If you’re not a researcher in machine learning, you probably haven’t heard of the NIPS conference. Don’t let the name (acronym of Neural Information Processing Systems) distract you: it’s machine learning. Language is well-known to lag behind the times: that’s why we still “dial” on touch-screens and write on dry-erase white “blackboards”.
Established in 1987, NIPS has been a flagship, top-tier research conference for 30 years. To the uninitiated, the name did occasionally raise eyebrows: mostly, when googling “nips” and getting “mature content” but also the occasional question concerning overrepresentation of Japanese people. The rest of us mature, well-adjusted adults managed to compartmentalize these distinct senses — much as we do with other dual-use words, such as ass, dick, pussy,
n***** (well, not that one).
Fast-forward to 2018, when the name has suddenly become problematic. We don’t know if the tweet by this twit (talk about informative physiognomy!) is what actually got the ball rolling, but now “The NIPS executive board is currently discussing the possibility of changing the name of the NIPS conference.” This reddit commentator got it exactly right:
The thing is: it is not “just a name”, it is about a power game, a display of power over a big entity. It has been done in many organizations (private and public), in the last 5 years, throughout the US. Look at the way this is being presented:
The specification of an oppressor (the conference) and an oppressed entity (the women), the definition of how that oppression is being implemented (i.e. verbal communication, in jokes made in conference related events, that CERTAIN women and men dislike) and how what change is required in order to eliminate the oppression or neutralize the oppressor.
Does this template sound familiar? If yes, it is because it was used over and over and over in other places. The thing is not about the name. The thing is about what certain people in this thread know that is behind the reasoning, and the endgame, of this type of requests.
This is nothing but a bald-faced power grab. We must understand this as a (probably lost) battle in the Cold Civil War — and not some intellectual debate, which the other side emphatically does not want. I don’t see this war being won by rational arguments. In particular, to save science, we must first drain the higher education swamp — and nothing short of a full reset will do. Glenn Reynolds has been writing about The Higher Education Bubble and every decent man must do his bit to hasten its bursting. De-funding and certification are two obvious lines of attack; we shall try to elaborate in future posts.