[Cosmo-torun] IAU B1 Newsletter No.6 Aug. 11, 2020

Boud Roukema boud at astro.uni.torun.pl
Sat Aug 15 16:04:02 CEST 2020

Dear Dmitry,

On Tue, 11 Aug 2020, Dmitry Bisikalo wrote:

> With this letter, we kindly ask for your view on the format this
> meeting should take and how it should be organized. Specifically, we
> ask you to answer the following questions.

You have omitted the most important question:

0. What practical and ethical guidelines do you recommend for (i) the
software and (ii) the hosting services to use for the online meeting?

Could you please send this question to Commission B1 members? Thank you in
advance. My answers are below.

> 1. Would you be interested in participating in such a meeting and in
> giving a talk? If yes, please, provide a (very preliminary) title of
> your presentation.

Tentatively, yes:

"A galaxy formation software pipeline aiming at full reproducibility
on any POSIX-compatible operating system"

> 2. Which way of giving a talk would be more suitable for you, live
>  presentations or pre-recorded ones?

I see little point in pre-recorded presentations - conferences are
most useful for their interactive aspects.

> Should we include only short contributed talks in the program or
> will some more extended review talks also be helpful?

I think that reviews should be proposed as drafts on any git
repository satisfying IAU ethical guidelines. (Repositories that
forbid access to scientists based on their nationality or geographical
location are disqualified under IAU anti-discrimination guidelines;
this disqualifies github and bitbucket.)

> 3. Should we plan a special session limited to topical discussions?
> Can you suggest some issues to be discussed at the session?

A topical discussion on reproducibility, free licensing and long-term
sustainable astronomy software development would be very useful.  Too
many astronomers choose "direct action" - we publish software on a git
repository with a fuzzy licence (or an absent licence, i.e. the Berne
convention, which forbids copying, modification and redistribution) and
ignore the question of long-term integration of astronomy software
into the wider free-software and open-source-definition-software
(FOSS) environment.

Question 0 for Commission B1 members:

What practical and ethical guidelines do you recommend for (i) the
software and (ii) the hosting services to use for the online meeting?

0.(i) The conferencing software must be free-licensed, with a licence
satisfying either the free software definition or the open source

The software must use open protocols that are compatible with
free-software licences and that do not restrict astronomers to any
particular vendors (corporations or citizens' associations or individual

Practical videoconferencing possibilities include bigbluebutton (bbb),
jitsi, jami [1], the matrix protocol (with a front end such as
element.io) [2], and irc (well-tested over many decades and highly

0.(ii) The hosting services should (1) allow the astronomers using the
service to install the conferencing software on their own servers,
e.g. at their research institute; (2) allow wide interoperability with
equivalent services; (3) allow easy and practical export of the
astronomers' stored data from that particular service; (4) must not require
the astronomer to install any unverifiable (e.g. binary) software on
his/her computer. These reasons are all practical rather than ethical.

Criteria (i) + (ii) imply that Zoom and Slack are excluded, because
they violate most of the practical constraints (1)-(4). Moreover, the
ethical violation with using Zoom or Slack (or MS Teams or an equivalent
Google service) is that "the astronomer is the product to be sold to
advertisers". Astronomy, especially in the context of the IAU, is meant
to be an inspiration and example to the world. We should not give the
wider public the bad example of humans becoming products to be sold to

For more details on bbb/jitsi/jami/matrix, see

[1] https://switching.software/replace/zoom

[2] https://switching.software/replace/slack

For more details on the overall answers and the IAU's practical and ethical
considerations to take into account for question 0, see

[3] https://cosmo.torun.pl/blog/slack_zoom_prison .

> Since we believe that a preference should be given to young
> scientists (PHD students, young PHDs within three years after the
> defense), we would be grateful if you spread this information among
> young researchers in your home institution.

The easiest way to do this is with a conventional mailing list, so I'm
cc-ing this answer to our local publicly archived mailing list. I see
nothing private in your questions, and after all, the IAU is a network
of citizens' associations, so we really should be shifting to fully
public, transparent, rational discussion. Commission B1 -
Computational Astrophysics [4] - has even less justification for
secrecy than any other part of the IAU! :)

> We will be grateful to receive your responses by 1st September,
> 2020. And do not forget that the IAU Symposium 362 is not cancelled
> but just postponed till June 2021!

> Yours sincerely,
> Members of the IAU Commission B1 Organizing Committee


[4] https://www.iau.org/science/scientific_bodies/commissions/B1/

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