Yesterday, twice in one day, I encountered major news articles in media I generally trust (the New York Times and the Atlantic) which described very old ideas as though they were innovations.
In the NYT (opinion section) Lisa Margonelli described basic small city bus network planning as though it were an innovative critique of big-city planning. (It's not, it's just different tools for a different problem.) She also seemed dazzled by the private minivans proliferating in New York — a public transit model that's almost universal in the developing world. (Her piece was ignorant of several other important things too, and I hope I wasn't too harsh.)
Then, on the same day, a respected (by me) columnist at Atlantic Cities proclaimed the work of an academic who claimed to have just invented flexible-route or demand-responsive transit. This is an old idea, widely used in lower-ridership places around the developed world. Considerable academic work has been done on it for years, and I personally was desgining these services, and often ripping them out, almost 20 years ago.
(I'm not very sympathetic to Margonelli, because her rhetoric toward my profession is so hostile. When someone writes an article that displays ignorance of the field while hurling invective at everyone who works in it, they deserve some pushback. I feel guilty about calling out the Atlantic writer, though, because I'd probably have made the same mistake in his place, writing in an unfamiliar field and urged on by the claims of a published academic.)
So my question for discussion is: Should we care? Should it matter if someone claims to have invented an idea, if that helps a good idea spread? Am I just being a curmudgeon or killjoy to point these things out? Is there anything wrong with letting people have the idea that the great ideas were theirs?