Talk:Hal Abelson

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Hal Abelson did give permission.[edit]

I have a copy of the email if anyone would like one.

Copied this from Talk:Hal Abelson/temp, posted there originally by Hcatlin: --Delirium 02:36, Dec 6, 2003 (UTC)

Ok, I got this email from Dr. Abelson.

Sure thing.

Nice of you to ask.

== Hal

In reply to the message:

   Date: Mon, 01 Dec 2003 11:59:41 -0500
   From: "Hampton Catlin" <>
   Dr. Abelson-
   I was playing around with the Wikipedia and noticed that there
   wasn't an entry about you. I figured that an entry about you would be
   nice, so I was wondering if you could give me permission to use the
   biography posted on your site in the text of the Wikipedia entry.
   Hampton $(*&$.

"Giants" Quip[edit]

The article currently attributes the "shoulders of giants" quip to Dr. Abelson. When I wrote my thesis, I (like many others I'm sure) put it in as a frontpiece. However, when I later found Dr. Abelson on-line, I e-mailed him to check if the quote did, in fact, originate with him. His reply was :

Date: Sat, 4 Jul 1998 22:32:41 -0400 (EDT)
From: Hal Abelson <>

That's me.

Actually, I didn't originate the quote: It was first said by a guy
named Jeff Goll, my roommate at Princeton, who used it in his
undergraduate thesis. But I once told it to someone (I don't remember
who) who posted it to the network attributed to me, and the
attribution has stuck.

Hope your thesis advisor enjoys it :)

== Hal

I'll edit the article to reflect this. --Plumbago 11:24, 12 October 2005 (UTC)

Class of 1922?[edit]

Is Dr. Abelson really from the class of 1922? If that refers to his bachelor's degree, and the school system at that time was approximately like the present school system, that means he was born around 1900. I have trouble believing he's over a hundred years old (especially given the photo on his home page, which is in color so it must be recent, and the video of him learning to walk - consumer video cameras didn't exist until somewhat recently). Since it comes out as exactly 1900, it looks like one of those jokes about their age that older professors seem to enjoy. I'm removing this info; if someone can confirm his age or birth, please do so. --Geoffrey 04:43, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

P.S.: Since this claim is repeated elsewhere, perhaps there is a technical meaning of "Class of 1922 Professor" that is not commonly known? Or perhaps it's just copied verbatim from his webpage? If he received a degree in 1922, it's clearer to say so next to the degree. If he didn't exist in 1922, we need to give his birthyear. --Geoffrey 04:53, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
I suspect the string "Class of 1922 Professor" is a special title, probably referring to a chair endowed by the class of 1922. The actual class members are probably mostly deceased now, while their money continues to earn interest. Stan 05:51, 27 December 2005 (UTC)
Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering is indeed his title; the class endowed a chair. I restored his full title to the article. EthanHunt 03:29, 10 February 2006 (UTC)
Lmfao this dude is my advisor, and he's awesome but I wondered "how the hell is he a century old" lol. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:37, 17 May 2011 (UTC)

RMS and Couches[edit]

Happy Hal Abelson ?

Richard Stallman reportedly enjoys sleeping on Dr. Abelson's couch.

Oh, RMS sleeps on everyone's couch; he's a total couch-slut. The dude is homeless and squats his MIT office, but that somehow lacks the personal charm of Adrian Lamo. (Not that RMS isn't a bang-up guy or anything!)
The question is : « Did these two friendly Orcs sleep together ? » <and happily dreaming about metallic sheep ;] > Yug 01:48, 23 February 2007 (UTC) All my respect for this two kings

Center for Democracy and Technology[edit]

I was trying to fill in the [citation needed] where it says he's a director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

I have this citation: However, not sure his own page is a valid cite.

Also, and more damningly, the CTD does not list him anywhere.

Not on their board of directors page:
Nor on their staff page:
Nor even on their academic fellows page: I'm at a loss. DewiMorgan (talk) 19:41, 15 January 2013 (UTC)

Dates needed[edit]

This article would be much improved by adding the years to the events and projects it mentions. E.g. "In YEAR", "From YEAR to now". Lentower (talk) 17:44, 29 September 2013 (UTC)

Bizarre claims of primary sourcing[edit]

‎Lentower (talk · contribs) claims that reference [4] of the current version, Harvey's "Why Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs matters", is a primary source, and insists on tagging the claim sourced by it as in need of improved sourcing. My own opinion is that this claim is a bizarre overreach.

  • Lentower claims that "Harvey worked closely with Abelson & Sussman on SICP". I don't see any evidence that he made any contribution at all to the authorship of SICP; but rather was merely a consumer of it as an instructor of a course that used that book. The people who write about CS eductation are (surprise) people who teach introductory CS courses, so it would be difficult to find someone who is not ignorant of the subject who has *not* used the book. In any case, WP:RS does not require authors of sources to be ignorant of what they're writing about.
  • Lentower claims that this is primary by virtue of being on a web site. The provenance of a source has nothing to do with its primaryness, but rather is about its reliability. The web site in question claims to have been written for a major newspaper (the Boston Globe), but evidence that it was actually published by the Globe is missing. However, as an established expert on computer science education (his position at Berkeley was essentially equivalent to a tenured professor, but in a teaching rather than research track) who has regularly published about computer science education, he passes the "established expert" clause of WP:SPS, which let me repeat, is not about whether a source is primary.
  • Lentower claims that this is an "interview", ridiculous on its face because it is not a back-and-forth between interviewer and interviewee.
  • WP:PRIMARY describes primary sources as recounting witness-eye views of events that they took part in themselves. That is an accurate description of only two of the paragraphs of the Harvey source: the one about his years of teaching a course based on SICP and the one about student surveys. The rest of his work is a general review of the impact of SICP more broadly, and as such is not primary. The fact in question is adequately sourced by the non-primary parts of this source, which talk about the features of SICP that were innovative and about the take-up of those features by other textbook authors (neither of which are things that Harvey is speaking as a primary source about).

So my position is still that the [primary] tag should be removed. But rather than edit-warring about that, perhaps we should have a discussion and try to get some consensus. So, questions for discussion:

  1. Is this a primary source for what it is being used to source?
  2. Is this a reliable source?
  3. Does it adequately source the claim it is being used to source?
  4. Are any other sources available that source the same claim better?

David Eppstein (talk) 16:54, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

No-one who has read SICP is going to challenge its significance or worry about sourcing, much as they would for "water is wet". (talk) 17:11, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Wikipedia asks that personal knowledge and personal opinion not be used in editing here. Editors are suppose to write based on references, and cite them in the article. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
This is the encyclopedia that any edit. Including people who don't know who Abelson is, or what SICP is. Just don't worry about it, don't worry about whatever pointless ugly tags make them happy. When it comes time for them to AfD this article under WP:BLP_NOT_A_RAPPER or WP:NOT_ON_TV, then I'm sure there will still be enough of a clue around to resist the damage. Andy Dingley (talk) 17:11, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
  • All editors are expected to follow Wikipedia's policies and guidelines, including those listed in {{Wikipedia_policies_and_guidelines}}. The fact that some don't, doesn't relieve us of the responsibility of doing so. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
The Harvey essay is not primary; it is a self-published source, but IMO falls under the "expert" exception. In any case, the following sources could supplement Harvey in establishing the SICP's educational impact:
  • Boston Globe, May 15, 2011 issue (based presumably on Harvey's submission):" Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, a pair of MIT computer science professors, wrote "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs," which remains a classic for encouraging the teaching of not one specific programming language, but big-picture themes students could apply across a range of programming scenarios." The headline was:"150 FASCINATING, FUN, IMPORTANT, INTERESTING, LIFESAVING, LIFE-ALTERING, BIZARRE AND BOLD WAYS THAT MIT HAS MADE A DIFFERENCE" (sorry for the cut-n-paste capitalization).
  • Essentials of Programming Languages by Daniel P. Friedman, Mitchell Wand, Christopher Thomas Haynes: see quote on page 359.
  • The Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award citation for Sussman states: "Among his extensive contributions to education are two - the Scheme programming language and the textbook (co-authored with Harold Abelson) Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs - that have helped educators reshape introductory courses. These ideas have provided a formal framework for presenting the fundamental principles of computer science at hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States and around the world." Abecedare (talk) 19:01, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Abelson's Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award citation: "His textbook "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs," co-authored with Gerry Sussman, changed the way many thought about computing. It was widely emulated and adopted by colleges around the world. It de-emphasized the specifics of a particular programming language and concentrated on the idea of abstraction as a fundamental concept in all programming and indeed in all engineering." Incidentally the award seems to be missing from the page.
Abecedare (talk) 19:01, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
Thanks! The award citations particularly seem appropriate in addressing the "worldwide" part of the claim of impact in the article, something that Harvey doesn't directly address. —David Eppstein (talk) 19:58, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
Abecedare (talk · contribs): Thanks. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I usually read all of a discussion and think about it, before replying to any of it.

  • We have yet to have any sources that show that Brian Harvey is an expert, or what fields he is an expert in. It's rare for an instructor at a University to be tenured, and also rare for senior faculty to let them make policy decisions alone, without tenured senior faculty's input and approval. Instructors are usually hired to implement policy set by senior faculty, and kept on if they do the specified job well. This frees up faculty for other tasks and projects. But this is mute - see the next point. (But if you feel you have to, in Brian Harvey's case, sources please to show otherwise.) Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Brian Harvey is not what Wikipedia refers to as an Independent Source (aka third party source). He has used Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SCIP) at Berkeley and has been acknowledged by Abelson and Sussman in the Second Edition of SCIP.[1] (He is not acknowledged in the First edition. (Took me a little while to find a hardcopy.)) So using him as a reference is a small step from using Hal Abelson, the subject of this biography. Wikipedia asks that non-Independent Sources be used with care and only when an Independent Source can not be found.
  • The Boston Globe reference has the same issue in their feature, and should not be used as we have an Independent Source. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Chris Haynes and Dan Friedman are acknowledged in the Second Edition of SCIP. Mitch Wand is acknowledged in the First Edition of SCIP. So their book has the non-Independent Source problem. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Which leaves us one source that Abecedare (talk · contribs) found. I'm not going to try and find out if it's an Independent Source, i.e. who was in the group that decided on giving Abelson the award. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Without a reference, this sentence with the word "worldwide" in it fails WP:NPOV. It is also unclear what it means: how many CS departments?, what parts of the world?, etc. Even with a reference, the claim should be in a quote from that reference, not in plain text. Wikipedia prose is suppose to be written in a neutral tone, with non-neutral text clearly tied to a source. WP:NPOV also requires that available WP:SOURCES (if any) that balance out the article on this and other parts of the text be added. If you know of one on this point or others, please add it to this biography. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • A claim this wide could have other Independent Sources making it. If any one wants to find and add them ... Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • The laundry list of course materials is trivia that isn't needed in a biography, and is distracting to the reader. Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

So .... Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

To answer just one of your points, with more detail since you didn't believe me when I said so previously: Harvey has the title "Lecturer SOE" (or actually Lecturer SOE Emeritus since his retirement), which in the University of California System is essentially the equivalent of tenure for teaching-but-not-research faculty. "SOE" stands for "security of employment". For evidence that he has this title (not written by Harvey himself) see e.g. this faculty roster. For a partial description of what SOE means see this section of the UC Academic Personnel Manual. In particular, lecturers SOE have permanent employment (as if tenured) and are part of the academic senate (like tenured and tenure-track faculty and completely unlike normal lecturers). But I don't know why you're continuing to impugn this source now that we have others we can use as well. And your suggestion that the group who decided on giving Abelson an ACM award could have been anything but independent is just confusing to me: not even grasping at straws, so much as displaying a complete ignorance of how such decisions are made. Unless maybe you're trying to claim that everyone who has a computer science degree or belongs to the same professional society is too close to the subject to be unbiased — i.e. that independence requires total ignorance. —David Eppstein (talk) 06:51, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
Lentower, I have to agree with David that you seem to have an incorrect understanding of what primary and independent sources mean on wikipedia and the circumstances in which even self published sources are allowed in a biography (essentially, when the claims are about the subject himself, are factual, non-controversial and not unduly self-serving). For example, the acknowledgement you cite:
"We are exceptionally proud of our colleagues who have received major teaching awards for their adaptations of this subject at other universities, including ...Brian Harvey at the University of California at Berkeley"
does not make Harvey a biased collaborator. And raising hypothetical questions about the ACM's award committees, is frankly entering conspiratorial thinking territory.
I have reinstated the clear improvements that David made to the article. I can imagine that you'd object to that, in which case I would recommend that you ask for further opinion at WP:BLPN, WP:NPOVN or WP:RSN (depending upon your exact concerns) since this talk page doesn't seem to get much traffic. Abecedare (talk) 23:17, 14 October 2013 (UTC)
The policies support the consensus I proposed, but there comes a point when the keystrokes necessary to make an improvement to an article, and help other editors become better Wikipedians stop being worth the time. Best to all. Lentower (talk) 23:37, 14 October 2013 (UTC)
What I don't understand: Why did you simply choose a side and make a change that at least one editor objects to, right in the middle of him asking to find common ground, instead of letting the issue be discussed here? --Nczempin (talk) 05:59, 15 October 2013 (UTC)

Proposed consensus[edit]

I propose we change the sentence to this:

The Association for Computing Machinery notes this course "was widely emulated and adopted by colleges around the world."[1]

and add this as a new paragraph, perhaps in a new section Awards:

In 2011, Abelson received the Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award. The citation read "For his contribution to computing education, through his innovative advances in curricula designed for students pursuing different kinds of computing expertise, and for his leadership in the movement for open educational resources.[1]

  1. ^ a b "Hal Abelson - Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award - United States – 2011". Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved 2013-10-11. 

If this award was published in an ACM journal, it be better to use the {{cite journal}} template.

The Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award has neither an article nor a template. It's in over a dozen articles so far. Create either if you feel it's meets WP:N.

It's possible this reference could be used to cite other present text or add even more text to this biography.

Re: the proposed consensus Agreed, Disagree, or Comment Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

  • Agree (obviously.) Lentower (talk) 04:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Comment What is "the sentence" in question here? Does anybody who stumbles upon this have to dig through the discussion or the article? Is it This work, through the textbook of the same name, videotapes of their lectures, and the availability on personal computers of the Scheme dialect of Lisp (used in teaching the course), has had a worldwide impact on university computer-science education.?--Nczempin (talk) 05:48, 15 October 2013 (UTC)
    • Unlike others here, I will do Nczempin (talk · contribs) the courtesy of answering his question. This was the sentence & source in question at the point this Talk section, Talk:Hal Abelson#Bizarre claims of primary sourcing and it's subsections, was started: This work, through the [[Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs|textbook]] of the same name, videotapes of their lectures, and the availability on personal computers of the [[Scheme (programming language)|Scheme]] dialect of [[Lisp (programming language)|Lisp]] (used in teaching the course), has had a worldwide impact on university computer-science education.<ref>{{cite web|url= |title=Why Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs matters |author=Brian Harvey | |date=2011 |accessdate=2013-10-06}}</ref>{{Primary source-inline|date=October 2013}} Lentower (talk) 15:27, 15 October 2013 (UTC)

Wider WP:OWN problem[edit]

Now Lentower is reverting all my changes on the article, with the excuse that this discussion hasn't yet had time to reach a consensus, regardless of whether the changes involve removing the primary tag on Harvey's source (which the preliminary consensus above seems to be favoring). I don't see this as constructive behavior. —David Eppstein (talk) 23:09, 14 October 2013 (UTC)

It was easier to revert, than to put the article into the state it was before you came here for a consensus. Lentower (talk) 23:27, 14 October 2013 (UTC)
Reverting *is* putting the article into the state it was before. And it was difficult to put the "primary" tag back on the source while leaving the other changes intact? —David Eppstein (talk) 23:56, 14 October 2013 (UTC)
As an outside observer, please let me suggest that both of you refrain from editing the main article until consensus has been reached; otherwise it looks much like an edit war. Reverting or not reverting, it doesn't matter in which state the article is regarding your disagreement; once concensus has been found, it can easily be changed to whatever that consensus may be. In the meantime it is probably inevitable that one of you is unhappy with the current state of the article. --Nczempin (talk) 05:40, 15 October 2013 (UTC)
Well, my main goal here (beyond general improvement) was to clear enough tags to get this out of Wikipedia:Pages needing attention/Mathematics/Lists‎ (a huge morass of bad articles, if anyone's looking for stuff to work on). And since Abecedare (talk · contribs) removed the new primary-source tag I left, that's done, so I'm happy to stop for now. But is there any consensus left to build and wait for? All the issues we were discussing (better sourcing for the SICP impact claims, adding an award to the article) seem to be resolved for now. —David Eppstein (talk) 05:50, 15 October 2013 (UTC)
What about the "proposed consensus" in the previous subsection? I see it only as proposed, but you haven't weighed in on it AFAICS. --Nczempin (talk) 05:53, 15 October 2013 (UTC)
And note that while Abecedare (talk · contribs)'s changes may have gone "your way", this doesn't mean there is consensus. --Nczempin (talk) 05:55, 15 October 2013 (UTC)
You don't think implementing a large fraction of the things proposed in the subsection (e.g. describing the award), while not necessarily using the exact wording of the subsection, counts as weighing in? I didn't do the parts about changing what the article says about the impact of SICP, or removing the Harvey source so if you still want to find a dispute to resolve by consensus, there's that. I happen to think that stating the impact in our own words is a better choice than a pull quote, and that having Harvey as a source is better than removing that source, but I don't feel strongly enough about it to argue, so you'll have to find someone else to do that. I'd rather step back from the dispute for now as you already suggested (so why are you encouraging me not to now?) and find some way to appease Lentower (talk · contribs) so we can go back to more cooperative patterns (we've had a long history of working constructively on a different article before butting heads here). —David Eppstein (talk) 06:25, 15 October 2013 (UTC)
I think I didn't express myself clearly. I didn't suggest you step back from the dispute, I merely suggested that you both refrain from editing the article (as opposed to this discussion page; please do continue to contribute) until the issue is settled. I did not read all the details in the section before "proposed consensus". I just got that there was a lot of back and forth, which seemed to culminate in this proposal (as you describe it now it seems that search for consensus is only the last step and most of it has already been agreed on?), and then a) you seemed to ignore that proposal and b) it was suggested it should be taken to other pages, which I found a bit strange, since it seemed to be a content dispute between the two of you and if you are fine with the proposal you can just agree and things should go back to normal. It is perfectly normal, especially when people are able to compromise/agree, that just two people find "consensus" (maybe it is phrased in a misleading way then, all that's really necessary is that you two don't turn it into an WP:EW. So if I misunderstood, and everything is now settled to both parties satisfaction I'll happily step out of this, and will even "allow" (not that it is for me to allow; only trying to mediate) you two to go back to editing. At the moment I am unclear as to what the actual state of the dispute is. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Nczempin (talkcontribs) 06:55, 15 October 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Nczempin, can you please:

  • Read the Bizarre claims of primary sourcing to understand the locus of the original dispute over the "Harvey reference" (which was resolved by finding additional references)
  • Carefully review the actual changes made by David Eppstein, which mainly consisted of organizing content more systematically into sub-sections (not a matter of contention), and adding the additional reference.

I hope that will make it clear why I, who entered the topic as an "outsider" after seeing this section at RSN, reinstated David's improvements. If you disagree with the substance of the changes and still have questions after that, I'll be happy to address them. Abecedare (talk) 16:01, 15 October 2013 (UTC) ──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Nczempin (talk · contribs): I am not happy with the sentence in question or source on it. I was happy to see the award this dispute uncovered added to the article. The reorganization is not an issue to me.

Until you stepped in, the matter had reached a point of diminishing returns for me, even though a Wikipedia concensus had not been reached.

I believe the consensus I proposed better meets the goals of Wikipeida, and the needs of it's readers. It also meets what David Eppstein (talk · contribs) said his primary goal was. I be happy to answer any other questions you have about the reasons I gave above, and would welcome your input on the proposed consensus. Lentower (talk) 16:08, 15 October 2013 (UTC)


I have removed the sentence, "He is Jewish" from the article since it was sourced to a software sales website and user-contributed content site. I have no strong objections if the sentence is re-added with appropriate sources, although the usual convention is that religion/ethnicity information is included in a biography only if (1) it is relevant to the subject's notability, and/or (2) the subject self-identifies to belong to those classes. Abecedare (talk) 16:09, 15 October 2013 (UTC)