Colocation with STOC 2016: Good News and Bad News

Updated August 25: See the bottom of the post.

For almost two years, the steering committees of STOC and SOCG have been considering co-locating the two conferences in 2016, to foster better cross-fertilization between the two communities. The idea received enthusiastic support at the STOC and SOCG business meetings in 2012. After some discussion, the conference leadership settled on Boston/Cambridge as a promising location and convened a join colocation committee to work out the details.

The committee members are Greg Aloupis (SOCG local chair), Venkatesan Guruswami, Sariel Har-Peled, Monique Teillaud, and Daniel Wichs (STOC local chair). Paul Beame (SIGACT chair), Tal Rabin (SIGACT treasurer), and I have also been participating in committee discussions ex officio.

The Boston colocation bid was approved at the STOC 2014 business meeting. The vote at the SOCG business meeting was less enthusiastic, mostly because many of the important logistical details, like precise location and cost, were not yet fixed. (Just like the delay in the SOCG/ACM vote, this lack of detail in the colocation bid is entirely MY fault for not convening the joint committee earlier.) The business meeting vote for SOCG 2016 was tied between Boston and Brisbane, Australia (the only other bid). In fact, there were two votes, both of which were exactly tied. This left the final decision of where to locate SOCG 2016 up to the steering committee.

Since the business meeting, the joint committee has worked out many of the remaining details. The committee agreed on a seven-day schedule, with STOC on the first three days, joint workshops/tutorials held on the middle day, and SOCG held on the last three days. We also discussed possible joint plenary sessions late in STOC and early in SOCG, to be arranged by the respective program committees. Greg (with help from Csaba Toth and Erik Demaine) has located two suitable locations for SOCG and the joint workshops: one at the Stata Center at MIT, the other at Tufts Medical (in downtown Boston, not on the Medford campus where SOCG was held in 2011). STOC will be most likely be held in a hotel in the Back Bay area.

Based on this new information, the SOCG steering committee voted unanimously yesterday to hold SOCG 2016 in Boston/Cambridge, in colocation with STOC.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the response that I received from Paul Beame, the chair of the SIGACT executive committee, this morning (emphasis added):

This is great, though there is a hitch. We had our scheduled SIGACT executive committee phone conference involving ACM staff yesterday (our first since June). With SoCG leaving ACM we have been told that SIGACT and ACM conferences cannot have any formal arrangements at all with the new conference or do anything official that might support it. (This decision was made at the very top of ACM and not by the staff.) This rules out any joint sessions. . . . It also means that SIGACT will have to end our participation in this formal coordinating group.

Avrim Blum, SIGACT vice-chair, is on sabbatical at UIUC and he can give you more details.

I will spare you my profanity-laden response, but I do want to emphasize the sentence in bold. This is not a decision by the SIGACT executive committee, which has been consistently supportive of colocation even in the face of the SOCG community’s decision to leave ACM. This was not a decision made by Donna Cappo or the other ACM SIG Services staff. This decision was made at the very top of ACM.

It is my personal hope that the two conferences can still come to a reasonable, if unofficial, colocation arrangement, but it is unclear at this point whether this will be possible. Independently of the colocation arrangements, SOCG 2016 will most likely be held in Boston/Cambridge, although even this decision now needs to be reexamined by the steering committee.

Constructive feedback from the SOCG and STOC communities is welcome.

Updated August 25: At Paul’s request, I’ve removed one sentence from his reply, which Paul has clarified was speculation not based on actual ACM policy or instructions.


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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17 Responses to Colocation with STOC 2016: Good News and Bad News

  1. Huh. I’m a little surprised at the scorched-earth tactics, but overall not that surprised. I wonder if we should insist on scrutinizing STOC’s publicity material to ensure that ACM is not taking advantage of SoCG’s presence in Boston to promote STOC.

  2. Michael Mitzenmacher says:

    Wow. When my kids act this way, I have to explain to them that it’s not proper behavior. So what do you do when your professional society acts this way?

    One thing I’d like to clarify is if this is really special treatment. I’m not clear on ACM’s standard rules — to the extent there are any — for cooperation between ACM and non-ACM conferences. Certainly the response from Paul suggests that the powers that be have decided to go above and beyond with the SOCG community.

    I may be limited in my thinking, but I’d suggest a carefully worded note to be forwarded to these powers that be noting that this type of response will likely result in a larger backlash of at least theoretical computer scientists against ACM as an outcome. I can imagine that I’ll start looking for ways to avoid ACM conferences. I suppose rather than starting an ACM boycott, at least to start having as many computer scientists sign on to this carefully worded note might get their attention.

    Also, I’d be happy to see the profanity-laden response, though perhaps just forward it to me by e-mail.

    • Jeff Erickson says:

      One thing I’d like to clarify is if this is really special treatment.

      It’s certainly inconsistent with ACM’s treatment of CCC. STOC has previously co-located with CCC, while they were still firmly an IEEE conference. There is apparently some question whether CCC will be fully independent in time for FCRC, but I’m not aware of any move by ACM to block their participation. Moreover, ACM has offered to let CCC organize in cooperation with ACM in the future, but this option is explicitly not available to SOCG.

      I may be limited in my thinking, but I’d suggest a carefully worded note

      I think that’s a good idea, but I also suspect such a note would carry significantly more weight coming from one of the leaders of the STOC community, instead of from me or another hardcore computational geometer. (In any case, it would be a really bad idea for me to write such a note before my blood pressure returns to normal.)

      I will point out, however, that both former ACM president Vint Cerf and ACM CEO John White subscribe to (and have left comments on) this blog.

  3. This is an outrageous and completely unacceptable punishment policy. I think it’s important to demonstrate this to ACM by, at the very least ignoring the policy. It ACM wants to push such attitude further STOC should prepare contingency plans for disassociation from ACM.
    N.B. COLT which in the past was “sponsored” by ACM is still occasionally co-located with STOC.

  4. MK says:

    I may be a complete idiot, but can they enforce the “cannot have formal arrangements”? Clearly, we cannot have joint conference registration, but we could have the same conferences happen in the same place & time, right? What if by pure chance the schedule of the invited talks of one conference happen to match with a one-hour break of the other one? etc etc

    • The key word here is “formal”. Of course we can continue to hold the conferences in the same city, as if purely by coincidence. But ACM is blocking STOC’s ability to advertise, or even publicly acknowledge, that the colocation is not coincidence, that the two conferences are located in the same place for the deliberate purpose of fostering cross-fertilization between the two communities, that computational geometers are not only welcome at STOC but openly invited to attend. STOC and SOCG can’t advertise joint sessions, even joint invited talks. STOC can’t advertise registration discounts to SOCG attendees (who are not going to be willing pay the full STOC registration fee).

      ACM is forcing a mixed message: “Sure, I’d love to go out with you. Just don’t tell my parents. and don’t post any pictures of us on Facebook.”

      • MK says:

        I see. Well, it seems that the original plan was to hold them in the same week, but other than that no more further coordination (like joint invited talks and such). So in terms of cooperation, the only thing we lose is the possibility of saying “why not attend both conferences” in our websites, and the option of cheaper joint registration, right?

        As for the first problem, we could add a list of nearby conferences (in time & space sense) to which they suggest attending. I am certain that this (plus the information on blogs, etc) will be enough so that people are aware of both conferences happening together.

        Clearly STOC cannot lower the price, but we can show the strength of independence by lowering SoCG’s registration cost to those that attended STOC as well, right? Something like “come with a registration receipt of any other conference held in the same city and week to get a x$ discount in your registration”? I will probably only attend SoCG, but I would not mind paying a bit extra to support those that also go to ACM conferences nearby.

      • Jeff Erickson says:

        we can show the strength of independence by lowering SoCG’s registration cost to those that attended STOC as well, right?

        Yes. In fact, I think the discount should be 100%; let anyone wearing a STOC name tag participate for free. Since our proceedings will already be freely available, the only thing we would actually lose money on would be the coffee breaks. And it would dramatically simplify the bookkeeping.

  5. How can ACM seriously claim that it supports research and science? that it is a “professional” society? childish, to say the least…
    One may wonder whether STOC will be happy to stay with ACM in the long term… Anyway, for the time being, I am also in favor of pursuing efforts towards a co-location in 2016 (even though not being able to have arrangements for registration will not help).

  6. luca says:

    I would not be surprised if something like this came from IEEE, but I am very disappointed that ACM is doing it; I have always thought of them as the “good guys.”

    I am also surprised that ACM believes it has the right to micromanage the work of local organizers to the point of dictating what advertising material, announcements, schedules, and discounts should be like.

    I hope that this is just the effect of some kind of miscommunication, that Paul and Avrim can privately clarify with you. If not, this is an issue that affects the entire theory community, so a note of protest should be signed by a large and diverse group of theoreticians. (Count me in.)

  7. Collocation sounds wonderful; I’ve wanted that for years!

    The ACM restrictions give us a chance to be magnanimous, and offer to STOC to do a bunch of their advertising for them? ACM should not have much of a leg to stand on if we send out opportunities to foster cross-fertilization.

    • eppstein says:

      Jack, ACM’s statement includes a warning that they will be policing SoCG’s conference materials to make sure we’re not advertising any kind of colocation or cooperation. Why they think they have the right to control our speech is beyond me but on the other hand if they demand that their conference must shun us then it would be false for us to claim that we are doing anything together.

      • Jeff Erickson says:

        Why they think they have the right to control our speech is beyond me

        Paul has clarified that his statement about ACM scrutinizing our conference materials was speculation on his part.

        It’s quite reasonable for ACM to insist that our conference materials don’t suggest affiliation with, sponsorship by, or financial support from ACM. It’s somewhat less reasonable to insist that we cannot publicly collaborate with other conferences that are sponsored by ACM, or that our conference materials can’t contain the letters A, C, and M in that order.

  8. Magda Procopiuc says:

    And so they show their true colors: “We’re not here to promote scientific collaboration. We’re a BUSINESS.” This is like Macy’s telling Lacoste, “you can’t say you’re located across from us in the mall, b/c you can’t use our brand name unless you pay us.” Fair enough if you’re in the business of selling t-shirts, I suppose.

    I don’t think ACM can control what people say on their webpages. So STOC and SOCG people might consider referring to the conferences as “co-located” on their own blogs / home pages. Hope you guys can get a grass-roots movement going, and wrest back some of the power that should be in the hands of researchers to begin with. Good luck!

  9. Paul has clarified that the most critical line (about ACM “scrutinizing” material) did not come from ACM, but was an inference drawn from their statement. This doesn’t change the overall pettiness of their response, but does make it less sinister.

  10. anonymous says:

    IACR has no such problems. Why don’t we found a better organisation of our own?

  11. someone says:

    With such reactions, I am just more happy that the vote was to leave ACM. Truly ridiculous.

Comments are closed.