Sanjeev Arora and Bernard Chazelle have written a wonderful opinion piece[pdf]> on the excitement of theoretical computer science and the importance of communicating that excitement. Their paper appear as an op-ed column in the August 2005 Communications of the ACM, but can already find it on the TheoryMatters wiki.
One wonders if the failure of computer scientists to articulate the intellectual excitement of their field is not one of the causes of their current funding crisis in the US. Too often policymakers, and hence funding agencies, treat computer science as a provider of services and infrastructure rather than an exciting discipline worth studying on its own. Our promises of future technological innovations and scientific advances will be more credible to them if they actually understand that past and current breakthroughs arose from an underlying science rather than a one-time investment in “infrastructure.”
Also on TheoryMatters is a fascinating PowerPoint presentation from Joel Parriot, a program officer at the White House Office of Management and Budget, about federal research policies and priorities. The presentation includes the grat observation: “Speaking a common language begins with an attempt to understand the ethos & mythos of other stakeholders.” After a rather scathing summary of the ‘ethos & mythos’ of the science and technology research community, Parriot offers several concrete suggestions:
- Work to put yourselves in our shoes
- How would you realistically implement your own recommendations within a fixed budget envelope?
- Use the framework of the R&D Investment Criteria to drive arguments
- Improve your consensus reports
- Apply the same level of logical rigor as you do for peer-reviewed journals (expose assumptions & context; admit limitations; data, not anecdotes, should drive arguments)
- Spend more time on executive summary and navigation
- Workforce arguments are typically weak ones…let the science drive the case
- Well grounded constructive criticism adds to your credibility (we know things are not perfect, so alternative for us is to assume less than full honesty on your part)
- Strong outsiders add to your credibility
- Many decisions are political at their core, so community needs to be more politically astute, but partisanship should be avoided.