Monday, February 22, 2016

What is a `previous publication'?

 Here are the guidelines about submission to STOC 2015 with regard to
submitting a prior published paper. I assume that most of the Theory Conferences have a similar policy.

Prior and Simultaneous Submissions: The conference will follow SIGACT's policy  on prior publication and simultaneous submissions. Abstract material which has  been previously published in another conference proceedings or journal, or  which is scheduled for publication prior to July 2015, will not be considered  for acceptance at STOC 2015. The only exception to this policy are prior or  simultaneous publications appearing in the Science and Nature journals.  SIGACT policy does not allow simultaneous submissions of the same (or essentially the same) abstract material to another conference with  published proceedings. The program committee may consult with program chairs of other (past or future) conferences to find out about closely related  submissions.

Here is a question that I ask non-rhetorically. What if Alice has a paper in arXiv in 2010 and submits it to STOC in 2012. Technically it has not been published before. However, it certainly is not new.

Should this be allowed? Under the current rules of course YES. Should the rules be changed? A paper can be out there  without it being published. Should the rules be changed to reflect this? I think NOT since it might be hard to define carefully and I don't want people to discourage posting on arXiv.

Should the committee be allowed to take its not-newness into account in judging it?  Do they already?  And the notion of   well known or out there are subjective.

BOB: This paper has been known about for years.

EVE: Well, I didn't know about it, so for ME its new!

There might be a newness/quality trade off. If Donna posted her proof that P=NP in 2020 but submitted it to STOC 2030, I think it would still get in. By contrast if Bob posts a proof of a good but not great paper that is STOC-worthy in 2020, and then submits it in 2030,, I think it would not get in.

Then again, by 2030 maybe we will have changed the prestige-conference model we currently use.


  1. I've been in a similar-sounding situation: me and co-author put A on arXiv then got a better result B then submitted B to a conference (which was supposed to "replace" the unpublished A, i.e. seen as a new version). We got a negative review that it was incremental over A, which we had no intention of ever publishing.

    1. You did publish it. To arXiv.

      Also, was the review "blind" (in which case your paper could have been seen by the reviewers as incremental over the work of others).

    2. In such cases, it's best to explicitly state (eg in a footnote to the title) that paper B replaces and subsumes the paper A. On most PCs that I've been on, if such a statement is present, then they will not treat A as previous work. Of course, this does not work with double-blind reviewing. It would be unfortunate if fears of such situations slowed the dissemination of research in our community.

  2. It is strange that there is an exemption to simultaneous publication for Nature/Science. Why is that ok? Does it even ever come up? Nature/Science papers cover pretty disjoint material from STOC/FOCS papers.

  3. There is an exemption for one or two Science/Nature papers that could not be pre-published in STOC/FOCS because of the policies of Science and Nature.

    Jelani, if you write in a footnote "* This is an expanded version of the preprint appearing as arXiv: ..." then there is no confusion.

    Bill: What is the point of this post? It seems to suggest that STOC/FOCS is the main mechanism through which its authors publicize their papers, and therefore if a paper is already public, it should not be in the conference. That is not currently the role of the two conferences by any stretch of the imagination.

    1. My post was raising the issue that you stated more eloquently:
      Since STOC/FOCS are NO LONGER the mechanism by which papers go public (QUESTION- when did that STOP being the case? arXiv? email?) do we need to change policies? change how we judge papers on program committees?

      This is not quite a new issue. I have heard of papers that
      appeared in unrefereed workshops that were therefore turned down from conferences since they were not ``new'' anymore.

      So while YOU realize that STOC/FOCS (and other conferences) are
      no longer the mechanism through which authors publicize papers, there are those on program committees that are not similarly enlightened.

    2. What purpose does STOC/FOCS serve anymore?