Guy Who Pretends He Invented Email Whines At Every Journalist For Writing Obit Of Guy Who Actually Helped Create Email

from the give-it-up-shiva dept

Over the years, we’ve written a few times about Shiva Ayyadurai, a guy who’s basically staked his entire life on the misleading to false claim that he “invented” email. Every couple of years he pops up again as he’s able to fool some reporters into believing him. In 2012, he fooled the Washington Post and, astoundingly, the Smithsonian. In 2014, he was somehow able to get the Huffington Post to publish a multi-part series claiming he had “invented” email — though after we called them out on it (and after they stood by it) — those stories were eventually deleted. Ayyadurai also threatened to sue us for calling out his false claims, but there’s been no lawsuit yet.

In those previous stories, we’ve explained why his claims are false in fairly great detail. Here’s the quick version:

First off, no one denies that V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai — an apparently very bright 14-year-old at the time — wrote an email software program for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in 1978. By all accounts, it was a perfectly decent email system that allowed the UMDNJ staff to send electronic messages. Further, no one doubts that, in 1981, Ayyadurai registered the copyright on his program, which was called EMAIL. The problems are that (1) email was invented long before 1978, (2) the copyright is merely on the specific software code, not the idea of email, and (3) while Ayyadurai may have independently recreated the basics of email (and even added a nice feature), none of his work was even remotely related to what later became the standards of email. What’s most sickening about this is that as part of this new PR campaign, Ayyadurai is ridiculously arguing that the reason no one believes him isn’t because he’s simply wrong, but because they can’t stand to believe that “a dark-skinned immigrant kid, 14 years old,” invented email, and that it was done in “one of the poorest cities in the US” rather than at a famous university.

Again, that might make for a nice story line if there were some factual basis behind it, but there isn’t. The history of email is well-documented from multiple sources and it began way, way before 1978. And while early versions were somewhat crude, by 1978 they had basically everything that Ayyadurai claims to have invented (it is entirely believable that Ayyadurai, as a bright kid, independently came up with the same ideas, but he was hardly the first). There was a messaging system called MAILBOX at MIT in 1965. You can read all the details of it here, including source code. Ray Tomlinson is frequently credited with inventing the modern concept of email for the internet by establishing the @ symbol (in 1972) as a way of determining both the user and which computer to send the email to. By 1975, there were things like email folders (invented by Larry Roberts) and some other basic email apps. As is noted, by 1976 — two years before Ayyadurai wrote his app — email was 75% of all ARPANET traffic.

There’s also the fact that even if Ayyadurai had done something different at that dental school (and there’s no evidence he really did), that had no impact at all on the growth and success of email. No one else built out email systems because of what they saw Ayyadurai build. Email came and grew out of all of that other work (most of which pre-dated Ayyadurai). Hell, just look at RFC 733 from 1977 (before Ayyadurai started working at the school), which basically lays out all of the features of email.

Despite all of this, Ayyadurai refuses to give up his claims. Part of the way he’s tried to get around this is to redefine email to include an increasingly long list of features, most of which are not at all necessary for email. The list changes over time and grows — basically every time someone points out that all of the things he had on earlier lists were found in programs pre-dating Ayyadurai’s own program. Ayyadurai also totally misrepresents what a copyright is, and insists that his copyright is just like a patent, because you couldn’t patent software back then. That’s basically not true. It is true that most software was not considered patentable back then (even though some was), but that still doesn’t make the copyright the equivalent of a patent.

Throughout all of this, Ayyadurai and the weird collection of supporters he’s built up — bizarrely including Noam Chomsky and PR guru Larry Weber — seemed to keep targeting Ray Tomlinson as some sort of evil mastermind behind the racist plot to take down Ayyadurai, because Tomlinson worked for Raytheon, and Weber, Chomsky and Ayyadurai could spin this bizarre and totally made up story of a big American defense contractor wanting to rewrite history to write out someone with “brown skin.”

Tomlinson, as you probably have heard already, passed away this weekend, and received tremendous praise across the internet. Many referred to him as the “inventor of email” even though Tomlinson himself had long insisted that was not true either. Instead, he (unlike Ayyaudurai) long admitted that the growth and success of email involved many people working in pieces, building on each other’s work successfully to build out the tool that we all use today. Still, Tomlinson actually does deserve tremendous credit for making email what it is today. The most notable claim — and the one that everyone rightly talks about — is his decision to make use of the @ symbol as a part of email addresses, in order to send email messages across networked computers, rather than just on a single machine (as had been done previously).

But, much more importantly, Tomlinson was actively engaged in setting the standards for email, such as in RFC 561 in 1973 (five years before Ayyadurai did anything), in which he and others laid out the standards for email headers.

Given all this, you’d hope that Ayyadurai could let Tomlinson’s passing go in peace, and let people celebrate all of the work he did to actually bring email to the world. But, nope. That’s not what’s happening. Instead, Ayyadurai has gone on a Twitter rampage, tweeting at basically every journalist who has written about Tomlinson, and calling them liars. This is only a small snippet of about 3 hours worth of his tweets.

Most of those are pointing to his “correction” posted to his website, claiming that anyone claiming Tomlinson invented email is wrong. He repeats the false claims about how it only qualifies as email based on his totally arbitrary list of features and also that people who say he’s wrong are simply backing up Raytheon trying to deny him his rightful due because he’s “not white.” And, amazingly, he’s actually convinced some publications to write about his claim, with very little fact checking. Meanwhile, when some point out that he’s lying, Ayyadurai yells at them that they’re repeating “racist lies,” despite the fact that all of the evidence is well-documented.

Once again, to Shiva Ayyadurai: you were almost certainly a very bright kid, who created a nice software program as a teenager at the school where you were employed. That’s great. And you should be proud of your accomplishments. But you did not invent email. You had nothing to do with the invention of email. And to continue to claim otherwise makes you look petty and silly — especially at a time when everyone is celebrating the very real accomplishment of Ray Tomlinson.

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Comments on “Guy Who Pretends He Invented Email Whines At Every Journalist For Writing Obit Of Guy Who Actually Helped Create Email”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Many referred to him as the “inventor of email” even though Tomlinson himself had long insisted that was not true either. Instead, he (unlike Ayyaudurai) long admitted that the growth and success of email involved many people working in pieces, building on each other’s work successfully to build out the tool that we all use today. Still, Tomlinson actually does deserve tremendous credit for making email what it is today.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This has always been the truth in real progress. Some people, like Isaac Newton and Ray Tomlinson, are even honest enough to admit it.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Ray Tomlinson RIP

Ray and others like him and from that time contributed a lot to get a network of IMPs to become a network of IP processors to an ARPAnet backbone, NSFnet backbone, and eventually the commercial Internet.

Through it all email evolved but several things stayed:
1. Ray’s use of the @ to separate man and machine. (Bitnet’s broken % sign did not last long…)
2. Email as envisioned by many people has persevered and improved.
3. No 14-year old indian poser kid invented email

It’s amazing how many people believe his story despite reality and factual proof to the contrary.


Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Ray did more than just work on email

Let me quote Craig Partridge (another long-time key contributor to the Internet):

“Ray Tomlinson had been at BBN since 1967. He?s best known for inventing the concept of sending email over a computer network and choosing the @ sign as the way to split the mailbox name from the host name. But that?s a fraction of his amazing contributions to our field. Ray was one of a four person team that created TENEX, the first operating system to support virtual memory using paging. He wrote one of the first implementations of TCP and, when he found data being duplicated in the received stream, devised methods to ensure that sequence numbers were not duplicated that remain fundamental to TCP/IP implementations today. He worked on the first object-oriented distributed system and early multimedia email systems. And I’m sure I’m forgetting at least half a dozen other ways Ray made our world better.”

Let me also quote Vint Cerf, whose name I presume everyone here knows:

“I knew and worked with Ray Tomlinson during the development of the ARPANET and its host protocols and benefited, as have billions, from his seminal work on networked electronic email. More important, from my personal perspective, was his work with Bill Plummer on the first PDP-10 TENEX implementation of TCP (and later TCP/IP). In 1975, he discovered that the TCP as specified in December 1974 had flaws that led it to fail to detect duplicate packets and, together with Yogen Dalal, developed the three-way handshake and initial sequence number selection method to solve this problem. As Craig Partridge summarizes, Ray was a long-time and creative contributor to the Internet, operating systems, and many other highly practical applications in the computer science and communications domains. He was a self-effacing and humble man and extraordinary performer in our online world. I will miss his thoughtful, low-key and always helpful counsel.”

Ray left a legacy of a long, LONG line of developments and innovations. Perhaps the biggest tribute to what he did is that so much of it just works — even today — without anyone having to think much about it. (Your operating system, at the behest of your web browser, just did the three-way TCP handshake referred to above so that you could read this page.) And yet he so often demurred when folks tried to give him credit, preferring to cast himself just one of many building on each others’ work.

Which, mostly, he was, as are nearly all of us. But there is no doubt in mind that he came up with the concept of networked email. His fingerprints are all over it, and it fits right in with the rest of his extensive history: in order words, it’s exactly the sort of thing Ray would do. And did, many many times.

And to Shiva Ayyadura: how DARE you use the sad occasion of Ray’s death to engage in even more self-aggrandizing fabricated PR. That’s not only bullshit, it’s vile.


Noam jumped the shark a long time ago.

We like some of his ideas. We stole them and used them for our evil purposes over in the CS department.

HOWEVER, beyond some contributions to linguistics he’s a total fruitcake. I am not at all surprised that Noam Chomsky might choose to champion the plight of this poser.

Paraquat (profile) says:

Re: Noam jumped the shark a long time ago.

Noam Chomsky was a big apologist for the Khmer Rouge during the 1980s. Even as reports of the genocide kept filtering in, Noam insisted it was all just a smear campaign by the USA imperialists. After the release of the movie “The Killing Fields” and the fact that the genocide was too obvious to ignore, Noam essentially disappeared from public view, totally discredited.

He then re-emerged with 9/11 and has been going ever since as The Big Mouthpiece. Always looking for an issue to attack the horrible racist USA, and Israel, his two objects of loathing. So I’m not surprised he’d jump into this too, this it “proves” that America is racist.

Many young people – too young to remember Noam’s Khmer Rouge lovefest – just believe everything this creep says. Noam spits out book after book, all saying pretty much the same thing, it’s how he makes his living. He leaches off of well-meaning liberals who don’t realize they are being had.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Noam jumped the shark a long time ago.

Chomsky’s actual biography certainly has enough crackpottery to go around (starting with the subject of this very article), so why the need to make up stuff like that:

Noam Chomsky was a big apologist for the Khmer Rouge during the 1980s. Even as reports of the genocide kept filtering in, Noam insisted it was all just a smear campaign by the USA imperialists. After the release of the movie “The Killing Fields” and the fact that the genocide was too obvious to ignore, Noam essentially disappeared from public view, totally discredited.

He then re-emerged with 9/11

– Chomsky didn’t claim the Cambodian genocide was a smear campaign. He claimed that western media was showing an intentional bias by staying mum on the cruelties committed by the (US-backed) Suharto regime in East Timor, while at the same time extensively reporting on cruelties by the (communist) Khmer Rouge. Which has at least some truth to it, YMMV on the whole “international imperialist media cabal” thing but there is little denying that the Indonesian occupation of East Timor was neglected until well into the 90s.

– Accordingly, his supposed disappearance until 2001 never happened. Several of his most successful works (like “Manufacturing Consent”) appeared in that era.

Isma'il says:

Re: Re: Noam jumped the shark a long time ago.

Your assertion that Noam is out to get the “racist” USA and Israel is a bit misleading, given a few of the misdeeds of both.

With regards to the USA:

1. The CIA, under direction of Kermit Roosevelt, fomented a coup d’etat against the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1953 to effect regime change back to the Shah of Iran. The Shah was “friendly” to UK and US oil interests, while Mossadegh wanted to make the Iranian people the beneficiaries of their own oil profits.

2. The US, through private business interests, sponsored the overthrow of democratically-elected Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, because Arbenz was elected on a platform of giving land-rights back to the people much to the chagrin of the United Fruit Company. UFC controlled the banana production and abused their monopoly to the detriment of Guatemalan society.

3. In 1981, Jaime Roldos of Ecuador was assassinated because of his stance similar to Mohammad Mossadegh, in that Ecuador’s oil revenues should be used to help the people, instead of prop up US oil interests. Many believed that the assassination was sanctioned by the US government and carried out by corporate-sponsored hitmen.

4. Panamanian President Omar Torrijos was suspiciously removed from office after successfully renegotiating the Panama Canal Treaty in 1977 to allow the canal to be transferred to Panamanian sovereignty, despite the wishes of major US corporations that had an interest in the canal zone remaining under US control.

All these facts are not in dispute and can be verified through multiple sources, including John Perkins’ book Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

With regard to Israel:

1. There was little Jewish interest in the lands of Palestine until the Zionist movement began in the late 1800s. At that time, Zionist interests began one of the biggest land-grab schemes in modern history: Buying up vast tracts of land on the cheap, expelling the original residents, and then putting up Jewish settlements. This process accelerated the years immediately following World War 2, allowing the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine.

2. The UN resolution of 1947, creating separate “Israeli” and “Palestinian” zones didn’t last very long as Zionist interests continued their land-grab policies, leading to the situation we have today.

3. The State of Israel today is a de facto apartheid state, with regard to Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people and the land that was once rightly theirs.

Why would society tolerate Israeli aparteid whilst condemning former South African apartheid at the same time?

Again, these are not in dispute and can be verified through different sources, not the least of which is

Let’s be clear here: I am not saying that I don’t like the USA or that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, rather I’m saying that both have enough blood on their hands such that it disqualifies them from being a moral authority.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Microsoft "successful" at Windows (was )

…his implementation was vastly less successful than Microsoft’s

The first Microsoft Windows was barely a crosshatch pattern on an ASCII screen. It competed UNFAVORABLY against AmigaOS which had true multitasking and MacOS which has true graphical windows. In every single measurement Microsoft’s implementation of Windows sucked.

It took Microsoft from 1993 to 1996 (Win95) to 2001 (Win2K) (and using the kernel they stole from DEC’s VMS) to be able to actually have usable windows doing different things. that’s 13 years after Amiga and Mac had it down pat.

However, what Microsoft did was ensure that “everything runs Windows 3.1 software” so they left all the old cruft in, which made Microsoft Windows the least secure and most easily pwn3d operating system in the world — ever — on any platform — ever — in all of history.

So to compare them and include the word “successful” is a slap in the face of “success.”

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Microsoft

It’s hard to argue they weren’t successful

Yes, there are always people who fail high school debate because they can’t argue their way out of a paper bag. It doesn’t make the argument strong… just the arguer weak.

> Microsoft is still a multibillion dollar business

So’s Amway. Both sell crap. Lots of crap makes for multibillion dollar business. Still crap.

Best of luck with your “they sell lots and I can’t argue” philosophy. I can’t argue with incompetence.

trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Microsoft

Conceded: Windows was, mostly has been (Win2K, 98 eventually and WinXP almost from the get-go, were okay), and currently is, a piece of awful, insecure bloatware; acquired by dubious means and promulgated through pure evil business practices.

Contested: That said, it was OPEN (both bug (security) and feature (user access!)), and, by whatever evile means ’twas done, established a standard OS which accelerated the march of home computing. This was a good thing, even if it was only ever a side-effect of making them filthy rich.

So yeah, the definition of “success” is even more complex than a simple “great product”/”got rich” dichotomy.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Microsoft

Windows has never been “open” as there have always been secret APIs that MS apps could (and did) use that no one else had access to. They even lost one side of a lawsuit over that very issue.

The “success” of MS was in coercing OEMs to exclude anyone else from the market with secret agreements that eventually came to light, but too late to help anyone else. MS finally lost in court altogether, but managed to buy themselves a slap on the wrist.

MS didn’t accelerate the OS market, they held it back during the key parts of the early years, and managed to set back the market more than a decade, giving them a chance to catch up to other, better OSes.

Jeff Leiker says:

Re: Re: Microsoft "successful" at Windows (was )

Raise your hand if you read this comment on an Amiga then tell me how they were successful and Windows (the most ubiquitous desktop OS on earth) was not successful. Was betamax also more successful that VHS just because it had technological advantages?

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Microsoft "successful" at Windows (was )

Raise your hand if…

Raise your hand if the way you judge reality is by how many people raise their hand. Popularity contests are awesome for high-school cheerleader but not so much for news.

> Windows the most ubiquitous desktop OS

You made that criteria up. Now go read up like someone who is responding to a previous posting and see that wasn’t the criteria at all. Good boy.

Microsoft wrote crap. The fact that they sold it to everybody (and his dog) is good salesmanship but it doesn’t make the crap any more eadible. Amiga and Mac had better OSs and they didn’t sell so well at all. Still better mousetrap.

> Was betamax[sic] also more successful
Again if you define success to having the better mousetrap then sure. If you define it as taking the market and running away with it [see various international lawsuits against Microsoft for unlawful behavior] then yeah that too.

That wasn’t the point. The point was that looking at Microsoft was a bad choice. It still is.


DB (profile) says:

A message system limited to the known users a single machine isn’t email. Calling it EMAIL doesn’t make it email.

It’s closest physical analogy is a single cork bulletin board with thumbtacks, or a wall of named cubbyholes, not the postal system.

Someone can send mail to a person in Eagle Alaska, even if they didn’t know that there was town with that name until a few seconds ago. They don’t need to know where Eagle is, or the directions to that address. The mail can get by truck, train, boat, plane or dogsled (and if to Eagle, perhaps all of those).

Socrates says:


A message system limited to the known users a single machine isn’t email. Calling it EMAIL doesn’t make it email.

It’s closest physical analogy is a single cork bulletin board with thumbtacks, or a wall of named cubbyholes, not the postal system.

This is a very important point. I also wonder if he were clueless to that extent that he didn’t understand that a mail system (physical as well as electronically) would extend beyond a single place or computer? Or perhaps he’s just so hung up on the name he selected that he didn’t even understand that the name were a misnomer? His behavior patterns suggests ignorance or malice, or both.

Theoden says:

Give him a TV Show

Somebody needs to give him a TV Show that chronicles his life, a la Scorpion.

They can get the same hack writers who have tuned Walter O’Brien into a total joke to do the same for his email claims. After the first few episodes, NO ONE will ever take him seriously again.

If they ever did in the first place…

tqk (profile) says:

Every program expands in complexity until it does email.

He was just bulldozed by, or found himself riding the current of, a natural trend he’d neither anticipated nor much understood, but claimed it for himself in case it might be worth something some day.

Keep your “EMAIL”, if it makes you happy. It means nothing to me. Yes, you’re a handsome man, which also means nothing to me.

I hate racist jerks like this.

Nutella says:


This is a case of NASSCOM getting caught red-handed buying a PR story in the cover of TIME so that India could beef up its image but it went wrong and they thought every American would believe it. India got caught red handed once again trying to take credit for what others created and now the conman is furious he was exposed.

Par for the course for India.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

In the 38 years since he thinks he invented e-mail, what has he done?

Your entire life & promise boiled down to a single event. Sure it played well in some circles, and you can even drum up support playing the racism card but you wrote a program that couldn’t exist without the hard work of others you seek to discount.

38 years… your single claim to fame is a lie that consumes your every waking minute trying to force reality to accept your fantasy.

38 years… you now hock an ebook.
38 years… you have some connection to a tv star.
38 years… you spend hours a day tweeting into a void.
38 years… and you haven’t created anything of value.
38 years… and your will always be that fuckwad who claims he invented email.

Awesome legacy.

trollificus (profile) says:

More than creating a clever piece of software at an early age, I will credit him with having a mountain of cynical brass. Also, of course, with a paltry character.

But I thought those things when I first heard of him. The latter aspect (lack of a human soul) is only now reinforced though, with this ugly, racist, disrespecting of a dead man.

Self-aggrandizement, seeking undeserved credit, those are not that uncommon, here or in India. Nor is doubling down on a lie when caught out. Cynically playing the race card for personal gain and attacking the recently deceased? Nah, that’s reserved for the lowest of the low.

And if I were one of his Indian compatriots, I’d be backpedaling away from this guy top speed and claiming “He must’ve absorbed the decadent values of the West.” (but then, the BJP is somewhere to the right of Marie Le Pen and racist as the KKK)

Anonymous Coward says:

“I named my software “EMAIL,” (a term never used before in the English language)”


” The company was incorporated in New South Wales on 30 November 1934 as Electricity Meter & Allied Industries Ltd; it adopted the Email name (an acronym) on 20 October 1951. Email’s original and longest running business is the manufacturing of electric, gas and water meters. At one time there would have been few houses in Australia which did not have an Email meter.”

Stephen Q. Pickering (profile) says:

Older e-mails are on record.

Mail from USC-ISI rcvd at 8-APR-76 1202-PST
Date: 8 APR 1976 1110-PST
Subject: MSGGROUP# 314 Welcome Richard Stallman (RMS@MIT-AI)
To: [ISI]Mailing.List:

Please add RMS@MIT-AI (Richard Stallman) to your MsgGroup mailing
list, or obtain a new copy form [ISI]Mailing.List;56.

Richard and Ken Harrenstien (KLH@MIT-AI) have been perusing the
MsgGroup Proceedings and have raised a number of issues that I
think are well worth discussion.

So, Welcome to MsgGroup. Enjoy. See you in the discussions,

Begin forwarded message
Mail from MIT-AI rcvd at 7-APR-76 2256-PST
Date: 8 APR 1976 0155-EST
From: RMS at MIT-AI
To: msggroup at USC-ISI

1) I would like to enter your mailing list.
2) On the subject of mail systems, can’t there be set up
a name which when mailed to automatically forwards to all the
people on the mailing list? ITS has that feature, and I have
heard that TENEX is getting it. It would be much more convenient
than copying the file to ones own machine.
3) I maintain this system’s mail reader, called RMAIL. It is
designed for display consoles, unlike most. It is documented in
the file .INFO.;RMAIL ORDER on this machine (I guarantee you will
be surprised to find out what language it’s written in).
Our FTP server does not expect you to log in; our system is
not paranoid the way most systems are.

End forwarded message

John85851 (profile) says:

The guy is a modern genius

First, he figured out the idea “people will believe a lie if you repeat it often enough”.

Second, I’m sure he’s figured out that way too many online media sites don’t do research, either because they’re too busy or too lazy. They see an e-mail from a guy who has a huge blog saying he invented e-mail so that’s good enough. The site has a deadline so they write a framing story around the guy’s blog, add a click-bait title like “You won’t believe who invented e-mail? This will blow your mind and restore your faith in humanity.” and call it a day.
Then that site gets used as an accurate source by aggregator sites like BuzzFeed and the lie gets even deeper.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: The guy is a modern genius

Wait till he gets to step 3 – most people actually don’t care who invented email. People tech-savvy enough to want to research it will quickly find out all the debunking of his claims. He’s mainly getting press because many “journalists” who don’t do any research find the underdog story interesting, but nobody reading Buzzfeed is going to care who really came up with email.

He’s essentially trying to fool a population who don’t care enough to research the subject that he’s the important one. Yet, all he’s really doing is compiling a portfolio of how much of an asshole he is, even in the face of the death of someone who is documented to have been more important to email before he hit puberty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Based on what this ‘doctor’ (and there are some suspicions that his doctorate is fake) did and how he gets SO angry when anyone asks for evidence, it’s highly probable he didn’t even invent his OWN software and simply copied code from someone else’s system.

Usually those caught in a lie scream yell and pound the table to cover up the fact that they have no defence.

Guy Who Read The Linked Article says:

Slight correction to your claim RE 75% and 1976

As is noted, by 1976 — two years before Ayyadurai wrote his app — email was 75% of all ARPANET traffic

That isn’t quite what the linked article that you mentioned says. It actually means that two years after 1976 75% of all ARPANET traffic was email, not by 1976. It doesn’t make a big difference to your point, but what you are saying the article is saying is still slightly wrong.

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