Jack Minker receives 2011 Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights Award

Oct 10, 2011

Professor Emeritus Jack Minker received the 2011 Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences for his work on human rights and scientific freedom of scientists. This award honors scientists for their contributions to safeguard or advance the human rights of other scientists throughout the world. Minker said that he is honored to receive the award. Other recipients of the award include Nobel laureate, Andrei Sakharov and the Cuban Economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello. “To be in distinguished company with Sakharov and other famous people, who worked very hard for the human rights of scientists, is overwhelming,” said Minker.

An internationally recognized leader in the field of human rights of computer scientists, Minker became involved with human rights in 1972 when he was asked to join the Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS) and to be in charge of finding human rights violations of people in computer science. “It was something I could not refuse to do,” said Minker, who continues to serve with the CCS as its Vice-Chair. He has also been Vice-Chair of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights (CSFHR) of the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM). Minker’s main efforts in this area occurred between 1974 and the mid 1990's, during which there were many problems with scientists’ human rights. Computer Scientists and other men and women of science were often harassed and sometimes prevented from working, from sending their children to the best schools and from holding scientific seminars. Many of them were imprisoned and had their lives threatened. Minker led multiple struggles for the release and more humane treatment of members of the Soviet Union scientific community such as Anatoly Shcharansky, cyberneticist Professor Alexander Lerner, and physicist Dr. Andrei Sakharov.

As Vice-Chair of CSFHR, Minker wrote about violations in Argentina, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Pakistan, Poland, Rumania, and other countries. He published four reports in the Communication of the ACM listing 300 computer scientists, who had human rights problems in 13 different countries. According to Minker, verifying the accuracy of the information collected was crucial; he dedicated his evenings and weekends to finish the reports. After the first report was published in 1981, people began to send him letters about their relatives, who were experiencing human rights violations. He also sent copies of the report to the computer scientists who were listed in it and, if their location was unknown, to their families. “The reports brought to the readers’ attention facts about specific human beings who had their rights violated so they weren’t forgotten,” said Minker.

Even as he worked on advancing the human rights of scientists, Minker continued to be a dedicated professor and a leading authority in artificial intelligence, deductive databases, logic programming and nonmonotonic reasoning. He was also the first Chairman of the University of Maryland’s Computer Science Department two years after he started his work in human rights. Amid all his accomplishments, he considers his endeavors as a humanist the best thing he has done during his career. “I have done good work in science and I received some awards, but the most rewarding work that I have done is my work in human rights,” said Minker. “Helping to build up a department is very satisfying, but to help a human being is a different thing. To give them hope is very rewarding. It is worth all the effort.”


Minker shares this award with Dr. Binayak Sen, a famous Indian pediatrician and defender of human rights committed to helping indigenous tribes in the poorest areas of India. The Heinz R. Pagels award was awarded to Minker and Sen by the New York Academy of Sciences, an independent nonprofit organization committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide.

About Dr. Minker:
An active member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) since 1958, Jack Minker has performed extensive service for the scientific community, including being the founding journal editor of The Theory and Practice of Logic Programming. Among his many awards are the 1996 University of Maryland Presidential Medal and the ACM and American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) 2005 Allen Newell Award. Minker is currently working on a book about his experiences as a human rights advocate.

For more information about Dr. Minker, click here.