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060901: Ethical Discipline and Weasels
Ed’s Threads 060901
Musings by Ed Korczynski on 1 September 2006

Ethical Discipline and Weasels
Earlier this week, a well-informed individual mentioned to me that many fabs are diluting toxic greenhouse gas emissions instead of properly abating them with plasma-burning or catalytic scrubbers. In certain conditions they fulfill the “letter of the law” while clearly violating the “spirit of the law.” Some may have ignorance as an excuse, but some are just weasels.

Whether directly stealing the fruit of others’ labors, indirectly skimming profit, or maintaining an unearned position of power, I define a weasel as someone who deliberately lies to others for personal advantage. A weasel doesn’t build anything and doesn’t help anyone else. A weasel always takes the low-road in looking for eggs to suck.

David Lepegian while CEO of HPL Technologies used white-out and fax machines to send himself bogus purchase orders …during which time he was trying to sell the company. Now a few years later the technology from HPL—as well as the TestChip technology HPL had acquired—resides with Synopsys so it may again provide value to end-users. For many years, however, the work of many honest technologists was ruined by the poisoned atmosphere left behind by a weasel.

My colleague M. David Levenson reminded me of the tragic case of Jan Hendrik Schon who seemingly falsified data to win and secure a place in one of the last ivory towers. In this case, the peer-review process took a few years to catch the lies. Peers discovered the lack of reproducibility in his experimental results, and also noticed suspicious similarities in data sets purportedly derived from independent experiments. Credulity had been stretched to the point of breaking, and we finally had to recognize that a weasel was in our midst.

There are well established standards of social interaction that guide the behavior of individuals within a group. The expectation of honest personal reporting of one’s impressions of what we like to call “reality” is the entire basis for society. If I trust no one, then at best I end up as a pathetic recluse like Howard Hughes. General Semanticists examine the meaning of language, and they explain that, “The language of a scientific orientation is designed to be factually meaningful, directly or indirectly, and clear and valid. It is intended to satisfy two important tests: ‘What do you mean?’ and ‘How do you know?’”

As in a thesis defense in college, you are responsible for stating your case and arguing your perspective using honest data. You do not have to articulate weaknesses in your arguments, but you must not deliberately mislead by omission. What do you mean when you say that your fab’s exhaust gases are within compliance? How do you measure it? Are you diluting toxic gases or really abating them?

A high-tech industry must be based on rigorous science and driven by disciplined engineering. Both research and development must ensure complete intolerance to infiltration by weasels. They just suck up resources, and then leave a big mess when they’re inevitably caught with egg on their face.

Whenever friends and I discuss the actions of weasels, we invariable reach a point where someone questions what the weasel could have been thinking…how could they have not known that it was only a matter of time before they would be caught? This is logical thinking, and our only conclusion is that weasels must not think logically but instead react emotionally to fear and greed and the other classic negative emotions. It’s good that we aren’t plagued by too many weasels, and we remember to keep checking to purge any that sneak in.

— ed

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060901: Ethical Discipline and Weasels

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Ed's Threads is the weekly web-log of SST Sr. Technical Editor Ed Korczynski's musings on the topics of semiconductor manufacturing technology and business. Ed received a degree in materials science and engineering from MIT in 1984, and after process development and integration work in fabs, he held applications, marketing, and business development roles at OEMs. Ed won editorial awards from ASBPE, including interviews with Gordon Moore and Jim Morgan, and is not lacking for opinions.