Computer science defended

April 7, 1995

On top of Darrel Ince's proposal (MM, March 10) to disband computer science departments came news of the poor showing by those departments in HEFCE quality assessments. Readers leapt to the subject's defence.

It is undoubtedly the case that software engineers have paid too much attention to developing tools, and too little attention to solving the real problems of communications. It is probably also the case that software engineers as a group have more problems with social skills than an average cross section of the population.

However, I would argue that this does not detract from the argument that there is a unique discipline of software engineering. All subjects are based on models of the real world. These models of necessity do not, and cannot describe the world as it actually is, but must generalise and simplify it. This is the only way abstract ideas can be made comprehensible and hence passed on to the next generation.

Software engineers have made some brave attempts to do the same in the field of computer systems. The fact that the success of their enterprise is limited can be put down more to the time they have had to ponder the problem than to the intellectual rigour of the discipline. After all, psychology has had at least 10,000 years and in some ways does not appear to be much further forward.

Generating new paradigms is an easy business. Having sufficient people accept them as legitimate takes time. Refining them takes forever. In software engineering we have only just begun. I think it is only reasonable that you give us a fair run for our money before declaring us redundant.

Clive Rosen

Senior lecturer University of Derby

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