The Mail

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

Some use of imagination might relieve the CRIMSON's concern over the new Social Relations Department regulation. As the CRIMSON rightly sees it, the main issue is one of preserving anonymity of private information, in the same way that the National Census protects individual informants. There is a certain kind of information, however, which a writer promises not to print if it is told him; it is useful mainly to help clarify his thinking on the subject. It is similar to a newspaper's "Off the record" interviews. It is the information which, for example, an important national official may tell a senior who is writing in his field--this is the case of one thesis which I know well--so as to set him straight. It would be embarrassing if this could be traced; by "embarrassing" the regulation not only means that it would be unpleasant to the official and destructive to his policies, it also means that no information would come from that source again.

Sometimes though it has to be available to a limited number of scholars in the field, to set them straight, lest they criticize the poor thesis writer for drawing conclusions from information which they themselves do not have. This is what "restricted use" means.

The CRIMSON has made two other suggestions: that the Social Relations Department should not accept invalid conclusions; that press distortion be avoided by clear writing. One might remark that this is a little like being against sin. In any case these suggestions call for policies which should show some experience in trying to implement specific plans. If the CRIMSON would maintain its generally advanced level of journalism its editors would do well to investigate first what that experience has been. Sheldon H. Edelstein   Teaching Fellow in Social Relations

1. The case of the official who gives confidential information. Since the value of the thesis does not depend on who gave the information, the thesis-writer can call him simply "a government source," and any "scholar" who really wants to know the informant's name can write to the author requesting it. It is certainly absurd to restrict a whole thesis just because one small part of it is attributed to a man whose name need not be used. When a newspaper gets an "off-the-record" interview, it either uses the material without giving the interviewee's name or runs nothing; it certainly does not write a story and lock it away in a safe.


2. The case of newspaper distortion. Since the purpose of the Social Relations Department is to find general principles of behavior, and the purpose of newspaper features is to cater to the psychological needs of their readers there is bound to be some distortion when a newspaper runs a feature about a Soc Rel thesis. However, a newspaper is unlikely to run such a feature unless either (a) the general principles uncovered are of great importance and/or interest, or (b) there are interesting facts about some person, place, or thing which is known to the reading public. In the first case, the publicity is good. In the second case, the publicity is good if the facts are shown to be a result of the unique nature of the person, place, or thing; it is bad if the thesis implies the facts are a result of such a unique nature, when in fact the only reason for believing them to be so is that only one person, place, or thing was studied. This last case could easily be taken care of under the rule requiring anonymity in all cases except where the name of the person, place, or thing is essential to the value of the thesis.