April 23, 2014

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Conflict of Interest

Several readers have asked about the big project that has kept me from blogging much this summer. The “project” involved expert witness testimony in a lawsuit, Eolas Technologies and University of California v. Microsoft. I testified as an expert witness, called by the plaintiffs. (The case is ongoing.)

In some alternative universe, this lawsuit and my work on it would have provided fodder for many interesting blog posts. But, as so often happens here in this universe, I can’t really talk or write about most of it.

It’s depressing how often this kind of thing happens, with direct knowledge of a topic serving to disqualify somebody from talking about it. Many conflict of interest rules seem to have this effect, locking out of a discussion precisely those people who know the topic best.

The same thing often happens in discussions with the press, where people who are connected to an issue has to speak especially carefully, because their words might be attributed indirectly to one of the participants. The result can be that those unconnected to the events get most of the ink.

Now I understand why these rules and practices exist; and in most cases I agree that they are good policy. I understand why I cannot talk about what I have learned on various topics. Still, it’s frustrating to imagine how much richer our public discourse could be if everybody were free to bring their full knowledge and understanding to the table.

[I remember an interesting old blog post on a related topic from Lyn Millett over at uncorked.org; but I couldn't find her post when I was writing this one.]