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

Murray Altheim sc34wg3@isotopicmaps.org
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 11:19:34 -0700

Sam Hunting wrote:
> [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.

Seems strange, Sam. After the elections of 2000, where the highest court
in the U.S. -- the "Supreme Court" -- decided to rule in favour of electing
a president in what most have construed as a partisan political maneuver,
one might gather that judges *do* act as any other human being. That while
we all may understand the rationale and the rules of conduct for such 
activities as you've described, a judge who believes strongly in an issue 
may very well be the last person to recuse themselves from acting. They 
may feel a strong moral disposition to act upon their special position 
"to protect the public interest." I don't think very many people truly 
consider either judges or priests as objective arbiters of the public 
interest (unless one happens to agree with their viewpoint), so it's hard
to imagine anyone else being capable of judging it. Perhaps you agree with
Steve's viewpoint.

I had written a very long reply to the whole issue of "public interest"
which along with a lot of other long messages recently never got sent.
I agree very strongly with Kal that the whole idea that either Steve or
ISO is qualified to determine what is in the public interest (any more
than anyone else) is a fallacy. We are all so firmly embedded in the 
middle of this process that I doubt *any* of us is really qualified to
make such a judgement. I hear a great deal of highly emotional and often
religious language, and it makes little sense to argue on that basis. 
Since I'm also prone to get emotional about things I care about, I can
certainly understand people's attitudes, but I don't see the current 
discussion as productive in determining who among the ISO committee,
any of its members, or anyone on this forum as being either better
qualified or better placed in serving the "public good." Only in 
hindsight could one determine which better served. It's not about

For example: SGML vs. XML? Anyone could easily make the argument that 
XML and not SGML is proving far more useful to the "public," even after
the latter had been available for well over a decade. SGML served the 
corporate interest and never was even known by the public (are we 
making such a public/public distinction?). XTM was by design meant to
travel in a different circle than ISO/SGML. It was designed to 
popularize ISO 13250 by making it useful on the Web, to a Web audience.
ISO 13250 on its own? I'll let someone else conjecture on its success.

If XTM is not simple, straightforward, and can't be understood without 
an exhaustive education, if such an education is required to author 
a topic map, if its processing model cannot be understood by software
developers, if a user of topic map software finds that a reference 
to an online taxonomy causes an enormous taxonomy to be downloaded 
(which it's unlikely its owners would even allow in many cases even
if the user was willing to wait and had the space in memory and hard
drive to contain it and process it), well, XTM will not succeed. 

Remember, KISS. (no heavy makeup or tongues)


Murray Altheim                         <mailto:murray.altheim&#x40;sun.com>
XML Technology Center, Java and XML Software
Sun Microsystems, Inc., MS MPK17-102, 1601 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, CA 94025

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