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A Challenge of Membership


Professor Andrei Sukhov of HSE University

International research communities in various fields of knowledge form the solid foundation on which modern science is based. The activities of such professional communities are multifaceted and as such, they require funding. Historically, the main source of funding has always been membership fees, something which had made such professional organizations as independent as possible from state authorities and large corporations.

The same model is one that is universal with regard to the activities of almost all professional communities. The payment of membership fees generally implies full participation in the life and operations of a given community. This includes: the formulation of the charter and the main goals, the planning of events, the determination of budgetary expenditures, the election of leadership, and even the overall structure of the organization in question. Payment of membership fees also allows members from different countries and even continents to feel like equal members of a community.

ACM is constantly striving to improve and facilitate the process of paying membership fees, including through the launching of preferential membership programs for students and computer scientists from developing countries. However, this year has brought with it new challenges which I wish to address in this note. In particular, these challenges concern the rights of ACM members from Russia and Belarus, the very future of ACM as a single organization, problems with paying membership fees, participation in conferences, and finally publishing works in scientific and professional journals.

In the spring of this year, many Russian and Belarusian banks were abruptly disconnected from the provider of secure financial transfer services SWIFT, and the VISA and Mastercard payment systems also stopped functioning with regard to these countries. Under these conditions, it became extremely problematic to pay any bill in dollars, euros, or even Swiss francs. In principle, buying foreign hard currency in Russia is not a problem; the cash exchange rates are slightly higher than the official non-cash exchange rates. However, they have significantly decreased compared to February 2022. Currently the main problem is how to transfer the required fees to the respective members' ACM accounts. Transactions are now literally impossible for citizens of Russia and Belarus.

Of course, we all know that sanctions were conceived to complicate the lives of ordinary Russians and cause their mass discontent. However, the international cooperation of researchers in professional fields is a matter of particular topical importance. Unfortunately, it has now become necessary to decide whether ACM will support the sanctions regime and whether Russians and Belarusians will be expelled from the community for non-payment of membership fees.

This is a critical question that needs to be answered promptly within the shortest timeframe possible. In this regard, it is important to note that there are different approaches to issues of international cooperation all over the world. At a time when Western countries have interrupted all interstate scientific contacts with Russian organizations, the cooperation of Russians with China, India, Iran, and developing countries has continued actively developing. China is now not only inviting teams from scientific laboratories, but is also negotiating the relocation of entire scientific institutions.

The departure of programmers from Russia is not a critical issue as it has mainly affected employees of private companies, with some of these companies having been forced to re-register outside of Russian jurisdiction. Many companies have moved their activities to CIS countries like Armenia and Kazakhstan, as well as to Turkey. The moves have generally affected only key employees who are in contact with foreign customers. After the initial anti-Russian hysteria in Europe, something which affected even prominent figures in the areas of culture and science, the migration of programmers to Europe has greatly declined.

Despite these issues, the Russian educational system has suffered almost no losses, as the departure of professors and researchers was minimal. Therefore, all personnel losses in the Russian IT industry will be replenished in a very short time. Moreover, the state has provided a package of support measures which includes assistance to individual specialists, and not just companies and institutions. There is visibly a huge potential present in retraining programs where non-core specialists are retrained to obtain IT competencies.

Those who left will very quickly face problems in their daily lives and in the social sphere. This is connected to the impossibility of obtaining a full-fledged education for children in the Russian language and a completely different level of social benefits. First and foremost, this concerns the price and quality of medical care in comparison with Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Russian cities with populations of over a million. In reality, the salaries offered outside of Russia are unlikely to cover the costs of moving to other countries.

Another problematic area concerns scientific publications in certain journals and publishing houses. Increasingly, Russians are faced with outright refusals to consider articles at the submission stage based only on their national affiliation. Europe and all English-speaking countries have stopped all joint scientific projects with Russia, with cooperation only still being possible at the individual level. Several campaigns have even been launched to prevent Russian researchers from publishing in leading scientific journals. These steps will also not be carried without consequences, among which will be an adverse effect on the unity of the international community of IT professionals.

With regard to the modern assessment of research results based mainly on the impact factors of scientific journals and the citations of publications, I would like to note they seem very outdated. The IT industry, like electrical and electronic engineering, is a practice-oriented area of research. In these areas, the standard goal of scientific research, namely obtaining new knowledge, should be subject to additional requirements with regard to describing the practical application of research results. It seems to me the most convenient would be a classification system based on the results obtained. The highest achievement for researchers is the inclusion of their work in the development of a standard used as a point of reference. One degree lower should be the development of a working prototype of a new device or service. Another step lower would be patent protection and issuance, as it requires additional time and financial costs. The last place on the practice-oriented scale should be new algorithms.

Due to all of these factors, Russia, therefore, has an excellent chance of introducing a new system for evaluating research results based on new criteria. As for journal publications, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation has already announced that scientometric assessments based on WoS and Scopus are no longer used. Most likely, the list of old journals will be replaced by new ones which will be published in English with the texts of the articles being open access. The editorial boards of these journals will be formed from scientists from the BRICS countries. The obtaining of an initial rating will be greatly facilitated by the fact that it will be Russian institutions that consider material for publication in these journals and will pay extra for them to their researchers. At the same time, payments for publications in WoS/Scopus editions will be eliminated, which will lead to a significant flow of papers to new journals.

Under these conditions, the question concerning the unity of the ACM as an international community of computer machinery professionals inevitably arises.

Currently, full participation in ACM activities is difficult for members from a small number of countries. However, judging by current events, sanctions will be extended to China in the foreseeable future, which will undoubtedly lead to the instant destruction of all international scientific cooperation. It has come time to consider relevant actions in the face of expanding confrontation. Each member of the ACM must decide whether he is a supporter of division or of the preservation of the unity of the community.

In this regard, as a measure to keep Russians and Belarusians among ACM members, the possibility of paying membership fees in the yuan should be considered. Also, payment of registration fees for leading ACM conferences should also be available in yuan. This simple measure will resolve issues and make the payment of membership fees more convenient and, in fact, possible for many.

 

Andrei Sukhov is a senior member of ACM and a professor of Samara National Research University, Samara, Russia. He may be contacted via asukhov@acm.org


 

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