Saturday, July 21, 2018


I've been to both the IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation (CEC) and IEEE Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO) many times now, but this year was probably the first time that I attended both of the two major evolutionary computation conferences back to back. This gave me an opportunity to think about their differences and respective strengths and weaknesses.

To begin with, both conferences feature some very good work and quality of top papers at both is comparable. However, the average paper quality at GECCO is higher. This is almost certainly because CEC has much higher acceptance rate. I'm not a fan of artificially low acceptance rates, as I think it discourages risk-taking and all good research deserves being published. However, I think not all papers at CEC deserve to be full papers with oral presentation. There's just too much noise.

Both conferences have invited talks (called keynotes and plenary talks). However, they differ in their character. Whereas CEC largely invites prominent speakers from within the community, GECCO seems to almost entirely source their speakers from outside the community. I've often been puzzled by the choice of keynote speakers at GECCO, but this year was extreme. The speakers had almost nothing to do with evolutionary computation. I understand that it's good with outside influences, but this felt like random talks on random topics. A research community also has a responsibility to help its researchers grow by giving strong researchers an opportunity to shine, and present them as examples to the community. It is my strong opinion that CEC has a much better keynote selection policy than GECCO. (Yes, I'm biased as I gave one of the CEC keynotes this year. But I also enjoyed the other CEC keynotes way more than the GECCO keynotes.)

 CEC has a number of special sessions whereas GECCO has tracks. I think the GECCO model is somewhat better than the CEC model here. The tracks have more of their own identity, and review and paper selection happens on a per-track basis, which is nice. CEC could easily turn the special sessions into something more like tracks, which would probably be a good thing. However, the difference is not large.  (Aitor Arrieta on Twitter points out that it's nice to be able to have special sessions on hot topics, which is true - tracks are a bit less flexible.)

Then there's the best paper award selection policy. Here GECCO is a clear winner, with awards in each track, and the best paper selected by public vote among a handful of top-reviewed papers. This is infinitely much fairer and more transparent than CEC's "selection by secret cabal". CEC, please fix this problem.

Finally, why are there two main conferences on evolutionary computation? Turns out it's for historical reasons, that at least partly have to do with animosity between certain influential people who are no longer that important in the community. I'm not necessarily a fan of always having a single large conference, but especially for US researchers your papers count more if published in a "large selective" conference. With this in mind, I think CEC and GECCO should merge.

(This blog post is edited from a series of tweets. I'm thinking about doing this more often, as blog posts are perceived as more permanent than tweets.)