Suresh’s Response to Vint Cerf

Suresh Venkatasubramanian responds beautifully to Vint Cerf’s request for feedback on how ACM can better serve professional programmers. Read the whole thing!

It’s a little funny though that you’re worried about ACM’s presence in the professional world. Many of us have long assumed that ACM spends most of its focus on that side of the computing community (the excellent revamp of the CACM under Moshe Vardi being the exception that proved the rule). In fact, I’d go as far as to argue that the ACM would be much better served if it were instead to realize how it’s driving itself into irrelevance in a research community that so desperately needs an institutional voice.

My own response is much shorter:

Looking back at my own ACM affiliation, which began in 1967, I was advised by my mentors in graduate school that ACM membership was a mark of a professional and I continue to hold that view. But it seems evident this is opinion not as widespread today. Why not?

I see two big reasons. First, people have become less enamoured with the trappings of professionalism; especially in computing, the view that neckties are a mark of a professional is also not as widespread as it was in 1967. Second, thanks to that little thing you invented called the Internet, we no longer need professional societies to stay connected and well-informed; it’s your fault!


Update Aug 1: See also this response from IT World.

 

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Voter Feedback

Participants in the ACM/SOCG vote provided lots of insightful feedback, both in the “other” responses to the second and third question and in the open-ended final question. I’d like to show some of this feedback, on both sides of the main question.

Please don’t be offended if I don’t publish your comments here; this is only a representative sample.  On the other hand, if you recognize your own words and prefer that I not post them publicly, please let me know.

Most of the feedback fell into a few overlapping categories: (1) concern about losing prestige, (2) trust in ACM’s efforts to address our concerns, (3) criticism of ACM, (4) concern about distancing ourselves from the larger community, (5) support for open-access proceedings.

Several people on both sides of the main issue mentioned the potential loss of prestige.

[stay] I work in a small country, where evaluation of candidates for postdoc positions, government-funded projects, etc, is often made by looking at the impact factor of your published papers, how many of your conference papers appear in X database, etc. Even though I cannot agree with these evaluation methods, leaving ACM may penalize researchers from places where evaluations are done in similar ways.
It takes so much effort to have a SoCG paper accepted, that I feel some people cannot afford that it doesn’t count in their CV’s (at least, for some period of time).


[stay] I think we are a small community, and the ACM label (if we like it or not) carries a lot of weight in promotion and tenure decisions. The SoCG community is much smaller than the theory community (STOC, FOCS, SODA) or other applied communities such as the database community (e.g., affiliation-free VLDB). Can we afford leaving now without hurting our young?


[leave] My vote is a “weak” one—I hesitate quite a lot. The opinions of the steering committee and of the past local organizers should probably have more weight in the decision. I agree that there are many arguments in favor of leaving ACM. My only real concern is with respect to the loss of prestige we can expect if we leave ACM. Some countries really view the ACM label as important, and some researchers in our field will be negatively impacted.


[stay] While I do not like the ACM as an organization, and certainly not their policy to increase the cost of the conference significantly, I think that a choice to stay is a more safe choice. It can be that CG as a research field is perceived as a less high quality field 10 years from now by the the general CS research world, just by leaving the ACM. This is not in our control. The quality of the conference itself is in our control, not how it is perceived. I believe the argument that our colleagues in Asia and the US have a better chance of getting tenure if SoCG is with the ACM (I hate that this is the case, but I think it is, so we have to deal with this situation the right way).

A few people advocated trusting ACM, or at least continuing to negotiate with them, now that the community has made its needs clear.  (My own sense is that SIGACT already promised as much as we could reasonably expect to negotiate; concessions from ACM proper were never a realistic possibility.)

[stay] Since ACM officials are now saying that they will take care of the problems, there is no need to leave the organization.


[stay] Given the new leadership change of ACM and their new promises for resolving the past issues regarding SOCG vs. ACM, I think we have made our voices loud and heard, and I believe that they have a good faith to really resolve the past issues/problems. It would be a win-win situation to keep the association with ACM while having the past issues/problems resolved. At this point, I think we should stay with ACM to “harvest” this result.


[leave] We successfully got international SoCGs to work by threatening to leave ACM. We could do the same for the other issues, e.g. by threatening to leave ACM unless they make our proceedings free.

More voters were directly critical of ACM, even while recognizing the prestige issue. Most of this criticism was aimed at the administrative side of ACM; feedback on the researchers who volunteer as SIG officers was generally positive.

[leave] Premier conferences without ACM (or IEEE or SIAM) like VLDB or ICML seem to have no issues without ACM, and enjoy far greater flexibility and autonomy. For historical issues (ACM seems to have provided important early sponsorship and credibility) I would like to stay, but they seem to be no longer useful, and in fact are seeming to become a hindrance. And I don’t see things getting better.


[leave] I find ACM’s claim to the name SoCG appalling, and that alone would make me want to leave them immediately. And try to keep the name.


[leave] I organized SoCG outside the US. I realized that there was no real help from ACM. Contacting them is close to impossible and depending on them implies a big loss of time and effort for a small gain.


[leave] I am torn about leaving ACM; I fear irrelevance if we go it alone, but I’m not sure that ACM promotes relevance. While the SIG volunteers have always been good to us, the staff does not have our interests at heart.


[leave] It is extremely important to clarify that ACM is an organization of scientists, by scientists, for scientists. In the past, support staff at ACM has abused their position to usurp power they are not entitled to, and displayed an appalling lack of responsibility and respect. This cannot be tolerated!

Staff at ACM have to show responsibility for the scientific interests. If we end up staying with ACM (and I’m really sitting on the fence about this), we should
– make clear that it was despite of staff effort, not because
– make clear that things only moved with the help of scientific officers.

Thus, I do not trust staff. My worry is that they will simply sit out this issue, and (ab-)use the next change of office. We need assurances that we can expect continuity, even if the key people change.


[leave] I’m quite on the fence for this one. My biggest argument towards staying is the broad name-recognition of “ACM”, and the community name-recognition of “SoCG”. What propels me towards voting for leaving anyway is that from what I hear and read, ACM and SIGACT have not treated us (and especially the SoCG organizers) well, and get a heck lot of money from us for doing very little for us.


[leave] SOCG is for a truly international community; ACM does not behave like a truly international society.


[leave] I feel the ACM has lost touch with the community, failing to serve its interests (open access, etc.).

Another important issue is the interaction between computational geometry and the broader computer science community. (This is one of the reasons I am strongly in favor of co-locating SOCG with STOC in 2016.  Choosing not to publish our proceedings with ACM does not prevent computational geometers from working more closely with SIGACT and ACM as members.)

[stay] Leaving ACM would make us more isolated from the rest of theory. We are already pretty much isolated…we shouldn’t accelerate it by leaving ACM.


[stay] All of the above PLUS: participation in THE professional society for computer science. Those unhappy with ACM, and there are many reasons to be unhappy with ACM, should work to make our professional society better.


[stay] several of the above, I’d also like to see the CG community closer to the other communities in SIGACT, and leaving ACM doesn’t seem ideal for this.


[stay] ACM is an important, but unfortunately US-centric organization. By staying we can help making ACM more international, if we leave the divide between CS in the USA and the rest of the world only gets larger.


[stay] I’d also like to see the CG community closer to the other communities in SIGACT, and leaving ACM doesn’t seem ideal for this.

Finally, as one would expect from the vote, several people voiced support for freely available proceedings, either officially or by “gaming the system”.

[leave] ACM and IEEE have a growing divide between the academic minority, who provide the papers, and the non-academic majority, who buy them.


[leave] I applaud the attempt to move to LIPIcs. My library does not subscribe to DL so I access SOCG papers by paying for my own individual access… and the move to a truly open access platform is far better. I hope the vote succeeds!


[leave] My main concern is the point highlighted by Pat Morin in his post. The main reason I voted to leave ACM is because I would like everyone to have free and open access to all of our publications.


[stay] Option A: Stay with ACM; put papers on arXiv ensuring “Open-access” with no fee; Play the game that hiring committees do play in many countries, i.e. ACM tag makes your publication worth more.

Option B: Leave ACM; Go “Open-access”; publications “worthless” for bureaucratic committees in many countries.

The obvious choice for me seems to be to stay with ACM while the authors “game the system” by uploading full-drafts on arXiv.

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A Closer Look at the Voting Results

The recent ACM/SOCG vote asked several additional informational questions in addition to the primary question of whether to stay with ACM or leave.  In addition, PollDaddy reports the country from which each vote was cast.  This additional data reveals some interesting differences between different segments of the community. To preserve anonymity, I will stay silent about groups with less than 10 people (for example: American PhD students, or voters from Singapore).

Update (Jul 20): Please also see Stefan Huber’s plots of this data, by percentages instead of raw counts.

Helpfulness

The computational geometry community—and SOCG in particular—has always benefited immensely from the efforts of numerous volunteers.  As expected, a significant fraction of voters indicated willingness to volunteer if the community voted to leave ACM.  More than 30 voters specifically mentioned being willing to help with local organization; the next most common interests were proceedings, record keeping, and publicity. Several people expressed willingness even though they were unclear how they could contribute. Perhaps also as expected, voters who preferred to leave ACM were more likely to volunteer, and vice versa.

ACM?
Willing to help? Total Stay Leave
Total 185 60 125
Yes 55 18 37
Maybe 92 23 69
No 38 19 19

Geography

Five countries contributed more than 10 votes each: Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. The remaining votes divide roughly evenly into other European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) and everywhere else (Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Singapore). Yes, I realize the last cluster doesn’t make much sense.

ACM? Willing to help?
Country Total Stay Leave Yes Maybe No
USA 55 29 26 12 22 17
Germany 27 6 21 10 13 1
France 20 1 19 1 13 5
Canada 16 5 11 4 10 2
Netherlands 15 6 9 6 6 1
Other European 39 10 29 10 18 7
Elsewhere 30 11 19 12 10 5

The difference between the United States and other countries is striking.  The US was the only country with more than 10 votes with a majority in favor of staying with ACM.  A few countries with fewer votes also favored staying with ACM, most notably Japan, but most countries outside the US had an overwhelming preference for independence. I think this difference speaks volumes about ACM’s international perception.

French voters were nearly unanimous, presumably thanks to the disastrous experience with ACM in Paris in 2011 (which instigated the vote in the first place).

Recent Attendance

We also asked about recent attendance at SOCG.  As expected, there was a big spread among the voters, and that voters who have attended SOCG more often are more willing to volunteer. More surprisingly, people who have attended SOCG more often were also significantly more likely to prefer staying with ACM.

How many SOCGs ACM? Willing to help?
in last 10 years Total Stay Leave Yes Maybe No
Total 194 65 129 54 92 38
5+ 48 22 26 19 18 9
3–4 47 18 29 12 25 7
1–2 62 15 47 13 31 14
Never 37 10 27 10 18 8

Career Stage

Finally, we asked about academic career stage. Most of the people who answered “other” indicated a position in industry, but we also heard from a few administrators, retirees, and pre-PhD students. Younger members of the community were significantly more likely to prefer independence; tenured faculty accounted for just over half the overall votes but just under two-thirds of the votes to stay with ACM.

ACM? Willing to help?
Position Total Stay Leave Yes Maybe No
Total 193 65 128 54 92 38
Tenured faculty 109 46 63 32 51 20
Untenured faculty 23 3 20 6 13 2
Postdoc 26 5 21 10 10 5
PhD student 21 4 17 0 16 5
Other 14 7 7 6 2 6

Old Farts

Finally, since more than half the voters were tenured faculty, I broke those down further, first by recent attendance, and then for each country with at least ten tenured faculty. Almost everyone who attended 5 or more of the last 10 years has tenure.

The biggest surprise for me is that American tenured faculty preferred staying with ACM by a factor of two to one, exactly the reverse of both the overall vote and the vote among American voters without tenure.  Again, I think this difference reflects the perception of ACM’s importance/prestige: Stronger within the US than globally, and stronger among older researchers than younger.

ACM? Willing to help?
Position Total Stay Leave Yes Maybe No
Tenured, 5+ 42 21 21 17 16 7
Tenured, 3–4 30 13 17 6 16 5
Tenured, 0–2 37 12 25 9 19 8
Tenured, USA 32 21 11 6 13 11
Tenured, Germany 16 4 12 9 6 0
Tenured, France 16 1 15 1 11 4

This difference also highlights the biggest challenge facing the newly independent conference: Maintaining the prestige of our flagship conference, and more generally of the community, without ACM affiliation. This was by far the most popular reason for voting to stay; several people suggested that people may develop a lower opinion of the field simply because it lacks the ACM label.

So much for numerical data.  In the next post, I’ll report some of the insightful narrative feedback that many voters provided.

 

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Results of the Vote

The steering committee for the Symposium on Computational Geometry has concluded its third and final vote on the future relationship between SOCG and ACM. Voting was open for three weeks, from June 24 through July 15, and was made available to all subscribers to the compgeom-announce mailing list.

A total of 202 votes were cast, more than twice as many as in the previous vote.  Here are the results for the main question:

  • I prefer to stay with ACM: 68 votes (34%)
  • I prefer to leave ACM: 134 votes (66%)

Results for the other poll questions are summarized below.

In light of the decisive majority in favor of leaving ACM, the SOCG steering committee (Mark de Berg, David Eppstein, Jeff Erickson, Joseph Mitchell, and Günter Rote), the 2015 local organizers (Bettina Speckman and Marc van Kreveld), and the 2015 program committee co-chairs (Lars Arge and János Pach) have unanimously agreed to immediately move forward with independence, starting with the June 2015 conference in Eindhoven.  SOCG 2014 will be the last iteration of the conference affiliated with ACM.

On behalf of the steering committee, I would like to thank everyone in the community for their input.  I would especially like to thank Paul Beame, Donna Cappo, Wm. Randolph Franklin, Sándor Fekete, Wayne Graves, Pat Morin, and Suresh Venkatasubramanian for their significant contributions to the discussion blog prior to the vote.

The steering committee will publish a more detailed public announcement soon. I also plan to post a more detailed analysis of the voting results later this week.

Now the real work begins!


1. What is your preference for the future organization of SOCG? [202 responses]

  • 134 votes (66%): I prefer to leave ACM and organize SOCG as an independent conference with proceedings published in LIPIcs and with financial backing provided through other means, starting as soon as practically possible.
  • 68 votes (34%): I prefer to stay with ACM, with the understanding that ACM will approve all good-faith requests for in-cooperation status outside the United States. Refusal of in-cooperation status outside the US triggers our immediate departure from ACM.

2. If you voted to stay with ACM, please select your main reason. [72 responses] (A few voters who voted to leave ACM also answered this question.)

  • 46 votes (64%): Prestige of being affiliated with a professional organization
  • 9 votes (13%): Having proceedings in the digital library of a professional organization
  • 8 votes (11%): Other
  • 6 votes (8%): Maintaining continuity
  • 3 votes (4%): Financial backing and insurance

3. If you voted to leave ACM, please select your main reason. [133 responses]

  • 68 votes (51%): Open and free access to the proceedings
  • 23 votes (17%): Reducing costs for the attendees
  • 17 votes (13%): Reducing administrative overhead for the local organizers
  • 14 votes (11%): Other (most common response: “all of the above”)
  • 11 votes (8%): Increased flexibility

4. Independent of your vote in question 1, would you be willing to help out as a volunteer in the event that SOCG does go solo? [185 responses]

  • 92 votes (50%): Maybe
  • 55 votes (30%): Yes
  • 38 votes (21%): No

5. What is your current academic status? [193 responses]

  • 109 votes (56%): tenured faculty member
  • 26 votes (13%): postdoc
  • 23 votes (12%): untenured faculty member
  • 21 votes (11%): PhD student
  • 14 votes (7%): other

6. How many times have you attended SOCG in the last ten years? [194 responses]

  • 62 votes (32%): 1 or 2 times
  • 48 votes (25%): 3 or 4 times
  • 47 votes (24%): At least 5 times
  • 37 votes (19%): Never

Vote distribution by country:

  • 54 votes (27%): United States
  • 27 votes (13%): Germany
  • 20 votes (11%): France
  • 16 votes (8%): Canada
  • 15 votes (7%): Netherlands
  • 6–10 votes each: Austria, Brazil, Japan, Switzerland
  • 1–5 votes each: Australia, Belgium, China, Denmark, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

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One week to go. Please vote!

Everyone on the compgeom-announce mailing list should have received an email yesterday with a link to the voting site and a reminder that the voting period ends July 15, one week from today. If you did not receive the reminder (or the initial email), please let me know.

Let me reiterate once again: All members of the computational geometry community are strongly encouraged to vote. It is important that we hear from as many members of the community as possible, especially since one of the concerns with the previous vote was the relatively meager participation.

If you have already voted, thank you! If not, please vote soon.

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On The Role of Professional Societies

This is a guest post from Wm Randolph Franklin, originally left as a comment on another post.


The bigger issue is the role of professional societies. Since I straddle various disciplines, I’m a member of four, in decreasing order of cost, IEEE, ACM, SIAM, and CAGIS. My following discussion is restricted to IEEE and ACM since SIAM and CAGIS don’t exhibit the same problems.

The vast majority of the IEEE and ACM membership are “practicing” professionals. The role of the small minority of academic members seems to be to freely produce papers for consumption (at a price) by the industry people. Initiatives by these societies principally include new insurance offerings and more finely graded levels of distinguished membership. Initiatives valuable to academics that IEEE and ACM did not provide include, as mentioned by others, EasyChair and DBLP. Their news feeds are aimed squarely at practitioners. I get academic and intellectual news, for free, from other sources.

The professional societies are particularly bad for interdisciplinary research. Ignoring the necessity to belong to several, even the individual societies are subdivided into an increasing number of subgroups, each having an increasing annual fee. This hits the practitioners particularly hard because academics can get the material through their libraries.

At this point, I’m a member of IEEE and ACM mainly because of inertia, and because my university might look askance at my quitting.

To be fair, IEEE and ACM have do some continuing good. I think that sponsorship is worth something, especially with the number of new conferences and journals announced each year. Also, small social groups w/o external guidance have a danger of spiraling downhill. That applies to fraternities, churches, social clubs, and university boards. That is not a current concern for SOCG. However if it happened in the future then ACM might step in, replace the board, and restart things. Of course, w/o ACM, academics in the field could also simply abandon the organization and form a new one. So, this is not a major concern.

Against that are the increasingly harmful effects that have been listed by others: the hassles, the cost, the difficult access to papers. SOCG leaving ACM is the first step towards a possible larger paradigm shift.

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Voting is open!

This afternoon I sent an announcement to everyone on the compgeom-announce mailing list inviting them to the final vote on the future relationship of SOCG and ACM.

Since BallotBin is broken, we are running the vote on PollDaddy, a commercial polling service run by the same company as WordPress (which hosts this blog).  All votes are recorded anonymously.

To give everyone adequate time to participate—especially over the summer when people may be traveling—the steering committee has decided to leave the poll open for three weeks. Thus, the voting site will remain open through July 15, Anywhere on Earth (= July 16 at noon UTC).  Results of the vote will be announced on July 16.

If the total number of votes cast by July 15 is too low (less than 100), or the outcome of the vote is undecided (both alternatives receiving at least 45% of the votes), the steering committee reserves the right to decide differently than the majority vote. All members of the computational geometry community are strongly encouraged to vote.

I plan to send a reminder email to all compgeom-announce subscribers approximately one week before voting closes.  So you can still register to vote by subscribing to the mailing list now.

This blog will remain open and active during the voting period; guest posts in favor of either outcome are definitely welcome. In particular, I invite ACM President Vint Cerf and ACM CEO John White (both of whom have posted comments) to publish longer statements in support of SOCG’s continued association with ACM.

If you have questions or concerns about the vote, please feel free to either post them here or contact me directly.

Here is a copy of the final ballot:


This is the third and final vote on whether the Symposium on Computational Geometry (SOCG) should continue its long-standing affiliation with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

The purpose of the vote is to provide the SOCG steering committee with accurate data about (1) whether the community prefers to stay with ACM or organize SOCG independently, (2) the rationale for this preference, and (3) the community’s willingness to commit effort in the event that SOCG does go solo.

Ongoing discussion of issues related to the vote can be found at http://makingsocg.wordpress.com/. Background information and results for the two previous votes can be found at http://computational-geometry.org/.

Results from this vote will be announced on July 16, immediately after voting closes.

Thank you for participating in this important decision!

Question 1

What is your preference for the future organization of SOCG?

  • I prefer to stay with ACM, with the understanding that ACM will approve all good-faith requests for in-cooperation status outside the United States. Refusal of in-cooperation status outside the US triggers our immediate departure from ACM.
  • I prefer to leave ACM, and organize SOCG as an independent conference with proceedings published in LIPIcs and with financial backing provided through other means, starting as soon as practically possible.

Question 2

If you voted to stay with ACM, please select your main reason.

  • Maintaining continuity
  • Financial backing and insurance
  • Prestige of being affiliated with a professional organization
  • Having proceedings in the digital library of a professional organization
  • Other (please specify):

Question 3

If you voted to leave ACM, please state your main reason.

  • Open and free access to the proceedings
  • Reducing costs for the attendees
  • Reducing administrative overhead for the local organizers
  • Increased flexibility
  • Other (please specify):

Question 4

Independent of your vote in question 1, would you be willing to help out as a volunteer in the event that SOCG does go solo?

If you answer “yes”, please indicate what kind of help you can offer. Possibilities include: legal issues, insurance, banking, sponsoring, proceedings, record keeping, and local organization.

  • No
  • Maybe
  • Yes

If you answered “yes”, how would you be willing to help?

Question 5

What is your current academic status?

  • tenured faculty member
  • untenured faculty member
  • postdoc
  • PhD student
  • Other (please specify):

Question 6

How many times have you attended SOCG in the last ten years? (Prior or recent attendance is not a requirement for voting.)

  • At least 5 times
  • 3 or 4 times
  • 1 or 2 times
  • Never

Question 7

We welcome other thoughts you may have about the issue.


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