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

Kal Ahmed sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 20:12:08 +0100

At 11:35 18/10/2001 -0700, Sam Hunting wrote:
>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).

I could hardly dissent I - I don't know any of the groups which you cited 
as examples or what their opinion is of you. I trust that they hold you in 
high regard, and believe that you act out of an interest for the group as 
well as any personal motivation.

> > >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.

I didn't feel that I could follow your paragraph so I didn't respond to it...

Anyway, if you were setting out to prove that there is some concept called 
"public interest" I won't disagree.

>[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.

Apology accepted.

> > 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."

That was not my point....

> > 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.

That *was* my point :-)

>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.

"Holier than thou" was precisely the phrase I was reaching for when I wrote 
that sentence. Thank you, Sam.

>Summing up, I insist:
>(1) There is such a thing as public interest, and therefore that the
>phrase "public interest" is not "weasel words"

There is such a thing as public interest yes.  I shall not withdraw the use 
of the "w" phrase, but I shall take it no further - lets move on to the 
issue (multiple scopes on associations)

>(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

I agree.

>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.

I don't know, perhaps we should ask the users of W3C standards ?

> > How many topic map applications have you sold
> > to national standards bodies ?
>I don't see the point you're trying to make here.

I'm making the point (though obviously not clearly enough) that topic maps 
will not succeed or fail because it is "correct" as determined by ISO, 
TopicMaps.Org or anyone else for that matter. It will succeed if and only 
if the paying public decide that there is value in it and invest 
accordingly. If the success of topic maps is of paramount importance, then 
the people we should be listening to are the users. Are topic maps "broken" 
because they cannot represent multiple equivalent assertions with a single 
Association "object", but instead have a model in which you end up with 
multiple equivalent assertions with a single scope each ? No, not unless 
the user community says they are. And with the best will in the world, the 
standards bodies:
1) Are not the user community
2) Cannot claim to represent a user community of any great importance, as 
there really isn't one yet.

Here is my core point coming round again.

I believe that more than anything, topic maps need a period of stability to 
gain traction. Only when we have real-life experience of topic map 
applications and projects will we be able to say what parts of the 
specification are broken. Tinkering with the model like this, at this stage 
will at best set us back at least 12 months. At worst, we will see vendor 
interest drop off (why try to implement support for a moving target) and 
topic maps fail.