Monday, June 30, 2008

The Special Issue Debate

A commenter requested a written post on the special issue debate (our podcast already has it but he or she and others may have a hard time accessing our words of ... wisdom(?)). Here are all the opinions that I heard at the meeting and later. I do not attribute them since we are not yet at the point where making a good point at a meeting is something to put on your resume.
  1. Background: The special issue for CCC (and most theory conferences) had been JCSS (Journal of Computer and Systems Sciences) for many years. When prices began going up many theory conferences switched to non-commercial publishers, some affiliated with societies like SICOMP. CCC went from JCSS to CC (Computational Complexity) which is owned by Springer, a commercial publisher. Laci Babai has been running Theory of Computing: An Open Access Journal and he wants us to switch to his journal or to have some kind of rotating system. von zur Gathen who is the editor of CC wants us to stay at CC. The steering committee wants to DECIDE and STAY with someone for the next 5 years so we don't have to keep having this debate.
  2. The goals of a commercial publishers are at odds with the goals of the community. We want our work out there and available. In particular we want out work to be available free online or at a cheap price on line. They want to make money. Therefore we should switch to a non-commercial publisher, as many other theory conferences already have.
  3. The distinction between commercial and non-commercial is silly. There are some non-commercial publishers that are not very good (IEEE was brought up). Nobody seemed to be able to bring up the other kind of counter example- a commercial publisher that was very good. von zur Gathen says that CC is reasonably priced but he admits that Springer does overprice other journals.
  4. CC is not free online. However, if we go with them they will put the special issue free on line after a year. And they will (as they did this year) provide us with free copies of the journal at CCC. Should we threaten every year to get more and more out of them? One participant told von zur Gathen directly: You make the entire journal free online 6 months after it appears and I will vote for CC.
  5. There is something about paper that feels more permenent then just being online. Formats change but paper lasts forever. Then again, Google Caching also lasts forever.
  6. Does Theory of Computing: An Open Access Journal have sound financial backing? Laci claims that even if Univ of Chicago blew up tommorow the journal would keep going. However, the journal has not set up the proper paperwork to accept donations.
  7. Will Springer raise the price of CC? So far they have not and they regard it as a prestige journal so they are willing to break even. Will this last forever? But even in its current state, there are schools that do not have access to it, while all people have access to TOC:AOAJ.
  8. ACM has a new journal Transactions on Computation Theory. This would seem to be a good place to have the special issue. Non -commercial, sound business model, ACM support. But it has not produced a single issue yet. The editor, Lance Fortnow, said he is not seeking the special issue. Since this is an election year it is not clear what that means.
  9. The Special Issue of CCC is 1/4 of CC's issues. We are making them prestigous, not vice versa.
  10. Rotating seems complicated; however, if we can just have on the CCC website to click here or there to get that years special issue, that could be okay.
  11. When the editors raise prices we don't like it. But when the lower them or agree to put things online, thats a bribe. They can't win. Well- if they just put EVERYTHING online and cheap then we will stop complaining and threatening. If they can't find a way to do that and make a profit they should not be in the business.
  12. There should be a special issue to honor the good papers and also (and this is a topic for another day) make sure that conf papers get into journals- our field has been bad about that.
  13. At the meeting there was a ranked vote: You could vote CC, TOC:AOAJ, write in (likely Transactions), or to rotate. If you voted rotate then you had to say which journals. (E.g., Every year that is a Fiboacci Prime, we got to CC, Fib non-prime TOC:AOAJ, all else: TRANS.) The results of the vote will be posted online.
  14. Laci gave his presentation on overheads.


  1. Neither Google caching nor Google will last forever. I certainly won't bet on Google keeping all those nice services free forever.

  2. It sounds from the discussion that maybe there are questions about the potential longevity or level of service provided by the Theory of Computing journal. If that's the case, then certainly those issues ought to be addressed quite apart from the question of where to publish the CCC proceedings.

    Enough funding should be scraped together to make sure the proper corporate structure is in place... retain a lawyer if necessary, set up a modest endowment to guarantee that archives will be maintained in perpetuity, pay someone to maintain a professional web presence, print out hardcopies to send to the LoC and other libraries so there is a permanent record, whatever. (I have no knowledge of the publishing business, so maybe someone more knowledgeable could chime with a more sensible list.)

    Is there an umbrella organization for open-access publishers that can provide support and guidance with this sort of thing? This must be a pretty common issue with the current trend toward open-access publishing.

  3. As a novice ("n00b") of a younger generation it strikes me that it's great if these are free-online eventually -- a year is just fine.

    This is under the assumption that some version of the paper (either a draft of the conference version or a spruced up/fuller version heading for a journal) is on arXiv or the like.

    My primary interest in the "official" version would be as a target for citation, rather than as reading material.

  4. Free online access to journals wouldn't be such an issue if all authors put their papers on their websites. So why don't we start a trend that conferences won't include your paper in the proceedings unless it's on your web page within a week of the camera-ready due date? (and a similar rule for journals). Is there any excuse for not putting papers online these days? If not, why are we tolerating it?