Part of ITA was a panel on publication issues in information theory. Paul Siegel was the moderator and led off with three binaries to spark discussion “paper versus plasma” (the medium of publication), “prophets versus profits” (the financial model), and “peer review versus page rank” (quality measurements). Pretty much everyone thought page rank was not really a measure of anything except… page rank, so peer review was not under attack (thank goodness). In general people were in favor of paper at least for archival purposes, so that the ability to browse would still be there. Finally, everyone said they liked the IEEE (no surprise there) and its publication model.
Dave Forney talked about the spiraling costs of Elsevier-owned journals to libraries and urged people to just say no. He implicated those professors who choose to be on the editorial boards of such journals as being part of the problem, and urged them to divest from Elsevier, as it were. In general, he wanted faculty to be more proactive and aware of these important issues, a stance that I was 100% with. He then turned to ArXiV, and told everyone to submit their preprints to ArXiV so that people could know what research is being done. He said usage was increasing, but too slowly.
Andrea Goldsmith said that she found ArXiV to be of limited use since articles posted there are not peer reviewed, and the value of an article is only guaranteed via publication in the Transactions. For the publication model, she stressed the importance of access to the Transactions for the entire IEEE, so that the IT Society should not drift off. She also urged faculty to put institutional pressure on Elsevier by boycotting.
Steve McLaughlin also brought up the ties that bind IEEE and IT. The online Transactions are a major source of revenue, and it was the IT Society that spurred the creation of IEEExplore. He lauded ArXiV as a good impetus to embrace new ideas and models for publication, and floated the idea of an Open Access (OA) journal to complement the Transactions.
Dave Neuhoff reiterated that the journal should be the focus of the field, and that conference papers are not archival for information theorists. Because of this and other reasons, the IT Society was able to convince the IEEE to grant online access to conference proceedings.
Vince Poor, the current Editor-In-Chief, talked about copyright issues in the age of ArXiV and pointed out how reasonable the IEEE is. He seemed to indicate that Elsevier doesn’t affect our community much, but I didn’t really follow his argument there. He also claimed that market forces will push the publication industry to embrace electronic formats.
Rüdiger Urbanke was very excited about ArXiV because it could provide timestamps, and since the field is moving faster these timestamps are important. He also questioned the 5 page ISIT paper, which is not reviewed that carefully, and said that if there is a 5 page limit on correspondences the scale doesn’t make sense, especially in light of conference papers being non-archival. Finally, the pressure to publish is what enables Elsevier, and so this pressure must be alleviated somehow.
In the Q&A, one person asked about double-blind reviewing, which the panel wholeheartedly embraced. I think they should do it to, and I really have no idea what is holding it up, except that perhaps Pareja, the online paper management system, has to be hacked to do it. Someone else asked why we need timestamps from ArXiV when there are timestamps on the IT Transactions papers already, but Urbanke said that it has to do with time scales more than anything, and ArXiV lets you track revisions. Another person complained that ArXiV could become a repository for erroneous results and rejected papers, but Forney was quick to note that ArXiV’s value lies in showing who is working on what, and clearly there are no guarantees on the veracity of the claims made there. The last question was on the nature of journal papers versus conference papers — if conference papers are not archival, does that make it ok to merge 3 conference papers to make a journal paper? The panel seemed surprised to hear that this could be considered double-publishing, and the informal consensus seemed to be that doing so was not self-plagiarism.
I was most disappointed that nobody took up Steve McLaughlin’s comment on making an OA journal that is peer-reviewed and pay-to-publish. I’ve already written about having a new letters journal, but an OA journal would provide an alternative place to publish papers that is not evil and possibly has faster review turnaround than the IT Transactions. Given there are 900 papers submitted a year to the IT Transactions now, it seems like the benefits would be great. It would also help alleviate the Elsevier-feeding publication pressure. But the IT Society could never endorse such a project and thus a panel like this would not address that issue. You’d have to get professors without their official IEEE hats on to discuss this freely, and that wasn’t going to happen at this panel. I think if the OA option is on the table it could get modified into something more palatable and friendly to the iEEE, but it of course would take some discussion and a desire to make it happen.