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Conference reviews, in perspective

I am just back from Prague: after another 36 hour travel marathon, I think it will take a day or so for my brain to catch up with me!

While I was gone, Scott Aaronson, a graduating doctoral student in quantum computing, had a brilliant article on computer science conference reviewing. From the 1936 Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS) review process:

Dear Mr. Turing,

We regret to inform you that your submission
“On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem”
was not accepted to appear in FOCS 1936. The Program Committee received a record 4 submissions this year, many of them of high quality, and scheduling constraints unfortunately made it impossible to accept all of them.

The reviews would be a great satire of computer science reviews except they are far too close to the truth:

—————————————- review 1 —————————————-

seems like a trivial modification of godel’s result from STOC’31

—————————————- review 2 —————————————-

The author shows that Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem (given a mathematical statement, decide whether it admits a formal proof) is unsolvable by any finite means. While this seems like an important result, I have several concerns/criticisms:

1. The author defines a new “Turing machine” model for the specific purpose of proving his result. This model was not defined in any previous papers; thus, the motivation is unclear.

See Scott’s post for the rest of this and for the other reviews. Many OR conferences are not reviewed (IFORS, EURO, and IFORS conferences accept practically anything submitted on time), but there are some that I am involved with (like CP, CPAIOR, MISTA, and PATAT) that have a review process, and it is clear that the review processes are very hit-and-miss.

With the exception of Scott’s ill-tempered diatribe against babies at conferences (perhaps as forty-something father of three-year-old, I am a little more sympathetic to the pressures of combining parenthood and academia), the entries in Scott’s blog are something I look forward to tremendously: he is opinionated, intelligent, amusing, and self-deprecating by turns, and generally teaches me something when I read him. He is about to join the faculty at MIT: lucky MIT!