Computer Architecture Today

Informing the broad computing community about current activities, advances and future directions in computer architecture.

The suicide of University of Florida student and ISCA’19 author Huixiang Chen a year ago shook our research community to the core. Everyone on SIGARCH’s Executive Committee mourns Huixiang on the first anniversary of his death. In connection with this tragedy, and elsewhere in the broad computing community, there have been disturbing allegations of multiple violations of code of ethics and review processes in multiple conferences in computer architecture and across computing. These allegations breach the trust and confidence our members place on the integrity of our review processes and our individual members to follow our code of ethics. They are particularly unnerving for the younger and newer members of the community, who rely on a fair system to build their careers.

The integrity of our peer review process is top priority for SIGARCH, and we hold the members of our community to the highest ethical standards. In the wake of the ISCA’19 tragedy and subsequent allegations of misconduct, SIGARCH worked with TCCA, in coordination with IEEE and ACM, to launch an investigation over allegations of irregularities in review processes for the student’s paper in ISCA’19. As SIGARCH officers became aware of additional alleged incidents of violations of the code of ethics at other architecture conferences, we filed a formal request to ACM to investigate these allegations independent of the ISCA’19 incident. As more evidence was revealed, SIGARCH officers made the case to ACM to launch an investigation with independent investigators and more resources. In February this year, ACM announced an independent investigation with IEEE, impaneling the Joint Investigative Committee (JIC) with an external legal counsel and an external investigator. JIC created a dedicated tip line that is independent of ACM and IEEE, to provide assurance of confidentiality in any communication by members of the community. We eagerly await the outcome of this JIC investigation.

The SIGARCH Executive Committee is aware of the community’s concerns, and has been working together with ACM in accordance with their policies. These policies call for the utmost confidentiality of the process, preclude transparency, require those bringing forward  allegations to identify themselves and do not lend themselves well to a rapid response. We in SIGARCH understand that this has been a long journey, share the frustration of members of the community and look forward to a report from JIC for a closure on these allegations.

In addition, SIGARCH has taken a number of positive steps together with other SIGs and TCCA  to improve our processes to respond to allegations of ethics violation, strengthen the integrity of review processes, and offer support for the well-being of our members:

  • We created CARES in 2018, the first of its kind ACM community resource for confidentially supporting individuals who want help from trusted community members if they experience harassment or discrimination at SIGARCH/SIGMICRO events (CARES members do not report violations).  Over the last year, we successfully lobbied ACM to extend the CARES mandate to support individuals who want to discuss publication ethics violations as part of addressing these issues;
  • Both ASPLOS and ISCA this year announced clear ethics guidelines to all program committee members, external reviewers, and authors, and they avoided the use of bidding in the paper assignment process;
  • We are updating and enhancing published best practices for conference organizers at SIGARCH sponsored conferences that will provide explicit guidelines for conference organizers with regards to code of ethics and review integrity;
  • The HotCRP service now tracks all downloads, a feature that can provide concrete evidence to ACM in reporting violations, and offers two-factor authentication for enhanced security;
  • We fully support the recent student-led initiative to promote the well-being of the student members in the community and have provided detailed feedback to its leaders both about the initiative and concrete steps in which SIGARCH can provide support.

ACM has strong policies for publication ethics, but there is room for improvement in the processes pertaining to reporting, investigation, and enforcement of sanctions for violations of these policies. We have been working to convey to ACM leadership the need to improve these processes in a way that empowers whistleblowers and deters violators. This is an issue not just for SIGARCH but for all computing research communities. These process improvements are taking longer than we would like, but we in SIGARCH are committed to working with ACM to bring change.

We on the SIGARCH Executive Committee call on the members of the computer architecture community to join us in a constructive dialogue about ways in which we can deter, educate each other, and respond to unethical behavior. At the same time, we reject calls to boycott our conferences and or calls that insinuate all conference organizers are complicit in large-scale collusion. Rooting out ethical violations and ensuring fairness and integrity in publications will be a long and on-going process; through recent actions taken, changes in the coming months and all of our stepping up, we will remember Huixiang as the person who inspired the computer architecture community to lead once more in the fight for ethical and professional conduct.

About the Authors: The SIGARCH Executive Committee includes Babak Falsafi (Chair), Natalie Enright Jerger (Vice Chair), Karin Strauss (Treasurer), Sarita Adve (Past Chair), and Board of Directors members Joel Emer, Boris Grot, Martha Kim and José F. Martínez.

Disclaimer: These posts are written by individual contributors to share their thoughts on the Computer Architecture Today blog for the benefit of the community. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal, belong solely to the blog author and do not represent those of ACM SIGARCH or its parent organization, ACM.