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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should CCC2012 be at the North Pole?

The last few posts on ICS in China have lead to off-topic (though maybe they were not off topic) comments on whether we should have conferences in countries who oppress human rights. Here is a post where such comments will be ON TOPIC.

How does one best deal with a regime which represses human rights. While I have a strong opinion on Human Rights (I'm for them. Duh.) I honestly do not know the best way to encourage them from the viewpoint of, say, Where should CCC 2012 be? Having a conference in a country (a) legitimizes them and says that you approve of what they are doing, and (b) opens up a conversation so they may change what they are doing. Hence my confusion. Math is easier in that there are well defined questions that have answers, hard as they may be to find.

Here are some scenarios.
  1. Uganda is in the process of passing a law which would make homosexuality a crime with very harsh penalties, including the death penalty in some cases (See here for some details.) If Uganda offered us money to go to a conference, would we turn it down on those grounds?
  2. When South African had Apartheid many organizations boycotted them for this reason. If they had offered money to hold a conference there, would we have done it? My guess is that we would TURN DOWN The money. Since our actions would have been part of a much bigger movement they may have been effective. If we are the only organization who does not go to China because of their Human Rights Policies I doubt it has any affect.
  3. If Saudi Arabia offered a monetary prize (say $400,000) for advances in Mathematics would you turn it down because of the nature of the regime? (I'll be honest- I would take the money.)
  4. Hyatt Hotels in Boston fires 100 of their workers, who are then known as The Hyatt 100. Should STOC/CCC not use their hotels for the 2010 STOC/CCC meetings? For this one there are other organizations boycotting so it may be effective to join it (I do not know what STOC/CCC are actually doing.) What if they reach a compromise that some of the workers are happy with and some are not? Then what do we do? Do we really want to get involved with the details of a labor negotiation? However, the orignial boycott might help get Hyatt to reverse their decision.
  5. To protest Human Rights Violations in America (Gitmo, the treatment of the American Indians, Abu-Ghraib, the shooting of Randy Weaver, pick-your-favorite-cause) its not clear where you would decide to NOT have a conference. America is so large and diverse, and no one state or city did these things, that its not clear how you would express your outrage. Also, the government is not that connected to Academia as in other countries. The only thing I can think of is to not take money from the Military for a conference. But then the arguments goes better they spend it on Interactive Proof Systems Oracles then on Machine Guns.
  6. We should NOT have a conference in California, or any other state where they voted against Gay Marriage. Or maybe not stay at the Marriott since they put alot of money on the anti-gay side. How about countries that do not allow gay marriage? (I apologize to the 3 readers of this blog who are against gay marriage if you find this notion offensive.)
  7. We should NOT have a conference in any state that has laws against interracial marriage. Actually, I don't think there are any such states. But there may be countries that do not allow it. (I apologize to the 0 readers of this blog who think the government should make interracial marriage illegal. I also apologize to the 1 reader who thinks its a states right issues where states can decide for themselves.)
  8. Should we ban Nazi Mathematics? See here for an opinion, actually the 88th Opinion of Doron Zeilberger.

39 comments:

  1. google is hiding its security and business failure behind china censorship and getting rave reviews on its policy from geeks.

    ics is successful so far. in case nothing from ics is pursued further, tcs community can use the china's human right record as an excuse to distant itself from ics.

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  2. Let me put on my SIGACT hat and clarify what's happening at STOC 2010: The conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge. We are quite aware of the labor issues but we have a contract finalized before the layoffs and it would be very costly for us to break it.

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  3. I think that providing money
    for abstract scientific research is a sign of respecting (at least some of) human rights by the government and should be encouraged. So I have no problem of attending conference in US or China or Saudi. For instance in US, more money on (useless?) complexity research means that less money will be spent on Iraq.

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  4. To first anon, your comments are as usual irrelevant. Think!

    Bill, GREAT POST! I would like to propose jointly, putting a short research note together on this topic.

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  5. I think that as long as there is no harm or obstacles to the conference program and attendees (of any nationality, origin, sex, etc.) and there is freedom of speech at the meeting itself, the conference can be held.

    Otherwise we can finish with purely local conferences (recall Olympic boycotts).

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  6. COLT (along with ICML) will be in Israel, a country with a human rights record that is also poor (though a country with nothing like the censorship issues of China). Even more than China, there are many members of the TCS community from Israel. It is important to separate one's judgement of the country from that of the people involved.

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  7. Comment on point 8: Karl Pearson,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Pearson
    co-founder of statistical practice as we know today seemed to have many Nazi-like ideas, however I cite the Neyman-Pearson lemma as any other lemma since I do not want to judge his mathematical controbutions against his political intentions, despite that I don't like his political solutions.

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  8. China obviously enjoys violating human rights and as such it should be on a ban list. In fact, any conference that is subsidized by a government which oppresses human rights should be placed on a "red flag list."

    3.If a drug barron offered a monetary prize (say $400,000) for advances in Mathematics would you turn it down because of the nature of the ....?

    Yes, I would reject any such strange offer.

    The first question in mind should be why am I being offered 400,000 ? What might my research be used for ?
    Personally, I'd rather have my research abused by our supposedly human rights friendly U.S. government than by an unknown highly opaque and mysteriously working communist regime that might use my research to take advantage of citizens in my country -- the U.S.

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  9. thinkingpost --- you are doing research not for your sponsor but for everyone in the world (as long as you publish it openly).

    Openly taking money from someone is different from holding a conference is some country, because it provides a kind of advertising service while countries usually do not need any advertisement (unless it is a very small country not known to the general public).

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  10. you can push this even further..we will reject papers if the research is funded by governments we don't like.

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  11. I heard rumours on rejecting to print [accepted] papers from Serbia during Yugoslavia conflict.

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  12. BourbakiTCS- not sure what you
    have in mind for a research note-
    email me privately about this

    gasarch@cs.umd.edu

    ReplyDelete
  13. if that paper from serbia proved NP = P, should we still restrict its publicity?

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  14. I think even before we think of human rights in general, we should consider the rights of individual scientists to attend a conference. If the government of a hosting country puts inordinate obstacles (like long security checks etc.) which makes it practically impossible for people from certain parts of the world to attend -- then it is best not to hold the conference in such a country, and scientists from such a (hosting) country have the *responsibility to not agree to host the conference* unless they can convince their government otherwise. Unfortunately, I find many organizers take a cavalier attitude towards this problem.

    I think we should as a community decide what is reasonable and what is unreasonable as entry visa requirements -- and we should set strict guidelines by which we should not agree to be an organizer unless we can ensure participation from all parts of the world.

    One practical solution might be to make it mandatory for all conference organizers to have facilities for remote video presentation of talks for attendees who could not make it for visa related or political reasons.

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  15. thinkingpost said...

    China obviously enjoys violating human rights and as such it should be on a ban list. In fact, any conference that is subsidized by a government which oppresses human rights should be placed on a "red flag list."


    Surely, the US human rights record in recent years is far worse than anything that the Chinese govt could manage. In fact, I cannot think of any wars that China has undertaken in the last thirty years against a foreign country (the last against Vietnam was more than thirty years ago).

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  16. China obviously enjoys violating human rights and as such it should be on a ban list.

    While China can certainly improve its human rights record, it is not all evil. For example, it is still one of the few nations in the world that has never oppressed its Jewish settlers. If you use this as a criterion for evil, you'd have a long ban list that excludes oddly this one country.

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  17. At least you included the 40 some states that voted against gay marriage in your boycott. But that is woefully inadequate. It should clearly also include any state that has elected a Republican to statewide office. What kind of message would we be sending if we went to a state that indifferent to evil? And most importantly, we must boycott Israel. On this there can be no debate.

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  18. @bruno
    It wasn't clear from the post, but the Zeilberger opinion was an April Fools joke. In it, he lauds the AMS for systematically removing all mention of Nazi mathematicians. I think it's safe to say that he was being ironic.

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  19. Hyatt Hotels in Boston fires 100 of their workers, who are then known as The Hyatt 100. Should STOC/CCC not use their hotels for the 2010 STOC/CCC meetings? For this one there are other organizations boycotting so it may be effective to join it (I do not know what STOC/CCC are actually doing.) What if they reach a compromise that some of the workers are happy with and some are not? Then what do we do? Do we really want to get involved with the details of a labor negotiation? However, the orignial boycott might help get Hyatt to reverse their decision.

    While Hyatt may have made a sleazy business decision, I can't fathom how their decision could be a human rights violation.

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  20. Surely, the US human rights record in recent years is far worse than anything that the Chinese govt could manage. In fact, I cannot think of any wars that China has undertaken in the last thirty years against a foreign country (the last against Vietnam was more than thirty years ago).

    You're redefining human rights to meet your political agenda. Engaging in war itself is not part of the standard usage of the term. (Of course, war can be waged in a way that violates the standard definition.) This is not to say the US has no human rights violations -- there are plenty. If you were comparing the US to, say, Denmark, I think you'd be justified in vilifying the US. But any US violations pale in comparison to those of China.

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  21. It seems to the last anonymous commenter that killing many civilians during a meaningless war is not violation of human rights. And if it is, it is less dangerous than blocking certain part of internet (which is stupid and does not work, as anybody who watchs porn online in China will tell you ).

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  22. It seems to the last anonymous commenter that killing many civilians during a meaningless war is not violation of human rights. And if it is, it is less dangerous than blocking certain part of internet (which is stupid and does not work, as anybody who watchs porn online in China will tell you ).

    You seem again to not distinguish between what may be moral or immoral, and what are human rights. If I were to cheat on my spouse, this would be immoral. But it would be silly to claim human rights are being violated.

    My claim was not that the actions of the US are morally better than those of China. My claim was only that inside the band of what is called human rights, China has a far worse record than the US.

    And your choice example for China is a bit unfair. How about the fact that China executes more people each year than the rest of the world combined, many for nonviolent crimes without due process. Or China's suppresion and colonization of Tibet? Or indiscriminantly firing into unarmed protestors? Etc.

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  23. My claim was only that inside the band of what is called human rights, China has a far worse record than the US.

    The number of people executed per year in China, while condemnable certainly, pales into insignificance compared to the number of people killed in wars launched by the US. While we might argue with the semantics about what constitutes "rightful and wrongful slaughter of human beings" it is absolutely clear that any reasonable definition of "human rights" cannot exclude the rights of those burnt to their horrible deaths by "daisy cutters".

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  24. It is interesting to seek what the later Wittgenstein called "a family resemblance" among GASARCH's various criteria.

    Fans of IAS history professor Jonathan Israel will recall his apt description of the then-radical principles of the early Enlightenment:

    "Radical Enlightenment envisaged philosophical reason as the only guide in human life, sought to base theories about society on the principle of equality, and separated philosophy, science, and morality entirely from theology, grounding morality [...] on secular criteria alone and especially the principle of equality.

    Radical Enlightenment was further quintessentially defined by its insistence on full freedom of thought, expression, and the press, and by identifying democracy as the best form of government.

    Regrettably, if we were to require that CCC---or any other meeting---be hosted only by radically enlightened nations ... then there would be no more academic meetings anywhere ... except maybe ... Denmark? ... the Netherlands? :)

    Perhaps it is more useful (IMHO) to reflect that "hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos" have for centuries been the main enemies of enlightment, and to ask ourselves---upon an informal, individual basis---what contribution(s) that academic cultures like the CCC, can make to this struggle? A struggle that soberingly in the 21st century, will perhaps grow to be more desperate than in any previous century (given a planetary population heading toward 10^10)?

    This suggestion owes much to the Quakers, at whose meetings individuals are guided by ideals of individual conscience and fellowship. IMHO, no academic culture or profession can go far wrong, if its members are broadly mindful that it is always an option to follow this path.

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  25. Boycotting countries that have problems with human rights only worsens environment for people living in that countries, leaving them alone with an authoritarian government. Instead, openness and knowledge availability can change these peoples view of the world, research, education, life prospectives. There is more than enough isolation for these people already.

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  26. Well then, it is settled. The comment section of Computational Complexity has determined that the United States has a worse human rights record than China. I guess the only remaining question is whether the US or Israel is the worst country in the world. But either answer to that question leads to contradiction. If you say Israel, then the US isn't the worst (which is absurd), but if it is the US, then Israel is not (which is equally absurd). Thus the worst country in the world can't be defined. Perhaps we will have to settle for a tie at the bottom. I hope I don't get arrested for writing this, but someone has to speak truth to power.

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  27. Every year Lance, as the SIGACT chair, should issue a world human right report ranking all the countries in the world and then we pick the top three country to have S/F/C.

    Come on, Guys, have a life!

    On the other hand, how easy to get a visa for outside people is a real issue here. If it is easy to get a visa to North Korea, I will support to have conference there. I heard that they have cheap hotels.

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  28. this blog is getting ridiculous.

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  29. This post reminds me some post by Mihai years ago worrying about his visiting China could increase the legitimacy of Chinese government. Now he has returned. Does the legitimacy of Chinese government increase or decrease? Anybody takes a guess?

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  30. @thinkingpost I totally agree. It's kind ironic that our crypto research is at the end of the day used against us via this corrupt government. Even more ironic, we try to teach them state of the art techn and other methods, and in return we get backstabbed 80% of the time.

    Maybe a good way to resolve this problem without regrets is not to assist these countries. If they naturally progress and get to the level of sophistication where they can threaten our security, well, this is fair enough, at least no reason for regrets on our part that we actually assisted them in the backstab process.


    @anona 7:25

    Boycotting countries that have problems with human rights only worsens environment for people living in that countries, .....
    Not true, what in effect happens by attending these countries, we provide false hopes to the people and additionally subsidize the government more than the local people. If we boycott it completely, the government will turn to us, giving us leverage for discussion -- (if you dont change, we won't help you). Finally, this might lead to the cleanest things of all, "revolution" within that specific country!


    @anon 10:14
    this blog is getting ridiculous.

    Quite the contrary, your comment is ridic and unreasonable.

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  31. W.r.t. #5: To protest Human Rights Violations in America [...] its not clear where you would decide to NOT have a conference. America is so large and diverse, and no one state or city did these things, that its not clear how you would express your outrage.

    It is obvious, but worth pointing out, that most countries seem more diverse to inhabitants than outsiders, and nowhere does any one state or city decide national policy. (You could boycott Washington D.C., I suppose?)

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  32. OK, Bill's post is a troll post, and I agree with the commenter saying this blog becomes ridiculous. Nevertheless, while we are at it, this is what I think:

    Sorry, but I wasn't convinced that the Chinese government is so evil. I claim that they are doing their best to stabilize, advance and feed their 1 billion population, by their standards. It's not my job or authority to judge countries I don't know well, based on, sometimes biased, media reports and unprofessional NGO's.

    The same with other countries. E.g., the US. Claiming that--by definition--launching a war is immoral has no ethical basis. I do not know of any sound ethical system, forbidding the use of force altogether.

    Third, even if these countries do violate some "human rights", I do not see this as a sufficient reason to boycott them. It depends on the proportion of violations, compared with the consequences of not doing so, for instance.
    Seeing everything through the lenses of "human rights" is an unsound dogmatic view.

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  33. nice one, aaron.

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  34. @6:23
    Sorry, but I wasn't convinced that the Chinese government is so evil.

    While not "so" evil, certainly "evil and corrupt to an unprecedented degree."

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  35. Corruption in Communist China? Let's see...according to this website,

    http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009/cpi_2009_table

    it is ranked 79 out of the 180 countries studied, with 1 being the least corrupted. So, it is neither among the best nor among the worst.

    Maybe we should use this table to help us find a suitable conference location, or eliminate the unsuitable ones.

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  36. http://www.transparency.org ???

    how reliable would be a german (self-proclaimed reputable) company be whose main sponsors are exclusively mainland chinese.

    not very. try again.

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  37. http://www.transparency.org ???

    how reliable would be a german (self-proclaimed reputable) company be whose main sponsors are exclusively mainland chinese.


    Where's your proof? Maybe you could add it to their Wikipedia page, as long as it's not original research.

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  38. anona 7:25 @ anon 11:15:

    the government will turn to us, giving us leverage for discussion (if you dont change, we won't help you)

    Even after years of boycotting, people like Kim Jong-il, Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin ets. will never call for scientific help. And the rest are not to be feared of.

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  39. Maybe the next CCC should be held in Guantanamo, the paradise of the Human Rights.

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