Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Clarity and Charity in Reviewing

June 9th, 2010 / in Uncategorized / by Erwin Gianchandani

On May 4 I posted a short message titled “Fratricide and the Ecology of Proposal Reviews.”  That was an effort to focus attention on an issue.  This post provides a suggestion for computing researchers when dealing with work that seems unfamiliar or difficult to understand.

Computing is a “general purpose” phenomenon.  It can be applied to many things, which brings heterogeneous communities to the discussion.  The computing research field has porous boundaries, making it an intellectual watering hole.  This offers stimulation and excitement, but it can cause problems.  People from different fields follow different conventions for doing or explaining their work.  Philipe van Parijs has addressed this as Clarity and Charity1.  Here is the gist as I learned it.

When you are trying to make sense of new things, you shouldn’t assume that it’s entirely up to the authors to have those things make sense to you.  Authors should make things clear to the reader, but this is hard to do when writing for people from different fields.  The reader can and should help out.  A frustrated reader has usually invested a lot to understand the work already, but it is often worth investing a bit more to find out what the author “must be saying.”  The smart reader closes the gap between the author’s explanation and his or her understanding. Expect clarity, but when things are unclear, try some charity.  It’s a cost-effective strategy.

1Philipe van Parijs, Evolutionary Explanations in the Social Sciences: An Emerging Paradigm, Totawa NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981, pp. xiii-xiv (online version through Google Books).

(Contributed by John Leslie King, University of Michigan)

Clarity and Charity in Reviewing