The academic community’s longstanding traditions of inclusivity and sharing have enabled countless breakthroughs and unprecedented prosperity across the computer science and machine learning world. Now however, an increasing number of researchers are worried that political meddling could quash that spirit of cooperation.
The world’s biggest technical professional organization, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) issued a statement on May 22 that forbids its colleagues from Huawei and 68 of its affiliates from reviewing or accessing non-public papers submitted by other persons for publications; purchasing IEEE products such as hats, sweatshirts, or even coffee mugs; or participating in any non-public meetings that involve technical discussions.
The New York-based organization said they were bound to comply with US government sanctions announced on May 16 which placed the Chinese tech giant on the US Bureau of Industry and Security’s “Entity List.”
A screenshot of an email apparently sent to IEEE editors-in-chief began circulating on social media yesterday. It read in part: “We cannot use colleagues from Huawei as reviewers or Editors for the peer review process of our journals… If we continue to do so, this may have severe legal implications.” Synced has contacted the IEEE to confirm the email’s authenticity but has not yet received a response. Some IEEE editors-in-chief who asked not to be identified said they did not receive such an email.
Criticism of the IEEE’s new policy began almost immediately. Peking University Professor Zhang Haixia resigned from the IEEE NANO and IEEE JMEMS editorial boards, explaining “I am really shocked to hear that IEEE is involved in the ‘US Huawei Ban’ to replace all reviewers from Huawei, which is way beyond the scope of science and technology which I was trained in and following in my professional career… I have to say that, as a professor, I AM NOT accepting this.”
Shocked researchers and academics turned to social media to express their disappointment. Google Researcher David Ha tweeted “It’s sad to see IEEEorg ban Huawei employees from the peer-review process. It doesn’t feel right. I hope other scientific research bodies maintain a less US-centric, but more global outlook in their policy and governance.” UCLCS Associate Professor Emiliano De Cristofaro tweeted “IEEE is a for-profit corporation that does very little to the community, and we (CS) should ditch it entirely.”
The IEEE announcement prompted a heated discussion on the Reddit Machine Learning channel, with many concerned that academic inclusivity was at risk and that other academic tools or platforms such as the Cornell University’s repository of electronic preprints arXiv could also be subjected to US restrictions. A number of Reddit users are suggesting all IEEE publications be moved under the umbrella of IEEE Switzerland to avoid such US government restrictions.
The IEEE has more than 423,000 members in over 160 countries. It publishes over 100 peer-reviewed journals and about 30 percent of all electronics engineering and computer science literature.
In a statement released this afternoon as an official response to the public, IEEE stressed that their compliance with US trade restrictions should have minimal impact on IEEE members. Below is the complete text of their statement:
IEEE would like to clarify our response to recent additions to the U.S. Export Administration Regulations and what they mean to IEEE members worldwide, including those in China.
On Thursday, May 16, 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”), which administers and enforces the U.S. Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) specifically added Huawei Technology Ltd. and 68 of its affiliates (referred to collectively as “Huawei” in the following paragraphs) to the BIS “Entity List” found in Supplement No. 4 to EAR Part 744. Violations of the EAR carry significant civil or criminal penalties, including fines or prison sentences.
IEEE offers a wide range of activities and benefits for its members, volunteers and the wider technical community, including sponsoring more than 1,900 annual conferences and events worldwide and providing access to over 4.8 million publications on IEEE Xplore®. These services remain open to all, no matter their employer.
In providing these services (as a non-political, not-for-profit organization registered in New York) IEEE must comply with its legal obligations under the laws of the United States and other jurisdictions. Compliance with these regulations protects IEEE, our volunteers, and our members.
IEEE complies with U.S. government regulations which restrict the ability of the listed Huawei companies and their employees to participate in certain activities that are not generally open to the public. This includes certain aspects of the publication peer review and editorial process.
However, all IEEE members, including those employed by Huawei, can continue to participate in individual membership, corporate membership and voting rights; subscribe to and access IEEE’s digital library and other publication products; submit technical papers for publication; participate in and present at IEEE-sponsored meetings and conferences, and may sponsor and accept an IEEE award. Members affiliated with Huawei may also participate in business, logistics, and other meetings including those related to conference planning.
Huawei and its employees can continue to be a member of the IEEE Standards Association, including earning or exercising the voting rights of membership; attend IEEE standards development meetings, submit new proposals for standards, and participate and comment in public discussions of standards technology proposals.
Should the U.S. government clarify the application of the EAR with respect to peer review we will further advise the IEEE community.
IEEE is proud of the work our members do all over the world and we are committed to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen