Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ITCS 2015

I was asked to announce the call for ITCS.  Here is a link to the call for papers, with the most important info:
ITCS (previously known as ICS) seeks to promote research that carries a strong conceptual message (e.g., introducing a new concept or model, opening a new line of inquiry within traditional or cross-interdisciplinary areas, or introducing new techniques or new applications of known techniques). ITCS welcomes all submissions, whether aligned with current theory of computation research directions or deviating from them.
 
Important Dates
Paper Submission Deadline: Friday,
August 8, 2014, 5PM PDT
Apparently in some fit of weakness I agreed to be on the PC.  
 
I think an ongoing question about ITCS is how well it lives up to its "mission statement".  Part of the question is whether ITCS is necessary -- do FOCS/STOC/SODA not do a sufficiently good job of accepting "conceptual" papers -- and sufficient(ly doing a good job) -- is it really focusing on accepting conceptual papers, or is it just the same-old.  So I guess I'll be able to look under the hood to see how it's going.
 
My current/upcoming PCs have been SIGCOMM and coNEXT (2014), and ITCS and ICALP part C (2015).  I'm feeling happily diverse in what I get to read.  
 
  
 
 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think an ongoing question about ITCS is how well it lives up to its "mission statement".

Rather poorly. I've submitted two conceptual papers to ITCS both of which were refereed using the standard "how many theorems?" "how difficult are the proofs?" measures rather with "are the conceptual contributions valuable?" yardstick.

In the second submission one of the reviews pointed this out in frustration with the other PC members. I paraphrase but the comment was "if this is not what ITCS is about then what is it for?". Since the paper got rejected it speaks volumes about the failure of ITCS to embrace conceptual contributions.

People are so used to refereeing in the traditional way, that unless they are presented with a completely different review form and reminded consistently to use conceptual parameters, the refereeing will devolve into a SODA/STOC/FOCS clone.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with adding a fourth conference to the above, given that STOC/FOCS are bursting at the seems. All we need to do is remove the mission statement since we are not abiding by it.

Anonymous said...

What you (Anonymous 5/29, 5:51AM) describe is not that surprising if you look at the program committees of ITCS in the last few years. There are very few people on the PCs that have actually ever done "conceptual" work.

The obvious solution would be for ITCS to start choosing more appropriate PCs. The problem, of course, is that the TCS community as a whole undervalues conceptual work. It recruits and attracts people who are more "technically-inclined" so it makes the recruiting pool very small. Most people in TCS don't even really get what the whole "conceptual" argument is about and have no idea what a conceptual paper is.

Anonymous said...

I like both comments above.

I've never submitted a paper to ITCS but my feeling of the program in the past was that there was very little innovation, it was more like a 2nd tier SODA/STOC/FOCS, with a few pearls.

But in fact, would we expect there are 48 papers (so many papers were accepted last year) every year that one could fit well to this mission statement? Perhaps we have too high ambitions? Or maybe I don't understand what is the mission of this conference, especially after looking at papers accepted there in the past and after reading the CFP.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Thanks all Anons for comments. (Though I'd love to see names!)

If the chair allows, perhaps I'll blog about what I find being on the PC this year. I do think the questions of both how many "conceptual" papers are there and does the reviewing process work for such papers in this context are interesting questions.

Anon 1 says: "Mind you, there is nothing wrong with adding a fourth conference to the above, given that STOC/FOCS are bursting at the seems. All we need to do is remove the mission statement since we are not abiding by it."

I understand and agree with this in spirit, although my feeling (as I've stated on this blog in the past) is that if it is the case that ITCS is just another SODA/STOC/FOCS conference at this point, aren't we better off making (at least) one of STOC or FOCS larger?

Dan A. said...

I understand and agree with this in spirit, although my feeling (as I've stated on this blog in the past) is that if it is the case that ITCS is just another SODA/STOC/FOCS conference at this point, aren't we better off making (at least) one of STOC or FOCS larger?

Yes, we are. But currently the people who call the shots on this are obsessed with competition, prestige and authority, and they will never let this happen.

Sasho said...

Per the CFP, a paper with a "strong conceptual message" is one that is "introducing a new concept or model, opening a new line of inquiry within traditional or cross-interdisciplinary areas, or introducing new techniques or new applications of known techniques." The only kind of paper I think this definition leaves out is one that does nothing more than push symbols around, and I personally would not want to write such a paper anyways, for any conference.

I dislike putting any kind of strict dichotomy between technical and conceptual (although I am sure the PC and steering committee know better). Many papers that are rich with technical arguments are also rich in ideas (e.g. Hastad's optimal 3-bit PCP paper which introduced Fourier analysis to PCP constructions). The dichotomy rings even more false if you attempt to distinguish between researchers who do "conceptual work" and those who are "technically inclined", as Anon#2 does. The people with the best ideas are often also more than capable of doing the heavy lifting to back them up.

I would be happy to see ITCS explicitly encourage a "conceptual" style of writing papers: an exposition that emphasizes the new ideas and why they are applicable beyond the current paper.

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree more with the first two anonymous comments. I also had past experience with conceptual and important papers rejected from ITCS, and believe that the reviewing system right now (judged by the set of accepted papers) is far from its designated mission.

Yes, I agree that STOC/FOCS technical papers also have innovative ideas, since otherwise they will not be accepted by STOC/FOCS anyways. However, in my opinion, there should be clear differences between (A) a conceptually innovative paper and (B) a technically innovative paper.

(B) papers are perhaps harder to read, and much understood mainly by experts of very specific areas. This includes of course for instance recent advances in spectral graph theory, where long-standing barriers have been broken with new techniques and ideas. These papers are innovative of course, and definitely deserve their positions in conferences such as STOC/FOCS/SODA.

However, (A) also include papers that may have very simple ideas, for instance on proposing a new model, proving some non-classical results under a new model, or focusing on a simple interpretation of some complicated method. Many of such results may not be long or technical at all, however, they have the danger of not being recognized by the STOC/FOCS community (e.g. the original paper of zero-knowledge proof). Many of such results should even be so simple that non-experts can understand them easily.

Many innovative conceptual ideas are not hard IN RETROSPECT: many people would easily say "come on, I can also design this model because it is simple". However, it was Newton who is named after "Newton's Third Law", but even a primary school student can understand it. Scientists really need to be very OPEN-MINDED and CREATIVE in order to create such results; reviewers must have the COURAGE to accept such papers.

On a separate note, the fact that conceptual ideas get easily neglected is a very frustrating downside of our 60-year TCS community (or any community that is well-established for years). Perhaps this isn't a big issue for tenured professors because they do not care about paper acceptances. On young scientists, this definitely prevents new modeling or conceptual ideas from bursting comparing to the old days. The purpose of ITCS should be to encourage such results, give papers of type (A) a hope of publishing, and give young scientists a friendly environment on the designing of new conceptual ideas.

Finally, I sincerely hope that the PC chair, and committee members who happen to understand the above difference and the scientific potential of conceptual ideas, could communicate well with the rest of the PC members and the subreviewers. Perhaps a little aggresively, papers that has the hope to be accepted to FOCS/STOC/SODA should even be rejected from ITCS, to leave space for type (A) papers.

Jeff Erickson said...

I was on the ITCS 2012 program committee.

My sense is that the Itches PC (my own contributions aside) made a serious good-faith effort to accept more conceptual papers than the Fox and Stock committees I've been on. The conceptual messages of papers were explicitly debated in our acceptance decisions. There were multiple accepted papers that reviewers said they would have rejected at STOC and FOCS for being insufficiently "deep" or "technical", and vice versa.

But with few exceptions, I didn't think that the submission pool was significantly more "conceptual" than the STOC/FOCS submission pool, so the overall impact of the preference for conceptual papers was relatively minor.

On the gripping hand, I'm not a FOCS/STOC "native", so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

Michael, you seem to publish extensively in ITCS.
Given your feelings, I wonder why do you bother submitting to ITCS and
why do you agree to be on the PC.

Some blogs and some people do more damage than good to any cause. Remember,
it is much easier to destroy than create.

I sincerely hope you will not be allowed to give your impressions from the PC deliberations.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anonymous #9:

I'm unclear what feeling you are ascribing to me when you say "Given my feelings...", but I imagine they're incorrect.

I've submitted to ITCS both for the obvious reasons -- I like to have my research published -- and because it seems like a good way to support a new conference -- submit and attend. Similarly, I agreed to be on the PC to support the conference.

However, as someone who has been involved in the conference, I certainly have a right to question how it is performing, and whether it is being successful in living up to its mission statement. And as a member of the TCS community, I have a right to question whether this is even the best approach to accomplish that mission.

Instead of questioning my right to express an opinion, anonymous, perhaps you should come out and express yours. Indeed, if you feel that ITCS is serving a useful role for the community, it would be beneficial if you offered and explained that opinion, rather than making this about me.