(It’s been observed that posts with technical content get no comments, while “controversial” posts get more, so here goes…)
Michael Mitzenmacher encourages the theory community to figure out what STOC/FOCS should be, while David Karger suggests that STOC/FOCS should accept more applied results. Though I love applications of theory to problems in other areas, I find myself disagreeing with Karger and thinking almost exactly the opposite.
Here’s one radical proposal, that would have the effect of making the “STOC/FOCS experience” simultaneously more and less competitive, while also (I think) attracting more people and making the conferences themselves more relevant.
The idea is to have STOC/FOCS contain only those results of broad appeal and sufficient importance to the TCS community at large, interpreted stringently. I.e., these should be the papers that everyone in the community should be reading. I think this is the intent of STOC/FOCS anyway, but this intent has been lost by accepting too many papers. As others have so often complained, STOC/FOCS has become a “vanity” conference, driven by fads, where technically strong papers solving (sometimes) problems of marginal interest often appear. That is not to say these papers aren’t good, or aren’t important in their respective subfields. All I am questioning is whether they are of interest to the TCS community at large, instead of just being of interest to some smaller sub-community.
Can we find 60 papers, twice a year, that reach this high bar? Probably not. So let’s cut the number of papers accepted. Maybe have one day of talks, with no parallel sessions (so everyone could actually attend all the talks). Moreover, I would suggest accepting fewer papers if it is judged that there weren’t enough submissions of broad enough interest. For the purposes of this post, let’s refer to this 1-day conference as SF1.
But wouldn’t this make STOC/FOCS even more competitive than it is now? Yes…and (paradoxically) no. On the one hand, getting a paper into SF1 would a great achievement, and much more difficult. On the other hand, there would no longer be the expectation (read: pressure) of graduating with 4-5 STOC/FOCS publications just to have a chance on the job market, or of trying to maintain the pace of publishing several STOC/FOCS papers per year. Moreover, there would be several “SF2” tracks where people could publish, as I describe next.
Surely people won’t attend a one-day conference where they don’t even have a paper to present. So let’s add 2-3 days of conferences in specialized areas. (Think FCRC, but on a smaller scale.) Whatever community wants one could have one, and we could call it SF2:Algorithms, SF2:Crypto, etc.. Papers could be submitted to SF1, and considered for the appropriate track of SF2 if they are rejected from SF1. Within SF2, papers would be judged by their interest to the appropriate community (as they are now for SODA, Crypto, etc.) rather than a TCS-wide standard. Seems to me a win-win.
Let me summarize what I see as the benefits of this approach:
- Would highlight to the TCS community what are the important papers that everyone should be reading. Would foster a sense of community among TCS researchers. Would highlight to the broader CS community what are the breakthroughs in theory.
- Would increase attendance: everyone would want to attend SF1, and once there would also attend the SF2 in their area.
- Would reduce some of the pressure related to STOC/FOCS, because (1) it wouldn’t be expected to have many SF1 publications, while (2) it would be easier to have an SF2 publication than it is to get into STOC/FOCS now.