Civility of discourse in the Safety-Critical Systems Engineering Community

Civility of discourse in the Safety-Critical Systems Engineering Community

From: Andrew Rae <ajrae_at_xxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 15 Dec 2009 14:07:40 +0000
Message-ID: <4B27982C.9060303@xxxxxx>
Dear All,

Please note that in the following message I speak on my own
account and am not representing the University of York, who
host this mailing list.

On-line spaces (such as this mailing list) serve a useful purpose
for informal debate, discussion, testing of ideas and education.
All of these purposes are hampered when the space becomes unpleasant
to interact within.

A functional professional and academic community should be able to
exchange ideas without directly or indirectly criticising the competence
or goodwill of others. Behaviour on this mailing list has been 
unacceptable, including from some whose academic titles would normally 
be indications of maturity and wisdom.

I include below some clear examples of unfriendly behaviour. I think a 
long term solution is to shift this community from a mailing list to a 
set of moderated forums. This will reduce the email load, facilitate 
subscribing to topics of interest only, and make the community more 
accessable to outsiders.

A key principle of these forums would be that personal attacks will not 
be tolerated (Warnings by moderators, followed if necessary by 
short-term exclusion of the offenders). There would be specific marked 
areas for factual questions and discussions/debates on matters of 
opinion and interpretation. I am in the process of setting up the 
infrastructure for these forums but welcome private communication with 
ideas or offers to assist with moderating.

The following habits are prevalent on this list and are not appropriate:

- Directly questioning the competence or integrity of those who do not 
share a particular position

GOOD: "There is good evidence that formal methods are a reasonably 
practicable way of ensuring correct provision of a function"

BAD: "You cannot follow a standard that does not mandate formal methods
and claim to be acting ethically"

- Characterising ideas or positions using terms that imply that those 
holding the idea are not competent.

GOOD: "Your definition not semantically precise"
OKAY: "Your definition is so imprecise that it includes these
obviously inappropriate instances within it"
BAD: "Your definition is nonsense"

- Uncharitable interpretations of the posts of others

GOOD: "Your post might be interpreted as implying X. Is this what you 
meant? If so, I disagree"
BAD: "You say X which is a fundamental misunderstanding".

- Taking criticism personally (whether it was intended to be personal or 
not) and retaliating in an uncivil fashion

- Claiming personal ownership of a knowledge domain such as system 
safety, systems engineering or systems theory in a way that implies that 
others don't share that knowledge

BAD: "If you don't agree with me and the basic concepts of systems 
theory that's your own prerogative"

- Implicitly criticising the participants in a discussion by 
participating then stating that it isn't worth your time to continue 

GOOD: Choosing not to join a discussion, or politely offering to 
continue in another place or time
Received on Tue 15 Dec 2009 - 14:07:44 GMT