Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Perplexing Ethical Conundrum

Yesterday, I posted on MoultonLava an item involving Wikimedia Foundation Volunteer Coordinator, Cary Bass, who has long been Jimbo Wales' right-hand man.

Bass had briefly stepped in to deal with an issue brought to his attention by a troubled Wikipedia Admin who goes by the avatar name of FeloniousMonk. When the issue became too hot for Cary Bass to deal with, he bailed from the brouhaha, whereupon it was taken up by the fabled and legendary Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Late Tuesday night, and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I exchanged E-Mail with the Founder, who was seeking to placate FeloniousMonk by persuading me to remove from Wikiversity all links to learning resources currently residing on MoultonLava.

The ethical conundrum arose because some of the content of that E-Mail exchange included problematic content that Jimbo preferred no one else to see.

I initially consulted a trusted counselor (with whom I shared the traffic, and who also helped me craft my responses).

Several custodial admins have offered to intervene, provided I don't air the details here. So I am redacting the sensitive portions of this blog post to give them a chance to resolve the issue without a public spotlight.

What I am leaving in place here is a list of problematic pages on the English Wikipedia that Jimbo promised to look at.

At his request, I compiled this list of problematic BLPs (Biographies of Living Persons) and other assorted travesties propounded by the WikiClique on Intelligent Design ("IDCab" or ID Cabal), and transmitted it by E-Mail to Jimmy...

Rosalind Picard Biography, as I found it, exactly a year ago. It's still not fully cleaned up.

Affective Computing, which the IDCab trashed up in a childish act of revenge.

James Tour Biography, a similar battleground for accuracy, excellence, and ethics in online media.

David Berlinski Biography, an utter travesty if I ever saw one.

Guillermo Gonzalez Biography, another IDCcab hatchet job.

A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, which I fear the IDCab will never bring into compliance with reasonable standards of objectivity and professionalism.

List of Signatories to the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which for two years contained libelous and defamatory claims about many scientists and academics whose names were emblazoned there.

Icons of Evolution, which can't even cite a bibliographic entry correctly without a protracted edit war on how best to write a hatchet job.

Moulton's User Page, which FeloniousMonk egregiously vandalized, necessitating an MfD by gobsmacked admins.

FeloniousMonk's scathing indictment of Moulton, which he and User:Filll cite in three administrative proceedings: RfAr/C68-FM-SV, RfAr#Moulton, and RfC/ID#Questions.

Filll's non-article space biographical sketch of me (referenced in WP:AN/Moulton)

IDCab's Spammish Inquisition of a year ago which Sam Korn (and others) found to be a sham.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

And so we temporarily suspend review of the underlying ethical conundrum, pending guidance and intervention from ethical custodial admins who are more astute in these delicate (and sometimes adversarial) discussions and negotiations.

I await their demonstration of ethical best practice for resolving this perplexing political dilemma and ethical conundrum.


Matthew said...

Using bcc: in that way may not have been the best choice, though. It does suggest that you intended to hide that someone else was seeing those emails. You probably would have been better off disclosing from the start that you were copying someone who's advice you were seeking, if you didn't want to disclose who it was. If you didn't, it would also have been wise to disclose at some point that you were going to publish the emails to your blog, before doing so.

From an ethical standpoint, what you are doing is pretty iffy. As I'm sure you know, some people feel email is private communication, not to be disclosed without consent, while others don't see it that way. To share an email without disclosing that you will do so could violate their expectations that they are engaging in private communication. If you don't have a really good reason for doing so, it could be considered unethical.

Moulton said...

I had no intention of publishing them until the last message featuring the anankastic conditional with the express threat. Even when I agree to confidentiality, I have no obligation to keep bullying a secret. As soon as he flipped into bullying, that obliged me to go to public. That's my policy. I was actually on live Skype voice with Alison the whole time. She helped me craft the language, since I am not used to doing delicate negotiations with powerful people.

I routinely assume that people like Cary and Jimbo run their messages by Mike Godwin when appropriate.

In any event, I didn't acceded to Jimbo's privacy request, as he has no right to impose that. I have an unalienable right to counsel, full stop.

Matthew said...

I generally find it's risky to base actions heavily on what you think others do. I would agree that you absolutely have the right to seek advice, and were under no obligation to abide by Jimbo's privacy restriction, but I also think it's still better to be up-front about both of those decisions.

I, by chance, just ran across a message Alison (if I remember correctly) had posted to you recommending you use bcc, so I can see why you did it that way. However, it looks bad from a certain perspective, so I still think it would have been better to disclose that early on. You would have had a better chance of getting somewhere with your negotiation if he hadn't felt (wrongly or not) that you were violating the terms of the discussion.

Moulton said...

Yes, Alison had recommended bcc.

I learned from a workshop many years ago that almost any action or remark can be spun to make it look bad (or good). What's important is to recognize spin (positive or negative) relative to a neutral or objective view.

I was not surprised the negotiation failed, as Jimbo didn't come to the table with the attitude, "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine." He wanted me to do him a favor without offering anything in return.