A misquotation episode

by on August 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm in History, Uncategorized | Permalink

Brad DeLong and David Warsh criticize a quotation from me on the origins of the internet.  But in fact the quotation is not from me, it is from Brian Carnell.  The WSJ link, offered by Warsh but not by DeLong, has a correction to this effect.

1 david warsh August 6, 2012 at 7:01 pm

This is a startlingly misleading item. Gordon Crovitz, “Information Age” columnist of The Wall Street Journal, apparently attached Tyler McCowan’s name to something memorably dumb, apparentlyly written by one Brian Carnell (whoever he is — http://brian.carnell.com/). Crovitz’s column ran in the print editions of the US paper. The WSJ corrected Crovitrz’s column thuis way on the web: “(Note: This column has been altered to correct the misattribution of Brian Carnell’s quote.)”

It beats me why Tyler couldn’t explain this himself.

2 Contemplationist August 6, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Tyler McCowan?

3 Willitts August 6, 2012 at 11:19 pm

That was his name before they change it at Ellis Island.

My family name was Williss as in “Whatchu talking bout”

4 MikeDC August 6, 2012 at 9:16 pm

LOL, perhaps you could sound more apologetic and less indignant at the man you misquoted. It’s hardly his job to explain why you’re such a fuckup.

5 Alex K. August 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

“The Wall Street Journal, apparently attached Tyler McCowan’s name […] It beats me why Tyler couldn’t explain this himself.”

This is a pathetic response from someone who could not be bothered to update the entry on his blog to reflect the fact that Tyler Cowen did NOT write that quote.

6 Andrew August 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm

He might just be trolling for blog hits by bothering someone who has readers. Or his cat got a hold of his iPad, as the number of misspellings and other errors in his post suggest. With phrases like “startlingly misleading item,” that sounds like a seriously pretentious feline. Must be unbearable to be around.

7 Brandon August 7, 2012 at 9:13 am

Ha, +1.

8 jeff August 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Well, we can be thankful that DerpWrong will never acknowledge his error and his readers will join in on the misguided narrative. Maybe krugman will join in as well

9 Max August 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Everyone knows Al Gore invented the internet.

10 The Original D August 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm
11 Sunset Shazz August 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

The quality of comments on DeLong’s blog is really terrible, even by Internet standards.

12 Steko August 6, 2012 at 11:29 pm


13 Bill August 6, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I think it is funny how Tyler attacks DeLong for relying on something from the WSJ that attributes a quote to him.

What is DeLong supposed to do.

It gets funnier as others on this site then attack DeLong for relying, unknowinly, on the misquote, instead of focusing on the WSJ or Carnell.

But, the funniest is when someone tries to take a swipe at Krugman out of blue, when, at least from this post, there is no mention of discussing the WSJ article.

Only in America.

14 Hei Lun Chan August 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Someone taking a swipe at Krugman out of the blue, that’s kinda like someone taking a swipe at America out of the blue, isn’t it?

15 Andrew August 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Where did Tyler attack anybody in this post? If someone were saying something untrue about me on the Internet, however blameless that person was, I might make some effort to undo that damage to my reputation. If I had a successful blog that a lot of people read, that would be a good place to set the record straight.

Seriously though, my first sentence wasn’t a rhetorical question. Please tell me where he “attacks DeLong.”

16 Bill August 6, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Read the first sentence.

17 Bill August 6, 2012 at 9:52 pm

…and the last sentence.

Ask why did Tyler not attack the WSJ for the error, but instead for de long repeating it. De longs post came out before the correction.

18 Andrew August 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Tell me specifically, since you are here and reading. Nowhere in the first sentence can I find an “attack.” Your word, not mine. He made a statement of fact, if that is what you mean.

You could also just admit that you were wrong. We’d all think better of you for it.

19 Bill August 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Re evidence of attack:

To quote below: “Hang on. So the WSJ wrongly attributes a quote to Cowan, and the headline here is that de long and warsh believed it?”

To observe from the comments above that others saw it as an attack: …”we can be thankful that DerpWrong …. “He might just be trolling for blog hits ….” “…you’re such a fuckup….” ….comments on DeLong’s blog is really terrible….”

20 Bill August 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Just a little note also on what you could expect anyone to do: DeLong’s post copied the WSJ article, not the link, so while it was satisfactory for Tyler that the WSJ later edition dropped Tyler’s name, and put in Carnel’s, and had a little line at the end saying: ““(Note: This column has been altered to correct the misattribution of Brian Carnell’s quote.)”, this is apparently enough to “set the record straight” in Tyler’s words. So, if De Long had had a link at the end of the post, this matter of umbrage would be over: if you followed the link, you would find the little note. The WSJ article was apparently over 15 days ago, and elicited 952 comments in the WSJ, many of them supportive of the author’s historical accumen. Those folks probably thought this Cowen guy was a real genius.

I think the appropriate thing would have been for Tyler to act earlier, and write some comment in DeLong’s comment section decrying the innacuracy and poor reporting of the WSJ.

But, its over 15 days ago. What are you trying to do to make people who simply quote in full the WSJ reporting and attack it as garbage. You should say the article was garbage, unless you believe it wasn’t.

21 Cliff August 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm

God forbid Tyler offend your delicate sensibilities by pointing out an error by DeLong that “could not have been avoided”! Boo-hoo!

22 Andrew' August 7, 2012 at 6:40 am

“What is DeLong supposed to do.”

Saying the government invented the internet is like saying they invented trucking because they built some roads. It’s nonsense.

Apparently they can’t claim they invented the World Wide Web. They didn’t “invent” what we have now because what we have now was invented by noone, it’s spontaneous order.

So, what could they possibly mean? Well, there were a few protocols and people settled on the one with government involvement, but that is more simple path dependence and not invention. It’s like choosing to drive on the right or the left side of the road. It may not matter that much.

So what do they actually mean? Nothing. They mean nothing. They just want to take something many people are fond of and associate it with their side while disrespecting people like Tyler as a bonus.

23 Yancey Ward August 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Bill proved long ago that he lacks basic reading ability.

24 mulp August 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Trucking was invented before the roads were built so trucks could compete with railroads?

The original WSJ hit piece was basically arguing that railroads were not invented by government because the wheel was invented by the Chinese in 3000 BC, so the transcontinental railroad was built by the Chinese free market, not by Abraham Lincoln.

And then arguing whether the transcontinental railroads and all the economic development (and expropriation of Indian nation land in violation of the Constitution – treaties are supreme law) were the result of the Greeks inventing the wheel, or the Romans, or Steve Jobs who has a patent on round things than roll on the ground to carry a pallet of iPhones.

If Abraham Lincoln had vetoed the railroad act as his predecessor did, would the economic development of the West gone as it did, or would it be more like the development in Brazil or central Africa, even today?

25 Norman Pfyster August 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I think it’s hilarious when some people thilnk setting the record straight amounts to “attacking.”

26 MikeDC August 6, 2012 at 11:51 pm

DeLong is supposed to issue a correction. How is Cowan asking for one an attack? Why is it “funny” to focus on the person who doesn’t make a correction after being notified it was necessary instead of the organization that apparently did make such a correction?

27 Bernard Guerrero August 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

“DeLong is supposed to issue a correction.” +1. Seems straightforward enough to me. If you badly misquote somebody, even innocently, you offer a correction and an apology.

28 j r August 7, 2012 at 9:47 am

I think it is funny how you take a random swipe at America.

29 Donald Pretari August 6, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I’d like to know if it’s usual to post a correction without explaining how it happened. For example, it matters to me if the author was responsible for the mistake.

30 Doc Merlin August 7, 2012 at 12:52 am

For an independent blog its unusual. For a blog or newspaper article associated with a big news site you are lucky if you get the correction.

31 The Mac August 6, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Hang on. So the WSJ wrongly attributes a quote to Cowan, and the headline here is that de long and warsh believed it?

Aren’t you outraged that the WSJ is using your name willy-nilly to support whatever point they’re trying to make? If not, do you mind if I so the same from now on?

32 Tyler Cowen August 6, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I am not upset at anyone, I am simply setting the record straight, and hoping for corrections. The WSJ issued theirs promptly some time ago.

33 g August 7, 2012 at 1:56 am

Did you ask anyone for a correction, or merely “hope”? It’s likely that DeLong is simply unaware of the WSJ’s misquote, and would happily post a complaint about bad journalists in response.

34 Wu August 7, 2012 at 7:21 am

Tyler, grow up.

35 Andrew' August 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

Wu, you must be joking.

It’s a Herculean task to claim the government invented the internet and when they finally achieve their goal they get:

“It was US government policy that TCP/IP would be an open protocol”

So, their whole argument rests on that it is simply not possible for the internet to act exactly as it manages to do today had the government not forced their version of the protocol on people.

It’s ridiculous.

36 Bernard Guerrero August 7, 2012 at 11:59 am

Listen, man, Wu just told you flat out. “Grow up. As a libertarian, you need to accept that you are wrong regardless of the facts of the matter.”

37 Ape Man August 6, 2012 at 10:18 pm

This is starting to descend into parody. I always thought of Cowen as being a bland person who collected interesting ideas but was fairly safe and conventional (and thus, boring) in his own ideas. I never thought he would attract his own special haters for which a two sentence statement of facts with no commentary was yet more proof of his evilness.

I thought I had seen it all but Mr. McWarsh’s comment still managed to cause my jaw to to drop. I thought trolls were beginning to ruin Marginal Revolutions comment section but now I am starting to think that they are just making it more entertaining. Pass the popcorn, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

38 Yancey Ward August 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Mr. McWarsh’s

Well played, Sir!

39 boba August 6, 2012 at 11:44 pm

“…setting the record straight, and hoping for corrections. The WSJ issued theirs promptly some time ago.”
Does this mean the WSJ retracted the entire article? As the comments to it point out, there isn’t one true fact in it other than PARC was part of of Xerox. I can’t blame you for wanting to be disassociated from that drivel. And yes, I worked on MILNET, shortly after the ARPANET was “retired.” (1983) I would be very much surprised if the USAF was not part of the US government.

40 Brandon August 7, 2012 at 9:17 am

That sounds a lot more promising than my recent work on MILFNET.

41 Oreg August 8, 2012 at 9:02 am

What boba said. The article got almost all the technology wrong. Oh, it’s by the WSJ’s “Information Age” columnist? His kids probably know more about the internet than he does.

42 Andrew Smith August 7, 2012 at 12:55 am

This is just TC’s latest “woe is me” bit. Someone takes some mad thing that TC could have written, publishes it, others think that he said it, because it was published, and he’s back to “I’m misunderstood and being villianised”. Not in so many words, certainly, but in effect.

43 anonymous... August 7, 2012 at 3:37 am

WTF is wrong with you?

44 Andrew Smith August 7, 2012 at 12:57 am

Look up the offending post that’s been quoted:

It does seem TC at least partially agrees with the ideas he’s posting here.

45 Brandon August 7, 2012 at 9:20 am

Yeah, seriously! Why can’t McTyler own up to the fact that, sure, maybe he didn’t actually write it, but he *might as well* have written it? We’d still have Jonah McLehrer around if we could just get over ourselves (looking at you, Bobby MacDylan)…

46 Jason August 7, 2012 at 1:59 am

The link from your quotation from the article doesn’t work and suggesting the article is a “corrective” means you agree with the statements within. It is not exactly misleading to attribute the quote to you — more of a lack of credit. If this had been something positive, your reply would be more along the lines of “I feel good bringing attention to the subject but so and so deserves the credit”.

The article *itself* is terribly misleading suggesting that TCP/IP (a packet switching protocol) is the internet’s backbone but that the ARPANET (the first implementation of a packet switching protocol) wasn’t really the internet.

(The quote from Robert Taylor defines the internet as the connection of two or more networks but then Crovitz goes on to say that TCP/IP packet switching is a big part of the internet which is exactly what the ARPANET was! Note that Ethernet includes a packet switching protocol, too.)

The whole thing stinks of hack revisionist history to try and find a way to prove a quote by Obama wrong. So if Delong wants to set the record straight and say Cowen is a hack spreading hackery instead of a hack originating hackery that’s fine. If he decides to leave the correction to the link in his post that’s fine too. There is no way a Delong post that merely corrects the attribution is justified.


Cowen should retract his quote of the WSJ post for being misleading.

I still haven’t seen a retraction for the misleading graphs in these posts:

47 Cliff August 7, 2012 at 4:02 am

“Misleading” graphs quoted from other sources are not “retracted”. Give it up. When you give a false attribution, that needs to be corrected even if another person might agree with what the quoted person says.

48 Robert Simmons August 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

What exactly is misleading about those graphs? If you think that there’s one graph that offers a perfect take on any of those situations, you are mistaken. As I see it, the ones Tyler posted help give us a different perspective, to be taken in conjunction with other perspectives. If there are mistakes/errors/lies in any of them, please point them out.

49 mulp August 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Technical point: Ethernet has no packet switching capability. The IEEE 802.3 protocol set includes a packet switch capability for Ethernet in a distributed bridge protocol invented by a DEC engineer (or three) with the patents assigned to the IEEE by DEC under the umbrella of the joint effort by Xerox, DEC, and Intel to commercialize and made Xerox’s invention into an industry standard competing against mostly IBM’s token ring competition which were most inherently packet switching protocols – in token ring, a master controller directs the packet traffic like a traffic cop or traffic light,

Of course, AT&T was manufacturing packet switches which handled most telephone communication, though as Kleinrock argued, train cars in trains are good for some traffic, say coal, but not for others; autos on roads are better, commuting to work. Token ring had some of the attributes of trains, while Ethernet is like autos on highways crashing into each other and pushed off the road under heavy congestion, with passengers gone missing.

But the Internet was not the product of an invention, but the non-profit business creation of Congress.

50 dearieme August 7, 2012 at 5:02 am

Why is David Warse so bad tempered?

51 Wu August 7, 2012 at 7:27 am

Warsh is a straight shooter. I’d take him over Tyler’s cryptic condescension any day.

52 Orange14 August 7, 2012 at 7:34 am

How is it that commenters on this post cannot spell Tyler’s surname correctly?

53 Rahul August 7, 2012 at 7:49 am

Blame it on the WSJ too…..

54 Bill August 7, 2012 at 9:04 am

Here’s a little mind game for you.

Sen Ted Kennedy is attributed for making a certain statement, when in fact, Sen Bernie Sanders made the statement. Both men, however, agree on the contents of the quote, and therefore neither are offended by the misattribution. No one seeks an appology from the WSJ; neither sits in his cave brooding about how is quote is misattributed because Sen Kennedy agrees with Sen Sanders statement.

So, I leave it to you: It must be that Tyler is offended for the misattribution BECAUSE HE DISAGREES with the WSJ article.

Yet, nowhere do I see any statement that Tyler disagrees with the WSJ article. Amazing.

Does Tyler agree with the WSJ article. If he does, then it is a bit librarianish to be creating a stir over misattribution, asking others to do something, when you agree with the content of the WSJ article. If you don’t agree with the content of the article, then you should say so.

But, that would disappoint some in your audience. Unless, of course, you agree with the WSJ article.

55 Bernard Guerrero August 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

So it’s “truthy”? :^)

56 Andrew' August 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Simple people apparently don’t understand that the job of academia is to capture the credit of the technology horizon. So, it’s a stretch to say that they “invent the internet.” And it’s even more of a stretch to claim that “the government” invented the internet because of the government’s role in DARPA and research as described here:


Tyler is simply not engaging in the stupid game and simple people don’t understand the distinction of not taking sides in the stupid contest.

57 wick August 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Perhaps too much smugness all around, but I prefer TC’s minimalism to MCWalsh’s invective. As OTSOG readers all know, no one really invents anything.

58 wick August 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Oops. Thant’s McWarsh or, rather, Warsh et. al.

59 mulp August 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm

The WSJ and to my mind the way Tyler Cowen elevating his total misdirection and logical fallacy is like Apple currently in Federal court carrying out Steve Jobs’ order to kill Google.

To kill Google, Apple is claiming the free market gives Apple a monopoly on everything that is rectangular with rounded corners and a glass face with a button in the corner because Apple invented the idea of a rounded corner rectangle glass faced device with a button.

The government has no role in Apple’s claim to its free market monopoly.

The government played zero role in Apple claiming to have invented a rounded corner glass faced rectangle with a button – it was purely the free market the caused Apple to invent this.

The idea that Congress or government has any responsibility for Apple’s invention claims is supposedly absurd.

No one will argue that Google as the target is the true free market agent that has separately invented a glass faced rounded corner rectangle with a button by providing substitutes for thousands of existing prior art appliances that are glass faced with rounded corner rectangles with buttons on the front that have been created by lots of “inventors” who simply do the obvious.

This goes back to Microsoft’s invention of windowed GUIs which justifies its exclusive trademark on the word Windows.

Ultimately, we are blogging over the Internet instead of AOL or MSN because Congress, perhaps unintentionally, passed a job training bill with a one line amendment in 1992 that authorized NSF to commercialize the government run Internet as the government funded Internet technocrats wanted to have happen for a decade contrary to Federal law.

At the time Congress was picking the Internet as the winner and AOL and Microsoft and dozens of other computer and network companies the losers, Microsoft was devoting lots of efforts to building MSN to go after AOLs global domination, and Bill Gates announced MSN in 1995, and then almost immediately understood Congress had doomed MSN and his target, AOL by picking the Internet the winner in 1992 and the government technocrats were acting so quickly the private sector could not get Congress to reverse its order dooming MSN and AOL.

By the way, I was at a convention of the Internet geeks in the late 80s with lots of government and government funded people frantically trying to dictate the winner because they hated the free market industry alternatives to the Internet they developed. These government dependent types were very competitive and worked very hard to defeat the free market competition from the for-profit corporations. Jon Postel, especially, was a big government socialist who though the Internet should be free of profit. The idea that corporations could dictate the software and hardware you bought to connect your computers globally based on profit was something he totally opposed. And he objected to the fact that to set the standards for the free market competition, you had to pay to play, because the corporations developing the free market alternative to the Internet was run at a profit. Postel thought it should be government run and funded so it was free.

And the Internet in 1986 was understood to be seriously flawed, and it still has the very serious flaw known a quarter century ago – too few Internet addresses. The Congress picked the inferior flawed solution as the winner.

60 Thorstein Veblen August 7, 2012 at 11:17 pm

How garbage is the WSJ? I’m mean damn, that article is wrong on so so many levels. F’ing up the original quote was one thing, including it at all is another…

“The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government.”

Except, you know, for the fact that the government created the Internet.

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