I’ve been traveling, without regular Internet access(!), the past few days. But since so many others have already been posting about FOCS, I figured I should deliver on my promised post.
Below I discuss two concrete ways to improve STOC/FOCS. This post is motivated by the lame reviews I got for my FOCS submissions — 2 out of the 6 reviews were written by people who either didn’t understand or didn’t read the papers — but are not specific to that, and represent things I have thought about for a while.
- Increase the size of the program committee. This would actually serve two purposes:
- First, it would cut down on the insane number of papers assigned to each reviewer.
- Second (and something I have not seen anyone mention before), it could ensure that each area of TCS has at least two representatives on the committee. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say: “I guess I won’t submit my paper to STOC/FOCS this time around, since there is only one (or even no!) cryptographer on the committee”. Is this really the way we want decisions to be made, or science to progress?
The only argument I have heard for smaller committees is that large committees are problematic because committee members cannot submit papers. Personally I would get rid of that rule. (Plenty of other conferences allow PC-member submissions, and once conflicts of interest are being enforced anyway I don’t see the problem.) But to address this concern, here is a “radical” idea: have “heavy” and “light” PC members. Heavy PC members would essentially fulfill the same role as PC members do today: they would be expected to review lots of papers, possibly in areas outside their core expertise, and discuss all papers at the PC meeting. Light PC members would be area experts. Each paper could get assigned to, say, 2 heavy PC members and 1 light PC member with expertise in the paper’s area. Light PC members would read fewer papers overall, and would not be involved in paper discussions or the PC meeting. It is therefore feasible to have more light PC members, and without necessarily preventing them from submitting their own papers.
I would still recommend that, for each area, there be at least one “heavy” PC member in that area.
For those who are not aware, systems of “light” and “heavy” PC members are already used in other conferences, though without making light PC members area experts (as far as I know).
- Move to anonymous (or partially anonymous) submissions. This has been discussed ad nauseum many times before, so I won’t belabor the point. All I will say is that while there are some valid arguments in favor of non-anonymous submissions, I think they are outweighed by the arguments in favor of anonymity. Moreover, there is a compromise solution that I think would work very well (and has not received enough attention in the whole debate): have papers be reviewed anonymously, and then de-anonymize papers during the discussion/PC meeting. This can be easily done with conference review software.
One final comment: when will any of the various proposed changes to STOC/FOCS be discussed seriously, i.e., by anyone with actual power to change the way things are done? Can the issue be brought to SIGACT vote? (I have no idea how these things work.) If a majority of people prefer non-anonymity, so be it; can we at least take a poll/vote to find out?