Wednesday, August 16, 2006

SIGGRAPH, hiring, and peer review.

There's been an interesting flareup in the graphics community prompted by the posting of a note by Michael Ashikhmin on his web page. Ashikhmin is a known graphics researcher (with SIGGRAPH papers to his credit) who recently (June this year) proclaimed his desire to leave the graphics community because of
my deep disgust for the state of affairs within computer graphics research community and my inability to fit well within existing system
His grievances are many, and appear to be a direct consequence of the hegemonic nature of SIGGRAPH, by far the most prestigious conference in graphics. Specifically, he argues that all the usual problems with conference reviewing (extreme subjectiveness, poor quality of the reviews, clique-formation) are exacerbated by the overwhelming influence SIGGRAPH papers have on one's career (being hired, advancing in one's career, getting tenure, etc).

None of the objections are particularly novel; indeed, I have yet to go to a theory conference where people have NOT complained about the reviewers. However, what takes this beyond just your ordinary embittered-researcher-rant is that many prominent researchers in graphics appear to publicly both agree with him.

Michael says in his letter that senior graphics researchers recommended that he host a forum devoted to discussing this issue, and once he set the forum up, many well known and respected graphics researchers (John Hart, Marc Levoy, and Jonathan Shewchuk among others), commented publicly on the matter. In fact, Marc Levoy (who's the papers chair for SIGGRAPH 2007) went further and organized a town hall meeting at SIGGRAPH 2006 to discuss paper reviewing procedures (I don't know what transpired there).

There are many comments on the forum from anonymous commenters who claim to be published authors at SIGGRAPH. As far as I can tell, not one person disagrees with the primary claims that Michael makes, although Marc does attempt to mount a defense of the paper review process, while still acknowledging the main problems, and outlining strategies that he will employ in 2007 to fix some of them.

Many good suggestions were made. One of the primary ones was to add a new SIGGRAPH-like conference so that one venue didn't have to take all the load (STOC and FOCS were cited favorably here). Prohibiting committee members from submitting was another idea (again, the theory community was cited), although this was frowned upon by Marc Levoy, who complained that he wouldn't be able to find people for a committee (he did aver that he wouldn't be submitting anything).

This is probably the first time I've seen this kind of discussion take place (partly) on the record without dismissing the complaint as sour grapes. The question of course is whether anything will come of it in the long term. It's worth mentioning that even in our conservative (by nature, not by politics) research world, change can happen, and can often happen rapidly. Witness the collective revolt by academicians of all stripes against Elsevier, and closer to home, consider the split in ICRA (one of the main robotics conferences) to form RSS (Robotics: Science and Systems).


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