Re: Whistleblowing? (was Re: [asa] Hadley files stolen and published on the internet...)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Mon Nov 23 2009 - 17:55:08 EST

Hi Cameron,

Over my limit for the day, I'm afraid, but I think this merits one last

Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> I have no quarrel with Murray's definition of "whistleblowing" as
> coming from someone inside an organization, but two points:
> 1. Is it 100% certain in this case that the "hackers" had no inside
> help?
Time will tell. I actually think this an important question as it really
does have a great deal of bearing on the issue I keep raising, viz; the
context of the various e-mails which, I consider, are only part of a
much larger picture.
> 2. Suppose we don't call this hacking "whistleblowing". Why couldn't
> it be seen as the same from the ethical point of view? Suppose, for
> example, that an employee of an investment firm discovers some
> "insider trading" going on, and reports it. I gather that Murray
> would consider this virtuous, and praise it. But what if some outsider
> discovers the "insider trading" and reports it? Is he not doing just
> a great a public service as the insider is? Whether we call it
> "whistleblowing" or something else, doesn't it serve the same public
> good -- informing the public of exactly the same acts of dishonesty by
> exactly the same people?
These are genuinely tricky questions, Cameron - it's very much a
contextual thing and one could formulate all sorts of hypothetical

For example: Let's say - entirely for argument's sake - that the
information is absolutely devastating to the GW case. But that the
person concerned released it NOT because they were interested in the
public good, but because they are interested in career advancement. Say
up until know they had been party to the GW "deception" but now, because
(say) the well-timed release of damaging information might scotch the
chances of a rival for promotion, they choose to make this information

In such a case one could argue that the release is morally justified in
one respect, but not so in another.

And before one argues that on balance the serving of a public good
outweighs the serving of a self-interest - just ask if a person whose
primary motive is career advancement rather than the public good is
really the sort of person one wants holding positions of influence in
the sciences. Trickier and trickier, I think?

On the specific example of insider trading vs the CRU e-mails, I will
say that my limited knowledge would suggest that: (1) An employee of an
investment firm would probably have a legal and moral obligation to
disclose evidence of insider trading (a criminal act in and of itself);
and (2) whether the CRU guys HAVE acted improperly is precisely the
question at issue. I think there's a huge margin for interpretation
here, and I think one may well question whether the public good has,
indeed, been served by the potential discrediting of the CRU
specifically and the scientific community generally which may well
follow in the wake of the release of this information.

I might only add that there's certain issues around the question of
autonomy which worry me here: A whistle-blower (or a media source for
that matter) is at least KNOWN to somebody who is prepared to vouch for
the credibility of the source. I can accept that law enforcement
agencies, government departments, large corporations and journalists
need to protect the identity of sources, and I can accept that autonomy
is often a necessary part-and-parcel of whistle-blowing - but in the CRU
case the person who released the information seems totally unprepared to
stand behind it - to vouch for it's authenticity or to offer any clue as
to its context.

I think describing such behaviour as "whistle-blowing" is to honour the
person responsible with more courage and integrity than they have, in
fact, displayed.

The entire affair is, in my opinion, rife with far more issues than
we've so far touched upon.


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Received on Mon Nov 23 17:55:46 2009

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