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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About Jeff Erickson

I'm a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the chair of the steering committee for the International Symposium on Computational Geometry.
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2 Responses to On The Role of Professional Societies

  1. Paul Beame says:

    ACM and IEEE should not be equated in this argument. I have served as a volunteer in both organizations and there is a distinct difference between how ACM and IEEE treat their research communities.

    Had CCC been an ACM-only sponsored conference, there is little doubt that their vote would never have happened, or if it did, they would have stayed with ACM. While only 3% of respondents wanted to stay with IEEE on its own, roughly 40% were willing move to become joint with ACM even though that meant dealing with IEEE half the time and paying extra overhead to IEEE each year.

    In terms of the open access question, ACM has monetized the work of our TCS community for us through the digital library; as a result we are substantial net financial beneficiaries, though we may not completely agree with its current form. I am working within ACM to change this form and the organization overall is aware and moving on the issue.

    In contrast, IEEE requires substantially higher financial overheads, particularly for small conferences, provides much worse conference services, provides no return to the community at all from their digital library, does not provide first year open access, and does not let the TCS community retain fund balances year over year.

    Independent of these issues, as I noted in my earlier post, there are very substantial past financial benefits to the TCS community through SIGACT that have not yet been disbursed, as well as likely future surpluses from STOC conferences that SoCG would cutting itself off from sharing in were it to abandon ACM.

  2. ok, may be IEEE is worse than ACM. What the point ?
    P. Beame said : “IEEE … provides much worse conference services”

    INRIA organized SoCG in Nice and Paris, and I was chair this year,
    I can say that in terms of conference services, ACM brings only troubles.
    Both from organizer and chair point of view, things can only be simpler
    and easier without ACM than with ACM.
    (I agree that it can be different within the US, but SoCG is within the US
    only every 3 years on average).

    And if STOC as surpluses, give them back to STOC people,
    for example by making STOC cheaper.

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