December 2008

ISA name change is certainly not Imperialism

When ISA started up in Ireland, it was as the Instrument Society of America.

We and our ideas were invariably welcomed and understood among the officers and staff of the ISA, based as they are in North Carolina.

So, it mattered not that "America" was in the name.

Later we changed the name to the mouthful "ISA - Society for instrumentation, Systems, and Automation." However, the name was still a problem. And it was clumsy, too.

Thus, the movement began to change the name not only to recognize the internationalization of the organization but also to recognize the extraordinary change in the discipline towards the notion of automation.

Most instrument or control engineers have faced the question from time to time, "What IS instrumentation?"

The thinking was that Automation was a more useful term to use as it included instrumentation, controls, and their interaction in systems and allied disciplines like test and measurement and building environmental systems as well as process systems. It included the now ubiquitous computer, which hardly featured in the thoughts of the ISA founding fathers in 1945.

The Executive Council of ISA brought the latest name-International Society of Automation-before the Society, the Delegate Council, in 2007 and after lively debate, it failed pass muster. Some felt it was unnecessary to change the name, some felt the new name downgraded instrumentation, and some thought they did not have enough information to make the decision,

So, it was back to the drawing board. The Executive Council promised it would come back with a definition of the term "Automation" and consider whether the council would bring the motion before the delegate conference.

This year, after a considered campaign, the name change passed. There was little debate on the floor, and the motion carried on a show of hands. Nobody requested a roll-call vote.

ISA is the International Society of Automation.

Some took exception to the new name still.

Dieter Schaudel, a member in Europe and a former Senior Executive with Endress + Hauser, publicly renounced his membership in the society and gave his reason: "I see in the change of name an implied claim of ISA to world dominance in automation engineering, i.e. a further form of American imperialism ('the voice of the automation profession worldwide').

"Internationally, we are excellently positioned with IFAC in automation; the world does not need a new American society with an international claim to power. The financial crunch of the last 12 months should have taught us a lesson, and Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq too."

His comments played in the automation blogs and among trade commentators.

Had Schaudel bothered to attend the Delegate Council in Houston, or indeed his District Council in Madrid in May, he would have had ample opportunity to voice his objection and the delegates would have listened with respect.

Some present would possibly have reminded him that many countries closer to his own home have striven for World domination through history.

The ISA, as a democratic organization, democratically arrived at its decision. It may be wrong or it may be right, but associating these members, from so many countries, with U.S. military adventures seems disingenuous.

Indeed, I seem to remember German troops are involved in the conflict in Afghanistan.

While there may be some merits in some of the comments of Schaudel, he clouds the issue with his histrionic anti-Americanism.

I heartily agree with one comment on the wires that declared, "Herr Schaudel's response simply reflects xenophobic paranoia about America's 'international claim for power.' The U.S. has had the misfortune of bad leadership, which led the country into wars, which were mistakes. Somehow, Herr Schaudel links that to ISA's name change. The connection is narrow-minded nonsense."


Eoin Ó Riain ( is an ISA member and the Publications chair for ISA's District 12 (Europe).