Is publishing as many STOC/FOCS papers as possible a worthy goal to fill the fleeting interlude between infinite expanses of nonexistence?

This, I’m embarrassed to admit, is something I’ve asked myself at various points over the last ten years. Fortunately, thanks to this thread on Lance Fortnow’s blog, I now have my answer: no.

47 Responses to “Is publishing as many STOC/FOCS papers as possible a worthy goal to fill the fleeting interlude between infinite expanses of nonexistence?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    You’re clearly just jealous that Lance’s blog is getting more comments than yours… such an attention whore.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Let me suggest an “easy” counter-measure-lure Mihai into posting a comment on your blog. But make sure he does not start his own blog…

  3. bugbear Says:

    “No”? Just like that, without any explanation?

    Must be sour grapes!

  4. John Sidles Says:

    In 1926, Felix Klein had this to say of Hermann Grassmann (who had no formal training in mathematics, and never held a university post; it turns out that Klein envied Grassman for this!):

    Unlike we academics who grow in strong competition with each other, like a tree in the midst of a forest which must stay slender and rise above the others simply to exist and to conquer its portion of light and air, he who stands alone can grow on all sides.

    If this was true in 1926 (when it appeared in Klein’s posthumously published biography), isn’t it necessarily ~100X more true in the present, when the number of academic articles is ~100X greater?

    It seems pretty clear that the academic literature will continue to expand — the number of scientists / mathematicians / engineers in China and India alone will be enough to write on the order of 5-10 million peer-reviewed articles per year (as compared to the present ~one million articles per year).

    So what will the academic literature become in the next generation? Scott, that’s the interesting question that you asked, isn’t it?

    On consulting my (informal) database of quotes, the most optimistic quote I can find is by Geoffrey Harpham:

    We stand today at a critical juncture not just in the history of disciplines but of human self-understanding, one that presents remarkable and unprecedented opportunities for thinkers of all descriptions, [that] could result in the rejuvenation of many disciplines, and even in the reconfiguration of disciplines themselves — in short, a new golden age.

    There is admittedly not much specificity in Harpham’s vision, but on the other hand, Harpham’s National Humanities Center has 50 million dollars in assets, so he doesn’t need much specificity — because he has secured Klein’s “portion of light and air.”

    The prudent strategy for a relatively impecunious young person like yourself, Scott, is “to conquer your portion of light and air” by publishing as much as possible!

  5. Scott Says:

    Must be sour grapes!

    I’ve tasted the grapes — they’re not bad. But eating as many grapes as possible would also be a strange goal to set yourself in life.

  6. Scott Says:

    You’re clearly just jealous that Lance’s blog is getting more comments than yours… such an attention whore.

    Hey, why do you think I started this blog in the first place?

  7. walt Says:

    That was painful to read.

  8. Scott Says:

    Anonymity seems to give nerds the confidence they need to butt each other with their antlers.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Last night, before going to sleep, I read all the comments on Lance’s weblog. And I had horrible nightmares about it. I awoke this morning thinking that thread cannot be true. But it is. What a disgrace.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Do you guys read the comment about “Mafias”? Quote: “I have some personal experience with these “Mafias”, I know friends who talk about them, and I know people who have been in the PC of “top” conferences admit their existence.”
    Maybe someone watches too much X-files!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I think you mean the Sopranos. There were no mafias on the X-file.

  12. Cheshire Cat Says:

    Nerds have antlers? No wonder people steer clear of them…

  13. Cheshire Cat Says:

    If there really were mafias in our field, maybe the NSF could be made to sit up (or stand up, put their hands up) and take notice?

  14. Anonymous Says:

    >I awoke this morning thinking that thread cannot be true. But it is. What a disgrace.

    Quoting Jack Nicholson: “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Quoting cheshire cat:
    “If there really were mafias in our field, maybe the NSF could be made to sit up (or stand up, put their hands up) and take notice?”

    If there really were “mafias”, do you think they will have “friends” in NSF?? And, I wonder how much influence does NSF has on these “top” conferences “attacked” by this Thomas Moore?

    Nonetheless, I think the idea of evaluating the review process with a “scientific” method proposed by Mr Moore is quite interesting (at least, it’s an alternative to the endless argument about “the # of FOCS/STOC counts” (am I the only one tired of that argument?).

    Also, if anybody is going to get the attention of NSF enough that they’ll do something, he can’t just call them up and say “hey, we have this unpleasant gang of people dominating our top conferences, can you do something?”…… in order to get the NSF guys on the move, pretty strong “signs” (if not “evidence”) is necessary.

  16. Cheshire Cat Says:

    Maybe I was too terse, I meant they should sit up and take notice of our field. Be forced to take notice. And make us all a little richer, a little happier…

  17. Anonymous Says:

    This for the meat, superheroes and online dating for the bread: behold the best bullshit sandwich I’ve seen in years.

    –ff

  18. Anonymous Says:

    It seems that Scott’s blog has failed to provoke the same level of controversy. Maybe we should help.

    No listen, last week I overheard Mihai say that you suck, and your blog sucks, and that Canadians are a bunch of stark white pansies, so it’s appropriate that now you live there. Oh, and he also said that quantum computing suffers from the same fate as analog computing in that computations require exponential precision!

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Mihai is also funnier than Scott.

    At ICALP 2006, Mihai talked about how ignorant the ICALP reviewers are and how they did not understand the contributions of his paper. Despite the committee’s demonstrated inability to critique his work, Mihai decided to keep the best student paper award.

  20. Scott Says:

    Sorry, I’m not taking the bait.

  21. Cheshire Cat Says:

    Not taking the bait? Surely generating more blog comments, fanning the flames of controversy, creating opportunities to be sarcastic or dismissive, are all worthy goals to fill the fleeting interlude between infinite expanses of nonexistence?

    There is nothing we can do about all the futility, but we can at least treat it with the facetiousness it deserves…

  22. John Sidles Says:

    Cheshire Cat said… There is nothing we can do about all the futility, but we can at least treat it with facetiousness.

    Rejecting facetiousness is the beginning of one’s serious and creative life as a researcher (IMHO).

    C’mon, even Douglas Adams’ HTTTG would never be called “facetious” — it is too kindly conceived and too carefully crafted.

    Isn’t the main difference between HGTTG and academia simply this: Mr. Adam’s characters are (mostly) kind-hearted, and don’t take themselves too seriously?

    And can’t HGTTG be read as an extended (and loving) meditation on complexity, from Mr. Adams’ broadly-conceived perspective, with no trace of facetiousness anywhere?

  23. Anonymous Says:

    I suppose this is a way of advertising FOCS. But I
    like the 2007 SODA PC better
    in comparison.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    It must be because you’re a male chauvinist since the SODA 2007 committee has 27 people on it and none of them are women.

  25. Cheshire Cat Says:

    This post has been removed by the author.

  26. Cheshire Cat Says:

    Surely the impulse to do research arises from a sense of play? I wonder how much of the time we think of what we do as work, and how much of the time as play… The brouhaha about FOCS/STOC is really an indication of the competitive instinct of researchers. On the surface, it’s off-putting, but competitiveness is really a good thing.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Perhaps FOCS should have
    accepted more papers from
    women.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    At ICALP 2006, Mihai talked about how ignorant the ICALP reviewers are and how they did not understand the contributions of his paper. Despite the committee’s demonstrated inability to critique his work, Mihai decided to keep the best student paper award.

    Amazing! ICALP has not yet started (and will not start until July 9) and we already know what Mihai said there. This may be the first instance of time travel via weblog.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    I can’t believe that no one has pounced on the “infinite expanses of nonexistence” bit. That’s the only part of this topic that keeps me awake at night. Aside from the maddening question, “does anything I do matter?” there’s also the widely accepted cosmological belief that, at best, there is only one infinite expanse of nonexistence, the occurrence of which excludes a Big Crunch. Really now, let’s not lose sight of the important stuff. ;-)

    Gus

  30. Mihai Patrascu Says:

    I notice that I don’t even have to read blogs to express lots of opinions in them :-) The poster talking about ICALP probably meant ICALP’05, when I got the best student paper. Actually, the reviewer comments were good and from people who obviously understood the technical components. I did not agree with their comments about what the strong and weak points of the paper were (I pretty much had them the other way around in my mind), but well, I’m just weak and I accepted the best student paper award nonetheless :-) I think through a few talks since then, I did manage to raise awareness about some neglected parts of the paper.

  31. Anonymous Says:

    After reading Mihai’s comments here and on Lance’s blog, I can see he will be widly successful in academia — he’s already got the oversized ego for it.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    You’ve got the cause and effect wrong – he’s got an oversized ego because he has the kind of ability which ensures he’ll be a wild success. Even if he does continue trying his best to become unpopular :)

  33. Anonymous Says:


    (Mihai has) got an oversized ego because he has the kind of ability which ensures he’ll be a wild success

    Don’t know about that…
    His age should be around 25 in which some people complete their Ph.D. and even people like Erik Demaine are associate professor at that time. So just being an undergrad is not that important, esp. if he has started research at the edge of 20.

  34. Anonymous Says:

    What’s with all the negativity toward Mihai?

    His age should be around 25…

    No, he’s 23, which is just 1 year older than the average age of people finishing undergrad.

    …and even people like Erik Demaine…

    People? I wasn’t aware that Erik’s situation is common. And what, you nullify anyone’s contributions to theory if they don’t get a faculty position by age 20? I guess that makes almost every researcher who has contributed to theory thus far unimpressive by your standards.

  35. Anonymous Says:

    No, he’s 23, which is just 1 year older than the average age of people finishing undergrad.

    I think Mihai will be 24 in 10 days.

    By the time I was 24, I had a similar publication record, and was finishing my PhD. Is this more or less impressive than a 24-year-old just starting their PhD? It’s unclear.

  36. Anonymous Says:

    By the time I was 24, I had a similar publication record, and was finishing my PhD.

    Congratulations! But whom am I congratulating, BTW?

  37. Anonymous Says:

    What makes you sure that people offer information only to be congraulated?

  38. Anonymous Says:

    You might as well congratulate Scott, for instance.

  39. Anonymous Says:

    What a bunch of morons.

  40. Mihai Patrascu Says:

    Just some philosophical rambling… Some people who post anonymously actually know a lot of things about me, and have been engaged in close dicussions with me given what they report me as saying. Out of curiousity, I asked myself who those people might be. But it’s somewhat hard to answer, given that I’m so upfront with my opinions and not reluctant to share with whoever asks.

    This whole thing with anonymous comments is getting ridiculous. People launch personal attacks and report personal conversations under the cover of annonymity. Anonymous posters complain that other posters are anonymous. Etc. Am I the only one who thinks a lot of people are being unethical?

  41. Anonymous Says:

    Mihai said “This whole thing with anonymous comments is getting ridiculous.”
    Anonymous posting can be very useful, like when it opens shy people to speak and ask questions. The meanness of the present conversation lies, not in the possibility of anonymous postings, but in the computer science community in general. It’s a vain, mean community. I’ve been involved with other scientific communities that were much healthier.

  42. Anonymous Says:

    Well, gee, thanks for sticking to us despite of that…

    Seriously: blogs (as well as some other news outlets) tend to amplify the extremes. People must feel pretty strong about something to actually bother to post a reply. Add the lack of inhibitions coming from anonymity, and you can get really interesting threads.

    Cheers,

    Piotr

  43. Scott Says:

    Am I the only one who thinks a lot of people are being unethical?

    No, you aren’t. I would’ve deleted many of these comments if I’d seen them earlier, but now that others have responded, etc. I guess it would do more harm than good.

  44. Anonymous Says:

    Ganging up on Mihai like this is silly and mean. He is doing well for where he is in his life, and he should be proud of his accomplishments. He seems talented, and if he can avoid the mistake of confusing scientific inquiry for some kind of macho-bullshit-contest (as some Anonymice in these threads have done) then he should have a happy career and make some great contributions.

    As for the guy who is so damn proud about getting his PhD at 24: Good for you, by doing so you can get the unpleasant postdoc / assistant professor years behind you before you start a family. But honestly, nobody else cares. Nobody on a hiring comittee has ever looked at a folder and said “Publications be damned! We’ve got to hire person A over person B! Person A was 4 years younger when he got his PhD!”

    (as sidenote, the proprietor of this blog was very young when he got his PhD, but it was not this that really made me take note of Scott. Rather, it was his insights into quantum computation, his broad knowledge of complexity theory and good humor that impressed me.)

    -natrix

  45. Anonymous Says:

    I think the general air of descension has little to do with Mihai. The vast majority of us are happy to have another very smart person who shares (at least broadly) our research aesthetic. Reading through the lines (and his papers), it looks like Mihai has a healthy grip on what good research should be, and what great researches should aspire to be. This is fortunate since he decided to spend his entire student career at MIT (and thus some might worry about him being corrupted by a twisted value system without the benefit of a counterpoint).

    The original controversial issue seems to be the nature of relative accolades. If a paper is rejected from FOCS, and then wins the best paper award at ESA, what does this signify? Similarly, consider a 28-year-old who wins the best student paper award while his 22-year-old friend is writing superior papers but has finished his PhD in 2 years and become a postdoc in the mean time. BTW, I don’t think it’s logically consistent to support the existence of best paper awards while simultaneously sneering at the preceding discussion.

  46. Anonymous Says:

    The meanness of the present conversation lies, not in the possibility of anonymous postings, but in the computer science community in general. It’s a vain, mean community. I’ve been involved with other scientific communities that were much healthier.

    Oh, spare us. I deal with six other disciplines rather regularly and in no way do they stand out. To the contrary, the conferences and trade shows are remarkably similar from discipline to discipline.

  47. John Sidles Says:

    The meanness of the present conversation lies, not in the possibility of anonymous postings, but in the computer science community in general. It’s a vain, mean community.

    Anonymous postings, and also moderator censorship (blessedly absent from Scott’s excellentblog) are but two minor curses of the academic polity.

    The major curse of academia, however, requires implicit cooperation between the senior and junior members of the academic community.

    The first part of the “curse” is that senior members of academia must fail to embrace a direction for their academic field that generates several-fold growth in the number of jobs.

    The second part of the “curse” is that junior academia members must accept this lack of leadership without protest, instead focusing their youthful energy and talent upon gaining one of the (stable or gently declining) number of academic jobs.

    Both failings are very human—so human as to be embraced as virtues—yet their combined global consequence is … stagnation, or even a slow global collapse of the academic enterprise.