Umesh Vazirani: should publishing in STOC/FOCS and Science/Nature be mutually exclusive?
The business meeting of STOC/FOCS is usually rather tedious, but it is also an opportunity to raise and debate issues that the community should be concerned about. One such issue is the inconsistency between our publication norms and the norms of other communities. This is becoming more and more important as TCS megalomaniacally adopt the “lens on the sciences” point of view. Towards the FOCS 2013’s business meeting, Umesh Vazirani agreed to write a guest post on this subject. While Umesh mentions Science and Nature, this is relevant to other communities (Econ journals come to mind).
I would love to encourage the readers to start the debate by commenting here. Please remember though that WindowsOnTheory maintains a policy of keeping the discussion respectful and on point. And now to Umesh:
Here is a recently discovered theorem about STOC/FOCS: the rules spelled out in the STOC/FOCS CFP imply that you cannot have a STOC/FOCS paper whose journal version appears in Science or Nature. Authors are forced to choose: if they choose Science/Nature then our community suffers since we do not get to hear about some strong papers and new directions; if they choose STOC/FOCS, then it diminishes our community’s influence in the sciences.
This is not a purely theoretical concern. There was already a paper that we submitted to ITCS instead of FOCS 2012 for such reasons. It appeared in Nature earlier this year: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v496/n7446/full/nature12035.html But the new STOC/FOCS theorem was only fully proved in the context of a paper by Thomas Vidick and myself that resolved a longstanding challenge by Myers and Yao about device independent quantum cryptography. That paper was accepted to STOC, but the subsequent proof of the STOC/FOCS theorem led us to withdraw the paper and we are now in the process of submitting it to Science. Both these papers represent the kind of computational lens on the sciences kind of thinking that our TCS community should be actively engaging in and taking credit for. The phenomenon is not restricted to those two papers – a number of other papers have since chosen to forgo the STOC/FOCS route for the same reasons.
There are two basic issues: the first and larger one is that STOC/FOCS explicitly bans journal publication before the date of the conference. The motivation cannot be suspense, the arxiv has long rendered that moot. It is also clearly not an issue of “double publication”, in view of the long accepted norm that papers appear in both a conference and a journal. ACM and IEEE copyright policies might have been implicated, but a close reading of those policies reveals that they treat journals and conferences symmetrically, and so have no implications for the order of publication.
The second issue has to do with the recently formalized (or invented) policy of STOC/FOCS to insist on the publication of a full 10 page abstract in the proceedings as an obligation rather than as a privilege. By contrast a 1 page abstract with a pointer to a full paper on the arxiv would not preclude publication in Science/Nature after STOC/FOCS. One could go much farther and note that conference proceedings, which were once the life blood of the theory community, have been increasingly marginalized by the arxiv and the web. A sensible policy would be to take STOC/FOCS proceedings online, with pointers to papers on the arxiv. Without compromising any of the attributes of the current proceedings, this would have the added benefit of reducing the time between abstract submission and conference date, thereby leading to the inclusion of more up to date results in the conference.
Whatever the theory community decides, I hope it will be an active scientific decision rather than the current bureaucratic default.