Chazelle: Computing has never been more important, and never been more
misunderstood. We are not doing as good a job of getting our work into
the public eye as other fields such as physics. If the broader scientific
community comes to use algorithms as a conceptual framework for the problems
they are dealing with, we will have done well.
Lipton: We have lots of really profound and interesting intellectual challenges; one way to excite the public is to talk to them about these fundamental questions.
Rudich: How do we take what are doing and translate it into problems that people can relate to and care about? We have a million forms of encoding and should be able to do this; everyone can relate to the problem of trying to pack items into a suitcase of limited size.
Tardos: Whatever you do, it is probably possible to explain it to the public. There is an awful lot of stuff we do that is really not that hard to explain. A straw poll of the audience showed that very few people in our community have ever published in Science or Nature; it would be good if this could change.
Peterson: Publicity takes effort. The American Chemistry Council is spending twenty million dollars on advertising to sell the importance of research in chemistry. Astronomy often gets the front page of The New York Times; this is because of carefully orchestrated arrangements behind the scenes. The ACM, SIAM, IEEE do no publicity that I (Peterson) am aware of as a journalist. To get into the media: publish in Science and Nature. Lay language summaries and images are provided to the media a week in advance of each issue. There is always a Nature story in the newspaper on Thursday and a Science story on Friday. For newspaper coverage, one writer or a very small group can make a difference.
Robinson: Even all the approaches suggested above will have only a limited effect. Two reasons for this: (1) Theoretical computer science is hard to understand for the lay public and for reporters (and, as one audience member shouted out, for us). It is easier to write about global warming or why the coyotes are multiplying. (2) There is a perception among science editors that TCS is not what people want to read about: they want stories about health, things that cost a lot of taxpayer dollars, etc. Perhaps we should explore new models such as a dedicated math/science news agency?
(anonymous science writer audience member): "People like dinosaurs, asteroids, and things coming out of the ground...very little of what you guys have is concrete."