Friday, April 18, 2008

Journal of Database Management Research (JDMR)

A common discussion in any CS community is the hardness/unfairness/randomness of having a paper accepted in one of the highly selective conferences. Given the low acceptance rate (say 15%) and assuming a normal distribution of quality, it is normal to have a large number of papers that are roughly equivalent in terms of quality, but end up in different sides of the acceptance threshold. This binary decision threshold leads to rejections that are perceived as unfair and to acceptances that are perceived as random. Furthermore, it is often the case that a paper is rejected, the authors fix the comments of the reviewers, they resubmit the paper to another conference, and the (new set of) reviewers identify other problems to reject the paper.

One way to change this is to allow for a journal-like process, in which the papers are submitted, returned to the authors with comments, the paper is fixed, and then published. We already have traces of this process in SIGMOD and VLDB, where the authors can reply to the concerns of the reviewers but this process only helps for misunderstandings and not for fixing significant parts of the paper.

One initiative in the database community that tries to address this issue is the proposal for a new journal named Journal of Database Management Research (JDMR). The goal of JDMR is to gradually replace the current reviewing process for the database conferences. The details of the proposal are still under discussion so I will not list the whole proposal here, but the basic elements of the proposal are the following:
  • Instead of having a PC for each conference, there will be a single Review Board that will be reviewing papers year-round. The expectation is to have a significant turnaround every year.
  • Rapid refereeing, trying to reach the speed of reviewing in the life sciences which is significantly lower than in our community.
  • Papers will go through rounds of revision and when the concerns of the reviewers will be addressed, the paper will be published to the JDMR.
  • The conferences (SIGMOD, VLDB, etc) will pick which of the published papers from JDMR will be presented.
  • Rejected papers will not be allowed to be resubmitted in their existing form for a period of one year.
Overall, I think that the proposal makes a lot of sense. However, there are some issues that need to be examined more closely. For example, the prohibition to resubmit rejected papers is a double-edged sword. Yes, the authors will have the incentive to avoid sending half-baked papers but, on the other hand, "noisy rejections" by reviewers that did not understand/read carefully/appreciate the paper will have a very significant negative effect: in practice it may make the community more insular as papers that do not make it the first time will be essentially expelled from the database conferences. Perhaps an appeal process with limits can be used to allow authors to ask for a new set of reviewers, just like in tennis the players have a limited number of contests for the referee decisions.

Another issue that needs to be examined is the relation with existing journals (TODS, VLDBJ, TKDE): given that the papers for JDMR will be now journal publications but of shorter length, what is the role of the other journals?

Anyway, this is an interesting development and I expect this to improve both the internal and the external perception of the publication process in the database community. Myself, I do not see any major problems except for the couple of issues mentioned above. Do you see any other issues?

Update (7/27/2008): The website of JDMR is now live and the vision statement together with the transition plans are now (officially) posted.