Looking at ethics

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Language Loggers haven’t posted much on the category of ethics lately, so this may be a good time to announce a panel called “Ethical Issues in Forensic Linguistic Consulting,” which will take place at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America from January 8 to 11 at the San Francisco Hilton. I will chair a panel that includes professors Geoffrey Nunberg, Gail Stygall, Ronald Butters, Edward Finegan, and Janet Ainsworth.

The panel believes that as more and more linguists are being called upon to consult or give expert witness testimony in civil and criminal law cases, a number of ethical issues need to be addressed. This is especially important information for linguists who may be taking on their first consulting assignments in this area. In a three-hour session, this panel will address the following issues in particular, although other topics may also arise:

1. Is it inappropriate to discuss or publish linguistic findings that arise in law case research without giving full disclosure that one has been paid (or worked pro bono) as a consultant on the case?

2. What are the implications of the adversarial nature of legal proceedings on the scholar’s devotion to truth and the legal requirement to tell not only the truth but also the “whole” truth about what the scholar finds?

3. What problems are arising from the court’s relatively low bar for linguistic expertise? What sort of expertise or credential is required for one to legitimately act as a linguistics expert? And what do we do when linguistic opinion crosses the line and seems to be mere common sense?

4. What sort and how much training in linguistics does a linguist need in order to be helpful to lawyers in their cases?

5. Should LSA take an official position on any of these issues? Some other academic fields have constructed codes of ethics for working in the legal context. Should there be an LSA Code of Ethics to govern linguists who work on law cases?

Should be a rousing session. See you in January.

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