I follow Schneier’s Security Blog. Today, he alerted his readers to this post about an NSA member’s take on the cryptography session of a mathematics conference. The whole post is worth reading, but these comments really drive home some of the tension between those of us in academia :
Alfredo DeSantis … spoke on “Graph decompositions and secret-sharing schemes,” a silly topic which brings joy to combinatorists and yawns to everyone else. […]
Perhaps it is beneficial to be attacked, for you can easily augment your publication list by offering a modification.
This result has no cryptanalytic application, but it serves to answer a question which someone with nothing else to think about might have asked.
I think I have hammered home my point often enough that I shall regard it as proved (by emphatic enunciation): the tendency at IACR meetings is for academic scientists (mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, and philosophers masquerading as theoretical computer scientists) to present commendable research papers (in their own areas) which might affect cryptology at some future time or (more likely) in some other world. Naturally this is not anathema to us.
I freely admit this: when I do research, I attack problems that…interests me. I don’t worry if someone else finds them interesting or not; when I solve such a problem I submit it and see if someone else finds it interesting. If I solved the problem correctly and someone else finds it interesting: it gets published. If my solution is wrong, I attempt to fix the error. If no one else finds it interesting, I work on something else. 🙂