[ The Types Forum (announcements only), 
     http://lists.seas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/types-announce ]

1.  Regarding the proposal of Simon Peyton-Jones to choose papers randomly from 
a list of papers judged worthy by a program committee:

Last year I was talking to a college president in the Boston area (not mine) 
who told me exactly the same thing about prospective freshmen---the university 
should just select those who are above threshold, and then choose randomly.  
College admission is an increasingly crazy business in the US.  And for sheer 
size, it's a bigger problem than POPL.

Similarly, a close colleague of mine at another institution said to me about 
faculty searches: once the list gets down to 10 or 15 for a single position, 
it's a game of chance, even though there nominally continues to be a rational 
process.  What Simon is suggesting is that we just put up front the 
meritocratically random endgame that we may already have.

2.  Regarding the proposed increase in number accepted papers:

I fully understand and appreciate the rationale, especially as it relates to 
tenure and promotion.  The acceptance of a paper at POPL (among other 
conferences) is a valued achievement in those decisions, significant to 
institutions and crucial to individuals.  In what way is the needed achievement 
devalued when the number of accepted papers is increased?  Will promotion 
committees say, "That's a POPL paper from 201x, when they increased the size of 
the conference, and is not as significant as papers from 200x"?   That likely 
analysis suggests that the number of accepted papers be increased 
slowly---doubling is probably not a good idea.  

Recognize that people on committees count because they do not understand.  I 
ran a promotion committee (for someone outside CS) where I began the meeting by 
saying to its members (also outside the field), "What did this person do?  
Maybe we should try talking about that first."  The discussion was a bit 
awkward---we all sounded like freshmen.

As long as there is a nominally meritocratic process for tenure and promotion, 
it will involve scaling some sort of pyramid.  The scaling and selectivity is 
what has defined the success: these conferences, grants, editorships, etc.  It 
may be that we have created, instead, an obelisk.  Are senior researchers who 
publish serially in these conferences conferring the value, or unduly 
increasing the pyramid's slope?  What's needed is moderation.

3.  Regarding the two-tier review process and the quality of reviews:

I agree with Matthias Felleisen---I've not seen much of Simon's "gold dust".  
The quality of mercy is not strain'd, but the quality of reviewing is not 
improv'd.   We've all received (and probably written...) reviews where we 
immediately recognize, "they didn't get it", and we all know the boilerplate 
that comprises these reviews.  (I've found myself wishing that these reviews 
simply said, instead, "I didn't understand it and I didn't like it and I'm not 

The best critical reviews I've received are from colleagues who were trying to 
solve the same problems I was working on.  Getting boxed by people who know 
their stuff is an educational experience in itself.  When the solution of such 
challenging problems is a prize, then the local experts weigh in, sometimes 
even grudgingly, with their careful assessments---almost like sociologists of 
science---with their precise knowledge of what qualifies as a solution, what's 
winning, what's losing, what's cheating, and what's the canonical toy problem 
that needs solving to demonstrate that the solution is the right one.  They 
really know (and sometimes covet) those square centimeters of the intellectual 
territory---most reviewers don't.  The best compliment I've given colleagues 
is, "I wish I'd done that---and I tried."

Harry Mairson

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