Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Making Rules....

You may be aware that I am a member of the Super Touring Advisory Committee for the Sports Car Club of America. The STAC's responsibility is make recommendations to the Club for regulations for that category.

I wrote the following on a racing forum some years ago, and I thought it bore repeating, with some minor updating...

How to write a rule

We seem to get into a lot of arguments about various rules. “This rule says this” or “this rule says that” or whatever. And, typically, the basis of this argument is different strokes, different folks; one person read is another person’s cheat.
I see the root cause for all these arguments centering around one thing: poorly-written rules.
Yep, sorry if it pisses off the rulesmakers, but I think I can credibly argue that most disagreements center around either people reading into the rule what wasn’t intended (maybe based on a failure of the rulesmakers’ imaginations) or poor use of verbiage to describe the intent. So, here are Greg’s Tips to keep in mind when you’re trying to write a rule.

Tip #1: You can’t POSSIBLY think of all situations

Consider this: there’s a handful of you sitting around a table (or talking on a teleconference) trying to find the best way to write an allowance to the rules (e.g., struts, suspension bushings, engine mounts, whatever). Do you REALLY believe that you're smarter than those collective brains? Do you believe you can think of all possible permutations that the rest of the world can come up with? Of course not. The masses, as massive as they are, have a collective imagination that simply dwarfs your small collective's. Ergo, you are insignificant when it comes to thinking of all possibilities.

Tip #2: If It Doesn’t Say You Can, Then You Cannot

Glory be! That little bit of sunshine is your savior. The "IIDSYCTYC Rule" (GCR 9.1.3.D) is the one rule that can pull your butt out of a fire. You, as a rulesmaker, have the ultimate authority on allowances, because until and unless you allow it, it cannot be done, period! But, you absolutely must keep in mind...

Tip #3: The Roffe Corollary

The Roffe Corollary (attributed to a friend a former racer, George Roffe) states simply, "If it says you can, then you bloody well can!" Whereas The "IIDSYCTYC Rule" is your friend and savior, the George Roffe Corollary is your enemy and potentially your Achilles’ Heel. Many a rulesmaker has been humbled by seemingly simple words that opened massive doors to rules failures (e.g., remote reservoir shocks, splitter and undertrays, spherical suspension bushings, open ECUs, D Sports Racer records).

Tip #4: With Tips #1-3 in mind, describe only what you want to ALLOW, not what you want to restrict.

Remember, tip #1 says there is no possible way that a handful of guys on a telcon can think of all permutations, therefore when you use the magic words "unrestricted" or "open" or "can be replaced" and so forth you've now, with your magic wand, reverted that rule to The George Roffe Corollary. No longer is it IIDSYCTYC, it’s now "whatever you want to do within the restrictions listed below".
At this point, see tip #1, 'cause you just opened a biiiig hole (insert loophole-driving-truck-through reference here). Do you really think you can fill that hole sufficiently? Besides, there's no need to describe what you can't do, 'cause you've already got it: the IIDSYCTYC Rule.

Tip #5: See Tip #4.

If after writing your rule you still feel the need to start adding in restrictions, then your new rule isn't worded well; go back to Tip #4 and try again.

If you accept and understand your humility, and keep these simple tips in mind, I absolutely believe you cannot go wrong.


October 2012 Addendum

All rulesmakers should take a half-hour and listen to this podcast. It really hits home toward the end...

The Cobra Effect
I think you start by admitting to yourself that no individual, no government, is ever going to be as smart as the people who are scheming against you. So when you introduce an incentive scheme, you have to just admit to yourself that no matter how clever you think you are, there’s a pretty good chance that someone far more clever than yourself will figure out a way to beat the incentive scheme.

November 2012 Addendum

I had a spirited debate with someone recently regarding regs, letter of the regs, the spirit of the regs. It's something that we like to lean on when trying to "interpret" a reg, and I suspect our direction-of-leaning tends to change with whatever side of the argument we're on.

In my opinion, the responsibility of the "spirit of the regulations" lies solely on the shoulders of the writers of the regulations. It is purely the responsibility for they, once they determine the "spirit", to codify that "spirit" into the "letter". Any subsequent failures of the reader of the regs to read them - or to successfully "intorturate" them - into something that was not intended is purely a failure on the part of the rules writers.

This came to the fore in recent events. I write this post the week after the first F1 race in Austin, the race where Ferrari intentionally broke the FIA seal on Massa's transmission so that he would get a 5-place grid penalty. By doing this it allowed Massa's teammate, Alonso, who was fighting for the championship, to get moved over to the "clean" side of the track for the start (and they did it immediately prior to the start so that their main competitor, Red Bull, could not pull the same trick and move him back over). As I write, many are arguing that while this was within the "letter" of the regs, it was not within the "spirit" and thus warrants penalty.


Tony Dodgins wrote a good column on this issue recently in Autosport. He discussed this scenario and also compared it to the 1975 Glen race where Regazzoni - being lapped - blocked Fittipaldi so that Clay's teammate, Lauda, could gain an advantage (before Clay eventually got black-flagged) and subsequently allow Lauda to win the race. Dodgins noted that the argument about the "spirit" of the regs was brought up, that while Regazzoni broke no letter of the regs, he violated the spirit of the regs. Dodgins replies:

Rightly or wrongly, the fact is that anyone who believes in the 'spirit' of the F1 regulations is being naive. There are only the regulations. Period.
I concur with Dodgins. Remember what I wrote in prior posts about "failure [on the part] of the rulesmakers’ imaginations"? And the "you can't think of everything"? That's where these "spirit" arguments originate. No one person or group can beat the computing power of the masses, and no regulators can possibly figure out what all the masses can come up with. It's a Sysiphian task.

But that doesn't mean that regulators, due simply to their lack of foresight, should be intentionally made powerless to change the regs to meet the original intent ("spirit") and cover that new "intorturation". In fact, it is the duty of the regulators to re-think their "letter" positions and make a conscious choice to change that letter to meet the original intent; to do otherwise is an active allowance for the "spirit" to change and is a derelict of duty.

F1 regs were subsequently changed to ban Regazzoni's tactics; any driver that intentionally impedes the flow of another driver like Clay did in 1975 will not only get black-flagged but may get a significant start penalty in subsequent races -- or worse. And don't be surprised if a change to the "letter" of the regs about breaking seals on drivetrain components is forthcoming...


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