[Air-L] More on the change

Charles Ess charles.ess at gmail.com
Tue May 12 04:37:13 PDT 2009

Hi Lois, et al
I've refrained from engaging in this debate for several reasons, beginning
with simply wanting to see how it runs without my interference.
But I can't resist commenting on the following -

On 5/11/09 10:43 PM, "Lois Ann Scheidt" <lscheidt at umail.iu.edu> wrote:

> On some level it seems odd to me that an organization for people who
> should be at least minimally technically savvy is taking a somewhat extreme
> paternalistic stance to protect us from ourselves.

I take your point, and would agree with you if there were my perception of
what has happened -
but this is simply not my sense of the concern.
I don't worry about 99.99% of list members, such as you, who of course are
perfectly competent; I also don't worry about 99.99% of the list who - as
this dialogue manifests - are an understanding and forgiving community when
the occasional personal post gets accidentally sent to the entire list.
Within that population, were something egregiously awful to inadvertently
make its way to the list, I'm absolutely confident that we could count on
our colleagues to exhibit discretion, delete the problematic post, and more
or less forget about it.
My worry is about the .01% (including an infamous example from a few years
ago) who might use such an episode as the occasion to attempt to inflict
real damage on the organization when discovering that, contrary to Jeremy's
assurances, we are unable to persuade / bribe Dreamhost into deleting
problematic postings.
(Yes, it would be a good idea to explore alternative hostings - but this is
not anything that is going to happen anytime soon.  Please remember that
your Executive Committee, including our systems officers, are volunteers,
whose work for AoIR receives no compensation either from AoIR or from their
home institutions, e.g., in the form of release time.  I don't mean this to
sound huffy or snarky, but we pretty well have our hands full as it is.  To
be sure, if the membership want to add such exploration to our agenda, we
can do that - but it will have to wait until other current matters and
responsibilities are discharged.  Realistically, this should be an agenda
item for the new Executive Committee that will be constituted in October,
following this summer's/winter's elections - more on that soon.)
To be sure, to paraphrase Jeremy, we could get a lawyer.  But that's
precisely the problem we're trying to avoid. That is, part of the concern
some of us have on the Executive Committee is that going down that
particular path could become extremely expensive extremely quickly, and
thereby severely undermine what we're otherwise able to do as an

>From within this framework, I don't see this as a paternalistic stance to
protect 99.99% of our list members from themselves.  I see this as
anticipating a possible problem, one that, worst-case, could be quite
serious indeed - and then trying to prevent such a problem if at all

Yes, this precise scenario has not happened yet.  Perhaps the chances of it
happening are vanishingly small.  This is something we're trying to explore
further, precisely in order to determine how genuinely possible the
worst-case scenario is.  Please give us some time to work through all of
But we didn't just dream this up in order to give ourselves additional work
(o.k., that was snarky - sorry!). A couple of episodes within recent memory
and experience (i.e., very unhappy list members who had every good reason in
the world to want to have a posting removed, which we were unable to do -
and threatened suit from another list member over a similar issue), while
separate, have nonetheless suggested to at least a couple of us on the EC
that this is a possibility we should explore. And, should it turn out to be
a realistic possibility - one that could, worst-case, inflict serious damage
on the organization - we are obviously charged with and responsible for
doing our best to forestall and prevent such damage.
Again, I don't see that as paternalism - I regret if it has come across that

In the meantime, I would then ask the membership to further consider: how
large/small of a possibility does this sort of scenario have to be to
justify the change in setting?
I have in mind here a version of Pascal's wager - part of which argues that
the more significant the consequences of a particular possibility may be,
the smaller that possibility will be before we take pre-emptive action.
For example, I generally take an umbrella and drive a car (instead of
bicycling) if the chance of rain is greater than 30%.  If I end up getting
wet, it's unpleasant, but not fatal.
By contrast, the chances of my getting killed while driving are much, much
smaller - as they must be, in order for me to, in effect, bet that I won't
die if I drive to work. Yes, the chances of such a worst-case scenario are
quite small - perhaps vanishingly small.  But the consequences could be
Between these two: the chances of my being killed or seriously hurt if
involved in a driving accident while not wearing a seatbelt are somewhat
higher, though still quite small.  But the difference is enough to persuade
me to wear the seatbelt, despite the minor inconvenience of doing so.
The analogy I'm trying to offer, then, is that the changed setting is
something like wearing a seatbelt while driving.  Of course, we cannot
eliminate all risks.  But given the significantly awful consequences that
might follow from certain events, however improbable, it seems prudent to do
what we can to avoid those consequences, even if at the cost of some

So, again, how should we bet?  Should we remain with the previous setting,
and take our chances, because we're betting that the likelihood of such a
worst-case scenario is so low, and the deficits of changing the setting -
putting on the seatbelt - offset our improving our chances of avoiding
potentially awful consequences,
or do we decide that it's better to avoid the greater risk in favor of a
somewhat smaller one (i.e., by changing the setting - putting on the
seatbelt), because the consequences could be egregious, even if the
possibility of those consequences coming to pass may be very small?

Now that I've jumped in with both feet - just to be clear: I don't have a
dog in this fight (another reason I've not responded to some of the
Especially because this is a technically-savvy group of scholars and
researchers who desire and enjoy communicating with one another, I'm just
not convinced (yet) that a change in setting will in fact result in a severe
downturn of communication on the list.  But I personally do not care which
way we decide to go.  I - and the EC - are simply trying to make sure that
we are doing what we can to be aware of possible problems, especially as
these are suggested to us by experience, and then pursue possible solutions.

Thanks again to all for the multiple and most interesting comments,
arguments, observations, and data!

- c.

More information about the Air-L mailing list