Wednesday, July 25, 2012

No, A Former Publisher Doesn't Know More About the Internet Than Techies

Vint Cerf is a well known name in computer geek circles for very good reasons. If anyone knows the events that led to the internet as we know it, he does. Yet a former publisher of the Wall Street Journal decided to revise history a bit in a column for the WSJ that once again shows why those pages have so little to do with facts, even when compared to other op-ed sections. In it he tries to claim that the role of the government was limited to a modest contribution backed by ARPA. He admits that Vint Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocols but claims that "the Ethernet", developed at Xerox PARC, was in fact the invention that first connected different computer networks and served as the basis for the internet. He bases his claims, which contradict everything I ever read about the history of the internet, on a book by Michael Hiltzik, who was at Xerox PARC back then and a quote from a former top official of ARPA that he doesn't understand.

He made a very foolish mistake, though, by getting his "facts" flagrantly wrong while some of the people involved are still alive. And they're not very happy with Mr. Crovitz for hosing history. Vint Cerf refutes Crovitz's column in an interview with CNet. Michael Hiltzik corrects Mr Crovitz in a column in the L.A. times. In fact, Cerf points out that not only was ARPA involved in the development of the Internet but so were the NSF, NASA, DOE and other government agencies as well. Hiltzik points out how Crovitz misinterpreted the quote from his friend, Robert Taylor.

I think that Crovitz, like far too many who drift too deeply into an ideology, interpreted things he found to support what he wants to believe and ignored the larger body of evidence that contradicted him. Think of him and others trying to revise the history of technology to minimize government involvement for ideological reasons as the David Bartons of tech history.