It’s not Bias, It’s Discrimination


A trade association has blasted the Massachusetts Information and Technology Division (IDT) for requesting a plug-in for Microsoft’s Office Suite, seizing on the issue as evidence that the state’s policy of mandating the OpenDocument Format (ODF) is “a biased, open source-only preference policy.”

This is false: what the state of Massachusetts is doing is not bias, it is discrimination, and it is what citizens should expect from their government. Preferring open standards is a thoughtful, discriminatory policy.

Unfortunately, the word “discrimination” has grown tentacles over the past 30 years; it is high time for English speakers to reclaim the original sense of the word: to make wise choices between options. To say that someone is “discriminating” was at one time one of the highest of compliments; the civil rights movement has unfortunately (and unwittingly) done the English language a misservice by turning “discrimination” into an accursed word.



It is perfectly reasonable for Microsoft to argue that discrimination against Microsoft Office because it doesn’t support the Open Document Format should fall under the category of “bad” discrimination: that’s a question of public policy. But it certainly isn’t bad simply because it is discriminatory.

Atom Feed for Comments 4 Responses to “It’s not Bias, It’s Discrimination”

  1. Robert Accettura Says:

    1. Discrimination is typically to differentiate or give preference “without regard to individual merit”. This is *explicitly* in regard to merit, and that alone. Discrimination is almost always against a trait that can’t be reasonably changed (age, race, nationality, sex, religion, gender), and depending on your locality you may have additional protected factors (genetics, sexual orientation, etc.). This is in regards to a feature… it can easily be fixed by Microsoft, just like an person can get certified before applying to a job that requires said certification. That’s clearly not discrimination… it’s a job requirement, and a protected by law. The requirement is protected if it’s necessary for the job. For example a doctors office could require an applicant for a nurse be RN. But that’s employment law.

    2. It more likely be discrimination to use MS Office, since it is a proprietary format, with barriers to compatibility. It also forces future purchases to be Microsoft based… which is obviously unethical, and monopolizing.

    There’s no good reason why MS couldn’t support Open Document Format, and be 100% in the game with Open Office.

  2. mawrya Says:

    Nice to see someone else understands the positive definition of discrimination. I have noticed the “negative” use of the word has started to creep into the dictionaries and certainly is the commonly accepted definition. The main dictionary definition is broad enough to include discerment on all points, with regard to individual merit and beyond. The “negative” definition explicitly states “without regard to individual merit”, which obviously can lead to conflicts with the more broad, traditional definition.

    Unfortunately, the use of discrimination has now been religated to full-time crimination duty, which is just plain criminal. Everyone discriminates everyday about all sorts of things and all sorts of people, which for the most part good.

  3. l3v1 Says:

    This “bias”ed argument is so freaking stupid I can’t even comprehend there are people on this planet that would thoughtfully believe such a matter and agree with it. Of course there is nothing new under the Sun. And of course, what some PR people put down in writing has usually nothing to do with reality, truth or objectivity, only with convincing people and spreading buzzwords that will raise suspicion in themind of the people regarding the target entity mentioned in the argument. And in that, these people are just superb. We would just need to educate (in the good sense) people about what choice is, and that _including_ an extra format for Word to handle actually broadens the usability of Word not reduces it. They should just be happy that they can still use Word and still be able to handle both .doc and .odt. But, as usual, people are sheep and the shepard is _very_ good in hypnosis.

  4. Tony Says:

    Judicial activism, congressional ignorance, and misinterpretation of our founding documents has run so far from sanity I hardly believe we live under the rule of law any more. When our current president infamously ignores the rule of law and spies on his own citizens, and a lone judge can arrogantly assume the responsibility for banning the mere mention of intelligent design in a local classroom, it is time for weeping and outrage.

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