We, the undersigned, are concerned about two related attitudes that seem to be increasingly prevalent in the TCS community, and in particular, are affecting its program committees and their decisions. The goal of this statement is to attempt to recognize and reverse this trend. We are happy to note that the STOC’08 PC made a conscious effort to move in the direction of this proposal.
The trends that worry us are the following:
Most works offer a mix of conceptual and technical aspects, where by “conceptual” we mean the aspects that can be communicated succinctly, with a minimum amount of technical notation, and yet their content reshapes our view/understanding. Conceptual contributions can be thought of as contents of the work that are most likely to be a part of a scientific hallway discussion. They may appear in a work’s “bottom line” or “along the way”.
Needless to say, the above list is not exhaustive.
Once understood, conceptual aspects tend to be viewed as obvious, which actually means that they have become fully incorporated in the worldview of the expert. This positive effect is actually a source of trouble in the evaluation process, because the evaluators forget that these contributions were not obvious at all before being made.
Indeed, our community should be warned of dismissing such contributions by saying “yes, but that’s obvious”; when somebody says such a thing, one should ask “was it obvious to you before reading this article?”
We believe that the community needs to remain vigilant about these issues, and program committees should make a conscious effort to pay attention to conceptual contributions (as apparently done by the STOC’08 PC). This will enable our conferences to continue to be a driving force in the progress of our field.
[Posted on the Blog of Scott Aaronson on Friday, March 7th, 2008]
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