Thursday, December 29, 2016

Conferences and Technology:

Intellectual Property in the Digital Age

I came across an interesting opinion piece recently by Wolf Frommer from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, that criticized the growing trend of people taking digital photos of slides at conference papers--and then posting the images on social media.

The concern was that some speakers present work at conferences that has not yet been published, and rampant unauthorized publication could ultimately drive such authors away, and thereby undercut the value of technical conferences.  This, of course, is an issue that affects all scientific and engineering disciplines, so I thought the topic might be of interest to those reading this blog.

I, too, have been noticing people taking photos at meetings instead of taking notes, but I had not thought that they might be sharing this material.  And I hadn't thought about the potential implications of such sharing.  My own concern was really limited to whether someone raising their arms over their heads to take a picture would block my view!

I therefore found this broader concern something worth thinking about, and shared it with a couple of my colleagues.  The reaction convinced me that there were more dimensions to this issue than I first thought.

One person pointed out that some meetings have begun posting the presentation slides.  For example, the NRC Regulatory Information Conference does so.  Of course, in such cases, the conference organizers normally make it clear in advance that they plan to post the slides, and presumably, they allow presenters the option for their slides not to be posted, or to provide a redacted version for the website.  And I did get a couple of reactions that organizers should provide advance warning if they plan to post the slides or record the session, and not pull it on the speaker at the last minute. 

Some felt that it is the responsibility of the conference organizers to establish guidelines for conduct at their meetings.  They can either ask people not to photograph slides, or to remind people that slides shouldn't be shared without the author's consent.  And/or, the speaker can make such a statement at the start of his/her presentation.  People taking this view liken the unauthorized distribution of slides to the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted music downloaded from websites.

When people understand potential copyright and other issues, most will respect the boundaries.  Everyone acknowledged there will always be people who don't respect such restrictions, and that it will be very difficult to get 100% compliance.  Expelling people from meetings, as Frommer suggests, requires more oversight of audiences than is likely to be possible.  However, if people become aware of material posted without authorization, they can request that it be taken down or contact the employers of the individuals violating the rules.

This is not a perfect solution, of course, but the issue appears to be one more example of the fact that we have to adjust all our practices to the realities of the ability of modern technology to allow everyone to record and distribute material.  This seems to be a situation that merits more attention, and the development of explicit guidelines for conference organizers, speakers, and attendees. 


Friday, December 23, 2016

Dammed If They Do:

...Dammed If They Don't

An interesting news item crossed my desk--OK, my computer screen--recently.  It was an article about a new dam in Ethiopia, Gibe III.  The article details impacts we have heard before about dams affecting agricultural lands and fisheries downstream.  It also brings out the conflict between modernization and maintaining old ways.  The opponents complain that the project threatens the way of life of the people downstream of the dam, and resent that way of life being characterized as primitive or backward.  The proponents point out that the dam will bring power to a power-impoverished population, and will give them a product to export to neighboring countries.  They complain that the opponents “don’t want to see developed Africa; they want us to remain undeveloped and backward to serve their tourists as a museum.”

At the risk of using a bad pun, this seems like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.  While the rhetoric sounds like it's gotten rather heated in Ethiopia, and I don't know enough about the politics there to judge either side, I can guess that they would have been subject to criticism no matter what they did--had they decided not to build a dam, they could have been accused of holding their entire population back.  Having decided to build the dam, they are accused of ignoring the interests of the local communities affected.  

But as I thought about it, I felt that this kind tension between different interests had a very familiar ring.  I know these kinds of reactions most of all from the nuclear power side--local communities that worry about the local impacts versus the larger population that needs reliable, cost-effective electricity.  But I have also seen similar issues play out in the siting of gas pipelines, wind farms, and even of solar power arrays.  In the case of dams, the impacts on people's homes and livelihood may be more direct and more severe than in some other cases, but for the local populations, all of the impacts are important.

As in all things related to our infrastructure, there are no easy answers.  Decisionmakers have to balance many factors in making decisions--the need for a secure and adequate supply of electricity for the overall population, the interests of local communities affected, the environment, etc.  No decision is without some negative impacts.  The continuing challenge is to find ways to balance the benefits and the shortcomings.  The decisions will always be subject to criticism from some quarter, but failing to make a decision, or making a decision based on the loudest voice or on other faulty grounds will, in the long run, always prove to be a worse choice. 


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nuclear History and ANS:

American Nuclear Society Presidents

I am pleased and proud to report that the American Nuclear Society (ANS) recently completed a project to post brief bios of all 61 ANS past presidents (plus the current president).  Pleased, because many of the past presidents were icons in the early development of nuclear power, or played key roles in the evolution and growth of the nuclear industry, and it is wonderful to have so many of their stories in one place.  Proud, because I had a role in helping solicit biographical information from the living past presidents and in searching for information on the deceased past presidents.  But let me quickly add that this was not a solo effort.  It involved the contributions of many people, both other ANS past presidents, ANS staff and others I contacted in the course of my research.

I had known the history of a number of the past presidents before I started the effort, and after I was elected ANS president (I served in 2001-2), I was always awed and humbled to be in such company.  So many of them were either founding fathers (yes, they were all men in the early days) of the industry, or leaders in its development and evolution. 

In fact, what I did know about some of the past president is probably what spurred me to initiate the project.  I wanted to share the history I knew with others, and to fill in the history of the ones I didn't know much about.  Assembling the activities and accomplishments of all the past presidents, and fleshing out more details on those I did know, provides a much more complete picture than I previously had and provides an impressive view of the important roles in nuclear power development played by the leadership of ANS.  I do encourage people to click on the link above and then click on the links for individual past presidents to get a glimpse of this history. 

In the meantime, a few of statistics will provide some idea of the scope and nature of the accomplishments: 

More than 20 of the past presidents, including almost every one of the earliest presidents, had some role in the earliest stages of nuclear power development.  Many worked on aspects of the Manhattan Project or on the earliest nuclear submarines.  Among the specific early reactors and facilities that were mentioned in articles I found on the early work of the ANS past presidents were such familiar names as the Daniels Pile and the EBR-I, to name just two.  

From the earliest days through the present, a number of ANS presidents have come from the academic community or have served a stint in academia.  Several of these early past presidents were instrumental in the establishment of the first academic departments in nuclear engineering, and several, both early presidents and more recent ones, have headed nuclear engineering departments.  We have also had past presidents who, before or after their term as ANS president, have held high leadership positions in all parts of the nuclear industry--for vendors, for utilities, for architect-engineers, for government, for an industry trade group, and even in a law firm.  A number of the past presidents have worked in more than one segment of the industry, and quite a few were in the nuclear Navy early in their careers.  

Many past presidents have been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the nuclear industry, as well as in the entire science and engineering community. 

Unfortunately, several of the bios are a bit sketchier than I would have liked.  This is in part due to the lack of much material in some cases, but it is also due to time limitations, both on my part and on the part of the ANS staff who helped edit, format, and post the bios.  As it is, it took just about a year to assemble everything.  For this, as well as for other reasons, we made conscious decisions not to make the bios too long or detailed, and to limit them to professional activities, accomplishments and recognition.    

It should also hasten to add that we have many other ANS members, past and present, who have made similarly major contributions to the industry.  This effort focused only on past presidents, and is not intended to suggest that they are the only ones who made such contributions.  Nor is it intended to suggest that the only measure of the accomplishments of these past presidents is their titles and awards. 

Finally, I want to thank all the people who helped make this project possible--all the living past presidents who provided me their biographical information; a couple of past presidents, most notably Ted Quinn and Jim Tulenko, who provided me with bios for several deceased past presidents; a number of people in companies and organizations I contacted where some of the deceased past presidents had worked who provided me with information I couldn't find on the Web; Linda Zec of the ANS staff, who sandwiched this effort between all her other duties (and, I might add, who got very interested in the project and sometimes even worked on it on weekends); and several people Linda worked with who formatted and posted the bios as we finished them. 

This project never would have been completed without all these contributions.  I hope the effort will allow more people a glimpse into some of the many accomplishments of the leadership of the American Nuclear Society.