[SIGCIS-Members] Historians and journalists

Browne, Janet jbrowne at fas.harvard.edu
Sat Oct 11 17:17:23 PDT 2014

I am responding to a recent post by Nathan Ensmenger relating to the improper use of scholarly work in magazine and journal review articles.  I fully sympathise with Nathan’s unhappy experiences with the Washington Post. However, as examples of his personal case, Nathan takes two commentary pieces written by my colleagues at Harvard, Evgeny Morozov and Latif Nasser, both of whom have a deep commitment to making our field more widely understood beyond the academy. I would like to clarify that the history of science department at Harvard is completely scrupulous—exacting-- in what it expects from its faculty, graduates, and students when working in any medium.  It seems to me that both authors here are writing within the confines of the specific genre of commentary—neither the Atlantic nor New Yorker run scholarly essay reviews as we know them. Both authors immediately went to their editors to say that their readership was unhappy with the way the narrative unfolded.  Latif Nasser quickly adjusted his piece in the Atlantic Monthly to make absolutely clear that this is Mara Mills' story. Evgeny Morozov also explained on Tumblr how he independently researched and wrote his commentary on big data for the New Yorker, which then went through the fact-checking process for which the New Yorker is justly famed. I can confirm that several pages of his piece, including comments on Eden Medina’s book, were cut for space reasons. We in the close-knit community along Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge are united in applauding the excellence of Eden's book Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile. The book won the Computer History Museum book prize in 2013 and the 2012 Edelstein Prize from SHOT.  I hope that SHOT readers will remain confident in the proper practices of our fellow scholars and continue to share their work with the larger public.  Our readership is depressingly small enough as it is. Janet Browne, Chair (and new member of the list), History of Science Department, Harvard University.
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