What is the purpose of STOC? Initially it was to help spread knowledge of the latest results, through both talks and lunch. Even though we can now tweet the latest VDW numbers, STOC still serves this purpose. Another (likely unintended) purpose of STOC is to give researchers a quick yet prestigious way to publish. Hiring committees and Tenure committee's DO ask questions like How many STOC/FOCS publications does she have?. Some people think this is an awful system since these papers are not refereed carefully. I am not going to debate that here. My only concern is making STOC better at spreading knowledge.
What are some of the problems with STOC?
- People don't want to serve on the program committee since its a lot of time and they can't submit. The two-tiered system used for STOC 2013 seems like a good solution to this.
- Referees Reports (can we even call them that?) are often not very informative. The two-tiered system COULD help this since each committee member has less work and there is a small oversight committee. Another solution that some conferences use is to give the authors a chance to rebut a report and/or rewrite the paper. I'll discuss this more in the next point.
- Since the reviewing process is rushed there have been papers that are just plain WRONG. This can be confusing for someone coming to the literature. Also there are throw-away- comments like This can easily be extended to the case of weighted graphs. where this is not easy at all. How big a problem is this? How much worse than Journals is it? I DON"T KNOW. Would the Rebut/Rewrite help this? PRO: Referees don't have to decide RIGHT NOW what to do and can ask the authors things? CON: More back and fourth, more work. CAVEAT: This might make STOC more like a journal with fast turn-around time.
- Some of the papers never get into Journal Form. Again Rebut/Rewrite may help in that the STOC version is better, but this is more giving in to the problem rather than solving it. Demanding full versions of papers (now possible since with e-proceedings page limits are less of an issue) is a good idea (and I think IS being used now by STOC).
- Many good papers get turned down. Going to three parallel sessions would help this. There may be logistical problems here, but I think this is a good idea. Are there enough good papers to make this work? I think so- and the committee would have the freedom to NOT use all the sessions in case there aren't quite enough papers. I do not think this would make STOC's prestige decline.
- It has been said that only narrow technically hard stuff gets in and not simple short new ideas. Its hard to know if this is really true. But in any case the three-parallel sessions may help this since there would be room for diff types of papers.
- Personally I get more out of the workshops and invited talks then out of the refereed talks. Hence I would like more of those. Posters are good also. More to the point- I would like more VARIETY in whats at a conference since people get knowledge in different ways.
- Can you really communicate your latest and greatest result in a 20 minute time slot in a crowded room where the adjacent bathroom is out of order? Even though we've made great advances in technology (I call PowerPoint PROGRESS but some disagree) and in plumbing (in the old days STOC people had to use an outhouse- do young people even know what an outhouse is anymore?), is there a better way to do this? It was suggested that ALL talks be POSTER sessions (NIPS does this). This should NOT be viewed as inferior or demeaning so long as we still have published proceedings (whatever that means in the days of arXiv) and high standards. The only relevant question is: Would posters be a better way to convey results? I DO NOT KNOW, but I think it would be worth trying out.
So in summary I want to see (1) more workshops, invited talks, and student posters, (2) Full papers in the proceedings, (3) two-tiered program comm. (4) either go to three parallel sessions or have posters. Some of these could be combined-- like a workshop on max flows, and them posters on the max flow papers that got in. The rebut/rewrite I am more ambivalent on but that may also be a good idea. These ideas are NOT radical (and not even original) and it is NOT my purpose to drain STOC of its prestige. Whether that is a good idea is another debate.