[SIGCIS-Members] Shiva Ayyadurai Wants My Emails!

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Fri May 13 09:48:19 PDT 2016



I've got a new post up at http://tomandmaria.com/Tom/emailgrab. The text is
pasted below. It documents an attempt by Shiva Ayyadurai to obtain my emails
though the Wisconsin open records. In other cases, this tactic has been
widely condemned as an attack on academic freedom. Please forward to any
other communities you think might be interested.


Best wishes,




Shiva Ayyadurai Wants My Emails

Thomas Haigh. www.tomandmaria.com/tom <http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom>
thomas.haigh at gmail.com <mailto:thomas.haigh at gmail.com>  

Shiva Ayyadurai really, really wants to look through my emails. Remember
Shiva Ayyadurai <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva_Ayyadurai> ? The man
who has been engaged for five years on a quixotic but energetic public
relations campaign to convince the world that he, and he alone, is the true
"inventor of email"? Ayyadurai literally wrote the book on internet
559609> . His big problem is that you can't invent something that's already
in widespread use. Ayyadurai said that he
.html> "designed and deployed" a prototype in 1980, but historians knew very
well that electronic mail had been around since
-email.html?_r=0>  at least 1965 and by the mid-1970s was the main source of
traffic <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET>  on what evolved to become
the Internet.

I'm a historian of information technology, working in the School of
Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee. As chair of
SIGCIS <http://www.sigcis.org/> , the group for historians of information
technology, I coordinated the response of the historical community to his
bizarre claim. This included creating a report (www.sigcis.org/Ayyadurai
<http://www.sigcis.org/Ayyadurai> ) documenting what Ayyadurai was saying
and comparing it to what we knew about actual email history. He rarely names
me or any of the other historians who have worked on documenting the actual
history of email, though his campaign has denounced the members of SIGCIS as
paid stooges for Raytheon, revisionists, a cabal, and
"sophisticated public relations agents that manufacture and package
'histories,' no different than clever propaganda, to perpetuate lies of the
pre-eminence of the military-industrial-academic complex." By this theory
the entire academic history of computing community is "unconsciously cutting
and copying" the work of Gizmodo blogger Sam Biddle, "believing Biddle's
sensationalistic article to be the truth." According to Ayyadurai's recent
email-sues-gawker-pointing-out-he-didnt-invent-email.shtml> , Biddle's pesky
meddling has cost him at least $35 million. As I wrote in
Communications of the ACM, this is a fascinating case with many lessons to
teach about public history, modern journalism, and the myths of invention.

Anyway, I guess Ayyadurai has noticed me after all because now he now wants
to read my emails. That's not a superuser perk that you get for having
invented email. Your emails are perfectly safe from him. He's actually
invoking the Wisconsin open records laws. These were originally passed in
the Progressive Era
>  to make sure that corrupt politicians couldn't hide their misdoings. Our
current crop of politicians have made efforts to rewrite
ords-law-b99573434z1-326754041.html> and reinterpret
9dc1-bc0395417f63.html> them to exclude themselves from scrutiny, but as the
state Republican Party has found them a useful tool for harassing academics
who have dared to comment on political issues
ds/>  they have been left in place for faculty in the University of
Wisconsin system.


His records request
passed to me for action by UWM's public records custodian, demanded "a
complete and thorough search of all filing systems and locations for all
records maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee pertaining to
Dr. Thomas Haigh." The specific demand was for "all email correspondence -
including email attachments - to or from Dr. Haigh containing" words such as
Smithsonian, Shiva, and Raytheon. I dutifully searched through my university
email account (thaigh at uwm.edu <mailto:thaigh at uwm.edu> ) for matching
documents and passed them on to our university records custodian for
vetting. The resulting stack of paper was quite large, but conspicuously
failed to provide the salacious material Ayyadurai was fishing for. It
included a student paper misspelling the name of Siva Vaidhyanathan
<http://mediastudies.virginia.edu/people/sv2r> , numerous job posting emails
mentioning the Smithsonian, the annual merit review filings of my school's
faculty, and an entire sample issue of History Research spammed to me by its
reportedly predatory publisher
er-from-china/> . (Ayyadurai reportedly favors such journals
miller-and-kavin-senapathy-2015-09> for his own publications, so maybe he
should send his work on email history there.)

When the emails of another Wisconsin historian, William Cronon, were
requested by the state Republican Party, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York
Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/opinion/28krugman.html>  that

The hard right - which these days is more or less synonymous with the
Republican Party - has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing
views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that
demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope
that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr.
Cronon to the usual treatment... After all, if you go through a large number
of messages looking for lines that can be made to sound bad, you're bound to
find a few.

Legally, Republicans may be within their rights: Wisconsin's open records
law provides public access to e-mails of government employees, although the
law was clearly intended to apply to state officials, not university
professors. But there's a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they
may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn't like.

Someone like Mr. Cronon can stand up to the pressure. But less eminent and
established researchers won't just become reluctant to act as concerned
citizens, weighing in on current debates; they'll be deterred from even
doing research on topics that might get them in trouble.

What's at stake here, in other words, is whether we're going to have an open
national discourse in which scholars feel free to go wherever the evidence
takes them, and to contribute to public understanding. Republicans, in
Wisconsin and elsewhere, are trying to shut that kind of discourse down.
It's up to the rest of us to see that they don't succeed.

Anthony Grafton, writing in the New York Review of Books
<http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2011/04/04/academic-freedom-cronon-affair/> ,
argued that

Again and again in recent times, Republican operatives have used fragments
snatched out of context from emails-as they have used fragments snatched out
of context from recorded conversations
-to smear scientists, scholars and activists of whom they disapprove. 

Biddie Martin, then chancellor of the University of Wisconsin--Madison
issued a statement
ds/> noting that in processing Cronon's emails

We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty
member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant
to Wisconsin Supreme Court case law. We are also excluding what we consider
to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit
of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it. Academic freedom is the
freedom to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of
reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of
those ideas. 

Scholars and scientists pursue knowledge by way of open intellectual
exchange. Without a zone of privacy within which to conduct and protect
their work, scholars would not be able to produce new knowledge or make
life-enhancing discoveries. Lively, even heated and acrimonious debates over
policy, campus and otherwise, as well as more narrowly defined disciplinary
matters are essential elements of an intellectual environment and such
debates are the very definition of the Wisconsin Idea. 

When faculty members use email or any other medium to develop and share
their thoughts with one another, they must be able to assume a right to the
privacy of those exchanges, barring violations of state law or university
policy. Having every exchange of ideas subject to public exposure puts
academic freedom in peril and threatens the processes by which knowledge is
created. The consequence for our state will be the loss of the most talented
and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities where
collegial exchange and the development of ideas can be undertaken without
fear of premature exposure or reprisal for unpopular positions.

Martin was soon to flee the state herself for the happier world of Amherst
College. I agree with her, and with Krugman and with Grafton: requests of
this kind are a crude intimidation tactic from the playbook of climate
change deniers, designed to scare faculty members into steering away from
public engagement or controversial topics and to force us to defer to the
interests of the powerful. They've been embraced by conservative activists
as a way of curtailing academic freedoms and smearing researchers with whose
work they disagree by launching fishing expeditions for phrases that can be
misrepresented or quoted out of context. This practice threatens the ability
of any research university to function. The recent elimination of real
tenure <http://www.aaup.org/news/tenure-weakened-wisconsin>  across the
Wisconsin system makes faculty here all the more vulnerable to this kind of

When he was seeking revenge for his firing from an Indian research
institution, Ayyadurai campaigned with the slogan "Innovation demands
freedom" (innovationdemandsfreedom.com
<http://innovationdemandsfreedom.com/>  is one of Ayyadurai's many vanity
domains). He presents himself as a liberal champion of the underdog, a
plucky impoverished dark-skinned immigrant boy
<http://vashiva.com/yes-a-darkie-invented-email-get-over-it/>  fighting for
what's right. His most prominent supporters are Noam Chomsky and his
business associate Deepak Chopra. He insists that his public relations
campaign to brand himself as the inventor of email "isn't about my wanting
glory... It's about refusing to enact the script that's been played out for
much too long in the lives of people from my background." So it's a little
ironic that Ayyadurai is now resorting to an ugly tactic used to erode the
freedom of researchers. 

It's been a long time since Ayyadurai was a defenseless 14 year old boy. In
2016 Ayyadurai is a wealthy and well connected celebrity regularly featured
in tabloid gossip pages, with access to the best lawyers and public
relations executives. His own legal complaint
.html#document/p17> against Gizmodo describes him as "a world-renowned
scientist, inventor, lecturer, philanthropist and entrepreneur" and insists
that being recognized as the inventor of email would have added tens of
millions of dollars to his net worth. In contrast I am an obscure scholar
who has never appeared on television or in the Daily Mail's showbiz section
entist-partner-Shiva-Ayyadurai.html> . Because I have no financial interest
in who did, or didn't, invent email my aim has been to serve the public by
protecting the accuracy of the historical record. Now that conservatives
have declared open season on faculty all over Wisconsin, we might ask why a
self-proclaimed liberal crusader has embraced their tactics by, as Cronon
termed it, abusing open records to attack academic freedom
cademic-freedom/> .


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