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A Question of Ethics

Note:I recently wrote about this in my personal blog. Couple of colleagues commented that they wanted to see it here as well. Here it is.

Recently, I came across an interesting dilemma and wondered about how others, especially those folk like me who are deeply engrained in standards activities would feel about a particular situation. So, I decided to state a hypothetical problem and ask my questions loud.

Say you are involved in a spec development activity. It is in a private consortium run with its own business rules. It is not yet developed in an open consortium, but the IP rules are somewhat clear. Specs are not published without getting approval first. You have been involved for a long time, spent a lot of energy in this effort. Your company even put people to help with writing the specification, put editorial efforts into this.

One day, you find out that some, but not all, of the companies who have been involved in this effort has submitted a paper to a software conference and even presented the work. They have taken the spec verbatim in most cases, including questionable sections; they neither included any of the contributors from the other companies nor acknowledged all the contributors. You notice that there are additional names added from one of the companies as well. Some of the authors are also authors of the original specs. To add to it, the authors also placed a copy of the paper onto the consortiums website without getting approval or notifying anyone.

Which of the following describes your reaction?

  1. You feel very much appalled. It looks very unethical to you. You look at those colleagues with new glasses and decide to be careful with them in the future.

  2. You resent your name not being on the paper. You wonder why you were singled out and not being asked to be included.

  3. You think it is ok. There is no bylaws/rules that require review of paper submissions and procedures, so this behavior is permissable. What is the big deal.

  4. You beat yourself up. You believe in “publish first, ask forgiveness later”. You could have submitted a paper, too, if you acted earlier.

  5. Who cares. Your name is on the spec. You slapped it there anyway. There is going to be a lot of publications of this material and you will get another one.

  6. Neither of the above. (Would like to know if that was your choice).

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  • Hi –

    There is as little chance of ethical behavior in IT as there is in academia.  Do you know how many academics in very prestigious universities are asked to peer-review a paper by a journal, delay their review by months, and in the meantime, submit the results of the original paper under their own name, with a few of the details changed to avoid the obvious charges?

    In addition, do you know how many Nobels really belong to lower-level researchers in the labs of the “head” professors who actually received the prize in Stockholm?

    In short, my reaction to the scenario you mention is, “Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose!”

    With all sympathy

  • As David has told in IT there is very little chance of maintaining ethics mainly because of the volume of information that flows out of it.But I think in this case you can sue the offenders as they have violated a commercial agreement.
  • Hi Umit Yalcinalp,
                      I don’t have any clue that whether you have expreienced the same in your professional life………but in any case it is nice that you have came to know one of the hard reality of life from which we cannot turn our face……….