Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Before the Information Age

According to this 1940 article by the dinosaur hunter of Mongolia, Roy Chapman Andrews, the American Museum of Natural History functioned as a proto-Google, with one-third of its staff-hours allocated to answering questions from the public – 25,000 questions in 1939. (Google is presently handling thousands of queries per second, billions of queries per year.)

"Natural History, October 1940

"Museum Quiz

"By Roy Chapman Andrews
Director, The American Museum of Natural History

"A list of the questions asked the staff of the American Museum of Natural History shows that when a person is uncertain where else to get information about a subject, whether or not it pertains to natural history, he gives the question to us. We are a center for the most amazing number and kinds of inquiries, more than half of them technical, most of them serious, but some so extraordinary that we can only suspect the mentality of the people who ask them.

"At least a third of the staff members’ time is devoted to answering questions that come by letter, telephone and personal visit. We don’t mind it, for it is a part of our job as a public institution....

"'True or false' questions which come to the Museum would be grand for a radio quiz. Some of them are: 'Do bears suffer with arthritis?' (Yes.) 'Is it true that a herd of Lilliputian horses, the size of police dogs, exist in the Grand Canyon of Arizona?' (No.)"

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