Voices – LATICE 2017

[Edit: The conference is now being held in Hong Kong. I don’t know the reason behind the change but the original issue has been addressed. I have been accepted to Learning @ Scale so will not be able to attend anyway, as it turns out, as the two conferences overlap by two days and even I can’t be in the US and Hong Kong at the same time.]

There is a large amount of discussion in the CS Ed community right now over the LATICE 2017 conference, which is going to be held in a place where many members of the community will be effectively reduced to second-class citizenship and placed under laws that would allow them to be punished for the way that they live their lives. This affected group includes women and people who identify with QUILTBAG (“Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans (Transgender/Transsexual), Bisexual, Asexual, Gay”). Conferences should be welcoming. This is not a welcoming place for a large percentage of the CS Ed community.

There are many things I could say here but what I would prefer you to do is to look at who is commenting on this and then understand those responses in the context of the author. For once, it matters who said what, because not everyone will be as affected by the decision to host this conference where it is.

From what I’ve seen, a lot of men think this is a great opportunity to do some outreach. A lot has been written, predominantly by men, about how every place has its problems and so on and so forth.

But let’s look at other voices. The female and QUILTBAG voices do not appear to share this support. Asking for their rights to be temporarily reduced or suspended for this ‘amazing opportunity’ is too much to ask. In response, I’ve seen classic diminishment of genuine issues that are far too familiar. Concerns over the reductions of rights are referred to as ‘comfort zone’ issues. This is pretty familiar to anyone who is actually tracking the maltreatment and reduction of non-male voices over time. You may as well say “Stop being so hysterical” and at least be honest and own your sexism.

Please go and read through all of the comments and see who is saying what. I know what my view of this looks like, as it is quite clear that the men who are not affected by this are very comfortable with such a bold quest and the people who would actually be affected are far less comfortable.

This is not a simple matter of how many people said X or Y, it’s about how much discomfort one group has to suffer that we take their concerns seriously. Once again, it appears that we are asking a group of “not-men”, in a reductive sense, to endure more and I cannot be part of that. I cannot condone it.

I will not be going. I will have to work out if I can cite this conference, given that I can see that it will lead to discrimination and a reduction of participation over gender and sexuality lines, unintentionally or not. I have genuine ethical concerns about using this research that I would usually reserve for historical research. But that is for me to worry about. I have to think about my ongoing commitment to this community.

But you shouldn’t care what I think. Go and read what the people who will be affected by this think. For once, please try to ignore what a bunch of vocal guys want to tell you about how non-male groups should be feeling.


5 Comments on “Voices – LATICE 2017”

  1. Mark Guzdial says:

    Totally agree that my comments need to consider my context as a old, white, established, privileged (etc.), and male. I disagree that I ever referred to LaTICE as “some outreach.” It’s a conference. I worked with participants and students at LaTICE 2016 in Mumbai as peer scholars and researchers. When I work with schoolage children, who know less than I do and am less powerful than me, it’s outreach. LaTICE is a sharing of practices and scholarship in a research community, and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t say otherwise (though, please do point out where I screwed up, if I did — with my thanks!).

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    • nickfalkner says:

      I wasn’t trying to refer to something that you said, specifically, and, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, the term outreach has a different weight for me. It’s about what I thought was the intention of LATICE, which was to place conferences in locations that didn’t often see a conference of that breadth and nature, with strong ex-regional participation.

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  2. Alan Fekete says:

    Nick,

    Thanks for an interesting way to think about this discussion.

    While it is only a minor point of your article, I am surprised by the remark “I will have to work out if I can cite this conference”.

    I would expect to cite an article if I have built on the work reported in that article, or if the article is an important part of the conversation or larger agenda within which my new work sits in the scholarly community. I would say that the location of the prior work is not a barrier to citing it, nor the attitudes of the author, nor who else might have been excluded from the discussion in the earlier work. Flaws in the work would not deter me from citing it (though it is reasonable to mention those flaws); that would apply to cases where the work itself ignored certain concerns, even more than when the work appeared in a forum that ignored certain concerns.

    In maths there is plenty of precendent: in every case I know, researchers are willing to cite work published in eg Nazi or Soviet journals, if that work is relevant. The fact that those forums excluded other work, or even that the authors or editors may have played a role in suppression or atrocities, doesn’t diminish the role in the field of the things they did publish.

    Going or not going to a conference, or submitting or not submitting work to a journal, is a decision where it makes sense for each individual to consider based (to greater or lesser degree) the effect on members of the community. Where to locate a conference is a vital decision for the steering committee to make and they need to consider all the members of the community. But I would propose that deciding to cite work should be based only on the content of the work and its place in the intellectual evolution of the field.

    Here is a related question that may help tease apart the principles at stake: suppose there is a paper that did a study in a scientifically valid but unethical way; for example, it may have mistreated experimental animals, or decieved human participants, or collected data and then (in addition to analysing that in the study) used the data for profit or to do harm. Would you refuse to cite the paper? Would you refuse to read the paper (essentially pretending that it did not exist)? If you were an editor, would you be willing to publish something that re-does the study ethically, and pretends to be original?

    Alan Fekete

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    • nickfalkner says:

      Hi,

      We have made a lot of progress in defining ethical experimentation, in substantial reaction to a lot of what happened in the first half of the 20th Century and the Second World War. This did not prevent further unethical experimentation (The Tuskegee syphilis experiment springs to mind) but it has led to more thinking about exactly how we connect ends and means. The fact that we have done something before, or got away with something before, is not an excuse to do it again.

      I am sure that you are well aware that the Nuremberg Code arose from the Nuremberg trials, which then gave us the Declaration of Helsinki. These have led to the formation of just about every other code, even if they no longer explicitly reference them. These are the cornerstones of contemporary research ethics and they are in reaction to exactly the horrors you alluded to. They are there to stop such activities happening again.

      The big point from Helsinki is “Studies should be discontinued if the available information indicates that the original considerations are no longer satisfied” – that is, if it’s no longer ethical. That’s it.

      To answer your question about the hypothetical paper. If I knew how it had been run, I would refuse to cite it or read it. I’m not pretending it doesn’t exist, I’m refusing to use data that has been collected in opposition to our existing ethical practice. The study shouldn’t have been completed, therefore it shouldn’t have been published, therefore I can’t use it. I can’t read it because otherwise I may end up using it accidentally and that compromises me and legitimises unethical research.

      To do anything else is to say that the ethics don’t matter. That the principles of “do no harm” and “benefit must exceed harm” don’t matter. You can’t pretend that it’s okay because you’ll use the data well. If someone else has been treated unethically, then we are no longer allowed to say “That’s ok, because I have a great application.”

      My institution has a simple rule: I cannot use data that should have been collected with ethics clearance if I carry out the experimentation before checking, even if such approval would have been given. That, by itself, is a strong signal as to the standard of behaviour that is expected from me and my colleagues.

      I were an editor and someone did the study ethically, then I have a dilemma, because I have to determine if the original study was used to support the new one or if we have genuine parallel research. The moment that we say “oh, unethical behaviour is fine as long as the results are good” we have slid immediately back to being able to treat people as something less than human. It’s a hard problem but, however it pans out, it should not end up with a “Oh, you did some terrible things but look at the results” because that will encourage unethical behaviour.

      People should not benefit from unethical behaviour, now that we know better.

      Regards,
      Nick.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Roger Hadgraft says:

    The conference is now in Hong Kong, so please submit a peer and come along. http://www.latice-conference.org

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