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"Should academics cite those who have breached moral and humane borders?" + Finding Dory review · 11:09am Jun 23rd, 2016

This article was republished on a news portal I follow, the ABC, today, and I'm linking back to its original source.

This is something I thought I'd share with you guys from three different angles, and you can check that out below the break.

The premise is this: should the work of researchers be made to be forgotten for their crimes? The implications are much more closely linked for humanities academics rather than science, though it goes both ways. For example, scientists who develop muscle-strengthening drugs for use on child soldiers in North Africa. Is it ethical to use the research for other drugs, or even use the drug itself for people who suffer from muscle atrophy, knowing that its intended purpose was very unethical?

Rather than ethics, the article raises a slightly different, more practical point: is it condoning their views if we use, i.e. support, their work?


I am, like most not married to academics, initially take a utilitarian stance (full of smug vindication) towards such questions - if it works, who cares?

Science is science and is ultimately a tool. It can be applied however you want. Dynamite made for leveling mountains was used for waging wars, but submarine technology which was used for waging wars is now used for deep sea research. A good deal of the great inventions a self-proclaimed supporter of sciences would call great fall under the much less pompous category of "accident", with penicillin as the most well-known example and the glue for sticky notes as a close second.

Really, if it works - if it does more good than harm - who cares? Does it matter if I was who it came from, if the author was a vanilla wallflower or a murderer?

But the humanities do not work quite the same way. Philosophy is probably the biggest, stickiest bog to traverse when it comes to authorial intentions, because philosophy aims to be applied at a broad conscious level. From self-help books written by white collar workers post mid-life crisis to the most obfuscated of answers on what we are, philosophy changes not just the lives of a subset of people that its inventions work towards - philosophy works on both the deepest individual level, affecting thoughts and actions, all the way up to national policies, international relations, no matter how subtle it may seem.

Consider China. Recently, I've been reading a book called Through Wars and Peace: From the gunfire of the Sino-Japanese War to the golden oil of Malaya by Samuel S.W. Kam, a memoir set on the cusp of WW2. He was probably the last generation educated in the ancient Chinese way: by studying stuff like the Three Character Passage(?) and Confucius' teachings. Though he did not agree with the consistent message of loyalty to an emperor, calling it out as propaganda, it was enough to influence him to travel back to China from a safe British Hong Kong to fight against the invading Japanese.

At the same time, this sort of culture and approach to education was pretty much annihilated by Chairman Mao. One result - and this is by no means the worst - is the sad state of rude Chinese tourists, which has already tainted how a lot of people consider Chinese people as a whole. Such a casual result as the lack of manners is enough to provoke an air of racism and discrimination, which works its way back up the ladder to company culture and policy, lobbying on border control, formation of insular societies...

His philosophy - and I note this with a smirk - was utilitarian, and his supporters will tell you the same. Because for all the evil he did, he also made China great again (parallel deliberate). It worked. Who cares?

Even the basis of this conversation, this discussion, is shaped by philosophy, by our ways of thinking and receiving and processing.

From the individual level to the national level to even now, a passing moment in time, philosophy plays a role. It's ridiculously broad, though we don't notice it, on account of how we largely live in homogenous societies that agree weakly with the usual suspects: capitalism, democracy, the principle of letting people do whatever they want as long as it don't harm nobody. We agree weakly with such ideas, and are never really strong enough to go against something that might be sinister, or might lead to something bad.

Because hey, if it works, who cares, right?

Hell, look at Keynesian economics, the fundamental principles of supply and demand. Arguing against this basic idea is absurdity. Growth is required to make more demand so that a party can supply more in order to grow to make more demand for it to supply...

Except there has to be a limit on how much growth is possible for a business, a country, the planet. The value of services still relies inherently on the existence, let alone the value, of goods, and while we can still grow food forever given our existing water purification and sky-clearing technologies (actually, we might not even be able to do that) we are definitely going to run out of oil, which we need for plastics and cannot yet recycle at a 100% efficiency, or building materials, or even fish thanks to the waste created from the industries of the former other two mentioned.

If it works, who cares?

But Cas why do you seem so mad? How very insightful of you to have picked it up. I get unduly angry at the idea that grown adults are ignorant and rude enough to not just dismiss questions that are worth asking (hint: that's pretty much every question for an open mind, something said people will ignorantly claim to have) but also be so smug as they wipe this dismissal on comment boards, expect people to agree with them, and thus derail conversations, stagnating progress on problems that they just don't see-

Dammit Patchy not now

Point being, this is why these things need to be taken seriously.

Studies on how certain social groups behave are used to decide policies and actions. These in turn have lasting effects on people, who in turn have lasting effects on those they interact with, and it passes down the generational line, too.

Studies on how certain social groups behave when written in the context of pushing the idea that certain cultures are inferior to others may be used to decide policies and actions. These in turn have lasting effects on people...

It's too important to just ignore the question, to not be rigorous about this. It's too important to just let stuff seep and slide through down history, and we're not talking about one or two generations, we're talking ten or more. Think about how you think, and if you want an uncomfortable realization, try and trace it through your lineage, their heritage and surroundings, and see how things do change with time slowly but surely.

Who you are, how you think and what you do is a product of something someone said, which made someone else think the way they did. And it could have been a lot worse - or a lot better - if that someone had said something different.

There's no need to elaborate further on what happens when policies are shaped by philosophies bent by poor ethics. Which brings us back to the central idea. This blog aims to provide a perspective from three other angles that would have otherwise not been uncovered, and with any luck they should actually be shorter than that silly rant of an introduction you just read.

Death of the Author, aka Why You, Fimfic, Should Care

Death of the author, Fimfic's favourite principle to hate for the past few months. Bad Horse, bookplayer, Georg to name a few all discuss it regularly, and if you follow what we might as well accept to be the elite crowd you'd have noticed. Death of the author plays an interesting part in today's subject, because it's the logical layman's response to the matter.

The short of it as I understand is that "death of the author" is a principle meant to free: a reader or a critic is allowed to have their opinions remain valid regardless of what the author of a work says about it.

In other words, headcanon is fine.

We tend to go against the death of the author, because when we think of interpretation, the first thing that comes to mind - as with most things really - are the bad apples. The hippie arts lecturer of Making Meanings 101. Modern (technically postmodern) art. This picture here.

We want to say that the author has the final overriding say about not just the meaning, but the implication of their work, because we're authors too (likely) and we don't like the idea of people putting words in our mouths. We fear the idea, and rightfully so, of other people using our work for intents we disagree with and despise. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" is sarcasm and rednecks all across America herald it as the greatest anthem of all time. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to make a song lampooning this crap, and having the same idiots use it as a rallying banner?

Yet in this case, death of the author frees us to say: screw you, racist/bigot/etc, I can take whatever I want from your work, benefit from it for good, and you can't stop me.

Death of the author allows us to appreciate Plato's principles even though he believed in slavery, that some people were fit to only be slaves. More importantly, death of the author allows us to take the best of his ideas and work from it to new frontiers, new areas, without too much moral reprehension.

It allows us to divorce author from work, and with it, their intents and purposes - and hopefully I've helped you see how this can be both wonderful and terrible.

Funnily enough, it is a utilitarian view that would see the value in this, because we're glad to not waste anything, whereas a much more idealistic view would somehow believe that such work from tainted sources should be buried on principle, value be damned.

The Fame/Freedom Angle

One thing that I realized while thinking is that this touches the issue of identity and success, particularly of the Western persuasion (though I am not yet versed enough to tell you how an Asian one would differ. Confucius liked families I guess?).

You are defined by what you do and what you contribute. Your success as a human being is defined by what you leave behind. Your legacy is your being. And so, by condoning a researcher's work, we see it as somehow condoning their being - the connection between work and purpose is so ingrained in our perspective that my stumbling upon this was not so much inspired as it was lucky.

This is, in fact, likely the heart of the question when it comes down to whether or not referencing these "tainted" works is fine or not. It's because referencing them is not seen as a purely practical matter. It's because referencing them is seen as condoning them, recognizing them as peers, elevating them as relevant to the current discourse and ensuring their place in history. All of which are the dreams of every academic.

Put another way, the question becomes difficult because it's personal. There's a surprising amount of how an academic would see themselves mixed into their perspective on the matter, which would be why laymen seem to find the answer so easily yet the academics struggle to say anything conclusive, and, when pushed, end up choosing the other side - the outright condemnation - possibly to compensate.

This one's a little tough to convey, because while I am probably the sort of person to be an academic (as I have been told by many people in my life), I am not one. I'm trying to peer through the looking glass, and the fact that I do possess one isn't enough for me to be bolder about this.

Such is how it is: the question of citation has its thesis, conflict and implications rooted in a fundamental principle of the academic's world and values. To some of us citation is Wikipedia, dammit, but to these guys it is their purpose, their end goal (as well as whatever agenda they may be pushing through their work as discussed). This is a more shocking question to them than it would be to us, though that doesn't mean we can't participate and be fascinated by it. It's just worth considering their perspective.

At the same time, there's the issue of censorship.

In the article, the question has been: is the value of a tainted work more than whatever recognition it brings, and thus whatever sort of endorsement said unethical author receives (or can be interpreted to receive, which is the real kicker)?

Here we have another question, that's somewhat independent from the first: is it justifiable to censor it?

Both questions are of an ethical nature. What's the value of ethics versus practicality (use), and what's the value of ethics versus, well, other ethics? In this case, which is more ethical: to keep knowledge uncensored, to allow everyone and anyone to interpret and contribute as they wish, and thus risk endorsing criminals, or to condemn criminals based on humanistic values and by doing so, necessarily censor others (because if you can't enforce it what's the point)?

Again we come back to the difficulty of separating identity and work, identity and success. It'd be fine if all the criminal academics were people whose work were of little value. But then the question becomes purely academic with no real implication. What if the guy who invented the internet turned out to be a child rapist, and he had intended to use the internet to share material and defend his actions?

We can still use the internet, we can even still recognize that he was a great inventor while condemning his actions. Yet that's just saying that a guy can still be celebrated as part of history for what he's done, and not be forgotten or condemned for what he's done, as long as A is much better than B.

A very real example comes in the form of Michael Jackson. Police released a report after they assessed his estate and found child porn. There were, for example, pictures of naked men with child's heads pasted on top of them, and a book full of nudes of 14-16 year olds. Most other news portals are trash, so here's the link that goes directly to the PDF of the Santa Barbara PD report for your perusal. And don't trust me when I say it's really as bad as it sounds. Read the report yourself.

Take John Lennon and Steve Jobs, both of which were abusive and toxic to their family, and both of them are celebrated and considered as inspirations to people out there. What do? Do we let it seep and slide down history? Is it ethical - no, rather, is it just to allow it, knowing that their celebrity will far outshine their crimes and they will never be vilified, only seen as someone with two sides, when others who would have done the same sans fame would most definitely be vilified, then forgotten into oblivion - and again, this is integral to how we see success. Do we give these people lasting success because they've had current success?

And if yes, or if no, what do we do about the academics and their work, which have far more potential reach?

The Purity of Ethics/Purity of Method Angle

What is the inherent functionality of a thought? How does a thought work in a practical way?

With science, the relation is simple. It's a tool. You use the tool. It doesn't impact your personal morals or your ethics - holding a gun won't make you want to kill. Or so we would like to think.

Consider AI. The ethics of your self-driving car are your responsibility - you agreeing to use the car with its programmed ethical stance equates to accepting it - though the design lies with the programmers. Saying that you disagree with its ethics does not exempt you from responsibility (mainly towards yourself) if you had agreed to use the car. And this is important when you are impacted by the decision: whether it chooses to swerve away and kill you vs running into the pedestrian and killing you.

Say it decides to kill you, and you disagreed despite agreeing to use the car. In your last moments, you die unhappy, regretful.

Say it decides to kill the pedestrian, and you disagreed despite agreeing to use the car. For the rest of your life, you are haunted by your decision - you ended up going against your personal beliefs and made an impact against it, because you chose to use the car knowing full well this would be the outcome.

Ethics and practicality, at the beginning, seemed like two different things. Surely we can accept the practicality and remain ethical by adopting an utilitarian viewpoint, which values use over all, and thus we say it is ethical to create more good than the bad: mainly, whatever influence he may have as a part of history.

Yet when it comes to the humanities I cannot help but feel that in this aspect it's the same as the question of AI. Accepting the use of the work is an acceptance of whatever is inherent in it. You can condemn the author's personal beliefs as long as they're not part of the work, but how do you define "part of the work"? It's simplistic, naive, outright foolish to think that racist authors would preface their scientific papers with "blacks suck"; they come written scientifically, discuss points scientifically, present scientific method and reach conclusions devoid of leaning (with any luck). If they failed in scientific rigor this wouldn't be a question, because then they wouldn't be published and referenced... well, let's just assume the integrity of journals for now, though I know some of you know otherwise.

Again, this would be so much simpler if the criminals were merely blips of negligible importance.

Take Paul de Man from the article. Do we dismiss the concept of deconstruction altogether? Do we simply rewind progress, eliminating everything based on Paul de Man's work, everything that references and expands on it, and start from first principles? Or do we pick and choose the knowledge out of its context, and thus go against the purity of rigor?

Because, you know, context is important for interpretation when it comes to observations and studies on human culture. To some extent it's important even in sciences like the environment, which changes with human progress and the availability of new technology - in fact there's something of a hoohah because laboratories are failing to reproduce experiments from older works because the instruments are more accurate.

If we are able to separate the unethical intent from the work, and apply it to ethical use, fine, but there's no point in looking at the easy scenarios. The tough scenario is the one where it is difficult to split intent and work, and this work is vital to its body of knowledge.

Do we then take it out of context? Do we deny the purity of rigor, and say that "It's the work that matters", ignoring how one reached a conclusion, or even how one framed their method? We still haven't found a way to remove bias, and can only identify it half the time.

Consider in tandem the defense of SJWs for women that lie about rape. "It's the conversation that matters, not the truth!" This, too, is utilitarian, a tag I am less and less exuberant about branding myself with.

Do we instead ditch the enterprise altogether, stop referencing the author, and thus take the setback to knowledge for the sake of not just ethics, but practicality?

Either commit to ethics fully or not at all. If you're going to pick and choose about ethics then the point of it is lost. There is no more line. Anything goes! What is ethics without purity?


One novel solution would be to censor the name of the offender, and thus you deny recognition of him and retain the work. I wonder if that would fly, though, because then it's easier to dismiss work if its source is not verifiable, and if it's dismissed then that's just wasted effort in retaining it.

In the article, the author chooses to condemn the offenders and blot their names out of the annals of academia. Perhaps if we follow this path and it results in bad things, the future will choose to blot ours as well.

Yet while history is the greatest judge, it is also the most forgiving, because only time can diminish impacts. The wife of Althusser whom he murdered, Althusser himself, his work, and the work that followed his, in time, will be retained but left unused and unread in favour of new work, new ideas, new people. We no longer read Lavoisier's experiments on oxygen even though he's the damn father of modern chemistry, because a lot of it was wrong; I had the fortune of actually reading his journals, only to give up three pages in. All that was to be learned had been learned, and used to make new, more correct knowledge, of which I had partaken. And such is how science works.

Yet with philosophy it doesn't really refine as much as it sways. Every advancement in human history brings with it new technology, new ways to interact, new philosophies. But nothing is ever really wholly new, and so philosophy borrows and morphs - if every idea were a vegetable, philosophy takes a ladle full from the simmering stock and makes a new sauce with it, and this sauce goes back in to the stockpot. While people change, they really don't change that much, and there is still truth - and each other - inherent in every school of thought.

Personally, I would still say reference away, and let them have their moment. We can of course pay heed to condemn their actions outside of their work, and try to keep their work separate from their identity though it goes against our ingrained values. Eventually, the progress made from it will wash it away. And thus the natural order of things continues.

That was, well... wew.

Here's some Gordon Ramsay freezing his bollocks off in Norway.

This blog is going to be a bit different in that I'm going to ask you to share it around to other people on Fimfic, if you found it worth reading. I am a crap uneducated debater and am prone to likely every fallacy under the sun, so if someone could provide me with criticism on that, I'd appreciate it.

I am also going to cross-post this to my own blog on Hubpages, probably, because this is an awful lot of words to just let go to waste.

If you like more Casca making mountains outta molehills, read basically any of my fics. Seriously. All of them can be traced back to that.

Uh, also, Finding Dory was nice, I'd give it somewhere between a 6.5-7.5/10 in that it does what it sets out to d. It's got amazing visuals and music - the technical bits are all great - it's a wider world, and the tearjerker moments do function as intended, it's just not mindblowingly amazing (though few are). It treads somewhat new ground - it's parent-child-with-disability, but this time parent-child-with-mental-disability and I swear the tearjerker climax will get you crying because by Jove they love her so much and aaaaah


Stay tuned, stay awesome.

Comments ( 3 )

Thanks for sharing this article, and your thoughts. I feel quite strongly that all work should be shared, and properly cited, no matter how awful the creator is, or how closely tied their offensive ideas are to their work. The idea that work in the humanities is somehow indicative or validating of that creator/researchers worth as a person in a different way than work in the sciences is to me simply an ego trip on the part of creators.

You'll notice how many people who say "ex was a great artist/scientist but they did something horrible in their personal lives so I boycott their work" are themselves creators of some type. They're taking this stance because they are afraid that not taking this stance reduces them to the ranks of craftsmen, and that's exactly what they are. If readers judge the work of a horrible person apart from the worth of that horrible person, then they might judge the worth of a good person separately from that person's own work, and many writers, artists and scientists are afraid this will invalidate their own worth. In the process, they are putting their own egos and sense of status above the good of society, which benefits from maximum information of all types being widely available and used freely.

A book of philosophy is like a chair. The book and the chair might be solid and well-made, or they may be shoddy and fall apart after some use, and careful inspection can be done on both. Also, both might have been made by a child molester, and it matters whether their creator was a child molester to the exact same degree. Maybe a book of philosophy written by pedophiles is weakened because the author was leaving excuses for child molestation in it, and maybe the chair is crappy because the creator pocketed money for extra nails to spend on child porn. Either way, you examine the product, judge it on its own worth, and then use it if it's done well. It doesn't reflect on you ethically if you use either product, as long as the product works well. The whole idea of "socially responsible consumer" was invented in the 1980s by corporations to sell lifestyle branding to yuppies, and it is unfortunate that we have yet to shake this idea off.

And yes, if people ask where you got the chair/philosophy, you damn well tell them the name of the creator. Feel free to tell them the creator was a child molester too, but don't lie or omit the truth.

Thank you too for the thoughtful response!

The idea that work in the humanities is somehow indicative or validating of that creator/researchers worth as a person in a different way than work in the sciences

I would argue that the fear stems from the idea that the impact of work in humanities is indicative, or at least influenced by the creator, more than the sciences, because of how intimately it influences the lives of others. A pacemaker affects people with heart problems, but Maoism affected a large swathe of Asia and still does, y'know? I agree with you that there should be no difference, sciences or humanities: work being validating of a researcher's, no, as a person's worth is a universal thing as far as Western ideas go.

The whole idea of "socially responsible consumer" was invented in the 1980s by corporations to sell lifestyle branding to yuppies, and it is unfortunate that we have yet to shake this idea off.

This is interesting to consider. I both agree and disagree.

On the one hand, it's ridiculous to point at customers, say "it's all up to you now to decide what the market sells!" as if companies could not make decisions other than "But moneyy". On the other hand, that is unfortunately the state of things, and the companies will not be the first ones to make a move when it comes to sacrificing profit. There's probably a good social proof in there somewhere about how a company is a microcosm where its main homogenous trait is money instead of culture, but eeh. Especially when the government - the one that does have power to make them - is lobbied, or in other parts of the world outright bribed by said companies to keep requirements at a minimum.

Environmental and ethical responsibility are stakes in which the customer is forced to (though really should) play a role. You make sustainability part of the triple bottom line and the companies will sort of maybe follow suit.

Social responsibility, though... actually I'm not sure what that term entails. I'm all for customers being aware of the source they buy things, since I'm with you on the vein of knowledge being free and open for all, and choosing their purchases based on more than quality and price (if you asked me this a few years ago I would have said free market all the way! But such is Australian culture and they do have a point).

At the end of it, I do get where you're coming from - and I think I agree that we should let humanity overall be the ones who make the decision on judging the merits of work. The worry lies in the consequences of not stopping it, because the responsibility, the burden of exposure and knowledge does lie with academics.

I would argue that the fear stems from the idea that the impact of work in humanities is indicative, or at least influenced by the creator, more than the sciences, because of how intimately it influences the lives of others.

I wonder if that comes from the way modern audiences seem to want to put those philosophers and artists on a pedestal, because they seem so desperate to externalize their own insecurities by compulsively idolizing these creators. I suspect the real difference is that feeling of betrayal that many people feel when they find out an artist or philosopher they worshiped has horrible opinions or has committed crimes. To me it seems the real mistake was wanting to deify an entertainer or educator in the first place. I can happily enjoy a Bill Cosby comedy routine on YouTube, for example, because I never thought of the man as anything other than an entertainer producing a product, and the fact that he's clearly a rapist doesn't change things for me.

A pacemaker affects people with heart problems, but Maoism affected a large swathe of Asia and still does, y'know?

No one would suggest we blacklist or ignore the creator of the pacemaker, even if they were a horrible person. Now, Maoism isn't a pacemaker, the latter is a device that is unambigously good, the former is a political philosophy that has led to great evil, but probably has some good aspects to it somewhere. (I love your analogy by the way). The academic community should feel free, heck they should feel obligated, to search that philosophy for anything of positive value and promote it, while giving proper credit, just like they should feel to condemn the evil aspects of it, and the historical crisises that following that philosophy caused.

Environmental and ethical responsibility are stakes in which the customer is forced to (though really should) play a role. You make sustainability part of the triple bottom line and the companies will sort of maybe follow suit.

You do have a good point there. I have a background in corporate marketing, and I can confirm that these days, the biggest thing they teach you is "make the consumer think they are a better person for having purchased your product." We know that people are mainly willing to pay a higher price premium for a product that acts as a status-signaler to their social group that they are more "enlightened" than their friends, so most of the expense from a socially responsible product or feature goes into the advertising of said feature.

That said, certain things like insisting on recycled materials in packaging, sustainable energy sources, things that are directly relevant to the production and composition of the product, can and should be influenced by responsible consumers. What bothers me is when consumer boycotts are launched against a company for reasons that have nothing to do with the product, and everything to do with a group of people trying to validate themselves emotionally by attacking others. I remember a website browser company hired a CEO, who several years in it was found had held unsavory political opinions almost a decade prior (long before he came to the company). The CEO had no hint of impropriety in his actions, but a boycott was launched here in the states to force the company to fire the CEO, and the boycott was successful. Someone lost their job and is now unhirable, because we as a society have succumbed to this delusion that people's work product is somehow tainted in undetectable ways by their personality.

work being validating of a researcher's, no, as a person's worth is a universal thing as far as Western ideas go.

See that's the thing, this seems to be a relatively new phenomena, brought about by social media and the likes of Gawker, which specialize in ginning up angry mobs and setting them on vulnerable targets. We didn't seem to care as much about the private lives of public figures as we now do, and I'm not entirely sure where we went wrong.

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