Monday, April 23, 2007

Rules vs. Guidelines: You be the Judge!

What started out as a lone post on On Pharma, destined to be assigned to the outer dust clouds of the Pharma BlogosphereTM, is now reverberating within the Inner Planets. I'm talking of course, about a Bloggers "Code of Conduct."

You'll recall that I was critical of the notion of civility on Cafe Pharma, because it is an oxymoron (see "Civility on CafePharma: Oxymoronic Wishhful Thinking"). Of course, I caught a boatload of criticism for that tongue-in-cheek satiric post, including scolding by Peter Rost, the Godfather of the Pharma Blogosphere!

Speaking of characterizing and otherwise dissing bloggers, let me point the finger at Pharma Giles who likens me to Drudge Dredd (see "The Judge Gets Bitch-Slapped..."), which was funny the first time, but a little old now.

According to Wikipedia: the term "bitch slap" is derived from American slang. In the original sense, a "bitch slap" is a powerful, full-swing slap in the face with the front of the hand, evoking the way an angry pimp might slap a defiant prostitute (not to be confused with a "pimp slap" which uses the back of the hand).

In the Pharma Giles post, if you bother to scroll on down, you will find Pharma Giles' "Rules" for bloggers. Some of these "Rules" make sense, some do not.

Before I get to the "Rules," let me say that we need GUIDELINES, not rules. And there's never going to be any enforcement. The best we can hope for is voluntary compliance with guidelines, just like the PhRMA DTC advertising guidelines.

Here's Pharma Giles' Rules and my take on them:

Rule 1: Always acknowledge or link to your sources. We Pharma Bloggers are always nicking stuff off of each other and that’s all part of the fun. But we should leave plagiarism to Pharma middle-management. It has no place here.

Good idea! I remember getting "bitch slapped" by Rost for asking Pfizer Rep Bill of Rights Blog not to use my copyright logos and images to illustrate posts (see "John Mack attacks, new blog apologizes."). Pfizer Rep Bill of Rights had no problem with my request, which was designed to protect my business's reputation. Misuse of logos and registered trademarks is even a stronger no no than using an image I may have created to illustrate a post.

Rule 2: If you get stuff wrong, correct it ASAP (I see Dr. Rost. did just that last night on his post about the Pfizer rep allegedly getting slapped.) If the error is pointed out by a fellow blogger, acknowledge that (like I did when I misquoted Fard Johnmar).

OK. Good idea, but what are we aspiring to? I don't know about you, but I don't want to be the Wall Street Journal. If I make errors, the offended party can always submit a comment. I think that's good enough for most purposes.

Rule 3: Respect the anonymity of those who wish to remain anonymous. People blog for lots of different reasons. I don’t wish to question them or try and find out who they are. (Unlike the Judge, who tried to trawl for info on the ID of Insider for reasons of his own a while back.)

I think this violates Rule 4, below. Anyway, Pharma Giles carelessly leaves out the remark I made in the post cited: "As much as we would like to learn the true identity of Insider, we must respect his wishes to remain anonymous. For if he were "outed" we would surely lose one of the best blogs in the Pharma Blogosphere."

Frankly, I don't see anything wrong with gossiping about the identity of the Insider -- it was an exercise in profiling and I certainly have no real knowledge who the insider is. Pharma Giles says "I also think that soliciting the ID of someone who clearly values his anonymity, even if you have no intentions of doing anything with that info, is equally obnoxious.'

What the heck does "soliciting" mean? For God's sake, get real! I clearly did not reveal anybody's identity.

Let me tell you a story, which several bloggers should recall. Recently a PPT was uploaded to the Pharma Blogosphere and an attenpt was made to redact the name of the person who created the deck. Unfortunately, no one realized that the person's name was there for anyone to see if they opened up the "Properties" of the PPT. Since anyone could do this, I thought the secret was out and I made a post about it. However, I was asked to rescind the post, which I did within minutes. I also fixed the PPT file by removing the name and suggesting that my new version replace the old version online. Hopefully, this was done and an innocent person's identity was protected. I don't think many people would go through so much trouble to (1) correct an error within minutes of being asked, and (2) help protect the identity of someone who wished to remain anonymous!

So, I DEEPLY resent Pharma Giles' obnoxious accusation. Of course, I don't expect an apology any time soon.

Rule 4: Don’t (be)rate other bloggers, or “dis” them, unless they break the code of conduct. Differences of opinions are fine but should be openly debated without sneering. CP is the place for that.

Been there, done that. See above.

Rule 5: If you are writing anonymously, then don’t criticise individual non-blogging folk by name. If you’re anonymous, then the subject of your writings should be afforded the same courtesy. That’s why I satirise, albeit thinly sometimes.

Rule 6: Don’t attempt to impose your own rules upon anyone else.

Regarding Rule 6, I wonder what prompted Phama Giles to include this rule because I cannot possibly imagine how anybody can impose rules on anyone else in the Pharma Blogosphere and I challenge anyone to cite a case where this has happened.

Some Other Guidelines
As I said abovem if we really want to get serious about a code of conduct, we need "guidelines", not "rules."

One guideline I would suggest concerns moderation, editing, and/or deletion of comments. I have received e-mails from pharma blog readers -- who wish to remain anonymous --who complain that their comments are not being posted. In the absence of a policy, this is rude and anti-blog by any standard.

Another guideline I would like to suggest is transparency. I remember the furor I created when i suggested that pharma bloggers who accept dinner from pharma companies should be transparent about it.

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