What’s new is old in ethics and conduct

(h/t to Stark Draper, Elza Erkip, Allie Fletcher, Tara Javidi, and Tsachy Weissman for sources)

The IEEE Information Theory Society Board of Governors voted to approve the following statement to be included on official society events and on the website:

IEEE members are committed to the highest standards of integrity, responsible behavior, and ethical and professional conduct. The IEEE Information Theory Society reaffirms its commitment to an environment free of discrimination and harassment as stated in the IEEE Code of Conduct, IEEE Code of Ethics, and IEEE Nondiscrimination Policy. In particular, as stated in the IEEE Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct, members of the society will not engage in harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment, or bullying behavior, nor discriminate against any person because of characteristics protected by law. In addition, society members will not retaliate against any IEEE member, employee or other person who reports an act of misconduct, or who reports any violation of the IEEE Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct.

I guess the lawyers had to have a go at it, but this is essentially repeating that the IEEE already had rules and so here, we’re reminding you about the rules. This statement is saying “the new rules are the old rules.” We probably need more explicit new rules, however. In particular, many conferences have more detailed codes of conduct (NeurohackWeek, RSA,
Usenix, APEC) that provide more detail about how the principles espoused in the text above are implemented. Often, these conferences have formal reporting procedures/policies and sanctions for violations: many IEEE conferences do not. The NSF is now requiring reporting on PIs who are “found to have committed sexual harassment” so incidents at conferences where the traveler is presenting NSF-sponsored should also be reported, it seems.

While the ACM’s rules suggest making reporting procedures, perhaps a template (borrowed from another academic community?) could just become part of the standard operating procedure for running an IEEE conference. Just have a member of the organizing committee in charge, similar to having a local arrangements chair, publicity chair, etc. However, given the power dynamics of academic communities, perhaps people would feel more comfortable reporting incidents to someone outside the community.

Relatedly, The Society also approved creating an Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (I’m not on it) who have already done a ton of work on this and will find other ways to make the ITSOC (even) more open and welcoming.

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Register soon for the 2017 North American School of Information Theory

The site for the 2017 North American School of Information Theory is now live and registration will begin next week. The IT Schools have been going strong for the last few years and are a great resource for students, especially new students, to get some exposure to information theory research beyond their own work and what they learned in class. Most schools do not have several people working on information theory. For students at such institutions the school provides a great way to meet other new researchers in the field.

Jan Hein van Dierendonck’s Painting of Shannon

Jan Hein van Dierendonck, a science writer and illustrator/cartoonist from Leiden, recently contacted the IT Society about an oil painting he made of Claude Shannon. He has kindly given permission to post it here. It will be used by some of the Shannon Centenary events this year.

Claude Shannon, by Jan Hein van Dierendonck

Claude Shannon, by Jan Hein van Dierendonck

Claude Elwood Shannon (April 30, 1916 – February 24, 2001)

In the Forties a juggling Claude Elwood Shannon rides a unicycle down the endless hallways of Bell Labs, a telecommunications research laboratory south of New York. Perhaps this balancing act puts his brilliant mind in the right state to look at complex problems in an original way and to devise the formulas that initiate the Digital Era.

As a 21-year-old master’s degree student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shannon wrote his thesis demonstrating that electrical applications of Boolean algebra could construct and resolve any logical, numerical relationship. In 1948 this mathematician, electronic engineer, and cryptographer published a landmark paper that laid the foundation for information theory. From that moment on, information is something computable. Whether you are dealing with images, text or sound: convert everything into zeros and ones and remove all redundant information and noise. This has changed our world completely. Without Shannon’s Information Theory, your phone simply wasn’t smart.

Averse to fame, the professor in electronics preferred tinkering with his amazing magnetic mouse in a maze with memory and his mechanic juggling robots. He also refined his Juggling Theorem: the number of hands (H) multiplied by the total time a ball spends in the air (F) and is held in a hand (D) is in balance with the number of balls (N) multiplied by the total time a hand is empty (V) and holding a ball (D).

On April 30, 2016, he would have been a hundred.