Code Of Conduct For Nips And Other Stem Associations

11 minute read

Goal

This article examines the professional organizations that serve some of the major fields of study or related areas in STEM. These organizations represent many of the disciplines that flow into the data science pipeline. The focus is on American associations. However, often membership can be worldwide. The goal of this writing is to see what the current codes of conduct (CoC) are in some of the largest STEM associations.

The hope is that organizations that are lagging in their CoC policies will reach out to the trailblazing organizations to gain knowledge and update their procedures.

There is a hypothesis here that to create a welcoming and professional environment, it is necessary to have a comprehensive code of conduct as well as detailed procedures for handling violations. The expected impact is that comprehensive codes of conduct will:

  • prevent inappropriate behavior in the community
  • encourage professional and inclusionary behavior
  • provide a safe avenue for communicating violations

Background

I am a member of the NumFOCUS Diversity and Inclusion in Scientific Computing (DISC) committee. This group worked on drafting a new CoC and guidelines for reporting violations. Both the short and long version of the NumFOCUS CoC have been finalized and published.

I am an organizer for two NYC meetup groups:

I am also a Board Member for WiMLDS.

All views in this article are my own.

Overview of Organizations

Let’s begin with some background on some of the major STEM organizations. I chose 10 STEM organizations in various quantitative disciplines and researched them. Positively changing the culture in these organizations has the potential to have a profound effect on the entire STEM ecosystem.

Acronym Name Field Membership Headquarters Non-profit
ASA American Statistical Association Statistics 18K/ 6.3K (a) Alexandra, VA yes
NumFOCUS   Open Source 96K/ 3.5K (b) Austin, TX yes
ACM Association for Computing Machinery Computer Science 100K New York, NY no
ICML Int’l Conf on Machine Learning Machine Learning 10K (c)   yes
NIPS Neural Information Processing Systems   8K (c)   yes
AIP American Institute of Physics Physics 135K College Park, MD yes
AEA American Economic Association Economics 20K Nashville, TN yes
AAES American Association of Engineering Societies Engineering   Reston, VA yes
AMS American Mathematical Society Mathematics 30K Providence, RI no
AMF American Finance Association Finance 8K   no

(a) ASA membership is 18K. The recent JSM (Joint Statistical Meetings) in August 2018 had 6346 attendees.

(b) NumFOCUS has approximately 96K members and 3500 attendees to their conferences annually. They have about 1K voting members. Their user base is upwards of 1 million. They sponsor numerous open source projects. As an example, any comment on an issue to a GitHub repo for open source is covered under their CoC.

(c) NIPS/ICML do not have official “membership”. This number represents total attendees at their annual conference.

Codes of Conduct

I investigated the STEM associations and their current status on CoC as well as reporting procedures.

Acronym CoC Instructions for Reporting Violations? Anonymous Reporting Possible? Independent Reporting Party? Note
ASA CP for JSM Ombuds Service: pilot program
NumFOCUS CoC  
ACM CoE  
ICML CoC not easy to find CoC
NIPS CoC not easy to find CoC
AIP CoC (a) ✅ (vague)  
AEA CPC  
AAES  
AMS CCP not easy to find CoC
AMF CPCE not easy to find CoC

(a) AIP Each member society has its own “Member Society Policies and Codes of Conduct”

Acronyms

Different organizations using different naming conventions. There are many variations of the term CoC:

  • CoC = Code of Condudct
  • CoE = Code of Ethics
  • CP = Conduct Policy
  • CPC = Code of Professional Conduct
  • CCP = Code of Conduct Policy
  • CPCE = Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics

High Profile Cases of Violations

These are examples of some highly publicized harassment incidents within the statistics community:

Associations

ASA (American Statistical Association)

It was founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1839, and is the second oldest continuously operating professional society in the US. JSM has a Conduct Policy. Beginning in August 2018, they used an independent third party where attendees can report violations, as a pilot program. It is called Ombuds Service.

The ASA is the most mature organization in their reporting procedures.

They have also experienced high-profile conduct violations in the community. The fact that it has a long history and is a structured organization with a formal membership likely also contributed to implementing these changes first.

For more information, contact Donna LaLonde at DonnaL@amstat.org

NumFOCUS

NumFOCUS was founded in 2012, and it supports and promotes world-class, innovative, open source scientific software (some examples: Numpy, Pandas and Jupyter). NumFOCUS issued an updated comprehensive CoC October 4, 2018. They also recently implemented a CoC Reporting Form which permits anonymous reporting. There is also a detailed guide on the process for addressing violations.

NumFOCUS offers the most comprehensive CoC as well as procedures for handling violations.

For more information on NumFOCUS DISC

Association for Computing Machinery

ACM was founded in 1947. Its Special Interest Groups (SIGs) sponsor more than 170 computing conferences, workshops, and symposia around the world. They sponsor SIGKDD which is a premier and highly respected international data mining conference.

For an organization of that size, their reporting guidelines are disappointingly skeletal:

Each ACM member should encourage and support adherence by all computing professionals regardless of ACM membership. ACM members who recognize a breach of the Code should consider reporting the violation to the ACM, which may result in remedial action as specified in the ACM’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct Enforcement Policy.

NIPS

  • About NIPS The Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) Foundation is a non-profit corporation whose purpose is to foster the exchange of research on neural information processing systems in their biological, technological, mathematical, and theoretical aspects. Neural information processing is a field which benefits from a combined view of biological, physical, mathematical, and computational sciences.

The primary focus of the NIPS Foundation is the presentation of a continuing series of professional meetings known as the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference, held over the years at various locations in the United States, Canada and Spain.

Both conferences (NIPS and ICML) have a minimal code of conduct and reporting guidelines.

This used to be the CoC for NIPS (quite brief):

The NIPS foundation is welcoming of all attendees and the diversity of opinions they bring. However, we ask that their contributions are made in a manner which is respectful of their colleagues. Scientific work will necessarily from time to time enter into areas of controversy, and such discussions, when handled sensitively, will be welcome at NIPS. However, frivolous use of material or content that threatens the inclusivity of our community will not be tolerated. The NIPS organising committee reserves the right to withdraw registration without refund from attendees who transgress these ideals.

After the publicized violations, this is the NIPS Updated CoC (summer 2018)

Given the highly publicized incidents, NIPS should have a more comprehensive CoC including a reporting policy. They should also permit anonymous reporting as well as use an independent party for receiving violations reports.

Suggestions

  • Put CoC at main menu level on the website where it is easy to find. It also shows the priority of professional conduct to the organization.
  • Require that attendees check that CoC has been read prior to completing registration for an event.
  • Have clear guidelines for what behavior is and is not acceptable.
  • Have clear reporting guidelines.
  • Use independent party reporting.
  • Walk the talk: take violations seriously.
  • Be transparent about procedures with your membership and the community

Resources:
NumFOCUS Code of Conduct is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Challenges

  1. Most of these organizations are broad umbrella associations. They have numerous societies and projects within their fold. It’s possible that CoC may not exist for all these sub-divisions or be standard. There may also be a disconnect from a society CoC and a conference or event CoC.
  2. CoC are fairly new, emerging within the last few years.
  3. There is no global communication system for this type of information to be funneled to various organizations.

Hence, that is why I am writing this article.

References

Resources

Creating a Code of Conduct

Diversity & Inclusion

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to the following people who work in diversity and inclusion and shared their knowledge and experiences:

Tweets

Conference Organizers: Be very clear with your speakers on code of conduct and expectations

NIPS

NIPS 2018 Press

NIPS Name Change

A statement issued by NIPS on why the name was not changed is included here.

NIPS AI Conference to Continue Laughing about Nipples at the Expense of Women in Tech:

By only inviting former attendees of the conference to respond to the survey, the organizers had to have known that the demographics would break down in this way. This drowns out the voices of the minority of people — women — most affected by this issue and completely erases the voices of any women who have been discouraged from attending the conference in the past due to the name or to the fratty, sexist culture in tech more broadly.

By conducting this survey and publicly announcing the result, the NIPS conference organizers knew that they would be making an important statement, one way or the other. Rather than choosing to oppose a tradition that promotes sexism and harassment, they decided that the majority — the men who have attended in the past — count more than those women who chose to speak up and criticize the name, both through the survey and publicly, at risk to their own careers.

If you feel strongly about this issue, consider signing this open letter to the NIPS board asking them to reconsider.

Responses to Not Changing NIPS Name

Diversity & Inclusion

When it’s working

When it’s not working

Demma Rodriguez of Google says it best

Contact

I welcome any updates to the CoC status of organizations. Email me at reshama@wimlds.org to request any edits to this article.

Updated:

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