Should Computer Scientists Experiment More?

TitleShould Computer Scientists Experiment More?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsTichy, WF
KeywordsExperimentation, Theory

Do computer scientists need to experiment at all? Only if the answer is "yes" does it make sense to ask whether there is enough of it. The author argues that experimentation is central to the scientific process. Only experiments test theories. Only experiments can explore critical factors and bring new phenomena to light, so theories can be formulated and corrected. Without experiments, according to the author, computer science is in danger of drying up and becoming an auxiliary discipline. The current pressure to concentrate on application is the writing on the wall. The author rebuts the eight most common objections computer scientists have to focusing on experimentation: The traditional scientific method isn't applicable. The current level of experimentation is good enough. Experiments cost too much. Demonstrations will suffice. There's too much noise in the way. Progress will slow. Technology changes too fast. You'll never get it published.In contrast, the author argues that experimentation would build a reliable base of knowledge and thus reduce uncertainty about which theories, methods, and tools are adequate; lead to new, useful, and unexpected insights and open whole new areas of investigation; and accelerate progress by quickly eliminating fruitless approaches, erroneous assumptions, and fads. Conversely, when we ignore experimentation and avoid contact with reality, we hamper progress. As computer science leaves adolescence behind, the author advocates the development of its experimental branch.

Refereed DesignationRefereed