Letter from Dr. Van Bogart
March 9, 1998
Deanna B. Marcum, President
Council on Library and Information Resources
1755 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
I received your letter of February 20, 1998. NML appreciates that from your viewpoint the U.S. News & World Report article makes the point that your organization wanted to make. However, the information credited to National Media Laboratory is not just "interpreted more strictly," it is incorrect! The table that is publicly available from NML is not the table that was published in U.S. News & World Report and credited to NML.
Contrary to what you say in your letter about our "unresponsiveness," Peg DuBois, responsible for NML Publications and Technology Transfer, did talk with Randy Allen before the article was published adn told him quite clearly, several times, that you could use the table as it existed and give credit to NML; however, if the table was changed you could not name NML as the source. Mr. Allen told Ms. DuBois that he would pass that information on to U.S. News and World Report and have the reporter contact us. Apparently, someone chose to ignore NML's statement, as the reporter never called.
It is not important how we "feel" about the misinformation credited to NML. What is important is that the information is not just slightly, but quite significantly incorrect (by 50 years in some cases), and that the publication of this incorrect information negatively affects the bottom line of media manufacturers as well as NML's hard earned credibility. Our phones have been ringing off the hook as media manufacturers and sellers want to know why NML would misrepresent the facts of media life expectancy. And when they aren't calling the media are. The shock-value title of the U.S. News and World Report article caused many other news organizations to ask us for permission to repeat the misinformation.
We believe you do not understand that this irresponsible reporting affects businesses' bottom lines. To our knowledge, industry representatives are discussing both the merits of legal action and the need for funding a public relations effort to correct the misinformation published. One group of optical disc manufacturers is considering a class action suit because of "the potential harm and loss of business that will result from the thousands of information managers and decision makers who see that article, believe it, and then dismiss CD technology as a valid storage medium."
In response to the last paragraph of your letter, let us clarify that it is not and never has been the mission of the National Media Lab to spread the message that media "threatens long-term preservation." Our mission is to support advanced Government information technology needs. As part of that mission we investigate media life expectancy to help government manage records and information.
Dr. John Van Bogart
Data Preservation Scientist
National Media Laboratory