[SIGCIS-Members] A response to a SIGCIS Command Line panel session presentation on PLATO

Christopher Leslie chris.leslie at nyu.edu
Mon May 22 19:06:03 PDT 2017

Dear Brian,

I am perplexed by your lengthy attack on Joy Rankin's presentation. The
author of a book, you castigate a scholar's 20-minute presentation. Most
incredibly. Yyu criticize her for being ignorant of history, but at the
same time, you do not consider your ignorance of gender studies to be a
problem. This is the exact problem with privilege that SIGCIS and other
groups are contending with.

It's no longer a secret that there were a lot of women in computing. From
Jennifer Light to Hidden Figures, we are sure that women were there.
Recently, Marie Hicks has given us a solid study of how the women were
filtered out through procedure and system. It is not that computing was
from the start hostile to women, but it does seem as if as it developed it
became so. This is in line with what other feminist historians of science
have noticed (cf. Schiebinger's comment about the number of female
astronomers). An analysis of this process is sorely needed.

By the way, only a man could say that an attack on a woman was not
important because others spoke up to protest. You might be interested in
the rich and growing literature on microagreessions and how they impact
diversity in STEM. Given the pervasive interest in enhancing diversity in
computing and STEM more generally, I am uncertain why you feel PLATO or
other projects have something to lose by contending with the experience of
women in the field.

I applaud Rankin and others for their solid work in this difficult area.
Their findings are not, as you suggest, anomalous misreadings of history.
Contending with the pervasive and persistent sexism (and other isms) in
STEM will be the challenge of the current generation of scholars. I feel
lucky to be at NYU, where such conversations are at least entertained
without polemical attacks. Your screed, though, shows how far the
profession has to go.

Chris Leslie

On Mon, May 22, 2017 at 8:03 PM, Brian Dear <brian at platohistory.org> wrote:

> The link below is my in-depth response to a presentation given by Dr. Joy
> Rankin entitled “Performing Gender on PLATO” at the recent SIGCIS Command
> Line conference held at the Computer History Museum this past March.
>      https://medium.com/@brianstorms/performing-
> history-on-plato-4c501b8f2068
> Many assertions were made in that presentation that concerned me greatly
> and I felt it necessary to not only write up a detailed response based on
> my own decades’ worth of research into the history of the PLATO system and
> its community, but also I sought out and included comments from former
> PLATO people who were named in Dr. Rankin’s talk, about the presentation
> and the claims made therein. Every single PLATO person I contacted shared
> the same concerns.
> I welcome thoughts from fellow SIGCIS members.
> - Brian
> Brian Dear
> PLATO History Project
> Santa Fe, NM
> brian at platohistory.org
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Christopher S. Leslie, Ph.D.
Co-Director and Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies
Faculty Fellow in Residence for Othmer Hall and Clark Street
Chair, IFIP History of Computing Working Group 9.7

NYU Tandon School of Engineering
5 MetroTech Center, LC 131
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(646) 997-3130
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