Considering the impact and implications of changes in scholarly communication.
In 2009 and 2010, over a dozen Com- munications Editor’s Letters, Viewpoints, blog entries, reader letters, and articles addressed our conference and journal publication culture. The discussion covered
the shift from a traditional emphasis on
journals to the current focus on conferences, and the challenges of conference
reviewing, but at its heart is our sense of
community. 2 One commentary spoke
of a “death spiral” of diminishing participation. 1 Several of the contributors
joined a plenary panel on peer review at
the 2010 Computing Research Association Conference at Snowbird. 4
In a nutshell, the commentaries note
that a focus on conference publication
has led to deadline-driven short-term research at the expense of journal publication, a reviewing burden that can drive
off prominent researchers, and high
rejection rates that favor cautious incremental results over innovative work.
Some commentators identify novel approaches to addressing these or other
problems, but the dominant view is that
we should return to our past practice of
regarding journal publication as the locus of quality, which remains the norm
in other sciences.
To understand whether this is pos-
sible, and I doubt it is, we must under-
stand why computer science in the U.S.
shifted to conference publication in
the first place. As commentators have
noted, it was not simply that computer
science requires quick dissemination
of results: Conferences did not become
focused on quality in Europe or Asia, or
in other competitive, quickly evolving
fields such as neuroscience or physics. It
is not that U.S. computer science could
not expand journal page counts: com-
puter science journals abroad expand-
ed, passing the costs on to libraries. This
Viewpoint considers other factors and
outlines their implications.
technology and a Professional
organization Drove the shift
to conference Publication
By the early 1980s, the availability of text
editing or word processing among computer scientists enabled the relatively inexpensive production of decent-looking
proceedings prior to a conference. This
was something new. Anticipating that libraries might shelve proceedings, ACM
printed many more copies than conferences needed, at a low incremental cost.
ACM also made them available by mail
order after a conference at a very low
price. Papers in ACM conferences were
thus widely distributed and effectively
archival. These are the two features that
motivated the creation of journals centuries earlier.
Proceedings in Europe and Asia rarely had after-conference distribution, so
to be archived, work there had to progress to journal publication. The shift
to a conference focus did not occur. In
2004, a prominent U.K. researcher wrote
about the CHI conference: “HCI’s love
of conferences is a fluke of history. We all
know this. CS in general has suffered from
it, but is steadily moving away. CHI however digs in, with more and more death rattles such as CHI Letters. Being conference
centered is bad for any field: bad for its
archival material, bad for its conferences,
membership in the top 10 Acm special interest Groups in 1990, 2000, and 2010. currently,
only two of 34 siGs have 3,000 members.