[SIGCIS-Members] historians & journalists/erasure & credit/Medina & Mills

Mara Mills mmills at nyu.edu
Tue Oct 7 13:48:18 PDT 2014

Thank you, Sharon & Nathan. And I want to thank everyone who tweeted on my
behalf two weeks ago. It was totally unexpected  -- and very effective! I
can't tell you how much I appreciate the support.

I had been approached by the author of the Atlantic post, and promised in
an e-mail that my own article would be cited. I actually helped with
fact-checking in advance of the Atlantic publication. Then, to my surprise,
the first version of the post did not cite my article at all. This may have
been an editing issue. I wrote to the author and editor and a link was
added, but I still sounded like an outside commentator on someone else's
project. (Even though the Atlantic piece was wholly based on my archival
research as well as interviews I conducted with Wiener's former student.)
Little did I know a Twitter campaign was underway, and within a day the
post was edited (again) and a proper citation included.

I hope Eden has a similar resolution.

I look forward to catching up with many of you in person at SHOT ~

On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 4:03 PM, Sharon Traweek <traweek at history.ucla.edu>

>  Hi
> I am grateful to Nathan Ensmenger for bringing this horrible erasure of
> two colleagues' work by two others who should have learned better. [Both
> Morosov & Nasser seem to have active careers as journalists, so I presume
> we will see more erasures from them.] I was impressed by the example of
> the twitter campaign to get credit for Mara Mills from Atlantic; the same
> should be done for Eden Medina to get credit from the New Yorker. In the
> meantime see below for more information about the work of Eden Medina and
> Mara Mills.
> Cordially,
> Sharon Traweek, UCLA
> * Eden Medina [MIT PhD 2005; BS Princeton], Informatics and Computing,
> Indiana University
> http://www.indiana.edu/~histweb/faculty/Display.php?Faculty_ID=69
> http://www.informatics.indiana.edu/edenm/index.html
> *Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile*
> [MIT, 2011] http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cybernetic-revolutionaries
> * Mara Mills [PhD Harvard; MA/BA UCSC], Media, Culture, & Communication,
> Access her publications etc at http://maramills.org/publications/
> "...She is completing a book (*On the Phone: Deafness and Communication
> Engineering*) on the significance of phonetics and deaf education to the
> emergence of "communication engineering" in early twentieth-century
> telephony; this concept and set of practices later gave rise to information
> theory, digital coding, and cybernetics. Her second book project, *Print
> Disability and New Reading Formats*, examines the reformatting of print
> over the course of the past century by blind and other print disabled
> readers, with a focus on Talking Books and electronic reading machines. ..."
> http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/faculty_bios/view/Mara_Mills
> ________________________________________
> From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [members-bounces at sigcis.org] on behalf
> of Nathan Ensmenger [nensmeng at indiana.edu]
> Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2014 10:30 AM
> To: sigcis
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] historians and journalists
> It has been interesting to follow this discussion about the Issacson book
> (which I have not yet read) and the larger questions it raises about the
> relationship between the popular and academic history of computing.
> There is an aspect of this relationship that has come up several times in
> the past few weeks that I think it would be useful for all of us to be
> aware of, and it has to do with the misuse of academic scholarship by
> popular historians/journalists.
> The New Yorker has just published a piece by Evgeny Morosov on “The
> Socialist origins of Big Data,” which describes the Cybersyn project in
> 1970s Chile. As you might know, Project Cybersyn was the subject of my
> colleague Eden Medina’s prize-winning book Cybernetic Revolutionaries. In
> fact, the Morozov article is essentially a retelling of Eden’s story — with
> an almost complete lack of attribution. There is a single sentence
> acknowledging her book, but the rest of the piece is presented as if it
> were Morozov’s own research.
> I hesitate to link to the piece, but here it is:
> http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/13/planning-machine
> This is the second time in as many weeks that a major publication has
> plagiarized the work of academic historians of science and technology. The
> Atlantic recently published a piece on an extraordinary visit by Helen
> Keller with the MIT cybernetician Norbert Weiner. A fascinating story — and
> one which was drawn entirely from the work of Mara Mills. The original
> article included only a single sentence about Mara, and then only in
> seeming support of the author’s conclusions. The fact that all of the
> original research was Mara’s went unmentioned.
> In response to a Twitter-based outcry, the Atlantic piece was
> substantially revised to recognize Mara’s essential contributions, although
> no acknowledgement of or apology for the original “mistake” has been made.
> Lest you think that either example of misappropriation was the result of a
> well-meaning but uninformed journalist, note the Morozov is currently a PhD
> student in the history of science at Harvard, and Latif Nasser, the author
> of the Atlantic piece, is a graduate of that program.
> What makes the Atlantic incident particularly egregious is that the
> Atlantic has been actively soliciting submissions from historians of
> science and technology. While that in theory is a good thing for our
> discipline, in practice it is clear that they are just as likely to steal
> your material as publish it.
> Many of us have had experience spending a lot of time and energy talking
> to journalists and then being eliminated from the resulting article. I had
> my work plagiarized by the Washington Post in an incident that ended up
> being the subject of a self-serving editorial “apology” by the WaPo
> ombudsman. (See “Who stole the Computer Girls?
> http://thecomputerboys.com/?p=289) It was a frustrating and very
> stressful experience. I no longer talk to journalists about my research.
> Two take-home lessons for us as academic historians:
> 1) No journalist has the ability to guarantee that you will be correctly
> attributed in an article. Editors can and will remove citations,
> references, and call-outs in the interest of making the article “more
> readable.” They will defend this practice as being legitimate, despite the
> fact that if one of our students submitted such an article, we would fail
> them immediately.
> 2) The only way to change this situation is to publicly call out the
> offenders. The Atlantic piece was only changed as a result of a Twitter
> outcry — and even then only after most readers had already seen the
> original unattributed piece and then moved on to other things. If you are
> active on social media, make your presence known.
> I say all of this somewhat reluctantly. I have always been interested in
> engaging with a broader public. Like Paul, I even worked on a Hollywood
> development project (think Mad Men in the late 1960s computer industry).
> But it is clear that there are dangers to doing so. I am not suggesting
> that Issacson is guilty of misappropriating sources. But I also think that
> as a community we need to engage critically with work’s like his, and in
> doing so, be careful to constantly acknowledge and highlight the
> contributions of scholarly historians.
> -Nathan
>> Nathan Ensmenger
> Associate Professor of Informatics
> School of Informatics and Computing
> Indiana University, Bloomington
> homes.soic.indiana.edu/nensmeng/
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