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Comments, Queries, and Debate: A History of Scientific Computation Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129764D
Original Publication Date: 1993-Apr-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 5 page(s) / 26K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Herb Grosch: AUTHOR [+2]


";La Palaz"; Rue du Vieux-College 1261 Cheserex Switzerland

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Copyright ©; 1992 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments, Queries, and Debate: A History of Scientific Computation

Herb Grosch

"La Palaz" Rue du Vieux-College 1261 Cheserex Switzerland

An important but greatly flawed book, A History of Scientific Computation, edited by Stephen G. Nash, was published in 1989 by Addison-Wesley in the ACM Press History Series. A long and serious review of the book appeared in an earlier issue of the Annals of the History of Computing (Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 230-231). Written by Bill Aspray, then editor of the Reviews department, the review gives a computer historian's reaction to many of the articles and ends by saying very cogently:

  (Image Omitted: Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of this volume is that there is no serious attempt to tie together these informative individual accounts into a larger and more coherent picture. Despite its many strengths, this book is no more a history of scientific computation than the proceedings of the Los Alamos conference were a history of computing in the twentieth century.)

I propose to look a second time: first at the book itself as an item in professional computer literature, from the point of view of a former ACM president; then at its overall structure as a- claimed "history," from the point of view of a participant in the years described; finally at the articles it contains (several of which, by old friends and old enemies, are outstanding historical contributions).

In letters to the ACM Forum and to the ACM Council I have pointed out that the book is a triple fraud. The series title is wrong; this book (as Aspray pointed out) and the other three volumes already published are collections of conference papers, not histories. The individual title is wrong; the emphasis is almost entirely on early (and not-so- early) numerical analysis. And shockingly, most of the contents have been published previously, and no warning to that effect appears anywhere in the book on the book jacket, or in any of its advertising.

The earlier Annals of the History of Computing review referred to the book as the proceedings of a conference, and I assumed the same when I got my copy. But in fact a paperbound ACM SIGNUM publication came out in 1987, explicitly called a conference proceedings, and is still available at less than a third of the $49.50 Addison-Wesley price. It contains the detailed acknowledgments for intellectual and financial support that are conspicuously missing in the hardcover volume.

Passing now to the book's overall content, the first thing one notes in leafing through the otherwise handsome production is an unexpectedly small index. This and the table of contents provide clues to the arrant prejudices of the work -- pro-numerical analysis, pro- academe, anti- IBM. I will return later to the relative weights given von Neumann a...