Monday, January 09, 2012

ITCS, Day 2

I stopped a while by ITCS, before having to deal with other meetings.

I saw fellow blogger Claire Mathieu, who told me my post on day 1 was negative.  To be clear, I didn't mean to come across as negative -- I did say the talks were all great, the arrangements were going well, etc.  Indeed, I'd argue my main question -- why aren't more people there -- should be taken as a positive statement about the conference.  But it was pointed out to me that I should point out that more senior people were around today (I guess Sunday people were busy with family or football), and that the lecture room for the talks -- which can hold about 100 people -- has been pretty full the whole time.  In at least one session today, there's were plenty of people sitting on the floor or standing in the back.  Even at larger FOCS/STOC conferences, there are plenty of talks that don't seem to get 100 people to come watch, so let's add that as a positive commentary for ITCS. 

Umesh Vazirani approached me and suggested the following proposal:  double the size of STOC, cancel FOCS, and make ICS the "second", smaller theory conference.  Both conferences could have substantial co-location with other conferences to ensure large-scale attendance.  His reasoning is that we should be accepting more papers in the theory conferences, we should have one substantially larger meeting, and that FOCS is at a bad time in the year (whereas STOC can be nicely in the summer and ICS in January, good times for academics;  January, in particular, is a good time for things like a program for graduating PhDs/finishing postdocs to help them get their names out to find postdocs/jobs).  I told him that not only did I think it was a worthwhile proposal, but that I had blogged about a similar idea before -- which, looking back at the post, was also inspired by Umesh!  So I guess I'm on record already as supporting this general approach. 

[UPDATE:  Umesh wanted me to make clear this is not meant to be a concrete proposal, but as a food for thought conversation -- the main point, of course, being "What do we want from our conferences?" and "How do we get there?"  Accepting more papers, and having something in January where students on the job market could present themselves, sound like two things a number of people think positively about.  What one names the conference -- ITCS or move FOCS to January -- is arguably a secondary point.]

Claire suggested that no such big change was possible within our community, which runs (generally) as a democracy (not sure I entirely agree with that), and democracies have trouble implementing such drastic changes.  She wondered what could be done with incremental changes.  I'm not sure.  We joked that we should just move both of STOC/FOCS a week closer together each year until they collided and then we could do away with one of them.  I don't find Umesh's idea (I figure constantly referring to it Umesh's idea should add support for it) exceptionally drastic, though it would be a change.  What do you all think?


Anonymous said...

Why is January so much better a time of year than October? Relatively few schools have January off and travel is much worse in January than October (and for someone teaching a grad course in Israel, a slightly late start can handle being away in October) whereas it would be a separate trip in January.

Anonymous said...

I prefer October. Missing the first week of classes is difficult.

I agree that FOCS should be killed off. FOCS has shown no ability to change. STOC has added a poster session. ITCS is trying to help younger members of the community. What is FOCS doing? Over the last ten years, the only changes I have seen are higher registration fees.

D. Eppstein said...

STOC is at a bad time of year for computational geometers, because the timing is so similar to SoCG. So if you want to complete the separation of computational geometry from the rest of theory, Umesh's proposal is a step in the right direction.

Paul Beame said...

David: Why can't SoCG and STOC co-locate? It seems to work well for other conferences? (CCC and EC have done this regularly.) I have been arguing for some time that we should be doing a "federated theory conference" and SoCG seems to be at least as good a fit.

D. Eppstein said...

For one thing, SoCG is half the time outside the US (most often in Europe) and STOC is much more primarily North American. For another, SoCG has already tried colocation with FCRC and the result was perceived to be worse local arrangements in a less interesting place for a lot more money — this is why recent FCRCs haven't included SoCG.

Anonymous said...

"double the size of STOC, cancel FOCS, and make ICS the "second", smaller theory conference" - ???

Why not double the size of STOC and cancel ITCS? If you're saying cancel FOCS then why do you want to create or run a new conference instead?

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anon #6: I'm happy with that solution as well. ITCS is already created, it wouldn't be creating a "new" conference.

My main issues to address are that we simultaneously have:
1) Not enough papers being accepted, and
2) Too many conferences.

Consolidation and co-location seems obvious solutions. The challenges relate to constructing a suitable calendar -- something that some august body should get together and work out.

Anonymous said...

Why not try from the coming STOC? Accept, say, 10 or 20 more papers. Doing this consecutively 3-4 years.

Piotr said...

IIf the proposal is to "kill" FOCS, then I don't think it is a particularly good proposal. Scientifically, all citation rankings that I am aware of put FOCS, along with STOC and SODA, at the top of the broad(er) theory conferences. This is true even if we limit the time window to recent years. The conference has significant value, and destroying value is much easier than creating it.

Moreover, it is not clear what this would accomplish. I would think that the (vast) majority of the algorithms/discrete math-related papers not submitted to FOCS would be submitted to SODA, with only 3 months difference in the deadlines. So a larger STOC would in big part end up accepting "extra" papers, rather than those originally submitted to FOCS. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I am not sure if this is what is intended.

Instead of "killing" FOCS, there is a long list of potential changes that would make the conference attendance more attractive. They were all mentioned many times already, but just for completeness some of the factors that tend to correlate with attendance are (i) organizing conferences in major cities (ii) accepting more papers, possibly as posters (iii) co-locating workshops. Many are being implemented already in the TCS community.

ITCSS said...

Pardon my bluntness, but what is wrong with STOC/FOCS/SoCG (they haven't grown along with the field) and what is the solution (increase the number of papers accepted) is obvious to any one, except to those whose job depends on not updating STOC/FOCS/SoCG (to borrow a turn of phrase from Chris Matthews).

The reason these changes have not taken place is because the current STOC/FOCS configuration is locally optimal for the people who publish and form the program committees in those conferences, even though the status quo is globally suboptimal for TCS as a whole.

So we are left to play with partial solutions, such as co-location, new conferences (e.g. SODA, ITCS), posters, and holding conferences in major cities.

This is not to say that those partial solutions are bad. Co-location makes sense regardless as do poster sessions and workshop/tutorials. But we are dancing around the edges. When it comes down to it, this is all about the fact that the field tripled in size yet our conferences held the number of papers accepted steady.

Anonymous said...

One proposal I recently heard from a senior community member about how to increase the attendance at focs was to co-locate it with SODA since SODA has much better attendance.

I find this quite funny since many of the papers that have a big draw at SODA are nevertheless rejected from FOCS, which has a bias against algorithms and discrete math. Instead of co-locating the conference, they could just accept the papers that make SODA so well attended ...

Suresh Venkatasubramanian said...

One thing I just don't understand in this proposal. Leaving ITCS where it is creates a crazy collision with SODA. Is SODA just not part of the larger STOC/FOCS/ITCS equation now ?

Anonymous said...

Both last year and this year, it seems that there were very few (< 5 ?) papers at ITCS that could really be considered algorithms papers. I think this is because the deadlines of ITCS and SODA are so close.

Even having a conference called "Innovations in theoretical cs" that somehow discourages algorithms (because of factors such as the deadline) is just another way of saying that non-algorithmic theory is more important.