Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Journal Rankings

An assistant professor writes
In case you need a topic for your weblog: what about journal rankings for theoretical computer science journals? I was looking for something like that for my tenure portfolio. The only web-info I found on the topic was here whose reliability is hard to judge.
Thanks, I am always looking for topics. Journal rankings do not have as strong a perceived ranking in computer science due to the import we give to conferences. Nevertheless, deans like to classify journal articles in computer science like they do for other fields and ask for a ranking.

Here's how I rank theory journals.

  1. Journal of the ACM.
  2. SIAM Journal on Computing.
  3. A large equivalence class of every other major theory journal.
  4. Information Processing Letters which publishes short articles that don't merit publication in the above.
Any ordering of journal consistent with this list is okay though even here we have considerable fluctuation. In most theory journals the editor-in-chief rarely overrules the associate editors recommendations and thus have about the same average acceptance criteria. JACM has the tightest quality controls but still occasionally publishes some weaker papers and quite a few mediocre papers appear in SICOMP though I still rate it higher than the rest.

Special issues rank higher, especially those devoted to the best papers of a strong conference. On the other hand, I put no faith on the quality of theory papers that appear in non-theory and especially non-CS journals no matter how they are ranked in their respective field. More than a few rather weak CS papers have appeared in Science, the gold standard for many other scientific disciplines.


  1. I hear there are four kinds of papers: (1) good papers that get published; (2) good papers that don't get published; (3) bad papers that get published; and (4) bad papers that don't get published.

    I've seen much of 1 and 3, and a couple of 4.

  2. Lance, you completely ignore high quality mathematical journals. I guess your criticism about Science and alike does not apply here, as they require a rigorous. One example would be Combinatorica.

    A more general question: What underlies your ranking? Is it by the journals' best papers or by their average papers? And in what time frame, e.g., how would you consider papers published 10-20 years ago?

    Robi Krauthgamer.

  3. Lance, what is your (anticipated) ranking for the newcomers like ACM Transactions on Algorithms and Theory of Computing eJournal?

  4. New journals can only be successful by keeping a quality level with the pack. If they try to maintain a higher level to start they will alinate authors who they turn down and will struggle to survive in the long run.

    Short answers for Robi's questions: Math does a reasonable job in judging TCS papers but still they judge them from a math point of view. I'm thinking of the average paper quality of a journal--all journals (and conferences) have occasional great and lousy papers. The same ranking could have been used 20 years ago, though JACM has really improved itself by getting more selective over that time.

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  6. TCS papers get published in a variety of journals apart from JACM, SICOMP, especially algorithms papers. Geometry papers in DCG and others, combinatorics papers in Combinatorica, graph theory journals such as J. of Combinatorial Theory A,B and Math Programming journals such as Math Programming, Math of OR etc.

    I find fairly uneven quality in the papers accepted to journals including JACM. Although the ranking is relevant for tenure committees and to feel good, people are better off juding the papers by themselves
    objectively for what they learnt from them.