What Should They Do?

Well, this happened yesterday.

I don’t think my response was what this person was looking for.

I mean, I really don’t think they had a clue how to respond to it.

Your guess on that one is as good as mine.

So here’s the thing:

  1. I support contacting employers about non-trivial, work-related ethical lapses. I don’t think it’s always a requirement, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
  2. I don’t think reporting or facilitating reporting these professional ethical lapses is, as a general matter, unethical.
  3. If you disagree with me about 2 but do 1 anyway, you’re doing something you think is unethical.
  4. If you do 1 and claim your behavior is ethical, you demonstrate you don’t think 2 is unethical.

Of course, none of that reflects on whether you’re able to correctly identify ethical lapses–or whether I am. In the case of Eliza Sutton/Skeptickle, however, every medical doctor I’ve seen comment on the matter has agreed that her behavior (diagnosing Ophelia as mentally ill and PZ with a spurious STI) was grossly professionally unethical. None, to my knowledge, have argued that it was ethical.

My behavior with “private” information? Even if we were to agree for some strange reason that a professional affiliation that Skeptickle advertises and a professional name-pseudonym link that she made public and searchable were both private information, or that connecting these pieces of information somehow moved them from public to private, we haven’t established that revealing it is automatically unethical.

Luckily, I had some training on this from the very company contacted in the tweet. Every year at least once, in fact. I learned what pieces of personally identifying information couldn’t be associated with each other publicly, where publicly meant even in unsecured email, and which couldn’t be exposed at all. Don’t trust me when I say LinkedIn profiles and blog comments are public information and, therefore, non-sensitive PII. Do some digging on your own. Then you’ll know why I wouldn’t be worried about that tweet even if I still worked there.

Oh, that isn’t the answer you want? Want instead to have the argument about how I have some ethical obligation to protect someone’s identity beyond the legal obligations of my job? Then you want this post, where I asked about this nearly two years ago. You’ll notice that no one managed to do more than assert that my behavior was unethical and fail to engage with the counter-arguments. Still, you’re welcome to try if you can do better and actually argue your position.

Assuming you should manage to do that where no one else has, you are, of course, still left with two questions:

  1. What does that have to do with my ability to uphold the requirements of my job, one with significantly less onerous ethical requirements than the practice of medicine?
  2. Why, as I’ve asked more than once before, was this an ethical non-issue when someone posted my employer’s name back in the original slime pit in November 2011?

I think Stephanie Zvan identifies strongly with Watson because she also is a skeptic blogger with no deep scientific chops. Her feelings of inadequacy are seen in the mystery she raps around her answer to What is your Real Life job?

Aside from saying that I’m an analyst who works for a large corporation, I don’t talk about my job. The information I deal with is interesting enough that I see my work in the news sometimes, but ultimately, none of it is mine, and the clients I work with shouldn’t ever stumble across me online and worry that some of it might become public.

The reality is she works for Hewitt Associates, a large HR firm. I’m sure she is proud to see press releases like “Hewitt Analysis Shows COBRA Enrollment Rates Remain High Despite Government Subsidy Program Expiration” knowing that she worked on one of the spreadsheets involved in that groundbreaking announcement, but its pretty mundane stuff. Why the spin Steph?

Actually, I was, among other things, the person who charted what happened to pensions in large companies in the decade after the dot-com bubble burst. It was ugly, but having good data on it made it possible to make a good case to clients, legislators, and regulators that it shouldn’t be made pointlessly uglier. So there’s that.

The reason I didn’t talk about it? More of that ethics training from the company. I was taught to be very careful even mentioning the name of a client outside our offices. Putting the whole job off limits as a topic of conversation was just easier. When I didn’t do that, it required forethought and work to make sure I wasn’t evoking even the appearance of crossing lines.

The response to someone posting my (then) employer information? It certainly wasn’t condemnation, much less months of obsessive condemnation.

She wanted attention, she got attention. Alas, she’s discovering that it’s impossible to specify “good” attention, and the self-inflicted set of teeth on her ass is a lesson from the universe that knives cut all ways.

In other words, basically the same approach as now. When we do it, it’s wrong for unspecified, undefended reasons that require gross generalizations and misrepresentations. When they do it, it’s okay because…they want to teach us some kind of lesson by using bad analogies and acting in ways they claim to think people shouldn’t act?

This is sheer ethical incoherence. It doesn’t even rise to the level of tit-for-tat. It’s Gamergate-grade [Checks Twitter timeline. Oh.] “reasoning”. It’s childish flailing for legitimacy of actual privacy-invading behavior that was already happening.

It’s also par for the course. It goes along with the people who complain that a friend–who’s also had plenty of her tweets to me replied to by harassers–uses “jerks”, plural, when talking about a tweet that had been retweeted.

It goes along with the people who describe me telling someone they’ve got the wrong company as complaining about having my employer contacted.

It goes along with all the rest of the things these people can’t bother to get right before trying to get righteous over them. It goes with all the other reasons I say I need better enemies.

What Should They Do?

5 thoughts on “What Should They Do?

  1. 1

    Huh. Kinda amusing to see Steersman condensing his voluminous posts for Twitter. Though I thought he had a real fetish for the great volume of civil wording to hide it. Is his new thing attacking all use of plurals?

  2. 3

    They think they’re playing “SJW gotcha” while I think they’re coming unarmed to a battle of wits.
    They reall need to make up their mind.
    Is contacting employers:
    1. always unethical
    2. always ok
    3. depending on the circumstances
    Of course, that requires the existence of a mind…

  3. 5

    @2: hard to tell what they were thinking, but possibly they think “study up” is a phrase specific to African-American Vernacular and therefore using it somehow equates to telling people they’re black???? This manages to be wrong, incoherent, and pointless simultaneously.

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