updated 8/9/2006 9:57:57 PM ET 2006-08-10T01:57:57

The online technology publication Wired News removed three articles from its Web site Wednesday after editors couldn’t confirm the authenticity of at least one source.

All three stories were written by freelancer Philip Chien, a Florida author and space enthusiast who quoted and cited Robert Ash. In the articles, published in June and July, Chien described Ash as a “space historian” and an “aeronautical engineer and amateur space historian.”

When a Wired News senior editor telephoned Ash to verify the quotation, Ash said he was not a space historian and never conducted an interview with Chien.

Ash is a professor in the aerospace engineering department of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and had been involved in numerous NASA projects. He did not respond to telephone calls and an e-mail Wednesday from The Associated Press.

Chien, a freelance writer who has worked for online, print and television news outlets, is the author of a book on the Columbia space shuttle disaster. He wrote two stories for Wired News in 2004 and five in the past several months.

Chien said Wednesday that Wired News editors didn’t give him an adequate opportunity to defend his sourcing before pulling his articles.

“They informed me they were going to do it but didn’t give me any notice,” Chien said in a phone interview with AP. “Things have been distorted and taken out of context, but I don’t want to say anything more than that.”

Wired News requires all freelancers to provide e-mail addresses and phone numbers for everyone quoted or cited in stories. The contact information Chien provided for Ash was a free Hotmail account that included the name Robert Stevens in the address.

Editors became suspicious when they realized that Chien had quoted a man named Robert Stevens in at least three articles he wrote for newspapers, referring to him variously as a retired engineer, a NASA engineer and an amateur astronomer.

Wired News editors were also suspicious about another of Chien’s sources in the space industry, a man named Ted Collins. Editors traced Collins’ ostensible Hotmail account to an Internet forum about the space shuttle, in which Collins praised Chien’s book, “Columbia: Final Voyage.”

“I’ve seen a bunch of Phil Chien’s stories online and always enjoyed his insightful questions in the press conferences, but hadn’t heard that he had written a book,” the posting read. It included a link to Chien’s Web site and inquired whether the accompanying CD-ROM would be available through

In an explanation e-mailed to Wired News, Chien acknowledged he created the Ted Collins’ Hotmail account and used it in an attempt to mislead editors. Chien said Collins died in 1997, but said he liked his quotes so much he wanted to use them posthumously in the past three months.

The incident comes just over a year after another sourcing problem for Wired News.

In May 2005, Wired News acknowledged it could not verify the accuracy or authenticity of roughly 160 news stories by freelance journalist Michelle Delio of New York City. Editors said they could not prove the existence of more than 40 people quoted in Delio’s articles, which covered subjects ranging from computer viruses to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That episode resulted in strict sourcing policies for Wired News freelancers, who must now turn in contact information for anyone quoted or cited in any article.

“It’s regrettable, obviously, that this happened,” said Wired News editor-in-chief Evan Hansen. “But at the same time it speaks to the processes we’ve put in place.”

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