Balisage Paper: Markup ethics: Trolley problems for text encoders
Allen H. Renear
University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign
Allen Renear is the dean of the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include information organization and access, particularly the development of formal ontologies for cultural and scientific objects and the application of those ontologies in information system design, scholarly publishing, and data curation in the sciences and humanities.
We are engineering; we are solving problems, improving reliability, effectiveness, efficiency. But more generally encoding decisions determine whether, how, how much, when, and for whom the information in our documents will be useful. This seems to be important not just instrumentally, but with respect to larger human interests as well, or even to the very largest human interests. Just how else to explain the earnestness, anger, fear, and tears one sees at Balisage? But problems abound, and some tradeoffs appear not just incalculable, but incommensurable. Left track or right?