Sunday, December 06, 2009

On Science: passion towards solving a problem must come from within

I'm currently in Chicago while traveling to Vancouver (NIPS 2009 conference) where I'll be defending my research during Tuesday's poster session. Instead of delving into the computational challenges that motivate my research, I want to take a step back and criticize what (sometimes? often?) happens during the publishing cycle.

According to me, good research starts with the passion to solve a particular problem or address a specific concern. Quite often, good research will raise more questions than it successfully solves. Unfortunately, when we submit papers to conferences we are judged on the clarity of presentation, level of experimental validation, as well as overall completeness. This means that the publishing cycle quite often promotes writing "cute" papers that have little long term impact in the field and can only be viewed as thorough and complete due to their narrow scope. This is why we should not solely rely on peer review nor cater our scientific lives towards pleasing others. Sometimes being a good scientist means breaking free from the norms that the world around us rigidly follows, sometimes publishing too often skews our research focus, and sometimes falling off the face of the earth for a period of time is necessary to push science in a new direction.

I want to challenge every scientist to follow their dreams and attempt to solve the problems they truly care about and not just attempt to please peer review. Maybe some think that the perversion of science (that is evaluating scientists by the number of publications they have) is okay, but in my book a scientific career which produces a single grand idea is superior to a career saturated with myriad "cute and thorough" papers. I'm not particularly upset with the progress of Computer Vision, but I think more people should ponder the negative consequences of pulling the publish-trigger too often.