Sorry for not blogging. It's not that I've been busy -- it's more like incredibly busy.
Anyway, the FOCS 2009 call for papers seems to be out. Following are the key changes in the call.
Pre-submission abstracts: are out. As I said before, I am against them.
Full proofs: are required for the "central claims in the paper." Essentially, you don't need to prove that 3rd extension of your results that nobody will care about, but you need to write a complete proof of the main result (i.e. the really interesting result for which the paper is being accepted). When SODA'09 introduced this, my gut feeling was slightly against, but with time as a good advisor, I have become a convert. I am glad I managed to push this into the call (it was harder than I had expected...)
Here are excerpts from mails that I wrote on this topic:
[...] It happens too often that people submit a paper vague enough that an interested reviewer cannot even refute (how can you give counter-examples to something that is not fully specified in the paper?). Obviously, the job of conferences is not to check correctness, but if we get lucky with a passionate reviewer, we should allow him to do the job right.
[...] PCmember makes a valid point that the committee can (and should) ask for clarifications when a proof is missing or unclear. But this does not rule out the following scenario:
" Lemmas 13 to 15 don't have proofs in the paper. The reviewers never themselves thought about the problem, and the lemmas appear quite reasonable and straight-forward, so no objection is raised (no need to bother the author for a technicality). After the paper is published, somebody who has thought about the problem reads the proof and has doubts about Lemma 14. What now? "
The paper should be verifiable not only by the committee (whose emails the author will certainly not ignore!) but also by future readers (imagine the authors' response time if the future reader is a guy with a funny name from China :).
I hope asking for complete proofs becomes standard. As with journals, the main reason to trust the proof is not that somebody else formally checked it, but that the author carefully wrote down a detailed proof.
Post-submission description: This is the biggest innovation in the call. You are supposed to write a 2-page description of your paper one week after the deadline, in which you informally describe the contribution, the main ideas etc.
I am very sorry that this made it. To be blunt, I think the two main reasons this idea made it were:
- Some people thought something is "wrong" with current STOC/FOCS and something should be changed. People didn't quite have a consistent story of what was wrong or what should be changed, but the desire of change made the PC agree with the most radical experiment on the table.
- There was no vote (almost nobody responded to a request for a vote). I have no idea whether 75% of the PC supports this, or a vocal 20% of the PC supported it. An unfortunate state of fact.
My formal objection was the following (several people agreed in private emails):
Essentially, we can make the conference system as complicated as we want: pre-submission abstracts, double blind, 2-page summary, video at time of submission, rebuttals, a million rules for conflicts of interest etc etc. Some field which obsess about some central conference implement some subset of these ideas (think SIGGRAPH, SIGCOMM etc). Fortunately, in theory we have avoided all this non-sense.
We are implementing the basic systems principle: keep the interface simple. The process is minimal (submit a paper, get a decision and reviews). Since we have a fast turn-around cycle (with two major conferences a year, plus other reasonable conferences like SODA), there is no need to "bullet-proof" one conference. Any mistake by a PC should be rectified by the next one if the author clears up the misunderstandings in his paper.
What would the 2-page abstract do? It would force me to cut some arbitrary part of my introduction (I typically have around 4 pages). Why impose this 2 page fixed format for what should be the introduction?
Also, the 2-page abstracts would sanction the idea that a foggy introduction written at the last minute is ok, since you can rectify it 1 week later. -- Yes, yes, we threated that we may not read the 2-page abstract, but that is also wrong. If we actually don't read it, we seem like the evil PC that just wants to keep authors busy for no good reason. And any argument that "thinking about your contribution 1 week later is good for you" is as annoying as any paternalistic argument.
Theory has a light-weight process centered on ideas. Anything else should be minimized. Let's keep it simple.
To be clear, everybody seemed to agree that the 2-page description is only an experiment, and future PCs should not borrow it without serious review. I hope it will die after this conference.