[sc34wg3] Re: Public Interest and ISO WAS: [topicmapmail] <mergeMap> questions

Patrick Durusau sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Wed, 17 Oct 2001 19:29:52 -0400


"Steven R. Newcomb" wrote:
> [Sam Hunting:]
> > [steve newcomb]
> > And by "public interest" we mean? (On a postcard,
> > please -- so I can understand it.)
> OK, here's my postcard.
>   The act of creating an international standard *is*
>   the act of defining the public interest with respect
>   to everything within the scope of that standard.
> (Sorry my postcard is so circular.  It's in the
> *resolution of the technical issues* that the public
> interest is *really* defined, just as the U.S. Supreme
> Court decides, in its deliberations and by voting,
> exactly what the laws of the U.S. *really* are.  In a
> court of law, as in a design process for an
> international standard, it only matters what the
> individual case is, how the case comes up, and what
> basic principles are held most dear by the people who
> are making the decision.  So I return to the issue at
> hand; it's the "case" we're talking about.)

It may be a lingering disability from legal practice but I don't find
your postcard "circular" at all. ;-)

But, I think the international standards process comes closer to the
civilian legal tradition than the common law tradition followed by the
US Supreme Court. That court decides particular instances, on
articulated general principles to be sure, and those decisions are read
and hopefully applied to other particular instances by lower courts. But
those decisions, however generally stated, bear a closer resemblance to
the position urged by Lars Marius, i.e., let's proceed from particular
cases (or implementations). The Supreme Court does not resolve claim
that are outside the scope (in the legal sense) of the case. At one
point, it found that the death penalty was being unconstituionally
applied  on a particular set of facts but that was not a determination
that the death penalty was always and forever verboten. New systems were
devised to "pass" constitutional muster and the Court allowed executions
to resume.

Contrast that fact based decision making process with civilian
traditions (Michel can probably quote parts of the French Civil Code to
you) where there is a systematic effort to set forth general principles
that govern a wide range of relationships. The degree to which
particular cases or social arrangements influence those general
principles is a matter of debate. But it does start from the proposition
that general principles can be formulated. And those general principles
are seen as representing the "public interest" in the sense you are
using it in your post.  

The civilian tradition is based upon Roman law (interested parties
should visit: Roman Law Resources Edited by Ernest Metzger, University
of Aberdeen http://iuscivile.com/). The civilian tradition is alive and
any number of treatises have been written on the topic of how general
principles are formulated. (All of this is probably over-statement for
our colleagues outside the US/UK.)

> Lars Marius indicated that backward compatibility
> with existing implementations was a good reason not to
> adopt the idea of multiple scopes on associations, in
> the standard model.
> I take extremely serious exception to his remark on two
> levels.
> Level 1: The question of whether multiple scopes on
> associations should be supported is not an issue of
> backward compatibility, because:


> Level 2: As you say, Sam, the question of what will
> best serve the public interest, and, indeed, what *is*
> the public interest, is deeply intertwingled with every
> design decision regarding a public standard.  When any
> participant has some other perceived basis for making a
> technical decision about a public standard, it's
> important that we all understand exactly what that
> basis is.
> Lars Marius's definition of "backward compatibility"
> seems to suggest that future versions of a standard
> should reflect the *limitations* of existing
> implementations.  I strongly resist and denounce this
> formulation of the purpose of creating public
> standards.  I believe that the purpose of creating a
> public standard is to make certain technical decisions
> on behalf of the public at large, not on behalf of just
> one small segment of the public that happens to have an
> interest in making the standard be exactly as crippled
> and broken as their existing implementations happen to
> be.  When private interests use public processes for
> private advantage at unnecessary public expense, we
> normally regard such processes as corrupt.

Well, sans the "corrupt" language (I have long argued that property
rights in civil law traditions simply enshrined existing social
arrangements but that does not make those supporting them "corrupt" or
at least I have been so told) the role of "private interests" in
formulating an international standard is a legitimate concern. Having
said that, it is also fair to note that it would be difficult to find
anyone to work on standards that does not have some "private interest"
whether monetary, fame or some more obscure motive. 

> So, I'd like to ask everyone two questions:
> (1) If the public interest is *not* the basis on which
>     our design decisions should be made, what, exactly,
>     *should* be the basis on which design decisions are
>     made?

Public interest (at least in the sense of the civilian tradition) should
be the basis for decisions.

> (2) Assuming that there is no valid basis other than
>     public benefit for making any particular design
>     decision in a public standard, is there any virtue
>     whatsoever in keeping the standard exactly as
>     limited and/or broken as its existing
>     implementations are?

Existing implementations should inform the process of formulating a
public standard, not define its limits. Prior font standards (and
implementations) at least defined failing strategies for the eventual
Unicode/10646 standard. 


Patrick Durusau
Director of Research and Development
Society of Biblical Literature