[SIGCIS-Members] Fact Checking Before Internet

Marc Weber mweber at computerhistory.org
Sun Dec 2 11:53:13 PST 2018

Dear Jim and Bill,
I would divide computerized fact checking into two main kinds – 1) retrieving information from existing written sources, and 2) asking live experts. The former favors systems designed specifically for information retrieval, the latter favors online discussion groups around specific topics. Below are some thoughts on resources for each.

1) Formal information retrieval:
As I’m sure you know DIALOG (1966), LexisNexis (LEXIS 1970) and other commercial online search services were used by professionals including journalists until they were absorbed into the Web and Internet (both still exist as Web sites). I did an oral history a couple of years ago with Charlie Bourne, who was a DIALOG VP and a leading expert on information retrieval and early online search. He gave us his extension collection of material on computerized information retrieval in general dating back to the ‘50s, which might be a good starting point. Also happy to introduce you to him.
I can also introduce you to Roger Summit, co-founder of DIALOG. He was recorded on a panel in the last year or so at the Silicon Valley IEEE, and I’m sure Brian Berg can point you to the footage.
For LexisNexis history author Will Bagley has done extensive research and interviewing and is connected with a number of the principals, can introduce you.
Ann Hardy who wrote the OS for Tymshare/Tymnet in the late 1960s and was later a VP there might also have ideas. While they provided the platform for information services rather than offering the information themselves (Tymnet was far bigger than the ARPAnet in the ‘70s) she has an overview of what was around then. We did an oral history with her a while back.
In France, people used Minitel for a variety of research tasks from the early ‘80s well into the Web era; we did a Minitel history project and can connect you to people and resources here and in France. Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll’s book is an excellent overview. Michel Landaret, who Julien and I did an oral history with a couple of years ago, is a major pioneer of online journalism on Minitel and would be a good source.
Computerized card catalogs grew in the 1970s and were a kind of halfway point between online and paper retrieval; can introduce you to pioneers for that if of interest.
Wire services like Reuters date to the 1850s. I’m not sure if and when their archives became searchable, either on paper in the telegraph era or at some point online. John Liffen, curator emeritus of telegraphy at the Science Museum, may have info on the earlier part of the story.

2) Asking experts:
There are a LOT of examples – topical discussion groups on various timesharing systems, on PLATO Notes, ARPAnet email, Online Services from the Source to CompuServe to AOL to the Well, BBSs, Minitel and other videotex systems, and more I’m not thinking of. Basically anywhere you had people connecting around a particular topic. We have archives related to several of those above, and can point you to experts or principals for most.

Best, Marc

Marc Weber<http://www.computerhistory.org/staff/Marc,Weber/>  |   marc at webhistory.org<mailto:marc at webhistory.org>  |   +1 415 282 6868
Internet History Program Curatorial Director, Computer History Museum
1401 N Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View CA 94043 computerhistory.org/nethistory<http://computerhistory.org/nethistory>
Co-founder, Web History Center and Project, webhistory.org<http://webhistory.org>

On Dec 1, 2018, at 06:42, James Cortada <jcortada at umn.edu<mailto:jcortada at umn.edu>> wrote:

Bill Aspray and I are exploring how fact checking was done between the early 1950s and the mid-1990s using computers and networks, that is to say, before the wide use of the Internet, snopes, Wiki etc. If you are aware of specific examples, or documentation, about this use of computing, please let us know. We are interested in all manner of fact checking, not limiting it to press challenges of statements by politicians, hoaxes, and faulty scientific research.  Thanks for your help.

James W. Cortada
Senior Research Fellow
Charles Babbage Institute
University of Minnesota
jcortada at umn.edu<mailto:jcortada at umn.edu>
This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org<http://sigcis.org>, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. Opinions expressed here are those of the member posting and are not reviewed, edited, or endorsed by SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/ and you can change your subscription options at http://lists.sigcis.org/listinfo.cgi/members-sigcis.org

More information about the Members mailing list