[SIGCIS-Members] Issason, Acknowledgements, and Crowdsourcing

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Tue Oct 7 15:20:00 PDT 2014

Hello everyone,


I just came across Isaacson's Acknowledgements page, which gives an insight
into how he could do a lot of reading yet still produce a book with so many
glaring mistakes (at least in its treatment of ENIAC).


He mentions interviewing about 50 famous and mostly tech-related people -
the Bill Joys, Al Gores, and John Negropontes of the world. He mentions
advice from some other people, mostly famous journalists. He mentions that
"Raul Mehta at the University of Chicago and Danny Z. Wilson at Harvard read
an early draft to fix and math or engineering mistakes." The other guy who
read the whole draft and "made extensive comments" was Strobe Talbot of the
Brookings Institute and former foreign policy official. Talbott provided
some amazing comments, and Isaacson has "kept every set of his detailed
notes as a testament to his wisdom and generosity."


Isaacson also "crowdsourced" some parts of the book by posting them for
comment on Medium, soliciting "comments and corrections from thousands of
people I didn't know." These are now deleted, but apparently were the more
recent parts - AOL, The Well, etc. He got hundreds of emails and found the
process very useful.


One notable absence from the list: anyone with specialist expertise in the
history of computing. (John Hollar of the computer history museum is on the
list as someone who gave advice, but Hollar's background is in the media
business rather than history and he's the CEO rather than a curator).
Isaacson mentions that he has used Talbott as a reader ever since his book
on foreign policy, The Wise Men. Finding a subject matter expert to read
that book was a  good idea, but perhaps repeating the process in this new
area would have been wise.


Historians of computing are not hard to find, and Isaacson does make some
use of the publications and oral histories produced by SIGCIS members. So
it's interesting that he would take as his three main fact checkers a
foreign policy insider, a high school prodigy
(https://www.linkedin.com/pub/rahul-mehta/61/79b/86a unless there is some
other Rahul Mehta connected to the U of Chicago), and a Harvard student
journalist (http://www.thecrimson.com/writer/1209919/Daniel_Z._Wilson/). 


When even a guy who is writing a book full of old-school history of
computing anecdotes about Babbage, Zuse, ENIAC, delay lines, who invented
what, etc. doesn't think it's worth reaching out to us to anyone in the
SIGCIS community to see if he got his facts straight that says something
rather dispiriting about popular history, our collective success in winning
recognition for our expertise, or both.


Best wishes,


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