Monday, October 25, 2010

Journals, Conferences, and non-galactic algorithms

Does our lack of attention to journal publications influence the "impracticality" of our algorithms ? 

I've been thinking about algorithms, applications and the dreaded "practicality" issue. And the following thought occurred to me.

We have a well-known aversion to journal papers in our community. I won't rehash the arguments for and against. But it is definitely true that in a conference paper we elide many details of the algorithm construction and proof. It's not uncommon for a 10-page conference paper to blow up to a nearly 100 page journal paper (cough cough MST cough cough).

So suppose you have this snazzy new algorithm for a problem. You're happy with your handwavy conference version, and you don't bother to write the journal version. When you do, you realize to your horror that your snazzy 1-page procedure has become this 12 page lumbering beast of an algorithm that's so insanely complicated that you'd be ashamed to even call it 'galactic'. Now this might motivate you to come up with a simpler algorithm, or it might motivate someone else !

But if you don't write the journal version with full details, how is anyone to know ? 

While this is in part about practicality (since practical almost always equals simple), it's more than that. Clarity in algorithm design is useful even if there's no practical value, because it aids in understanding. So this is in my mind a completely different reason for why we should write more journal papers. It might make our algorithms simpler !!
p.s Yes, I am aware that very often the hard part of a paper is PROVING that an algorithm is correct, and not the algorithm itself. Obviously this would not apply to those cases. But even there, having to contemplate the monstrosity of the proof you end up writing would motivate you to simplify it. After all, proofs are about understanding, not fireworks and fountains at the Bellagio.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Disqus for The Geomblog