The CRYPTO 2014 conference attracted nearly 400 experts to UC Santa Barbara recently, where one of the highlights was the Aug. 18 International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) Distinguished Lecture by CSE Prof. Mihir Bellare from UC San Diego.
While he presented for an audience with specific interests in cryptology and cryptography, Bellare covered what he called (with characteristic understatement) "topics of quite broad interest" -- namely, being "caught between theory, practice, and peer review," the title of his talk (first slide pictured at right). The broad sweep of his remarks reflected Bellare's early interests in literature and history. Having come relatively late to science, Bellare told his audience, "In the company of theoreticians I feel liked a practitioner, while in the company of practitioners, I feel like a theoretician. It's not just me: our research community is caught between theory and practice."
In the second part of his talk, Bellare focused on peer review, asking "how well does the process work?" and answering his own question bluntly: "Not very well." He went on to explore how "our culture incentivizes and perpetuates rejection." "Peer review is a broken, dark ages system," he added, "because it is fundamentally at odds with human nature and history." Bellare exhorted his colleagues to treat the peer review system as a research problem. "Think, write, talk, experiment," he said. "Our community is creative and imaginative. We have never shied away from hard problems. We have solved many. This is another." Bellare favors trying out new reviewing systems, and creating experimental publication venues. He also thinks academe could look elsewhere for ideas: discarding highest and lowest scores is used by the Olympics, so why not in the peer review process?
Download Mihir Bellare's 90-slide IACR Distinguished Lecture presentation, now available from the CRYPTO 2014 website.