We may be getting closer to understanding how a book review in The New Yorker that was written by Evgeny Morozov but based heavily on Eden Medina's Cybernetic Revolutionaries reached its final, unethical form.
In my last blog post, I introduced the cast of characters, laid out what we know of the facts, and presented an argument for why Morozov and The New Yorker should issue an apology and corrections. I am not going to rehash those details here. Rather, I want to move the story forward and, in light of new information, strengthen my demand for action on Morozov's and The New Yorker's parts.
Morozov responded to my first post via Twitter. Unfortunately, it was the kind of response that we have grown to expect from him.
Historians who have met Morozov verify that he knows Eno, but this response largely does not address the central point: giving due recognition to Eden Medina's (again, award-winning, not merely "entertaining") book, Cybernetic Revolutionaries.
As is becoming routine in this case, USC Annenberg School PhD student Meryl Alper put it best.
After the Eno Tweet, Morozov largely went silent on Twitter. He has not responded in any formal way to demands that he better recognize Medina's book, and he certainly hasn't publicly apologized. To my knowledge, The New Yorker has not responded either.
The void left by Morozov and The New Yorker has been filled in part by Janet Browne, the Chair of Harvard University's History of Science Department, where Morozov is a doctoral student. Browne has recently become interested in the history of computing, and so, last week, she joined the mailing list of SIGCIS, the world's foremost organization of computer historians. Along with Twitter, the SIGCIS mailing list has been one of the main places where people have been discussing the Medina-Morozov affair and the ethical lapses in Morozov's New Yorker essay.
On Saturday, Browne sent out an email to the SIGCIS mailing list titled "historians and journalists." (I will post a link to Browne's email here once it becomes available in the SIGCIS archives, which are here.) Browne's email gives us further evidence that something is awry in the Medina-Morozov case.
We should have some sympathy for Browne's position. (In addition, to being a scholar of the highest caliber—her works on Darwin are some of the best on the planet—Browne is also by all accounts a good, kind, upstanding person.) I think that Browne was especially worried that some people on the SIGCIS mailing list had accused Morozov of plagiarism, a word that I have not used, as I discussed in my last post. In her email, Browne writes, "I would like to clarify that the history of science department at Harvard is completely scrupulous—exacting—in what it expects from its faculty, graduates, and students working in any media." I don't know anyone who has doubted this.
To Browne's credit, it is also important to point out that she is trying to heal a wound in the community of inquiry, known as the history of science and technology, and she has emphasized the quality and importance of Medina's work. Browne writes, "We in the close-knit community along Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge are united in applauding the excellence of Eden's book Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile. The book won the Computer History Museum book prize in 2013 and the 2012 Edelstein Prize from SHOT. It is well-written and very engaging. I hope that SHOT readers will remain confident in the proper practices of our fellow scholars and continue to share their work with the larger public."
But it is when Browne turns to the Morozov case that problems arise. First, she notes that, after the controversy emerged, Morozov immediately went to his "editors to say that one sector of" his "readership was unhappy with the way the narrative unfolded." Fair enough. Then Browne points to Morozov's Tumblr explanation of his research, an explanation that I criticized in my last post.
But it's Browne's next sentence that sets off red flags. She writes, "I can confirm that several pages of [Morozov's essay], including comments on Eden Medina's book, were cut for space reasons." (I will assume in the rest of the post that Browne's statement here is true.)
What is in these missing pages? Of course, we don't know. That's the point.
Here's one possibility: if these pages and their mentions of Medina had been included in the final essay, perhaps the piece would have adhered—not to academic norms of citation—but to The New Yorker's own style and tradition of citation and reference in reviews. As Nathan Ensmenger has pointed out, in one Critic at Large piece, George Packer mentioned the author he was reviewing 38 times. In another Critic at Large essay, Rick Perlstein reviews two authors, mentioning them a total of twelve times. A Louis Menand Critic at Large essay, which I cited as evidence that Morozov simply wasn't living up to the magazine's own expectations of attribution, mentions the author under review, Evelyn Barish, 20 times.
If the missing pages from Morozov's essay would have brought it in line with The New Yorker's generous-enough citation style, then in comparing the earlier version and the published version we would witness the erasure of Eden Medina from the very story that she worked so hard to tell. How does this look? Bad. Very bad.
As I wrote in my last post: On Twitter, Meryl Alper pointed out that there is an additional irony: Medina's "work highlights power imbalances in knowledge production and circulation." The Medina-Morozov affair is a story of power. A famous male tech critic ensconced in the world's premiere university wrote an essay in one of the most important periodicals in American letters. The essay drew heavily on the work of a less well-known, though award-winning, female scholar. As the historian of computing Thomas Haigh put it, Morozov's essay "spent about twenty paragraphs on the story of the Chilean Cybersyn network . . . closely recapping Medina's argument and evidence." Yet, Morozov mentioned Medina only once in a way that did not make it clear that the whole drew in important ways on her fundamental work. He obscured her influence.
Morozov and Janet Browne have both brought up the fact that The New Yorker essay was heavily fact-checked. But no one has doubted the facts in Medina's book (to my knowledge). The question is whether the facts (and the analysis) in Morozov's piece were all his or if they belong in significant part to Medina's labors. It is a confusion that could have been cleared up immediately through early and proper citation.
Apparently, in an earlier draft, Morozov felt a need to mention Medina's work more often ("comments" plural says Browne), but then he and the editors decided take Medina out, leaving many readers with the impression that Morozov claimed all the thought as his. Why? It's not at all clear. Space? You don't violate ethical norms for space. It's no excuse.
I agree with several scholars who believe that Evgeny Morozov and The New Yorker should release the earlier, Medina-containing version so that readers can examine for themselves how these edits were made. If The New Yorker and Morozov are confident that the published essay is as ethical as the earlier draft, they should have no reservations about sharing the earlier version. If you are right, sunshine and transparency will prove you so. The earlier version should be posted on a blog or otherwise put up in a form that the public can inspect.
In other words, @EvgenyMorozov @NewYorker #ShowUsTheMissingPages
There are other reasons to go through this exercise of comparing versions. The Medina-Morozov situation (and the Mills-Nasser situation, which I discussed in my last post) should be a moment to pause, to reflect on the relationship between academic norms and journalistic ones. It is a time for discussions, many of which have already begun. There are more to be had. If The New Yorker and Morozov can take the brave step of publishing both versions, they will be providing a great service to the world of writing.
Ultimately, however, examining the different versions will not justify the essay's current unethical form. As one historian wrote to me, "In the end, the author is given space and uses it as he or she sees fit." Another historian, when I suggested that the difference between versions might explain something, wrote "Oh puleeze. It's no excuse. If he was responsible, he would have insisted on putting her name elsewhere." It's true. Morozov seems to have had no qualms about writing Medina out—whether that idea was his or The New Yorker's.
I do not want to vilify Evgeny Morozov. Morozov has pissed off a lot of people in his day, and I have slowly watched on Twitter as what I have written has played into their agendas. That saddens me. I agree with Morozov's politics. I have used and will continue to use his writings in my classes. I admire a great deal of his work.
But in publishing his essay in this form, he has done something wrong. (I have received dozens of messages from historians and other scholars who agree.) Morozov—perhaps because of his disposition—seems incapable of realizing that he has messed up, even if by accident. When will someone force him to take responsibility?
The deeper people dig, the worse the situation looks.
Let's be exacting: the time has come for Evgeny Morozov and The New Yorker to act. Issue corrections and apologies now.
PS: Morozov posted yet another explanation to his Tumblr, but I do not believe that it deals with the core arguments in any new way. In fact, it appears that he may not understand the argument. And his post certainly doesn't explain the erasure of Medina between versions. Still, for due diligence, I should link to it: here.