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

Sam Hunting sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 11:35:21 -0700 (PDT)

At the outset, let me apologize for using the word "vacuous", probably
way too close to flamage for comfort. Sorry about that.

The resolution before the house is: "Should the phrase 'public
interest' be considered 'weasel words'" I argue no; Kal argues yes.

[sam hunting]
> >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.

Since Kal has no response here, I assume he doesn't take exception to
it. Note that I proposed set of guidelines implicitly as appropriate
for members of international standards bodies -- I now do so
explicitly, but under correction from subject matter experts in the
field (since I'm not one of them). 

> >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.

Here again there is no response, and so I assume the idea that there is
a public interest, with the example, is unexceptional. Therefore, at
least in the above context, "public" interest is not "weasel words"
Case closed -- what I was concerned to prove.

[sam hunting]
> >Therefore, I view the statement that "the 'public interest' is
> weasel words" as vacuous.
> Really ? Thats the first time I've been accused of being vacuous.

Well, congratulations! We should always be open to new experiences... 

No seriously, I shouldn't have used the word, it's offensive. What I
meant was the v-word as (I think) a logican word understand it -- as
being content free... Please accept my apologies. Believe me, if I
thought that you or your arguments were truly "v" I wouldn't be
answering them. You raise important issues and have a coherent
position, I just happen to believe that it is wrong.

> Maintaining compatibility  existing topic map applications in order 
> to allow new applications to be developed rather than old ones to be 
> redeveloped will be a primary  in the growth and adoption of topic 
> map technology

This is a fine argument, but not germane to the issue of whether PI
exists (is not "vacuous" -- that was my intensification/formalization
of "weasel words."

> But I am not going to pretend that I know what the public interest 
> is, nor am I going to promote my agenda by claiming that it is in the
> public interest (and so imply that dissenting views are working 
> against the public interest).

This is a related but distinct argument. I think, again, that in every
day life we all know very well that there is such a thing as the
"public interest", even if we disagree on what it is. This is what I
was concerned to show. (See example above judges recusing themselves.)

It maybe now that I understand better what you meant by the phrase
"weasel words" -- If I can put words in your mouth, you don't mean that
the phrase is without meaning, since there is no such thing as public
interest (as I took you to mean) -- you mean people who claim to act in
the public interest may use the claim as a hypocritical cloak to cover
what is truly self-interest. Therefore, it might be best to not to use
the phrase at all. Possibly -- discernment is hard ... Since I think PI
is real, I would tend to advocate that claims of PI be made with care.

As for as "implying that dissenting views are working against the
public interest", I have trouble with the word "implying" because I
don't know where the implication is taking place. I will say, however,
that "holier than thou" is probably not, in general, an effective
rhetorical stance. Sheesh, I hope I'm not coming across like that.

Summing up, I insist:

(1) There is such a thing as public interest, and therefore that the
phrase "public interest" is not "weasel words"

(2) It's wrong to make claims of acting in the public interest the
cover for acting for private interests (if this practice becomes
general, the phrase does indeed become "weasel words")

(3) Therefore claims of acting in the public interest should be made
with care and carefully scoped

Again, I didn't mean to inflame the discussion -- you are making
serious points, and I respect them (and you).


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

> Then they represent the interests at best of the national standards
> bodies.

Oh, I agree. There's no such thing as an abstract public. What I
believe (hope?) is that the standards bodies are a better proxy for the
public than (say) a vendor consortium would be.

> How many topic map applications have you sold
> to national standards bodies ?

I don't see the point you're trying to make here.

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