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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the editor

Get ACM (and Communications) Out of Politics

Letters to the Editor, illustration

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Recent editorial policy seems to have let ACM morph into what I would call the left-leaning ACM. Examples include Moshe Y. Vardi's editorial "ACM's Open-Conference Principle and Political Reality" (Mar. 2017) where he addressed bathroom laws in several U.S. states with respect to men who might want to use the "ladies room" and vice versa. Vardi said, "In January 2017, the ACM SIGMOD Executive Committee decided to move the SIGMOD/PODS 2017 conference out of North Carolina" due to its HB2 Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, as passed in March 2016, prohibiting flexibility for the transgendered, even though Vardi, for the record, disagreed with the move. None of this is relevant to computers or programming.

Another example is Thomas Haigh's "Historical Reflections" column "Defining American Greatness: IBM from Watson to Trump" (Jan. 2018). In its "Watson and Trump" section, Haigh said, "Trump promised to make America great again by building walls, stepping back from its commitment to the defense of NATO allies, and tearing up trade deals." I see zero relevance of such a statement to computers nor was it completely accurate. What then-candidate, now-President Donald J. Trump has said about NATO is the U.S. will require its "allies" to "pay their fair share of the cost" of the common defense, defined as a percentage of GDP, rather than continue to mooch off the American taxpayer. The U.S. president is obliged to keep illegal aliens out of the U.S. and "tear up trade deals" that are bad for America, as spelled out in the Constitution. I see no relevance to computer technology in mentioning Trump. I should think a headline saying, for example, "Defining American Greatness: IBM" without mentioning Trump would have been sufficient.


CACM Administrator

[The following comment was submitted by Matthias Felleisen. --CACM Administrator]

Politics and CACM:

Communications is a tool for the organization, speak all of its members, to communicate with each other. Since organizations live in a political context, CACM is the one place where politics must be included. But, it should not come at the exclusion of one viewpoint over another -- an approach that now so many tech industry giants take.

Let scientists demonstrate that they are willing to listen to all points of views, conservative or liberal, "closed" or "open." I am hoping that they can actually live up to this standard.

Gunnar Wolf

I have to comment on Bob Toxen's piece. While I understand the concerns he raises on topics he feels unrelated to CACM's role, I cannot but point out that this magazine, as well as the ACM as a whole, does not and *cannot* dissociate computers from all aspects of society and, thus, of politics.

Does the ACM predominantly lean left or right? I do not particularly care, and I do not think is relevant for this discussion (and, for the record, both main parties in the USA are often seen as clearly right-wing from a Latin American perspective). But ACM editors have to comment on important issues such as the ones highlighted in Vardi's and Haigh's replies.

The ACM is currently undergoing a discussion to adapt our 25 year old "Code of Ethics" to a network-centric society. We cannot steer this discussion away from politics. Does this meddle into partisan, US-specific politics? Not directly. But re-framing our Association's role and commitment to the society will necessarily involve dealing with politics.

Claire Jones

I have subscribed to ACM off and on for over 30 years. I was sorely disappointed to read how the editorial page is creeping towards politicization. I subscribed to Scientific American from 1968-98. I noticed how the editorials increasingly voiced popular political polemics from the Left. Then I noticed a subtle political bias in the writing of the articles. I read Scientific American, until I dropped their subscription, for the scientific content...not for the political statements. I read Communications of the ACM for its computer science contents, not for what cause it's controlling editors essentially espouse.
Moshe Y. Vardi's editorial, where he addressed bathroom laws in several U.S. states with respect to men who might want to use the ladies room and vice versa, is such a drift. Toxen noted Vardis disagreement with the decision, even though Vardi, for the record, disagreed with the move I agree with Toxens view that, None of this is relevant to computers or programming. In defense of Moshe, it is relevant to ACMs social justice position policies to hold meetings wherever they please. He is within his parameters calling attention to that. More telling, however, is Vardis response to Toxen I fail to see That pretty much says it all with regard to rose-colored blinders concerning political drift as long as the drift is in a direction you desire. What Toxen and others, including myself, are calling attention to is that we do not want political-animal crackers in our alphabet soup.

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