David F. Noble

David Franklin Noble (July 22, 1945 – December 27, 2010[1]) was a critical historian of technology, science and education, best known for his seminal work on the social history of automation.[2] In his final years he taught in the Division of Social Science, and the department of Social and Political Thought[3] at York University in Toronto, Canada.[4] Noble held positions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Smithsonian Institution, and Drexel University, as well as many visiting professorships.[2]

Noble died suddenly in a Toronto hospital after contracting a virulent strain of pneumonia that caused septic shock and renal failure.[5] He is survived by his wife Sarah Dopp of Toronto; daughters Clare O'Connor, Helen O'Connor, and Alice O'Connor of Los Angeles, California; sister Jane Pafford of Arcadia, Florida; brothers Doug Noble (his twin) of Rochester, New York, and Henry Noble of Seattle, Washington.[2][5]

Noble was born in New York City.

David F. Noble
Noble in 2010
David Franklin Noble

July 22, 1945
DiedDecember 27, 2010 (aged 65)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Spouse(s)Sarah Dopp
Academic background
Alma mater
Doctoral advisorChristopher Lasch
Academic work


Noble obtained an undergraduate degree in history and chemistry from the University of Florida and a doctorate from the University of Rochester.[6] He worked as a biochemist at various institutions before becoming an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dismissed after being denied tenure in 1984,[7] he landed at York University. Between 1986 and 1994, Noble taught in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University. In 1997 he served as the inaugural Hixon-Riggs Visiting Professor of science, technology, and society at Harvey Mudd College.[8] Noble taught at York University until his death.[1][9]


During his entire teaching career Noble refused to grade students, based on the critical pedagogy of the harm caused by grading.[10]

Written work

America by Design

Noble’s first book, America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (1977), a revision of his University of Rochester dissertation under Christopher Lasch, was published to unusually prominent reviews. Robert Heilbroner hailed it as a work that "makes us see technology as a force that shapes management in an industrial capitalist society," while The New York Times called the book a "significant contribution" owing to its uncommon leftist perspective on American technology. Many academic reviewers praised the book's bold argument about the corporate control of science and technology, although some including Alfred Chandler expressed reservations about its forthright Marxist thesis.[4]

Forces of Production

In Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (1984, 1st edition; 2011, 2nd edition) Noble recounts the history of machine tool automation in the United States. He argues that CNC (computerized numerical control) machines were introduced both to increase efficiency and to discipline unions which were stronger in the USA in the period immediately following World War II. Forces of Production argues that management wanted to take the programming of machine tools, which as "machines for making machines" are a critical industrial product, out of the hands of union members and transfer their control, by means of primitive programming, to non-union, college-educated white-collar employees working physically separate from the shop floor. Noble's research argues that, in practical terms, the separation was a failure. The practice angered and alienated union machinists, who felt that their practical and night-school knowledge of applied science was being disregarded. In response, they sat back while watching the programmed machines produce what Noble described as "scrap at high speed." Noble then went on to argue that management compromised with the unions, in a minor violation of the USA's 1948 Taft–Hartley Act (which reserved all issues except pay and benefits to management discretion), to allow the union men to "patch" and even write the CNC programs. Although Noble focuses strictly, in Forces of Production, on the narrow and specialist area of machine tools, his work may be generalized to issues in MIS software where the end users are restive when told to accept the product of analysts ignorant of the real needs of the business or the employee. David also wrote the Introduction to the second edition of Mike Cooley's Architect or Bee? published in the USA in 1982 by South End Press.

Last writing

Pursuing his critique of the role of the university, since 2004 Noble was active in bringing attention to what he identified as issues of social justice. These included the notion of the increasing corporatization of the Canadian public university, and defending the idea of academic freedom and the role of the tenured academic as public servant. Noble's most recent book, Beyond the Promised Land: The Movement and the Myth, is a sweeping historiography of what he described as the myth of the promised land, connecting the disappointments of the Christian religious story of redemption and salvation with the rise of global capitalism and the response of these disappointments by recent social justice movements.

Political activism

In 1983 David Noble co-founded the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest with Ralph Nader and Leonard Minsky to try "to bring extra-academic pressure to bear upon university administrations who were selling out their colleagues and the public in the pursuit of corporate partnerships."

Noble's leftist politics and supposedly aggressive tactics gave him a rocky career. He was denied tenure at MIT, forced to leave his appointment at the Smithsonian Institution, and blocked from giving the commencement address at Harvey Mudd College because the administration argued he was "anti-technology." His appointment to the J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities at Simon Fraser University was suspended following what Noble and others saw as irregularities in the hiring process.[11]

In 1998, he was awarded the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage, which "recognizes individuals who take a public stance to advance truth and justice, at some personal risk." The award honored Noble's decades as "a singular voice in seeking to fight the commercialization of higher education and to protect one of society's most precious assets, an independent intellectual capacity to engage the serious issues of our day."[2]

Corporatization and commercialization

In the 1990s, Noble criticized the way in which "second-tier" universities accessible to the majority have been forced, owing to budget pressures absent at well-endowed "first-tier" universities, to adopt overly corporate-friendly policies. According to Noble, these policies subordinate the educational mission to a more careerist vision in which students were taught "practical" subjects, but in such narrow ways that they are, in effect, less broadly employable. In his 1998 paper Digital Diploma Mills, Noble wrote: "universities are not only undergoing a technological transformation. Beneath that change, and camouflaged by it, lies another: the commercialization of higher education". Noble argued that high technology, at these universities, is often used not to improve teaching and research, but to over-control and overwork junior faculty and graduate students, expropriate the intellectual property of leading faculty, and, through various mechanisms such as the recorded lecture, replace the visions and voices of less-prestigious faculty with the second-hand and reified product of academic "superstars".

Tail that Wags the Dog

In his broad-based critique of what he viewed as an academic-industrial system, Noble questioned Israel's strategic role in Western institutions on a broad basis. In late November 2004, at York University, Noble garnered controversy for handing out flyers entitled "The York University Foundation: The Tail That Wags the Dog (Suggestions for Further Research)" at a campus event. The information sheets alleged that the Foundation, York University's principal fund-raising body, was biased by the presence and influence of pro-Israel lobbyists, activists and persons involved in Jewish agencies, whom he identified as the "tail", and that this bias affected the political conduct of York's administration in important ways, through their power to "wag the dog". In particular, Noble (who was of Jewish descent himself) claimed that there was a connection between alleged "Pro-Israeli influence" on the York Foundation and the university administration's treatment of vocal pro-Palestinian campaigners on campus and to a later-scuttled project to build a Toronto Argonauts football stadium on the campus.[12] He later launched a $25-million libel suit at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against a series of individuals and of York University, Jewish, and Israeli organizations for defamation and conspiracy, accusing them of having improperly criticized his "Tail That Wags the Dog" campaign as antisemitic.

Jewish holidays

Noble and York University also were in the news in October 2005 with regard to his vocal opposition to the university's policy, adopted in 1974, of cancelling classes during the three days marking the Jewish High Holidays.[13] Noble originally stated he would defy the policy and hold classes nonetheless, however, in the end he pledged instead to cancel his classes on all religious holidays observed by any student in his classes, including for example, all Muslim holidays.[14] In April 2006 Noble lodged a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, alleging that cancellation of classes during certain Jewish holidays constituted discrimination against non-Jewish students. When York independently changed its policy the discrimination matter was withdrawn. In his complaint, Noble also alleged that York engaged in a campaign of reprisal against him. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found no reprisal and dismissed Noble's complaint in its entirety.[15]

York Public Access

In his final years at York, Noble was involved in creating an organization called York Public Access as an alternative to what he identified as an increased corporate slant in the approach taken by York University's official media relations department.


  • America By Design; Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism, New York: Knopf, 1977, ISBN 978-0-394-49983-3, LCCN 76047928
  • Forces of Production; A Social History of Industrial Automation, New York: Knopf, 1984, ISBN 978-0-394-51262-4, LCCN 83048867
  • Smash Machines, Not People!; Fighting Management's Myth of Progress, San Pedro: Singlejack Books of Miles & Weir, Ltd, 1985, ISBN 978-0-917300-17-2, LCCN 84052662
  • A World Without Women; The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science, New York: Knopf, 1992, ISBN 978-0-394-55650-5, LCCN 91023073
  • Progress Without People; In Defence of Luddism, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1993, ISBN 978-0-88286-218-7
  • Progress Without People; New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance, Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 1995, ISBN 978-1-896357-01-0, LCCN 95172673
  • The Religion of Technology; The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, New York: Knopf, 1997, ISBN 978-0-679-42564-9, LCCN 96048019
  • Digital Diploma Mills; The Automation of Higher Education, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001, ISBN 978-1-58367-061-3, LCCN 2001057931
  • Beyond the Promised Land: The Movement and the Myth, Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2005, ISBN 978-1-897071-01-4, LCCN 2005482537

See also


  1. ^ a b Morrow, Adrian "David Noble, academic and activist, dies at 65", The Globe and Mail, December 28, 2010, accessed December 30, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d (of David Noble), Friends & Family. "David Noble, intellectual, whistleblower and activist, dies at 65". Obituary. rabble.ca. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  3. ^ "York University: Graduate Program in Social & Political Thought". Yorku.ca. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
  4. ^ a b Misa, Thomas J. (2011). "David F. Noble, 22 July 1945 to 27 December 2010". Technology and Culture. 52 (2): 360–372. doi:10.1353/tech.2011.0061.
  5. ^ a b Aulakh, Raveena (29 December 2019). "David Noble, activist and academic gadfly, dies at 65". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  6. ^ "David Noble: Peer Review, Where Are The Scholars?". suzanmazur.com. February 26, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  7. ^ "Professor Sues M.I.T. Over Refusal of Tenure". New York Times. September 9, 1986. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
  8. ^ "The Hixon-Riggs Visiting Professorship". Harvey Mudd College. Archived from the original on 2012-12-11. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
  9. ^ Aulakh, Raveena "David Noble, activist and academic gadfly, dies at 65", The Toronto Star, December 29, 2010, accessed December 31, 2010.
  10. ^ Noble, David F., "Giving Up the Grade", Our Schools / Our Selves, Vol. 16, No. 3 (#87), Spring 2007, Pages 29-31.
  11. ^ http://chronicle.com/article/David-Noble-Says-His/7499
  12. ^ https://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20041120/YORK20/TPNational/TopStories. Retrieved November 1, 2005. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Excalibur Publications | York University's Community Newspaper". Excal.on.ca. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Brown, Louise (2010-04-23). "Complaint against York is dismissed". Toronto: thestar.com. Retrieved 2010-12-30.

External links

American Management Association

The American Management Association (AMA) is an American non-profit educational membership organization for the promotion of management, based in New York City. The association has its headquarter in New York City, and has local head-offices throughout the world.

It offers its members a wide range of training programs, seminars, conferences, studies and publications, that cover topics as diverse as industrial or commercial management, communication, finance and accounting, human resources management, leadership, international management, marketing and sales.

As corporate training and consulting group it provides a variety of educational and management development services to businesses, government agencies and individuals.

Arc lamp

An arc lamp or arc light is a lamp that produces light by an electric arc (also called a voltaic arc). The carbon arc light, which consists of an arc between carbon electrodes in air, invented by Humphry Davy in the first decade of the 1800s, was the first practical electric light. It was widely used starting in the 1870s for street and large building lighting until it was superseded by the incandescent light in the early 20th century. It continued in use in more specialized applications where a high intensity point light source was needed, such as searchlights and movie projectors until after World War II. The carbon arc lamp is now obsolete for most of these purposes, but it is still used as a source of high intensity ultraviolet light.

The term is now used for gas discharge lamps, which produce light by an arc between metal electrodes through an inert gas in a glass bulb. The common fluorescent lamp is a low-pressure mercury arc lamp. The xenon arc lamp, which produces a high intensity white light, is now used in many of the applications which formerly used the carbon arc, such as movie projectors and searchlights.

Arthur Williams (electrical engineer)

Arthur Williams (August 14, 1868 – April 14, 1937) was an American electrical engineer, executive at the New York Edison Company, Federal Food Administrator of the City of New York, and first president of The National Association of Corporation Schools in 1913.

Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage (; 26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English polymath. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.Considered by some to be a "father of the computer", Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex electronic designs, though all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage's analytical engine. His varied work in other fields has led him to be described as "pre-eminent" among the many polymaths of his century.Parts of Babbage's incomplete mechanisms are on display in the Science Museum in London. In 1991, a functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage's original plans. Built to tolerances achievable in the 19th century, the success of the finished engine indicated that Babbage's machine would have worked.

Christopher Lasch

Christopher "Kit" Lasch (1932–1994) was an American historian, moralist, and social critic who was a history professor at the University of Rochester. Lasch sought to use history as a tool to awaken American society to the pervasiveness with which major institutions, public and private, were eroding the competence and independence of families and communities. He strove to create a historically informed social criticism that could teach Americans how to deal with rampant consumerism, proletarianization, and what he famously labeled the "culture of narcissism".

His books, including The New Radicalism in America (1965), Haven in a Heartless World (1977), The Culture of Narcissism (1979), The True and Only Heaven (1991), and The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (published posthumously in 1996) were widely discussed and reviewed. The Culture of Narcissism became a surprise best-seller and won the National Book Award in the category Current Interest (paperback).Lasch was always a critic of modern liberalism and a historian of liberalism's discontents, but over time his political perspective evolved dramatically. In the 1960s, he was a neo-Marxist and acerbic critic of Cold War liberalism. During the 1970s, he supported certain aspects of cultural conservatism with a left-leaning critique of capitalism, and drew on Freud-influenced critical theory to diagnose the ongoing deterioration that he perceived in American culture and politics. His writings are sometimes denounced by feminists and hailed by conservatives for his apparent defense of the traditional family.He eventually concluded that an often unspoken but pervasive faith in "Progress" tended to make Americans resistant to many of his arguments. In his last major works he explored this theme in depth, suggesting that Americans had much to learn from the suppressed and misunderstood populist and artisan movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

David Noble

David Noble may refer to:

David A. Noble (1802–1876), U.S. Representative from Michigan

David F. Noble (1945–2010), historian of technology

David L. Noble, engineer at IBM who invented the floppy disk

David W. Noble (1925–2018), historiographer and historian of thought

David Noble (Australian footballer) (born 1967), former Fitzroy AFL player

David Noble (canyoner) (born 1965), canyoner and discoverer of the Wollemi Pine

David Noble (footballer, born 1982), football player for St. Albans City F.C.

Dave Noble (1900–1983), American football running back

Edwin J. Prindle

Edwin J. Prindle (1868-1948) contributed to the development of the current U.S. patent law system. He worked in the US Patent Office until 1899, then set up his own patent practice in 1905. Held posts of the Secretary of the Patent Committee of the National Research Council and later Chairman of the Patent Committee of the American Chemical Society.

He wrote a number of documents on the subject of patent law, most notably a set of articles entitled "Patents in Manufacturing Business". These formed the ideological basis for companies' use of the patent system as a protectionist tool of private research and development. He was an advocate of the patent system in general, but most notably as a fundamental tool of business and corporate control over rivals.

Frederick C. Henderschott

Frederick Chauncey (Fred) Henderschott (12 February 1870 – 30 March 1934) was an American journalist, educator, and executive at the New York Edison Company, and later American Management Association. Henderschott and Lee Galloway of the New York University are considered the prime movers of The National Association of Corporation Schools, predecessor of the American Management Association.

History of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Hugo Diemer

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Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage

The Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage is presented annually by The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest. The Callaway Award "recognizes individuals who take a public stance to advance truth and justice, at some personal risk". The award was established by in 1990 by Joe Callaway to recognize "individuals in any area of endeavor who, with integrity and at some personal risk, take a public stance to advance truth and justice, and who challenged prevailing conditions in pursuit of the common good."The first recipient of the award was Joseph A. Kinney, of the National Safe Workplace in Chicago, who was credited for his fearless advovacy of safety for America's workers.

In 2012, the award was shared by William Binney & J. Kirk Wiebe for their work on Government Data Centers & Spying on Citizens, as well as John Kiriakou for his work on the Government's Torture Policy.In 2007, award recipients were: Dahr Jamail (independent journalist in Iraq) and Linda Peeno, M.D., (whistleblower and patient advocate).In 2006 the Sharon Shaffer, Charlie Swift and Bunnatine Greenhouse were awarded the prize.

Shaffer and Swift were military officers who vigorously defended Guantanamo captives before Guantanamo military commissions. Greenhouse was a contracting officer employed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, who exposed financial improprieties.

Johannes van Heeck

Johannes van Heeck, (Deventer 2 February 1579 - presumably Sant'Angelo Romano c.1620), (also known as Johann Heck, Joannes Eck, Johannes Heckius, Johannes Eckius and Giovanni Ecchio) was a Dutch physician, naturalist, alchemist and astrologer. Together with Prince Federico Cesi, Anastasio de Filiis and Francesco Stelluti, he was one of the four founding members of the Accademia dei Lincei, the first learned society dedicated to understanding of the natural world through scientific enquiry.

Lee Galloway

Lee Galloway (November 29, 1871 – January 31, 1962) was an American educator, publisher, and organizational theorist. He was Professor in the School of Finance and Commerce at the New York University, and co-founders of The National Association of Corporation Schools, predecessor of the American Management Association.

List of York University people

This is a list of York University people. It includes notable graduates and faculty of the Toronto, Ontario, Canada institution, as well as graduates of Osgoode Hall Law School prior to its affiliation with York.

List of historians by area of study

This is a list of historians categorized by their area of study. See also List of historians.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. The institute is traditionally known for its research and education in the physical sciences and engineering, but more recently in biology, economics, linguistics and management as well. MIT is often ranked among the world's top five universities.As of October 2018, 93 Nobel laureates, 25 Turing Award winners, and 8 Fields Medalists have been affiliated with MIT as alumni, faculty members or researchers. In addition, 52 National Medal of Science recipients, 65 Marshall Scholars, 45 Rhodes Scholars, 38 MacArthur Fellows, 34 astronauts and 16 Chief Scientists of the U.S. Air Force have been affiliated with MIT. The school also has a strong entrepreneurial culture and the aggregated annual revenues of companies founded by MIT alumni ($1.9 trillion) would rank roughly as the tenth-largest economy in the world (2014). MIT is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Productive forces

Productive forces, productive powers, or forces of production (German: Produktivkräfte) is a central idea in Marxism and historical materialism.

In Karl Marx and Frederick Engels's own critique of political economy, it refers to the combination of the means of labor (tools, machinery, land, infrastructure, and so on) with human labour power. Marx and Engels probably derived the concept from Adam Smith's reference to the "productive powers of labour" (see e.g. chapter 8 of The Wealth of Nations), although the German political economist Friedrich List also mentions the concept of "productive powers" in The National System of Political Economy (1841).

All those forces which are applied by people in the production process (body and brain, tools and techniques, materials, resources, quality of workers' cooperation, and equipment) are encompassed by this concept, including those management and engineering functions technically indispensable for production (as contrasted with social control functions). Human knowledge can also be a productive force.

Together with the social and technical relations of production, the productive forces constitute a historically specific mode of production.


TechnoCalyps is a 2006 Belgian transhumanism documentary film written and directed by Frank Theys. It explores the advance of technology.

Technological unemployment

Technological unemployment is the loss of jobs caused by technological change. Such change typically includes the introduction of labour-saving "mechanical-muscle" machines or more efficient "mechanical-mind" processes (automation). Just as horses employed as prime movers were gradually made obsolete by the automobile, humans' jobs have also been affected throughout modern history. Historical examples include artisan weavers reduced to poverty after the introduction of mechanized looms. During World War II, Alan Turing's Bombe machine compressed and decoded thousands of man-years worth of encrypted data in a matter of hours. A contemporary example of technological unemployment is the displacement of retail cashiers by self-service tills.

That technological change can cause short-term job losses is widely accepted. The view that it can lead to lasting increases in unemployment has long been controversial. Participants in the technological unemployment debates can be broadly divided into optimists and pessimists. Optimists agree that innovation may be disruptive to jobs in the short term, yet hold that various compensation effects ensure there is never a long-term negative impact on jobs, whereas pessimists contend that at least in some circumstances, new technologies can lead to a lasting decline in the total number of workers in employment. The phrase "technological unemployment" was popularised by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, who said it was a "only a temporary phase of maladjustment". Yet the issue of machines displacing human labour has been discussed since at least Aristotle's time.

Prior to the 18th century both the elite and common people would generally take the pessimistic view on technological unemployment, at least in cases where the issue arose. Due to generally low unemployment in much of pre-modern history, the topic was rarely a prominent concern. In the 18th century fears over the impact of machinery on jobs intensified with the growth of mass unemployment, especially in Great Britain which was then at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Yet some economic thinkers began to argue against these fears, claiming that overall innovation would not have negative effects on jobs. These arguments were formalised in the early 19th century by the classical economists. During the second half of the 19th century, it became increasingly apparent that technological progress was benefiting all sections of society, including the working class. Concerns over the negative impact of innovation diminished. The term "Luddite fallacy" was coined to describe the thinking that innovation would have lasting harmful effects on employment.

The view that technology is unlikely to lead to long term unemployment has been repeatedly challenged by a minority of economists. In the early 1800s these included Ricardo himself. There were dozens of economists warning about technological unemployment during brief intensifications of the debate that spiked in the 1930s and 1960s. Especially in Europe, there were further warnings in the closing two decades of the twentieth century, as commentators noted an enduring rise in unemployment suffered by many industrialised nations since the 1970s. Yet a clear majority of both professional economists and the interested general public held the optimistic view through most of the 20th century.

In the second decade of the 21st century, a number of studies have been released suggesting that technological unemployment may be increasing worldwide. Oxford Professors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, for example, have estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of automation. However, their findings have frequently been misinterpreted, and on the PBS NewsHours they again made clear that their findings do not necessarily imply future technological unemployment. While many economists and commentators still argue such fears are unfounded, as was widely accepted for most of the previous two centuries, concern over technological unemployment is growing once again. A report in Wired in 2017 quotes knowledgeable people such as economist Gene Sperling and management professor Andrew McAfee on the idea that handling existing and impending job loss to automation is a "significant issue". Regarding a recent claim by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that automation is not "going to have any kind of big effect on the economy for the next 50 or 100 years", says McAfee, "I don't talk to anyone in the field who believes that." Recent technological innovations have the potential to render humans obsolete with the professional, white-collar, low-skilled, creative fields, and other "mental jobs".The World Bank's World Development Report 2019 argues that while automation displaces workers, technological innovation creates more new industries and jobs on balance.

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