The Value of Anonymity

Mike Metz
October 16, 2018

Unless you are a hermit (hermitess?), you have heard about and read the anonymous “inside resistance” op-ed published during the first week of September.  An anonymous senior member of the President’s staff wrote to the New York Times.[1]  The editorial was quite blunt and critical.  The Times was asked to allow it to be printed anonymously. They agreed.

There are a number of questions about the veracity of the piece, about the background of the writer or writers, and about the anonymity. I suspect there are varying opinions of these as well as other factors.  But, I think there are more basic issues.

While one can legitimately argue political, economic, and other issues, I would ask the following question. If the source were legitimate, the topics important, the opinions controversial, and the likely consequences severe, what could possibly be wrong or frightful with an anonymous publication? In other words, is there any situations that would justify anonymity?  Conversely, are there opinions that, when expresses, are served differently with no anonymity?

I think we would agree that opinions offered carry different weight depending who is offering. This semantic weighting changes the value that is placed on opinion. We tend to believe an opinion if it is offered by someone we have trusted in the past, or by someone our experience tells us holds similar views as ours.  Many times, we are more apt to agree with opinions that match our own view of things. It’s like laying off the responsibility on some authority who ought to know about what they are talking.  (You can google that if you don’t agree.)

While these thoughts are interesting when considering political situations, there are less obvious issues that might arise when it comes to audiology practices.  I offer the following short list of topics which, I believe, involves issues in our field which are influenced or could be altered by anonymity.


Claims by manufacturers


One has to always view advertising with a jaundiced eye.  Claims of benefits are often greatly exaggerated in lots of ads, including those used by all manufacturers.  After all, who would advertise minimal benefits, situations when the drugs or devices won’t work very well, and high costs?  If one adds in the “usual expectations” to the coming OTC/DIY devices, we might expect even more misleading claims.  Anonymity in these situations leaves a lot of room for “plausible deniability”.


Value of clinical services versus data


Every clinician can speak forcefully on the benefits of the services they can provide.  I suspect that in many of these situations, this “talk is cheap”.  But, rehabilitation, especially when insufficiently reimbursed, may not be dispensed in appropriate manner much of the time.  When goals, outcomes and data are not properly documented in patient records, this claim becomes anonymous.


Claims of long-term benefits


There is good work in attempting to associate inadequate hearing with long-term life effects.  And there is a modicum of truth in statements like “hearing your grandchildren”, the “isolation” of hearing loss, and “preserving mental function”.  Is anyone able to predict these effects?  Does anyone undertake clinical measures to assess these claims.  Or, is this a claim best left in the “lots of people say” category? Anonymity?


Significant versus meaningful research results


I often recommend a book about numbers and statistics that help people get a better grasp on what these basic concepts really mean.[2]  One of my favorite examples from this little book involves the concept of meaningful.

            Example:         The question:  Do you have an average number of feet?

                                    Most people answer “yes”.  This is incorrect.  Do you know why?

Lots of research produces lots of significant results.  Some of the time, this significance is meaningless.  Meaningless might be a form of anonymity.


Anonymity or not.


Would the op-ed of Sept 5th from the New York Times hold more value if the writer of the piece identified him- or herself?  Despite the assumption that she or he would probably be out of a job by now if the piece contained the author’s name, how much credibility would that name have added. What if the name were “leaked”, would your credibility be affected to the same degree?  Could it be that there is no name?  In that case, what’s your credibility level?

Sometimes, anonymity might be the only way that important information is communicated without terrible consequences to the informer.  Sometimes, anonymity is unnecessary.  The defining—and most important—factor is truthfulness. 



[1] I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration, Accessed at, Sept. 5, 2018

[2] Blastland, Michael and Dilnot, Andrew. The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life.  December 26, 2008, Penguin Press.


Leave a Reply