letters to the editor
Pay for editorial independence
Though Moshe Y. Vardi’s Editor’s Letter “Open, Closed, or Clo- pen Access?” (July 2009) ad- dressed the question of who pays the bills, we must also
address the price of quality.
By 1424, Cambridge University library had only 122 books; the number
today is more than seven million. At
the beginning of the 15th century, any
of those 122 books would have cost as
much as a farm. Following the invention of the printing press by Johannes
Gutenberg around 1440, the price of
books decreased dramatically due to
the reduced cost of manufacturing.
With the arrival of the Internet in the
late 20th century, the dissemination of
information reached unprecedented
low cost through the elimination of
paper and shipping. So, despite accessing information online at almost no
cost, why do we still pay for scientific
articles? The answer is we pay for high-quality articles. Ensuring their publication is never free, and the price must account for copy editing, reviewing, and
indexing, as well as for something more
important, editorial independence.
What differentiates regular journals
from excellent journals is their editors’
ability to know when to reject mediocre submissions and accept only those
that are very good or groundbreaking.
Editors must be fully independent to
make decisions based on quality, not
on financial considerations alone.
Readers paying for high-quality articles means editors are free to decide
without prohibitive financial pressure.
Answering who pays the bills is important, but determining how much to
pay for quality regardless of publishing
model is the overriding issue. I hope
the market struggle between open
and closed publishing models will put
prices in their rightful place.
agusti solanas, Catalonia, spain
abolish conference Proceedings
As program chair of an ACM confer-
ence (Hypertext 2009 http://informat-
ics.indiana.edu/fil), I agree with both
Lance Fortnow’s Viewpoint “Time for
Computer Science to Grow Up” (Aug.
2009) and Moshe Vardi’s Editor’s Letter
“Conferences vs. Journals in Computing Research” (May 2009). Moreover,
as an interdisciplinary researcher, I
experience firsthand how conference-driven publication practices hurt CS
in terms of potential interdisciplinary
collaboration, reach, and visibility.
That’s why I propose the abolition
of conference proceedings altogether.
Submissions should instead go to journals, which would receive more and
better ones, with refereeing resources
shifting naturally from conferences to
journals. As a result, journals would
improve their quality and speed up
their processes. With the CS community’s full attention, the review process
would be more rigorous and timely.
Deadlines would no longer be so concentrated, and scientists would submit
better work, revise as needed, and profit immediately from reviewer feedback;
the same referee would judge improvements to a particular submission.
In many cases where conferences
and journals are aligned, presentations
could be invited from among the best
papers published in the previous year.
For newer areas and groundbreaking
work, a conference or workshop could
still accept submissions but would
not publish proceedings. Publishing
would be the job of journals.
ACM should shepherd such a transition as publisher of both the proceedings of most top computing conferences and of many top computing
filippo menczer, bloomington, in
As a young researcher, I was intrigued by Lance Fortnow’s explanation
(Aug. 2009) of why the CS community
is dominated by conference proceedings. However, I was less excited by his
proposed solution, that “…leaders of
major conferences must make the first
move, holding their conferences less
frequently and accepting every reasonable paper for presentation without
proceedings.” I fear such a move would
not have the intended effect of a more
Fortnow only touched on the reason he thinks it wouldn’t work, that
CS journals have a reputation for slow
turnaround, with most taking at least
a year to make a publish/reject decision and some taking much longer
before publishing. These end-to-end
times are unheard of in other fields
where journal editors make decisions
in weeks, sometimes days.
Combine this with the trend toward
fewer post-doc positions to begin with
and young researchers trying to launch
their careers by proving their ability to
publish their research. Conference
publications provide the quick turnaround they need, whereas journals
can sometimes represent too great a
risk early in a career.
For CS to grow up, CS journals must
grow up first.
Jano van hemert, edinburgh, u.K.
inspire cs Passion in all
If someone were to ask me to name
the top-four “formidable challenges”
facing computer science, I would not
have come up with the ones listed by
Bob Violino in his news story “Time to
Reboot” (Apr. 2009):
Declining enrollment in degree ˲
programs since 2001;
Underrepresentation of women ˲
Negative perception of CS among ˲
K– 12 students; and
Reports saying the rate of innova- ˲
tion in the field has decreased.
With the possible exception of the
last one, all are “soft” issues that have
little to do with science. Encouraging
students to pursue a career, or at least
an interest, in CS is worthwhile and
part of the ambassadorial role everyone in the field should play anyway.
It also makes sense for some in the
field to focus on these areas. However,
it should in no way crowd out its core
scientific pursuits. Emphasize instead
challenges in parallel programming,
image processing, language develop-