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

Sam Hunting sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 09:48:47 -0700 (PDT)

[Kal Ahmed]
> I've taken the liberty of renaming this thread (again!) in an attempt
> separate the technical from the (interesting) legal ;-)


I'm taking the libery of putting answering the "legal" (some would say
"ethical") portion of your mail back on the "public interest" thread;
it raises an important issue.

[Kal Ahmed] 
> IMHO, "public interest" is a weasel word - I don't know what is in
> the public interest, and I don't think that anyone can know what best
> serves the public interest. We can all dress up our arguments both 
> for and against a design decision as being "in the public interest".
> Every participant in a standards making process has a reason to be
> involved - all opinions are important and none should be promoted as
> being "the public interest".

If we think of the standards for behaving in a business-like way in
everyday life (as opposed to the standards world ;-), I think the
problems with this position become obvious. Here is why: 

I've served on the vestry of a church and I've served non-profit
associations as well. In each case, others assumed (correctly) that I
had private, self-interested reasons for serving -- I am not a saint. 

However, others expected (and I expected of myself) that (a) I would
disclose my interests when appropriate, (b) that when my own interests
conflicted with the interests of the association or church that it was
my duty to serve, I would sacrifice my own interests, and that if I
could not sacrifice such interests, I would (c) recuse myself from
decisions where my interests were involved, or (d) resign my post. 

All this is quite ordinary behavior -- a judge, for example, is
expected (required by the ethics of his community of practice) when he
is personally involved in the decision (for example, when a relative is
on trial). Do we then say to the judge, "Oh,your opinion is important
too?" Of course not. Why? Precisely because the public interest in the
appearance of impartially administered justice is well served. 

Therefore, I view the statement that "the 'public interest' is weasel
words" as vacuous. 

So does ISO. That is why the representatives there are members of
national standards bodies. That is the strength of the ISO brand. 


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