Metaheuristics—the metaphor exposed



In recent years, the field of combinatorial optimization has witnessed a true tsunami of “novel” metaheuristic methods, most of them based on a metaphor of some natural or man-made process. The behavior of virtually any species of insects, the flow of water, musicians playing together – it seems that no idea is too far-fetched to serve as inspiration to launch yet another metaheuristic. In this paper, we will argue that this line of research is threatening to lead the area of metaheuristics away from scientific rigor. We will examine the historical context that gave rise to the increasing use of metaphors as inspiration and justification for the development of new methods, discuss the reasons for the vulnerability of the metaheuristics field to this line of research, and point out its fallacies. At the same time, truly innovative research of high quality is being performed as well. We conclude the paper by discussing some of the properties of this research and by pointing out some of the most promising research avenues for the field of metaheuristics.