you, is absolutely false. The NASA engineers of that era were the most hard-working and competent engineers I’ve met anywhere, at any time. And I’ve met a bunch.

    Someone else here pointed out that the black actors in the movie are portraying real people, while the “white guys” are all “composite figures” with fictitious names. There’s a reason for that: the real white guys refused to let themselves be portrayed the way the producers wanted to. That should tell you what’s going on.

    He does credit the women portrayed in book, upon which the film is loosely based, with having carefully done some complex mathematical calculations. But they were, literally, “computers.”

    Revisionist history is big these days but it’s not new. Stalin, among others, was also into it.

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  4. drlorentz:
    Richard, continue to fight the good fight. It’s undoubtedly frustrating and it may seem futile but if no one speaks up, the lies become the new truth.

    Identity politics has made it important for people to associate with their group, however that is defined. This leads to frustration that their team doesn’t look good. Members of team X (fill in any identity group) feel bad because their team has few accomplishments. This just makes people miserable for no reason and causes them to retcon history to make team X look good.

    I’ll repost the comment I made over at the other place in Richard’s post on this topic:

    The same thing happened with the film Hidden Figures, which greatly exaggerates the role of several black women in the Apollo program. Jack Crenshaw, one of the engineers who designed the Apollo trajectory to the moon. An excerpt from his blog:

    From what I can gather, it’s [the film] a very different story, and absolutely _DOES_ seem to claim that these three women saved the space program. It also, I’m told, portrays all the white guys as incompetent nincompoops.

    THAT, I can tell you, is absolutely false. The NASA engineers of that era were the most hard-working and competent engineers I’ve met anywhere, at any time. And I’ve met a bunch.

    Someone else here pointed out that the black actors in the movie are portraying real people, while the “white guys” are all “composite figures” with fictitious names. There’s a reason for that: the real white guys refused to let themselves be portrayed the way the producers wanted to. That should tell you what’s going on.

    He does credit the women portrayed in book, upon which the film is loosely based, with having carefully done some complex mathematical calculations. But they were, literally, “computers.”

    Revisionist history is big these days but it’s not new. Stalin, among others, was also into it.

    Were you talking about kindly Uncle Joe at the end?

    The sad part is if one tries to stick up for the truth one gets blasted for being against Group X.

    On a side note, have you noticed that historical movies are more movies than history? “Based on a true story” means it has something to do with planet earth.

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  5. drlorentz:
    Richard, continue to fight the good fight. It’s undoubtedly frustrating and it may seem futile but if no one speaks up, the lies become the new truth.

    Identity politics has made it important for people to associate with their group, however that is defined. This leads to frustration that their team doesn’t look good. Members of team X (fill in any identity group) feel bad because their team has few accomplishments. This just makes people miserable for no reason and causes them to retcon history to make team X look good.

    I’ll repost the comment I made over at the other place in Richard’s post on this topic:

    The same thing happened with the film Hidden Figures, which greatly exaggerates the role of several black women in the Apollo program. Jack Crenshaw, one of the engineers who designed the Apollo trajectory to the moon. An excerpt from his blog:

    From what I can gather, it’s [the film] a very different story, and absolutely _DOES_ seem to claim that these three women saved the space program. It also, I’m told, portrays all the white guys as incompetent nincompoops.

    THAT, I can tell you, is absolutely false. The NASA engineers of that era were the most hard-working and competent engineers I’ve met anywhere, at any time. And I’ve met a bunch.

    Someone else here pointed out that the black actors in the movie are portraying real people, while the “white guys” are all “composite figures” with fictitious names. There’s a reason for that: the real white guys refused to let themselves be portrayed the way the producers wanted to. That should tell you what’s going on.

    He does credit the women portrayed in book, upon which the film is loosely based, with having carefully done some complex mathematical calculations. But they were, literally, “computers.”

    Revisionist history is big these days but it’s not new. Stalin, among others, was also into it.

    Thanks Doc for your comments.  The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering was just given for GPS.  No one from NRL was included even though the bulk of the system came from NRL’s Timation.  A similar Draper award was given in 2003.  I have some of the internal memos from the Draper and they are laughable.  You’d think that these big prizes would have experts assessing them but you’d be wrong.

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  6. Richard Easton:
    The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering was just given for GPS. No one from NRL was included even though the bulk of the system came from NRL’s Timation. A similar Draper award was given in 2003. I have some of the internal memos from the Draper and they are laughable. You’d think that these big prizes would have experts assessing them but you’d be wrong.

    I happen to be reading Bret Baier’s book, Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, in which he notes that Reagan had the following saying on a plaque on his desk:

    There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

    I realize this is of little comfort for the person who has been overlooked or when credit is misattributed. Nevertheless, awards are not that important.

    The Baier book is mediocre, btw. It doesn’t deserve an award. 😉

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  7. This is the latest variation of “We Wuz Kangz”, i.e. the tendency to either exaggerate a race/ethnicity’s involvement in some accomplishment, or outright claim it as their own without any merit whatsoever. This stuff is huge in so-called “Afrocentrist” departments. Egypt was a black civilization and Napoleon tried to cover that up, Hannibal was a black general of a glorious black empire, etc etc.  For years the USAF went along with claims that the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber on escort duty because they didn’t want the dreaded R word tossed at them (and they viewed it as a harmless white lie that helped recruiting). When some journalists dug up the actual mission records and proved otherwise, THEY were hinted at being racist for even looking. This same stuff has just moved into math and science now. If Herman Cain was a Democrat, the Afrocentrist crowd would claim that he designed all the Navy’s missiles (Cain did some ballistics calculations for the Navy when he was young). As others have mentioned, to hear the producers of Hidden Figures tell it, those three women are why we got to the Moon and back. Ignore all that reality stuff about them being a small part of a larger pool of clerks that essentially did mathematical grunt work in the pre-computer age.

    We’re seeing the cultural apogee of this stuff with Marvel’s Black Panther movie, set in the fictional “Advanced African nation of Wakanda”. The movie portrays a civilization full of Africans that might as well be aliens , as they’re so far advanced over white countries. There’s one scene in the film where Panther’s little sister makes Bruce Banner, a character with a nuclear physics Phd., appear to be an inferior compared to her. And some of the Kangz crowd at these movies thought Wakanda was a real place.  One of the actors even went so far as to say “This is what Africa would have been if not for the colonizers”. They actually believe this stuff. Shhh, no one tell them that Black Panther and Wakanda were created by a couple of New York Jewish guys that were just trying to cash in on the black militancy movement and sell some more comics.

    There’s even corporate support for this nonsense:

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  8. Douglas:
    We’re seeing the cultural apogee of this stuff with Marvel’s Black Panther movie, set in the fictional “Advanced African nation of Wakanda”. The movie portrays a civilization full of Africans that might as well be aliens , as they’re so far advanced over white countries. There’s one scene in the film where Panther’s little sister makes Bruce Banner, a character with a nuclear physics Phd., appear to be an inferior compared to her. And some of the Kangz crowd at these movies thought Wakanda was a real place.  One of the actors even went so far as to say “This is what Africa would have been if not for the colonizers”. They actually believe this stuff. Shhh, no one tell them that Black Panther and Wakanda were created by a couple of New York Jewish guys that were just trying to cash in on the black militancy movement and sell some more comics.

    Funny story.  My girlfriend who is not white, black, or American went to see this movie while I was in the States.  She called me right after watching this movie and yelled at me about how [language] up and racists white Americans are.  Wake up my peeps.  This is the kind of crap about our country that the world is constantly being bombarded with.

    [Simon, we try to keep it family friendly here. ]

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  9. Douglas:
    If Herman Cain was a Democrat, the Afrocentrist crowd would claim that he designed all the Navy’s missiles (Cain did some ballistics calculations for the Navy when he was young).

    Here is John Derbyshire from the most recent Radio Derb on meeting Herman Cain.

    06 — Meeting a black mathematician.     Before leaving this topic, let me record my last encounter with a black mathematician.

    This was also while I was working at National Review. In the run-up to the 2012 campaign, when my coeval Herman Cain was in the GOP field, he dropped by to give us some face time, as GOP candidates all did.

    As well as having been born the same year as me, Cain has, like me, a Bachelor’s degree in math. He’s smarter than me, though, and went on to get a master’s in Computer Science. Somewhere along there he worked on math problems for the U.S. Navy.

    I knew about this when I met him, so we had some math chat. What kind of problems had he worked on? I asked him. “Ballistics,” he said; “Missile trajectories and such.”

    Me: “Lotta differential equations?”

    He: “Oh, yeah.”

    Me, a bit sneakily: “ODEs or PDEs?”

    He: “Mostly Os.”

    If you don’t understand that exchange, just take it from me: for ballistics, Cain’s answer was the right one. I came away impressed with the guy.

    As impressive as that is in a politician, though, differential equations are mathematical grunt work. To be on the math faculty of a good college, you need to be a couple of levels above that. By a well-known property of the tails of distributions, which statisticians keep trying to explain, the proportional differences get bigger really fast out there at the extremes.

    Plus being a math professor doesn’t pay that well. If you’re a black person with a math Ph.D., there are firms on Wall Street that will fight like cats over you just like colleges will, but offering way more money than the academy.

    Amy Harmon doesn’t know any of this. She doesn’t know any of anything much.

    Can someone please put the New York Times out of its misery? It used to be a very good newspaper. I remember my first encounters with it, when I arrived on these shores back in 1973. I was impressed. You could spend all day with the Sunday edition, much to your advantage in improvement of your knowledge and understanding.

    Now the Times is far gone in decay. Now it is just the propaganda organ of a shallow and false ideology.

    Come on, shut the wretched thing down. They shoot horses, don’t they?

    The rewriting of history is ubiquitous: try typing “American scientist” into a Google image search and see what you get.

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  10. P.S.  She is not as stupid as one might expect.  She grew up poor, graduated from the top law school in her country and is now a Supreme Court clerk (in her country not ours btw).

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  11. John Walker:
    The rewriting of history is ubiquitous: try typing “American scientist” into a Google image search and see what you get.

    Startpage is somewhat less biased. The top hits are Joseph Henry and J.W. Gibbs. The top hit for a black scientist is a cartoon. At least Ben Franklin appears in the top ten.

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  12. Two people you’ve never heard of did several Timation constellation studies using FORTRAN in 1970-72.  There will not be clips on the View about them.  I suspect that you can guess why.

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  13. ST:
    P.S.  She is not as stupid as one might expect.  She grew up poor, graduated from the top law school in her country and is now a Supreme Court clerk (in her country not ours btw).

    Good for you, Simon T.

    Smart is sexy.

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  14. MJBubba:

    ST:
    P.S.  She is not as stupid as one might expect.  She grew up poor, graduated from the top law school in her country and is now a Supreme Court clerk (in her country not ours btw).

    Good for you, Simon T.

    Smart is sexy.

    u damn skippy it is

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  15. John Walker:
    The rewriting of history is ubiquitous: try typing “American scientist” into a Google image search and see what you get.

    Hell, Google “European People History” and see what you get.

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  16. Douglas:

    John Walker:
    The rewriting of history is ubiquitous: try typing “American scientist” into a Google image search and see what you get.

    Hell, Google “European People History” and see what you get.

    Presumably this is a reflection of the way the search phrase is used by woke leftists on their blogs. At least you can find Charles Martel among the top hits at Startpage.

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