Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is the ACM "Retaliating" Against SOCG?

Friday afternoon Jeff Erickson posted at Making SOCG blog some "bad news".  Some background:  very recently, the Symposium on Computational Geometry, or SoCG, decided to leave the ACM, for various reasons.  There had been plans in the works for SoCG to be co-located with the Symposium on the Theory of Computing, or STOC, one of the flagship general theory conferences, in 2016.  STOC is an ACM conference.  Reportedly, Paul Beame, chair of SIGACT (the ACM theory special interest group) sent a note that included the following (emphasis added by Jeff):
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.
While I await more information and do not want to rush to judgment, if this description is true, I find it unacceptable behavior on the part of the ACM.  Their job is to promote computer science.  (The ACM home page begins with:  "ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivers resources that advance computing as a science and a profession.")  Their job is not to try to monopolize and control the computer science conference market.

I encourage everyone to read Jeff's post (here's the link again).  Obviously, this is an issue for Computational Geometry, and an issue for Theory.  But I would say it's an issue for all ACM members, and in particular those that publish research at ACM conferences.  It would be nice if, should it become necessary, members from other areas in computer science voice their displeasure with ACM's actions in this case.


Paul said...

To be clear, the highlighted sentence refers only to the part before it. The parts after are interpretations not from the leadership.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the solution is for STOC to leave the ACM as well.

Anonymous said...

I second anonymous #1. As an example, cryptographers have been largely independent of ACM/iEEE (with the exception of those works appearing at STOC/FOCS) via the IACR, and this never harmed the community, rather the opposite.

Maybe it is time for the theory community to start their own organization, running STOC/FOCS as well as other conferences, like SODA/SoCG/CCC, following the IACR model.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...


Thank you for the clarification. Perhaps, then, the interpretations after the highlighted sentence (wherever they came from) are or could be deemed incorrect, in order to ameliorate the situation?

Fernando Pereira said...

I am both an ACM Fellow and a strong advocate of open access. My main scholarly communities, computational linguistics and machine learning, are largely independent from ACM, and have led in open access (ACL, NIPS, and ICML are all open access, as are the leading journals in those fields, JMLR and Computational Linguistics). If ACM's attack on SoCG is confirmed, I'll be the first to sign up on to a strong community response against such reactionary policies.

Suresh Venkatasubramanian said...

Michael, unfortunately the part you removed from the quotation contains the most *potentially* inflammatory statements, namely

"ACM will be scrutinizing materials for the new conference to see that it is not trying to leverage any connection with ACM conferences."

as per Paul's comment, is this also merely an inference and not something explicitly stated by ACM ? Because it sounds awfully specific.

Paul said...

Suresh: It was my error in including that phrase in my original e-mail.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Suresh --

Paul stated to me that the removed sentence was not from the ACM but was an inference on his part and, at his request, I removed the sentence, as he felt its inclusion was misleading.

As I said in the original post, "I await more information and do not want to rush to judgment". Perhaps we will receive further information and clarification.

My hope would be that the ACM would respond with a clear list of what it can't do (along with pointers to either legal constraints or policy constraints based on similar previous situations), along with a list of what it can and is willing to do to encourage joint participation in these conferences for the benefit of both communities. That would help give some evidence that the ACM is aiming to support the theory SIG, and is amenable to positive interaction.

Adam Smith said...

I am a member of the IACR (crypto/eurocrypt) and SIGACT (stoc/focs) communities. I don't attend or publish at SOCG, but it is clear to me that SIGACT is shooting itself in the foot if it fails to endorse any kind of cooperation with its former member communities.

I would

a) sign a letter to the ACM, of which I am a member, encouraging it to change positions (assuming we understand its position correctly).

b) support the creation of an umbrella society consisting of SIGACT, whichever part of IEEE organizes FOCS, and any non-ACM-affiliated TCS organizations that would actively encourage cooperation between the various three- and four-letter acronyms that we think of as the heart of our communities: STOC, FOCS, SOCG, CCC, IACR (especially TCC and crypto), PODC, etc.

c) go out of my way to attend SOCG in 2016, even though I don't normally go. I will have to think of a good slogan to print on a t-shirt to wear that week. Extra points for a bad pun on sausage.