Re: Xtra!: Brodie defends Lynch

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 04 Sep 1998 12:07:20 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 04 Sep 1998 12:07:20 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Xtra!: Brodie defends Lynch
In-Reply-To: <>

At 09:23 AM 9/4/98 -0400, Derek Gatherer wrote:
>This message turned up on another list, so I only got to find out about
>it indirectly. Sorry for the delay in respoding.


It is true that much of what Brodie popularizes needs the backing of
serious work on the conceptual and quantitative framework. This is why he
really should have cited such work as was available in the Journal of
Ideas, for instance.

I will be address your arguments as presented in your recent paper by
writing up an appropriate commentary.


>PS I am a great fan and avid user of Word of Windows, and none of the
>above in any way diminishes the utmost respect I have for you as a
>computer programmer.

Richard says that he wrote the first version of Word, though I do not know
if he was a sole author. His work on this was in the early 1980's, and he
left Microsoft in 1986. Does this mean that Richard worked on Word 1.0 for
DOS, and not on any product sold as "Word for Windows"? I don't know. Have
you ever used any software written by Richard? Again, I don't know. I can
easily envision the product having been completely re-written in going from
DOS to Windows 3.x to Windows 95/98 editions. The brand name "Word,"
however, would of course be retained for marketing purposes.

In fairness, it should be mentioned that Word 7 is not a full 6 releases
removed from Word 1. Word 2 (which had both Windows and DOS versions) was
followed not by Word 3, but rather, by Word 6. This was another marketing
move, done to compete with Word Perfect, which was already in release
number 6. Numbers 3, 4, and 5 were simply skipped. The marketing people at
Microsoft realized that if people were led to believe that Word was also in
release number 6, consumers would think it must be "just as advanced" as
Word Perfect 6--at which point they would choose based on Word's lower
price. Hence, we are in the fourth, not the seventh release of MS
Word--three releases away from what Richard worked on. Still, Word 7 is a
*vastly* more advanced product than Word 1, beyond recognition. And it was
almost certainly developed by a very large team of programmers rather than
any one person. These people should be properly credited, but alas,
marketing considerations seem to dictate crediting only Microsoft, not
crediting individual human beings.

There is a popular 1998 book "Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft from
the Inside" by Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller that goes on at greater
length about the Microsoft marketing machine. It might at first seem that
the diabolical marketing tactics described in that book could also be used
in the marketing of science books. So we might expect an ex-Microsoftie to
treat book marketing as if it were operating system wars, word processor
wars, or web browser wars: try to push the competition to extinction. With
books, you can get your buddies to flame the "competition," omit crucial
references, write up memetics "book lists" that imply by omission that
another title does not exist, etc.* The only problem is, books are not like
word processors or operating systems. Consumers can easily have more than
one title of memetics book, even though it is impractical and expensive to
even try multiple titles of word processors or operating systems.

The other issue, of course, is that what is good for short-term marketing
is not always good for science and the long term success of a scientific
theory. It may look like a good marketing tactic to withhold and divert
attention from people who have done serious work on the conceptual
framework, for instance. But I don't think that Richard is prepared to face
your criticisms and those of many other scientists without heavyweight help.

*Luckily for me, my book does not compete with any titles from Microsoft
Press: The company has kindly included my work in their Education and
Reference web directory, where it is the only memetics work in North
America so featured.

--Aaron Lynch

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