Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Why do we have awards?

You have a month to get in your nominations for the Donald E. Knuth Prize and the SIGACT Distinguished Service Award.

Why do we have these awards and others like the Gödel Prize, The Turing Award, conference best paper awards, ACM Fellows, Nobel prizes and so much more. Are we just creating CV stuffers? Are we giving departments another measure to rank people? Are we trying to encourage good research through competitive awards? Does anyone have the conscious thought, "I wouldn't normally work on this problem but it could win me the Turing award so I'll do it"?

None of the above. We have awards for the publicity. We want to tell the world about the great researchers and work that they produce. A major award rises above the clutter and let's us say "Les Valiant must be a great computer scientist, he won the last Turing Award" or " Håstad's optimal approximation bounds are a great work in theoretical computer science as you can see from the Gödel Prize." Not a surprise that almost every award comes with a press release.

Are all awards fairly given? Of course not, prize committees are full of humans often comparing apples and oranges. But that's not the point. Awards let us celebrate what's great in computer science with ourselves and with the world.


  1. Did you consciously decide to completely ignore the issues related to awards that Oded Goldreich has been posting about on Luca's blog?

  2. Awards lead to salary raises.

  3. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.

  4. Good exposition, constructive criticism, and heartfelt appreciation come from first-rate hearts.

  5. Comparing Lance's analysis and Goldreich's thorough analysis of the pros and cons of awards, I must say that Goldreich is much more convincing. Basically, I don't see in Lance's post any significant argument except that awards are good for publicity. But is this a sufficient condition to conclude that awards are good? I'm doubtful.