Protect the Truth, Not the Lie

Rob Enderle

In my post "Would It Matter if Microsoft Didn't Cheat with OOXML Approval?" I didn't argue that Microsoft hadn't cheated -- there is an ongoing investigation trying to determine that. I did point out that the approval process was excessively political and I didn't think it should be.


My view was that we had a situation where one large company, which happens to be dominant in the class of product connected with this effort, uncharacteristically wanted to go through a standardization effort (it wasn't as if it really had a choice), and several large competitors wanted to make sure this company was unsuccessful. These challenging firms had lost battles in the market and had chosen to use this process to change the outcome. The tactic was not likely to be successful, and apparently it wasn't. The end result was that ISO has been badly compromised and I doubt the end justified the means.


But that was not the main point I was working to make. I was making the point that way too many people don't care what the truth is and will go to extraordinary efforts to protect what may be a lie. The responses to my original piece made the point better than I could as post after post tried to get away from the need for the truth to ensure their view of the outcome remains unchallenged.


You Can't Handle the Truth


"True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society" talks about how people don't want the truth; they want things that agree with their world view. This would suggest that folks would rather focus on personal attacks and obfuscation than discuss the actual topic. Watch this clip on truth from "A Few Good Men" to put you in the right frame of mind. You should also look at the comments on that previous post and form your own conclusions.


One commenter concluded that "People are smart. People remember. People fight back." Words of war, without purpose. Fight back against what? Remember what? The implication was that something bad was done (I'm assuming he means Microsoft did it) and people would revolt. Kind of confirms that the truth doesn't really matter, doesn't it?


Other commenters argue that people accused of irregularities can't be trusted even if they say they have corrected them (guilt or innocence doesn't matter), obfuscate by asking "Why is it that corrupt countries suddenly signed up to vote?" (right out of the book, which says people will assume those that disagree with them are corrupt, and don't need any proof), make personal attacks (right out of the book, destroying the other side with character assassination if you can't argue on merit), avoid the issue because it questions their world view, use biased sources to support their world view, oversimplify and twist my words, claiming I said something that I did not. I think you can see that the book I am recommending is really worth a read, and sooner rather than later.


Commenter Ken Holmz restores my faith in people with a well-thought-out post that is actually on topic, and he is right -- we are observing a war between parties. There are certainly reasons to not take either side at face value but come to a conclusion based on work we have done, not simply taking the words of others (particularly those who go to great efforts to hide dissenting views). I also agree that Microsoft and SCO have effectively poisoned the well.


Does the Truth Matter?


When I was first asked my opinion on OOXML vs. ODF, I called a neutral party, Corel, and asked them what they thought. As a company that operated in the space but was competing with Microsoft and had once gone down the open source path unsuccessfully, it was the closest I could come to a neutral party. It favored OOXML, which immediately made it a target, because it felt ODF wouldn't evolve as quickly as it would need to. Now this was before Microsoft handed it over to ISO and before it actually tried to use it; currently, it is agnostic and supports both. But at least I sought out a neutral party before taking a position.


Note that at no time am I telling you which side to pick or which technology to adopt; that is your choice to make, and you shouldn't give it to anyone without a lot of thought.


The whole point of my first piece wasn't to argue whether Microsoft was innocent. It was to get folks to look at the question of whether it should matter. To most of the folks I'm referencing above it didn't; they don't really care about the truth and likely could not handle a truth that conflicted with their beliefs. Thier view is the only view, and anyone that disagrees should be stopped. To them, free speech is only free if you agree.


If the investigation concludes that Microsoft did nothing wrong, they'll assume Microsoft cheated to get out of it, and if it concludes the other way, then the folks doing the investigation must be honorable.


It should matter more to us whether the process is honorable than what the outcome is, yet that isn't how our brains are wired. Understanding that can help us make better choices because it causes us to question those that make decisions first and ask questions later. including ourselves.


Wrapping Up: The Truth Matters!


From wrong product choices to pointless wars, we are surrounded by people who conclude first and then work to cover up bad decisions. I believe many of our lives will depend on such decisions and will be pointlessly lost because of this kind of behavior.


I keep thinking back to General Eric Shinseki, who early on said the U.S. wasn't prepared for winning the Iraq war. He was then laughed out of the job (I should point out that even here the truth is hard to find) for suggesting more troops were needed. No one is laughing anymore, and a lot of people needlessly lost their lives. If you read one book this year, read "True Enough;" you'll look at a lot of things differently, you'll look at yourself differently, and you'll understand much better the point I'm really trying to make here.


In "A Few Good Men," the person who couldn't handle the truth wasn't Tom Cruise's character, it was Jack Nicholson's. Simply understanding that will help you make smarter decisions. In short, I think the truth does matter. Our survival depends on people who will look for the truth rather than force people to agree to a false world view.

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Apr 15, 2008 2:00 PM Michael Michael  says:

Rob,Thank you for commenting on my comments to your earlier article.  I believe it is possible that we are both misunderstanding each other.  In my last comment, I was responding to the following statement in your earlier article:  "Currently, there is no evidence that it Microsoft has cheated, even though there is an ongoing investigation."  I particularly took issue with the "no evidence" part - unless you define "evidence" as some fact or facts that conclusively proves the allegation that MS cheated.  Sure, there may be no absolutely conclusive evidence of the allegations against MS.  I look forward to the results of the European Commission's investigations because they will weigh all the evidence.  Being a lawyer, however, I understand "evidence" to include all types of evidence, including circumstantial evidence, not just conclusive evidence.  Below I discuss how you also use circumstantial evidence.  So, when you say "There isnt any evidence on this vote; there is only an investigation," I counter with the letter sent by the Norwegian committee chairman stating that there were "irregularities" in the voting process (link below). The letter is evidence, albeit not conclusive evidence against MS.  There is a lot of other evidence too.  Also, I am not merely assuming that countries that voted for OOXML are corrupt.  If you look at the well-regarded CPI index, the countries that signed up at the last minute and voted for OOXML have been shown to be some of the most corrupt countries (link below).  Again, this is only circumstantial evidence as to the credibility of some of the parties who voted for OOXML, but attacking the credibility of a party is well within the bounds of "evidence" (at least in a US courtroom - and probably at the European Commission).The "evidence" has to be weighed, both by the European Commission and the general public.  Some evidence should be given more weight than other evidence.  Anyway, you use circumstantial evidence when you provide evidence that supports your conclusions indirectly.  An example: "If Microsoft doesnt even have the power to protect its brand or the image of its founder, do you really think it has the power to overturn a vote that cuts across this many people?"  This is a good use of evidence, albeit circumstantial evidence.  The Norwegian issue:(http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9907542-7.html)The CPI index:http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2007  (I don't have the time to do the analysis, so here is the raw data on the CPI index and readers can do it themselves.)Regards,Michael

Apr 15, 2008 3:39 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Michael:You indicate you are an attorney but not where you practice so Im not sure what rules apply where you are. Here the burden of proof is on the accuser in a crime, and you argue that Microsoft has committed one. Yet while you point to improper process, which I agree with, there is yet no conclusive evidence of illegal behavior in this instance otherwise ISO would reverse the decision. In defending someone, if I can show that someone is unlikely to be able to do something that carries more weight because the prosecution has the burden of proof. This is because it is incredibly difficult to prove someone didnt do something. For most things if the standard of reasonable doubt was applied you couldnt. That is why, here anyway, we require the burden be on the prosecution. For the CPI study, as you likely know this is a survey based on perceptions of corruption. There is no apparent connection between this survey and the people who voted except that they come from the countries ranked and rated. Even if they were identified as personally corrupt at the time of the survey, and there is no apparent direct connection in evidence, there is no evidence they acted in a corrupt fashion in this instance. I doubt a court would even allow you to present this unless you could link the results more strongly to the voters, and the link to Microsoft is non-existent. As a lawyer you should know better. Is it possible to try to damage a witness with something like this? Sure, I doubt youd get away with it though unless the opposing attorney was an idiot. Now knowing that the vote would be put under a microscope and that their use of incentives on an earlier vote (something that is way too common in a lot of elections and often not illegal) compromised those results do you think Microsoft is stupid enough to do something illegal in this instance? Dont get me wrong, big companies can do some incredibly stupid things, but this would have to set a record for stupid. Did they likely game the process? Yes, but IBM and others were clearly gaming it against them and this speaks to a broken process not an illegal act. In addition, Google is the champion of gaming things and there are few big companies that survive that dont learn how to game things. But, my primary point, which we still didnt really get to, was does it matter if Microsoft is innocent. In your response I would say that it doesnt, the only thing that matters is your perception that they are guilty. To me that is wrong, the only thing that should matter is whether there was actual wrongdoing. If companies or people are simply convicted because people believe they are guilty we have witch trials and a world I dont want to live in. Reply
Apr 16, 2008 3:25 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Michael: Corruption here and overseas is criminal it is just unevenly enforced. But the charge of corruption can do tremendous damage regardless of its truth and the Court of Public Opinion does that a lot. You are charging a lot of people with corruption based almost solely on your belief that OOXML should not have been approved. You could be wrong and they could have made an honest mistake. Given the complexity involved there are probably only a handful of people who are qualified to determine whether ODF or OOXML are better (and Ill bet in all cases the response will be conditional) let alone whether OOXML should have been approved by ISO. One of them would be the editor of ODF who actually came out in support of OOXML (you'll note he writes that ODF is incomplete). Ive already pointed to the published report that concluded the same. According to Corel, who I personally questioned, OOXML is better (though they wisely support both). The one thing clearly different to me is that OOXML received vastly more scrutiny than ODF did and if the process is broken I wonder why we dont go back and take a harder look at ODF as well? That report I cited in the initial piece seems to suggest such a look is in fact warranted. You can tell I dont believe in the Court of Public Opinion it is often dreadfully wrong, another example is that according that court Iraq had WMDs, how many have now died because that court got this fact very wrong? Finally, the Court of Public Opinion generically holds that attorneys are some the least trustworthy of people. There is even a product line called Lawyers Stink. I would think, given your career choice, youd be less supportive of this Court than I am. Given analysts often are held in low regard as well you would think we could agree that this court isnt particularly reliable. Reply
Apr 16, 2008 4:27 PM Nelson Nelson  says:
Rob,I guess you don't see how pathetic you look changing the subject and then resorting to lawyer jokes rather than addressing Michael's points. Reply
Apr 16, 2008 4:49 PM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Nelson:List the points I didn't address please. And point out the joke I told. Finally, what subject do you think this post is about? Reply
Apr 17, 2008 10:05 AM Michael Michael  says:
This will be my last post. I hope. Again, this is a useful conversation.Regarding the Iraq war, it was the administration and the intelligence community that got things wrong - not the court of public opinion. The court of public opinion (worldwide) was against the war. The court of public opinion in the US was fairly split (despite the bad data received from the administration and intelligence community).Regarding the court of public opinion and lawyers' reputations, the court may be right. I just do my job as best I can :-) and hope I can positively influence the court's opinion. Although I don't find the relevance linking to a site that sells anti-lawyer stuff, but I'll keep in in mind.I don't recall mentioning ODF in my posts. The question isn't whether OOXML is better or worse than ODF. The question is whether OOXML should have become an ISO standard according to the proper criteria. OOXML may very well be better than ODF (e.g., offer more features as the Burton group describes) and OOXML may become the de facto standard. But that doesn't mean it should have become an ISO standard. Adopting OOXML may very well help the ODF standard develop (the reason the ODF editor wanted OOXML adopted). Uh, but I don't remember that being a criteria for actual adoption of an ISO standard. I can understand, however, why the ODF editor would want OOXML to become a standard for the reasons he gave. In a hypothetical antitrust case against MS, you would not have to prove corruption (e.g., MS buying a vote) beyond a reasonable doubt. You would have to show corruption (or improper influence) by a preponderance of the evidence (e.g., 50.1%). In a hypothetical criminal corruption case where someone may go to jail, then, yes, you would have to show corruption beyond a reasonable doubt.A murder trial requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction. A wrongful death civil suit (where only money is at stake) only requires a preponderance of the evidence. This is why OJ is free but broke. Crazy, I know.I'm sure at this point nobody is actually reading my post.Regards,Ken Reply
Apr 17, 2008 10:42 AM Michael Michael  says:
Oh, I singed the last post "Ken," which is my name as well. Regards,Michael Reply
Apr 17, 2008 11:23 AM John Obeto John Obeto  says:
Rob,You are very right in stating that a review of the ODF specification process might be warranted. It is.While OOXML has been scrutinized to a microscopic degree, ODF has been given a pass. In fact, there wasn't a BRM called for ODF, and the comments slated for resolution at the certification of ODF remain unresolved even as of today.It is somewhat alarming to see 'Michael, Ken' slam OOXML as technically unfit when he does not elucidate us as to his technical expertise in making such a statement, leading to my characterization of his statements on the technical merits of OOXML as regurgitating the party-line anti-OOXML propaganda spewed forth just t elicit laughs.Finally, I was able to get some answers to a couple of questions about the ISO process as relates to Microsoft's activites : http://absolutevista.com/blogs/absolutevista/archive/2008/04/16/ooxml-rumors-innuendos-and-outright-lies.aspx Reply

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