Friday, February 14, 2014

Ethics Issue

I'm going to offer a long read here from Grantland.  Take a look at the article and please answer the poll.  The short version: someone wants to write an article about the amazing putter this woman created.  He starts to investigate her, and finds out she's a transsexual and much of her background was falsified.  The Dr later kills herself.  Obviously there's a lot more to the story than that.

You can find more information by googling Dr V Putter.

I found a compelling argument here, but I think some of his premises are false, or at least stretches.

There's no way of knowing why Dr V made up her history but how would you reconcile the fact that you transitioned with the fact that it's nobody's business but your own?  Why did the reporter feel the need to investigate the subject's background anyway?  The article was about an invention.  The inventor requested privacy.  And once he uncovered the information, why did he feel compelled to publish it?  If the inventor was a university professor and the digging uncovered the fact that he was raised as a satanist, would that be considered relevant?

So outing the subject....  Is it taboo, OK sometimes but not here, OK here, but mostly not, or always fair game?

For the record, I'm not convinced the story is directly related to the suicide.


  1. I voted "OK sometimes, but not here" and I think I should explain. I think it is OK to out a hypocrite...especially a politically or financially powerful one. If a politician has taken a firm public stance against alternate lifestyles (including transgender ones) and the reporter discovers he is transgender himself, I think revealing that fact is important to the community he serves.

  2. Meg -

    Researching the advertised credentials for background would be OK, but outing the person would not be OK.

    In short, everyone has a right to start a new life, but not to falsely advertise one has credentials that one doesn't have when promoting one's product....


  3. Meg -

    This is a complex issue. My feeling in this matter is that "Dr. V." should not have misrepresented herself - even if it meant that her invention would not be taken seriously. The issue of her being transgender is immaterial at this point. Assuming everything being claimed by Dr. V. about her background were true, then the reporter would be totally wrong for outing Dr. V.

    The complexity enters the issue when Dr. V.'s credentials are shown to be fake. At this point, everything becomes fair game - at the expense of ruining the reputation of Dr. V.'s invention. Where should a reporter draw the line? Even the issue of Dr. V. being transgender comes into play - could her status be used for fraud? In this case, probably not - the design of the equipment is solid - the putter works as advertised. But a line has been crossed somewhere.

    Dr. V. has a part being played here as well. She talked to a reporter, knowing that most things are fair game. One can't easily say "don't follow your leads, wherever they take you" when the story being written is about you and your product. So why share of yourself, and give a reporter ammunition?

    This leads us to what the responsibility of a reporter should be. Was the point that DR. V. was transgender material to the story? If Dr. V. said nothing about her past, or said everything (making sure that all claims about her past could be verified), then being transgender would be a non issue, and it should not have been reported without permission. But here is a case where a person's identity (possibly falsely claimed experiences, degrees, etc.) directly affects or affected the marketing of a product. Can we expect a reported not to chase down all leads? Can we expect a reported NOT to limit him/her self in these cases?

    In this case, there are only fuzzy gray lines - and I could have different opinions depending on the day of the week. And sadly, Dr. V. is not around to tell her side of the story....



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