Friday, October 12, 2012

The Limits Of Scientific Confidentiality

All in all, I’m fairly happy with my decisions about what to write and what not to write on the blog about not-quite-public results about the Higgs. There’s been a certain amount of criticism about the terrible violations of confidentiality involved, but I can’t help pointing out that the things I was writing about were at the time known to the majority of the HEP community: the 6000 physicists on ATLAS and CMS. Carroll has this to to report about the confidentiality question:
I asked one physicist whether the results that ATLAS was getting were generally known within CMS, and vice versa. “Are you kidding?” I was told with a laugh. “Half of ATLAS is sleeping with half of CMS. Of course they know!”
From Not Even Wrong.

Lawyers have long been aware of these kinds of issues and have developed ethical standards for addressing them in their own profession, the official commentary to the analogous ethical rule:

When lawyers representing different clients in the same matter or in substantially related matters are closely related by blood or marriage or when there is a cohabiting relationship between the lawyers, there may be a significant risk that client confidences will  be revealed and that the lawyer's family or cohabiting relationship will interfere with both loyalty and independent professional judgment.  As a result, each client is entitled to know of the existence and implications of the relationship between the lawyers before the lawyer agrees to undertake the representation.  thus, a lawyer related to another lawyer, e.g., as parent, child, sibling or spouse (or in a cohabiting relationship with anothe lawyer,) ordinarily may not represent a client in a matter where that lawyer is representing another party, unless each client gives informed consent.  the disqualification arising from a close family relationship or a cohabiting relationship is personal and ordinarily is not imputed to members of firms with whom the lawyers are associated. . . . A lawyer is prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with a client unless the sexual relationship predates the formation of the client-lawyer relationship.

Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7, Official Comment Paragraphs 10 and 11 (this is identical to the official commentary to the American Bar Assocation's Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  Almost every U.S. jurisdiction uses the Model Rules, or the predecessor set of Model ethics guidelines for attorneys promulgated by the ABA, as the starting point for their own rules governing ethics for lawyers).

Other parts of the official commentary to the ethical rules for lawyers explains that for lawyers representing organizations, relationships with certain individuals in the organizations have the same effect as if that individual, rather than the organization that the individual is affiliated with, were the client.

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