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    A few months back ACM sent all the members finances. I don’t seem to have saved the sheet, but I remember something like 95% of their revenue coming from digital library subscriptions. They can’t afford to go completely free for that reason.

    On the other hand, I vaguely remember most of that 95% being institutional subscriptions, so making it free for individuals might be doable.

    EDIT: found it!

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      then let’s just fund the ACM directly rather than funding research that we then have to pay for again in order to access it.

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      Honestly, I feel the ACM prices are fair.

      Membership with library access is only $198 a year, and realistically that’s not a burden for most people who would want access.

      Furthermore, as the author points out, “The ACM exists to serve the field of computing and society itself,” and the main way they fund that work is through membership fees and charging for library access. The money has to come from somewhere.

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        If journal access is the only value that the ACM can provide for their membership fees, then they don’t have much of a legitimate reason to exist. Real professional societies do much more, both for their members and for society at large. I can appreciate that the ACM doesn’t have anything close to the kind of leverage that they would need to really fulfill their mission, but they’ll never get there with that kind of petty gatekeeping mindset and revenue model. It’s simply off-putting.

        Here’s what Scott Aaronson had to say about the practice of charging for access to academic research. Please do follow the links to statements from John Baez and Donald Knuth, too.

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          Journal access isn’t the only value they provide, it’s the only thing they provide that gets them net revenue. They also do things like run conferences, running the library, and “magazines”. You can read the full breakdown here.

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            Membership is what brings them revenue. Tying that to journal access is just a marketing strategy.

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          I looked into getting ACM membership, but unfortunately I did not agree with all of their principles and other things as stated, and did not wish to compromise my own integrity or insult their stance by agreeing to a membership just so I could download articles.

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            Woof. I see what you mean.

            They’re really walking themselves out onto an ethical cliff, aren’t they?

            I’ve never gone for membership simply because the price/value equation never made sense to me, but having read the above now I have two reasons to avoid it :)

            I own a hardbound set of volumes 1-3 of their History of Programming Languages series though, and treasure them :)

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              Any chance you can point out the problematic principle?

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                It’s less about one single principle, and more about the fact that many of these are an INCREDIBLY slippery slope.

                Let me give you an example:

                3.1 Ensure that the public good is the central concern during all professional computing work.

                Step back and think about that for a moment.

                Is anything any of us ever does in this industry short of those of us doing charity work REALLY in the public good?

                Lots of folks think writing open source software is in the public good. Is it? It encourages the use of computers, which have some VERY serious environmental impacts both in terms of their manufacture and their use at scale.

                It’s a very slippery slope. I appreciate the fact that they are striving to live and work by a set of ideals, but my point is that trying to reduce those ideals down to an actionable set of guidelines for our daily work is an incredibly daunting task, and possibly impossible.

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                  Is anything any of us ever does in this industry short of those of us doing charity work REALLY in the public good?

                  Yes! (After a long career of “not really”).

                  World would be a markedly worse place for humans without the stuff I get to work on (a widely used study aid for medicine), including a few people who are alive today because their doctors were able to look things up (in much of the world the specialist textbooks you would otherwise need are prohibitively expensive).

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                    As usual I phrased that poorly.

                    I wasn’t saying that such jobs don’t exist, because I’ve worked at jobs like that as well.

                    What I was ham fisted-ly trying to communicate is that not everyone is so lucky, and so putting that in their list of tenets is creating a moral quandary where there doesn’t need to be one.

                    Do no harm is enough for me.

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              Huh, I admit I didn’t read the principles very carefully, but after skimming through them these all seem pretty reasonable to me. Could you say which ones you don’t agree with?

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                For what it’s worth, while I don’t like the ACM’s code of ethics I do support something in the form of the ASME code of ethics or the AlChE code of ethics.

                A big difference I see between the ACM and those other forms is that there is a focus not on some lofty idealism but instead on the realpolitick of a guild looking to protect its interest. An extremely cynical reading of those classical engineering ethics suggests an impetus of “Hey, look, people don’t understand what we do and they’re gonna blame us if we fuck up. so, we need to explicitly always be trying to serve the public good so that they trust us, ensure we don’t engage in buddyfucking that would harm our guild, and act in a generally moral way that means our mandate to charge what we do to do the work we do to the standards we want is not revoked.”

                I’ll point at a few to give the flavor, though I think @asthasr has a good explanation of overall what bothers me.

                In section 1.2, “harm” is vague and made worse by the frequent qualifier of “unjustified”. If somebody thinks something is “justified”, poof, there goes the protections.

                The requirement to use “generally accepted best practices” is so at odds with how software is actually developed today that it shakes my belief in the empirical grounding of any of what follows. Ditto the absurd idea that “consequences of data aggregation and emergent properties of systems should be carefully analyzed”–not that those sentiments are wrong, but they’re so clearly not how we do software “engineering” outside of a few niche applications.

                The entire bit about “capricious or misguided reporting of risks” is basically useless–practitioners must report risks, expect when there’s a chance the reporting might introduce “harm”. So, your obligation is to report issues except when reporting it might have further issues. The ASME criteria (criteria section, 1.3.1) is a lot more straightforward:

                Whenever the Engineers’ professional judgments are over ruled under circumstances where the safety, health, and welfare of the public are endangered, the Engineers shall inform their clients and/or employers of the possible consequences.

                You report the risks, always. If they go ahead with it and you believe there is imminent danger to the public, you go to the authorities. You don’t have this “a computing professional should carefully assess relevant aspects of the situation” nonsense–if you see something, you say something, and if it’s bad enough to endanger the public you fucking report it.

                The problem with the ACM stuff here is that, frankly, it’s very rare that any individual software system is going to pose such an obvious threat to life and limb (compared with, say, a bridge) that a practitioner is going to risk souring their relationship with their work over it. Only recently have we seen any approximation of this behavior with the walkouts over ICE contracts or what have you, but that’s been quite limited.

                In section 1.4, the wording of discrimination includes the phrase “inappropriate factor”. This implies that there are in fact appropriate factors for discrimination, and thus some subset of people that should be discriminated against. This goes directly against (in my reading) the immediately preceding claim of that we “should foster fair participation of all people, including those of underrepresented groups.”. Well, which is it?

                It goes on to talk about “computing professionals should take action to avoid creating systems or technologies that disenfranchise or oppress people.” What exactly does this mean? If I work on software for ultrasound used in abortions, am I not aiding in disenfranchising or oppressing future people? If I work on door lock software for prisons where we put violent white nationalists, am I not doing the same? What about banking software that by necessity only serves those with some pre-existing form of wealth?

                Section 1.5 is about supporting patents. In the first paragraph, we are told to “respect copyrights, patents, trade secrets, license agreements, and other methods of protecting authors’ works.” In the very next paragraph, “Computing professionals should not unduly oppose reasonable uses of their intellectual works”. Again, which is it? The entire bloody point of patents is to prevent any unauthorized use of intellectual work (for a good cause or no!) and grant a limited monopoly so as to encourage further innovation. The invocation of “protecting of authors’ works” is supporting a fictional narrative where we don’t live in a world where every salaried or engaged software engineer signs away their rights as parts of Assignments of Invention.

                It goes on and on, and I won’t take up more space here.

                The real failure of the ACM document is that it’s so goddamn long. Any sort of reasonable ethical boundaries need to be succinct, trivially seen to be representative of common practice, and ideally not containing text that directly contradicts itself. The ACM Code fails on all three of those counts for me.

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                  The problem with these sorts of lists is that they are meaningless without an ethics. What does it mean to “do no harm?” What is the “public good?” What is the justifying authority behind the “compelling belief” that accessing someone else’s system would help the public good?

                  Without an ethical basis this is worse than useless: it’s gormless sloganeering.

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                    i don’t think you have to provide a clear plan before saying you want to do no harm

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                      So what if I think it’s very harmful not to send your data to my religious organization for inspection to make sure you’re not sinning? That’s clearly “justified” disclosure of information.

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                  I’m sure you’re not the only one. For as toothless and out-of-touch as they are, they sure do a lot of purity testing and virtue signalling. It just serves to keep them irrelevant outside academia… which in turn sure doesn’t enhance the relevance of academia to industrial practice. The whole thing is a sad mess, IMHO.

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                    Seems like a pretty reasonable list, and the baseline of ethical, professional responsibility for somebody working in the field of computing. What in particular do you have an issue with?

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                      Interesting. You may not want to explain on a public forum but that’s some really mild stuff. If you dropped the “computing” phrases it wouldn’t be out of line in a list of Abrahamic religion’s sermon topics (and maybe other faiths, I don’t have first hand experience in those).

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                    Relevant: The former president of the ACM tweeted a few days ago that the ACM has adopted “the goal of opening the Digital Library within five years.” I can’t find any further information on that, though.

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                      In the meantime: Unpaywall finds you an alternate link that works without logging in.