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Rewriting Internet history
by Scott Bradner
Rewriting history for political purposes used to be a favorite pastime in the old Soviet Union. In a neat turn of events we now see the Wall Street Journal doing the same thing.
On July 22ndthe Wall Street Journal published an op-ed column by Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of the paper and a regular columnist, entitled "Who Really Invented the Internet?" (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444464304577539063008406518.html?mod=opinion_newsreel) The basic premise of the column was that government had little of nothing to do with the invention of what we now know as the Internet. While there are occasional flashes of something resembling the truth in the column it is quite amazing how few there are.
The column was quickly rebutted by a number of people that were there when the Internet was invented - including Vint Cerf and Steve Wolff (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443343704577549311353156318.html), Steve Crocker (http://techpresident.com/news/22670/where-did-internet-really-come), Michael Hiltzik (the author of a book Crovitz cited) (http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/23/news/la-mo-who-invented-internet-20120723), as well as hundreds of others in various forums. I was "there" for some of the story and I know that much of what Crovitz claims is poppycock.
It does not puzzle me that someone like Crovitz would want to rewrite inconvenient history but it does puzzle me that the Wall Street Journal thought it could get away with it. There are many very good histories of the Internet that the Journal editors could have checked to see if Crovitz had a grasp of facts. For example, a while ago the above-mentioned Vint Cerf and Steve Wolff teamed with a bunch of other Internet pioneers to create a "Brief History of the Internet" for the Internet Society. (http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/internet-51/history-internet/brief-history-internet) It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Journal purposefully decided to either publish falsehoods or to not do any fact checking. Either way the Journal let its readers down.
The truth is that the US government did play a major role in the invention of the Internet, it paid for a lot of the research that got us to what is the Internet of today. And the truth is that the telecommunications business community of the day (e.g. IBM and AT&T) thought that the underlying concepts of the Internet (best effort, dynamically routed packets) to be foolish and unlikely to produce anything useful. The fact that the Wall Street Journal blessed Crovitz's denial of these truths does not make them less true. It merely shows, as do most of the political ads on TV, that truth is unimportant when trying to make a political point.
disclaimer: As far as I know Harvard tries to teach its students that truth is, for lack of a better word, "good" but I have seen no University review of Crovitz's alternative so the above comments are mine.