[ExI] can seti have marcy?

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Mon Oct 19 09:14:12 UTC 2015

On 2015-10-19 00:58, Dan TheBookMan wrote:
> That said, if the allegations are true and we agree that this type of 
> behavior is inappropriate for someone in his former position, then 
> perhaps we should be considering just what he should be allowed to do. 
> I mean should his error here, which didn't rise to the level of 
> criminal behavior -- or so it seems -- mean he's barred forever from 
> astronomy? Is it possible to find a place for him somewhere or find a 
> way to rehabilitate such folks?
This is an interesting problem. How much should the reputation of bad 
behaviour follow a person? If I slip up and make a fool of myself or 
fall for a big temptation, presumably the error was temporary and in the 
future I am relatively likely to be reliable - especially in different 
situations. If I often act in a sleazy way, presumably this is more of a 
personality trait and can be expected to repeat. If I claim I have 
understood the error of my ways and changed them, it is an attempted 
signal that (1) I have modified my behavior and (2) I would very much 
like a clean slate reputation. Whether it is believed often depends on 
how it is signalled: costly displays are often believed.

Note that sexual harassment is unrelated to astronomy skill: it is bad 
interpersonal behaviour, but very unlike research misconduct. So even a 
researcher who is unrepentant might do excellent research and no harm as 
long as they are in a context where harassment cannot occur. However, we 
humans tend to have a halo effect bias: if you are bad in one domain of 
life, we tend to think you are bad in other domains too. This is pretty 
erroneous, but a real practical problem.

Finally, reputations have become far more global and persistent than in 
the past. In the old days, if I messed up in Oxford I could always 
escape to New Zealand. Now they got Google there too. This means that 
the forgiveness and reputation update mechanisms we have evolved are 
likely now too harsh (on the other hand, defectors cannot thrive by 
moving on). Jon Ronson 's "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" deals with 
how we now have amped up public shaming to levels undreamed of in past 

The must unfair aspect is that it is random: most of the time people say 
and do stupid or evil things and nothing happens, but occasionally it 
blows up. This kind of random punishment schedule is far more 
frightening and unfair than one that was proportional and reliable.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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