The Courage to Sign Your Work

A Tweet from Australian harm reduction veteran, Alex Wodak, got me thinking tonight.

Firstly, I agree that those lobbying govt for e-cig bans should do it in the open. This allows stakeholders to respond. Democracy does not thrive behind closed doors.

Open debate is important but the theme that lingered with me was signing our work, putting our name to our contributions. Alex was one of forty experts who signed a letter calling for the sale of dilute nicotine for e-cigarettes to be made legal in Australia. Another member of that group is a researcher from Cancer Council Victoria. He spoke to media in opposition to his employers policy. That takes courage.

Anonymous actors on both sides of the e-cigarette debate

Cancer Council Australia’s out of date position statement on e-cigarettes doesn’t list its authors and many vaping advocates Tweet using a pseudonym. Without calling into question people’s motivations for this I’d like to share some thoughts about whether it’s really necessary and how using real names to sign our work might improve public debate.

The case for anonymity

I don’t know why organisations attribute authorship to some documents and not others. It would be great if someone with experience in this area could share some insight.

I think most Twitter pseudonyms are probably intended to protect the individual from unknown or imagined danger. What harms do people worry might come from tweeting under your own name? Harrassment, bullying, crazy stalkers, lawsuits? Australian vapers might also worry about arrest given it’s illegal to possess nicotine for e-cigs without a prescription.

Do people have other reasons?

The note on my windshield wasn’t signed

We’ve all seen them right? Passive aggressive (or downright aggressive aggressive) notes left on windsheilds. There’s nothing like anger and anonymity to inspire stern words for a careless parker. A few years ago when I was involved in reforming a high kill animal shelter I returned from a Council meeting to such a note.

aggressive note

That one came as a bit of a shock at the time!

Later, I wondered how different the note, and my reaction, would have been if the author had signed it. She or he probably would have waited till the red mist cleared for a start. Knowing the sender might have also made it feel less threatening.

I decided to sign any note I left for someone. Sometimes I also leave my phone number. I feel vulunerable giving an unseen stranger my name and phone number but in our vulnerability lies some of our humanity.

We Do Better When We Sign Our Work

It’s only human to feel a range of emotions. I can relate to feeling angry when I see people saying things about e-cigarettes that they know are not true. I also know that anger unchecked derails discussion and can be toxic.

Whether you’re advocating for or against e-cigarettes, think about how putting your name to it would (or does) influence your output. It may not be completely safe but then nothing it right?

I’d love to see some discussion about this on the Twitters.

  • Mike Bailey

Sign your work

We expect authors, painters and singers to identify themselves, to sign the work they do.

And surgeons and lawyers as well.

What about managers, committee members, engineers and everyone else who makes something? Who made this policy? Who designed this menu? Who approved this project?

If you’re not proud of it, don’t ship it. If you are, sign your work and own the results. We’ll know who to thank. If you work for a place where work goes unsigned (internally, in particular) it’s worth asking why.

  • Seth Godin, 2014