Appalling Stupidity on the Internet (John Scalzi Edition)

When I logged on to Twitter on Sunday, by chance the first thing I saw in my timeline this tweet by John Scalzi,


I’ve followed Cathy Young’s writing since the late 1990s and she is, if anything, meticulous with the facts in her articles. I was surprised that she would get such a basic fact about the Hugos wrong.

Except, she didn’t.

The article is Mutiny at the Hugo Awards, and in its second paragraph describes what the Hugo awards are:

The Hugos are science fiction’s Oscars, selected by fans—anyone who pays the $40 World Science Fiction Convention membership fee is eligible to nominate and vote—and presented at the annual WorldCon. Earlier this year, a large share of the nominations was captured by the so-called “Sad Puppies” slate, organized by a group of writers opposed to what they saw as a politically correct domination of the Hugos.

Wait, what? I thought “Cathy Young apparently doesn’t know the Hugo are not given by the SFWA,” but there she is accurately describing the Hugo nominating process.

Young does mention Scalzi and the Science Fiction Writers of America several times, including this,

Hoyt told me in our email interview last spring that her personal worst example of the Hugos’ political corruption was a 2013 win for a white male: the Best Novel award to “Redshirts” by John Scalzi, a satirical riff on “Star Trek.” Hoyt, who dismisses the novel as “bad fanfic,” thought the award was blatant cronyism on behalf of Scalzi, a recent president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and one of the fandom’s high priests of “social justice” ideology.

It is possible that Scalzi was referring to Hoyt’s “cronyism” allegation–since the SFWA and Worldcon are completely separate organizations, Scalzi may have meant that his tenure as president of SFWA would have had zero impact on any Worldcon awards process.

After someone pointed out to writer Charles Stross that Young’s article accurately described the Hugo award process, Stross responded that this was missing the point,


So maybe Scalzi meant something similar. This is a pedantic objection, in my opinion, but maybe that’s what he meant.

Except a few hours Scalzi went full circle when a follower of his was surprised that Young’s article accurately explains the Hugo award process. This person assumed that the article had been edited without any sort of correction notice. Scalzi helpfully Retweeted and amplified this claim.


Personally, if I were going to refer to an article as “appallingly stupid,” I would avoid setting up a false narrative about what that article claims. That seems “appallingly stupid” in itself.

But, then, I’m not John Scalzi, and presumably he’s too busy checking his royalty statements to bother with accuracy.

The Etymology of the Word “Computer”

The other day on Twitter, I noticed a tweet fly by that was a screen capture of an article written by Stephanie Ricker Schulte and published by Sage Publications in 2008. The article, The WarGames Scenario: Regulating Teenagers and Teenaged Technology (1980-1984) is an analysis of the movie WarGames, but the portion of the article making the rounds on Twitter had to do with the extremely poor way that women’s contribution to the history of computers has been told, and especially this line about the origin of the term “computer”:

The original use of the word “computer” was to identify the (mostly) women in charge of “computing” target coordinates for military assaults (Moschovitis et al. 1999, 111).

I have not yet tracked down a copy of the Moschovitis book–which is cited elsewhere for this claim–but this appears to be false.

According to the Wikipedia entry on “computer”,

The first known use of the word “computer” was in 1613 in a book called The Yong Mans Gleanings by English writer Richard Braithwait: “I haue read the truest computer of Times, and the best Arithmetician that euer breathed, and he reduceth thy dayes into a short number.” It referred to a person who carried out calculations, or computations. The word continued with the same meaning until the middle of the 20th century. From the end of the 19th century the word began to take on its more familiar meaning, a machine that carries out computations.

John Ayto’s book Word Origins says this about the etymology of “computer”:

Latin computare meant ‘reckon together’. It was a compound verb formed from the prefix com-‘together’ and putare ‘reckon, think’ (source of English putative and various derived forms such as amputate, deputy, dispute, impute, and reputation). It was borrowed into Old French as compter, from which English got count, but English compute was a direct borrowing from Latin. The derivative computer was coined in the mid-17th century, and originally meant simply ‘person who computes’; the modern meaning developed via ‘device for calculating’ at the end of the 19th century and ‘electronic brain’ by the 1940s.

Wikipedia also has an entry for “human computers” which claims,

The first time the term “Computer” appeared in The New York Times was in May 2, 1892; the ad by the US Civil Service Commission stated:

“A Computer Wanted. […] The examination will include the subjects of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and astronomy.”

Wikipedia notes that teams of “computers” were used beginning in the 18th century to divide up the calculations need for works like The Nautical Alamanac, which was a British government publication used to assist navigating.



Fake Ariel Sharon Quote

Somehow a few people ended up at this site by searching Google for an Ariel Sharon quote, “We, the Jewish people, control America, and Americans know it.”

This is a completely fake quote that was fabricated in a 2001 press release by the pro-Hamas Islamic Association for Palestine.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting has a thorough explanation from 2002 of how this quote was created and perpetuated (a Google search today turns it up mostly on the usual suspects of anti-Semitic blogs).