Public commitments

This page is a public announcement of principles that might not be the norm in academia, but which I personally plan to follow. I want to be someone who does good things, but when a good thing is not typical, I find it all too easy to talk myself out of doing it. So, I am announcing some unusual-but-good intentions on this page in the hopes that, even if nobody reads them, the very act of publicly committing to these principles will later add some psychological pressure to follow through on the commitment. I got the idea for this page while reading through the links at Professor Benjamin Kuipers's webpage. Some essays that obviously particularly influenced me are here and here.

Ground rules

1. To be included on this page, a commitment needs to:
  • Feel like something that I'll be more likely to do if I pre-commit to it
  • Be specific enough that pre-committing might actually make it more likely
  • Not be so obvious that it should go without saying (like "be a good ally" or "grade fairly" or "don't p-hack")
  • Be related to my work, since this is a work-related website
  • Represent some kind of moral commitment

  • 2. Whenever I modify the substance of a commitment, I will leave a changelog of what change I made and why. I may correct typos or make minor wording changes without leaving a record.

    3. I kindly ask that you please never quote text at length from this page. Commitments can change over time and this is a living webpage that I intend to update as I (hopefully) gain experience and wisdom. If you want to tell someone about something here, please link to the page so that they see my most recent way of expressing the thought.


    0. [Meta-Pledge] I will not conceal or play down any of these commitments for practical reasons.

    1. I will not do any work that is funded by a military, by an organization that does substantial work as a military contractor, or by any group that mainly exists to do violence, and I will not work on topics that have obvious military applications. As a political scientist I fully recognize that the boundaries here are fuzzy, but I think my meaning is obvious enough.

    2. I will not post critical evaluations of research publicly in a forum that is not designed for evaluating research. This means I will never @ you on Twitter because I don't like your research design. Constructive critical engagement in peer-reviewed articles, or even in appropriate spaces online like blogs about research, remains in-bounds.

    3. I will not accept merit awards for my research, I will not nominate research for a merit award, and I will not serve on committees to distribute merit awards for research. I believe that these awards are damaging and inaccurate heuristics, because personal networks have an unknown (and by most accounts extremely large) influence on these decisions, and yet merit awards are treated as an important signal of research quality. A major exception to this rule is monetary grants or institutional affiliations that happen to call themselves awards or fellowships. If the main purpose of the award is to give you money to do future research, or to give you an affiliation with a group that can help you do better research, then the value of the award speaks for itself, though I still stress that such awards should not be used as heuristics for research quality. I also do not have the same concerns about awards for teaching or service, which I think are healthy incentives to do otherwise under-valued work.

    4. I will not upload garbage to the internet in a professional capacity. In spaces that I control online, I will not share material that is designed to capture your attention without engaging your brain. When I put something online it's because I hope someone will find it interesting or useful or funny or poignant: I think it will add value to your life. I will never put something publicly online just to get attention, or to fuel controversy, or to make a quick buck, or to gather information about you. That includes this website, the Wikipedia pages I spend a lot of time writing, Tweets, blog posts, and even journal articles.

    5. I will not use GitHub, except when I have no choice (sadly I do sometimes need to contribute to a project that is already integrated with GitHub and that I am not empowered to move to a different platform, but I will not join new things on GitHub). I am partly acting in solidarity with those who have protested GitHub's unethical contracts, but that episode actually caused me to realize that I don't think open source software development is always an ethical good in the world as it is. There are enough people doing evil things that I actually do want to control how my code is used.

    6. I will not share pictures of myself for use in a professional context. How I look is not relevant to what I do professionally, and I do not want my appearance and my work to be associated any more than they have to be. If for some reason you want to associate me with a picture in a professional context, I am happy to brainstorm a cool picture you can use in whatever materials you're putting together. This rule includes situations where the purpose of the picture is for people to recognize me: if someone doesn't know who I am or where to find me, they can just ask.

    This page was last modified on 2022 August 3 by Samuel Baltz