[SystemSafety] Dangerous Language

Drew Rae d.rae at griffith.edu.au
Sun Nov 16 23:27:00 CET 2014


I was recently reprimanded by reviewers for referring to Harry Frankfurt's philosophy essay, "On Bullshit", in the title of an academic paper. 
It was a sincere link to the concepts, too, not an attempt to draw controversy. 

I was talking about the phenomena of safety analysis that fails to change people's minds - akin to the lack of concern with truth that Frankfurt talks about. 

The end result of changing the title was that the concept of "lack of concern with truth" was downplayed in the next draft, and then the link to Frankfurt's work was cut 
altogether a couple of revisions later. 

There may be a reason Frankfurt's paper holds the informal record for least number of citations for an influential publication. 

The annoying thing is, I have a very strong self-filter for profanity - part of a Presbyterian-inspired upbringing. I tend to only swear when I'm quoting or deliberately trying to achieve
a particular effect. Being mindlessly censored after I'd made a very considered choice of words (and after multiple discussions with co-authors) made me p****** *f*. 


* This message is from my work email
* I can also be contacted on andrew at ajrae.com
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On 16/11/2014, at 12:37 PM, Les Chambers wrote:

> Hi All
> I am today gratified at the efforts of many media organisations - and indeed certain individuals -  to safeguard our moral values. I refer to this excellent review of the latest biography of American playwright, Tennessee Williams.
> http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/tennessee-williams-bio-by-john-lahr-reveals-playwright-madman-genius/story-fn9n8gph-1227122186413
> I draw your attention to this paragraph:
> Williams’s last hit was The Night of the Iguana in 1961, the play Hepburn finally knocked back because of the demand she commit for more than six months, at a time she was preoccupied with an ailing Spencer Tracy. Williams wanted her in the role of Hannah, the spinster. The other leading role was played by the great Bette Davis, who returned to the stage after 30 years in Hollywood and caused such mayhem that the leading man, Patrick O’Neal, struck her to the ground screaming, “You f..king c..t.” And all the while, witnesses said, Davis was smiling. She left after 128 perform­ances and farewelled the cast, which included distinguished British actress Margaret Leighton, with this: “I’m sorry had to irritate you with my professionalism.”
> Spelling out "f..king c..t" would no doubt trigger an instant societal moral meltdown from which we would be unlikely to recover. Much like the creation of the moon where a massive interplanetary collision converted the surface of the Earth to magma.
> But the story does not end there. Intrigued by O’Neal's eloquence I determined to take notes. I have an Android smart phone which supports voice-to-text dictation into emails. It's a web service provided by Google. On voicing these dangerous words I got this on my screen: "f****** c***". Amazed, I said it again and got the same result with the correct number of asterisks. Full marks to Google for corrective, protective action and stellar risk reduction.  Google went those extra yards and did not reproduce the "king" or the "t". Which I thought made the whole thing a little less blatant and a little less offensive. Makes you wonder though, are those guys really from California? 
> Now let me be clear, I'm not against this kind of thing. In fact if you attempt to put any of these words on any of my forums (http://www.chambers.com.au/forum/forum_home.php) you will be disappointed. The system will respond with a "..." (lazy programming on my part). I once spent a wonderful morning dredging up from the bowels of my profoundly depraved former lives, all the foul language I had ever heard or used, which - given I started my working career in the Electrical trade on construction sites - is a substantial body of knowledge. (As an aside, I welcome defect reports from anyone who is able to get something offensive through my filter.)
> I can only wonder though, if Google has gone too far in protecting us from ourselves.
> This experience resonated with me due to a recent incident where my phrase "pissed off" was questioned by an editor. This is a work in progress and the outcome is uncertain. Attendees at the safety critical symposium in Bristol this coming February will witness the outcome. If I prevail, arrive prepared for moral outrage. Alternatively if anyone on this list could suggest appropriate figleaf asterisks to disguise the offensive elements of this phrase I would be eternally grateful.
> Despite the above, I feel that the Bette Davis experience affirms the life of the committed functional safety engineer and gives us yet another insightful parting response. Don't you think?
> Cheers
> Les
> -------------------------------------------------
> Les Chambers
> Director
> Chambers & Associates Pty Ltd
> www.chambers.com.au
> Blog: www.systemsengineeringblog.com
> Twitter: @ChambersLes
> M: 0412 648 992
> Intl M: +61 412 648 992
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> Fax: +61 7 3870 4220
> les at chambers.com.au
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