Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And now a word from our sponsors (repost)

(This post was originally published in March, but was taken down as -- unknown to me at the time -- the results of the Discovery competition were under embargo. Now that the results are public, I'm republishing the post.)

NSERC Discovery results came out yesterday.  This is the program that supports almost all of the curiosity-driven, non-industrial, basic science and engineering research in the country.  It's generally not a huge amount of money -- enough to pay 1-2 graduate students is typical.  But most Canadian professors hold one, and it probably pays the salary of the majority of Canada's science and engineering graduate students.

Just now, a summary of the competition landed in my inbox.  By now, the "new regime" of Discovery funding is well known: applications are assigned a quality score, and a pot of money is assigned to each score value, divided among the applications with that value; below some score the amount is zero.  Applications are now "memoryless", meaning that the status and funding level of your last application have no bearing on your current application (I would argue this is bad for all kinds of reasons, but that's another discussion. See Ghoussoub's excellent blog for detailed summaries and a discussion of what's going on with NSERC.)

But the following details were interesting:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's get rid of Transactions letters (Updated)

Update August 11, 2011: According to an editorial in the August issue of Transactions on Wireless Communications (not yet available on IEEExplore), both Trans. Comm. and Trans. Wireless Comm. will stop accepting letter submissions as of September 1, 2011.  Original post follows.

Both the Transactions on Communications and Wireless Communications accept "letters". There are minor differences between the two journals, but letters are most commonly used as "enhancement of previously published work", i.e., minor results that fall short of a full paper. In both cases there are stringent length requirements: 10 double-spaced pages in the Transactions draft format excluding figures, which works out to about 4 pages in the two-column format.

Anyone who has written a journal paper -- or even a conference paper -- knows that 10 double-spaced pages is barely enough to say anything.  As both a reviewer and an author, I've seen the following dynamic happen over and over:

  1. Author discovers an interesting little result. Not being quite enough for a paper, author writes a letter, leaving out details that s/he considers irrelevant to the overall point of the work, in order to meet the length requirement.
  2. Reviewers are not satisfied with the level of detail in the paper. Ignoring scope and length requirements for letters, reviewers demand more detail, additional simulations, longer explanations, and so on.
  3. Author adds the absolute minimum the reviewers demand, and then cuts, edits, shortens, and otherwise takes a butcher knife to the paper to meet the length requirement.
  4. Go to 2.
"Letters" end up in a kind of limbo, delaying the review process and making nobody happy, even if the paper is eventually accepted. 

The problem seems to be that reviewers treat "letters" like regular papers. So why not make it official and drop the "letter" from the Transactions? Short papers could be handled just like regular papers, with the understanding that the magnitude of the paper's contribution should be proportional to its length. The Transactions on Information Theory did this years ago.