|Why are there so many theory bloggers?
||[Jun. 9th, 2009|09:35 am]
Theory seems to have by far the most bloggers of any subfield of Computer Science; I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering if this is more than coincidence. Here are a few possible reasons:
Theory is cohesive. Most pairs of theorists find each other's work somewhat interesting. At the same time, the field is unlike most of Computer Science, with its emphasis on proof and disregard of experiment. I doubt that this level of cohesion can be found elsewhere in CS: "systems" is too vague and broad, while most other areas — AI, data mining, information retrieval, semantic web, databases, logic, formal methods, programming languages, compilers, architecture and graphics — fall on a massive spectrum.
Missing from that list are crypto, security and privacy. Cryptographers, in my experience, are generally horrified by the prospect of saying anything publicly that isn't heavily peer-reviewed, so that's out. Security and privacy are highly interdisciplinary, so that's not a cohesive subfield either.
In a small way, my blog aggregator may have contributed to the cohesiveness of theory bloggers by fostering a sense of community.
Theory doesn't get press. Except for the occasional journalist making an amusingly feeble attempt to explain P =? NP to the lay public in the context of the Clay Math Institute prize, theory stays out of the press because it doesn't generate pageviews.
In most other fields, important papers have a non-zero probability of getting written about (in the case of graphics papers announcing new techniques, it is virtually guaranteed since they are accompanied by jaw-dropping animations.) Consequently, theorists need a way of spreading the word about papers that are important/interesting. Word of mouth and best paper awards only go so far in the 21st century.
Theory is hard. Don't get me wrong — I'm sure research in other fields is just as hard to perform, but in my opinion, theory papers are particularly hard to read, especially for newcomers, simply because of the high degree of abstraction. This gives theory authors a strong incentive to explain and motivate their papers in more readily understood terms, and blogging is a great way to do that.
All that said, a big part of it is probably pure chance. Specifically, Lance Fortnow's pioneering blog may have convinced many theorists, by setting an example, to shed the belief that blogging is a frivolous, vulgar activity indulged in solely by the unwashed masses, far too undignified for solemn researchers such as themselves :-)