Thursday, April 10, 2008

Things I Can't Talk About

If you're a regular reader, you've probably noticed that I haven't been posting as much as usual lately. Unfortunately, that's because I've been spending too much time on things I can't talk about.

Specifically, for much of the last two weeks, I was at a trial in San Francisco as an expert witness. Luckily, one week of it was during Harvard's spring break, so I didn't miss too much class time. But the case naturally took almost all of my energy and work hours. Not only did I not have much time to blog, but I didn't even have much time to think about things to blog about. Hopefully, that will change, and I'll soon be back to my usual self.

A natural topic to blog about, of course, would be about what it was like being an expert witness. Such a topic fits within the scope of the blog. But the case is just still too close. Instead of talking in generalities, which I think is reasonable and still professional, I'd run the risk of discussing specifics, of either the case, the client, or the attorneys I worked with -- which I definitely think is not, especially in a blog context.

As I pondered this dilemma, it occurred to me that there are plenty of other things still within the realm of professional life that I can't (or, to be clear, I choose not to) talk about. Details of PC meetings is not suitable blog material, as are details of the meetings of our CS faculty search committee -- and pretty much the last few weeks, when I wasn't busy with the case, I was busy with the ICALP PC or the CS search! Nor are discussions of my work on the "Administrative Board", Harvard's rule-enforcing body, for which every case is meant to be entirely confidential. Heck, we aren't even supposed to talk about what NSF panel we serve on when we serve on NSF panels, which I find a bit extreme. (Who couldn't figure that out if they wanted to?)

It is frustrating, since part of the reason I started to blog was because I like to talk about things. But especially because a blog is a public, permanent record, there are interesting, worthwhile, and even entertaining topics... that I can't discuss.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

OFF TOPIC:

Some time ago you had thought about blogging on what CS theory/algo/"practical theory" books to own/read. I think that would be a great fun topic.

Anonymous said...

it's even worse if you work in industry. After you've signed NDA, you cannot say a lot of things

Anonymous said...

OFF TOPIC:
why does track A of ICALP have so many more papers than track B (and maybe track C)?
Automata, Languages, Programming...
what a big misnomer...

Harry Lewis said...

Writing Excellence Without a Soul after I left the dean's office was a challenge for exactly this reason. I combed the news archives, cited public reports I knew were accurate, and omitted public reports I knew were false. That's why the book has a ton of endnotes, to immunize me against charges I was revealing secrets. But this way of proceeding poses an interesting philosophical question: whether selectively citing only true reports was revealing secrets or not! I figured at that level, especially for a professor, free speech wins.

Anonymous said...

Anonym 3: I know that this was so just after ICALP split into two tracks: the ratio of the number of accepted papers over the number of submitted papers was similar in both tracks. The reason why track A has so many more papers is that there have been so many more submissions.

Now it might be different but I still believe that the ratio is kept similar in tracks A and B; I have no clue about track C (Leslie posted the number of submitted papers to track A and the acceptance ratio was close to 25% or so, but I didn't see the number of submissions to the other tracks).

David said...

I worked with the third person down for a while. He has a Ph.D. from Stanford [mech.e.; he's a controls guy; he said his thesis research was basically taking deaf people and pushing them to see how well they recovered; really, though, he's a nice guy] and was an expert witness for a while. He eventually bailed on it though because it was SO time consuming and hard on him as a person. Now, he's in Tucson acting in cheesy plays and designing missiles.

Anonymous said...

OFF TOPIC:

I also want to see topics mentioned by anon1 (and I think many others do too).

Anonymous said...

sort of on topic:
I'd like to see some more information about what's involved in acting as an 'expert witness'. In general terms, what is involved? Is it a rewarding (intellectually or financially) activity? Can you give pointers to reports of any cases you have been involved in (presumably this generally information in the public record)?

Graham

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Hey Graham -- I might put together a general post on the "expert witness" experience sometime, if I think I can do it in a suitable way. Your better bet is to find me at a conference sometime and ask me about it.