A question from Bill GASARCH (slightly edited):
There are SIX crypto conferences!
TCC (Theory of Cryptography Conference)
FSE (Fast Software Encryption)
1) Did I leave any out?
2) Why are there so many? Is it too many?
Amazingly, this isn’t even a complete list. (I also found it interesting that Bill included Africacrypt, while omitting several better ranked conferences.) In no particular order, we also have PKC (Public Key Cryptography), RSA Cryptographers’ Track, Financial Cryptography, ACNS (Applied Cryptography and Network Security), and Indocrypt. ICALP had a crypto track until that idea burned itself out. And don’t forget that crypto papers also get published at theory venues like STOC and FOCS, as well as at security venues like ACM CCCS and IEEE Security & Privacy. Whew!
Why are there so many conferences? I can give a partial answer here, but I can’t fully explain the phenomenon. The “flagship” crypto conferences (as determined by IACR) are spread geographically: Crypto in the US, and Eurocrypt/Asiacrypt in the obvious parts of the world. Indocrypt is almost entirely attended by people in India. Other conferences are targeted to specific “niches”: PKC for public-key crypto, TCC for theoretical crypto, and FSE for symmetric-key crypto. (See below for why this might be a bad thing.) Financial Cryptography, as I understand it, exists only so that people can travel to a nice location in the winter. (I’m serious.) Finally, some conferences (Africacrypt, Vietcrypt, and Mycrypt, to name some) are run in an effort to spur interest in the field in a particular location, and/or to evaluate the potential for holding a flagship conference in that location at some point in the future.
Are there too many conferences? I think so. I can’t see any inherent reason why there should be more papers per year generated in crypto than in other fields. Are there more interesting problems in crypto than in algorithms? Are there more people working on crypto than working on computational geometry? (Actually, the answer to this last question is probably ‘yes’, but seemingly not by enough to justify the huge increase in number of papers.)
But surely publishing more papers is better? NO!
- Many of the conferences I mentioned above have very poor reputations. (I’ll save a ranking of conferences for a later post…) If you publish a good paper in a poor conference, it is likely to get ignored. On the flip side, the sheer number of conferences, and the low “signal to noise” ratio in some of these conferences, make it easy for a researcher to miss a good result.
- CS has been arguing for a long time that conferences are better than (or equivalent to) journals. But this argument loses force once the number of weak conferences starts dominating the number of strong conferences. Getting crypto-specific for a moment, I can tell you from my own experience that people outside of crypto find it very difficult to evaluate people in crypto based on their publication record. This matters for grad admissions, hiring, and tenure decisions.
- The field tends to get fragmented, with results in a particular sub-specialty tending to appear only in a specialized conference instead of one of the flagship conferences. This was (and is) a concern with TCC: on the one hand it is great for everyone involved in “TCC style” research to gather at a conferences, on the other hand it does not seem good for the “TCC community” to be separate from the “Crypto community”.
- Having so many conferences seems to encourage a culture where every small result is submitted for publication. (Mind you, this is not the only factor; perhaps I’ll say more on this in a future post.) I personally would be happier in a world where everyone published less.
I have heard people say that the weakest 3 (say) crypto conferences should be disbanded. The irony is that there is no incentive for anyone to do this. As long as authors continue submitting, the conference will continue existing. How can we break the cycle?