Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Everything new is old again

One recent trend I've been noticing in CS, both while reviewing papers and attending conferences, is the idea of novelty as a quality metric (i.e., how novel and exciting is this idea?) I feel as though as a community we have become jaded, always existing in a state of expecting The Next Big Thing, that we miss the mark when it comes to being careful and thoughtful scientists.

In some areas, I feel there is such an emphasis on novelty that people produce work that is utter garbage simply because they are shooting for The Wow Factor.

That being said, I too am a sucker for a new idea. After you've been in the field a long time, many things start to look the same. I recently met one senior academic who basically was of the opinion that just about every major hurdle in Field X was solvable within the next decade. (And subsequently said "Yawn." to just about every idea I proposed. Ironically the one they were excited about I said "Yawn" to, so there you have it!)

For me, though, good work is about Big Ideas, things that fundamentally challenge the things we know about the world. I'm not saying all CS papers need this element, but a new algorithm or device without being framed with the broader context I find very lacking. While I don't expect this from pure theory papers, I definitely expect it from people working in applied areas. Otherwise, I have a harder time appreciating the point.

How are things in your field? Is everyone perpetually chasing the shiny? I wonder if journal-driven fields are less prone to this than conference-driven fields like CS.


  1. How are things in your field? Is everyone perpetually chasing the shiny?

    Oh man! In my broader field, it's all about the shiny and getting into GlamourMag or high IF specialized journals. I can't say about the conferernce-driven fields, but I can guarantee that many fields in both physical and biological sciences are hopeless suckers for a Big Splash.

    It does detract from good, thoughtful science which may not have the high sheen, and I find it a bit sad.

  2. The d00dz in my field are all about toyz. $80k toyz. They have remote controls and a metric ton of data they have no idea how to handle. If they aren't building the toyz bigger, then are sticking more shit on them. Now they want them smaller with more accessories. The science is still shit though. And now everyone is hopping on the toy bandwagon because there's funding for it.
    They are perfecting the science of polishing shit balls to a shine.

  3. We've certainly been distracted by a few shiny new methods. Though I'd say rehashing old things as new is more the problem. For some reason I'm convinced that we are far less efficient in making progress than other fields.