Monday, November 15, 2010

Relative status of journal and conference publications in computer science

Though computer scientists agree that conference publications enjoy greater status in computer science than in other disciplines, there is little quantitative evidence to support this view. The importance of journal publication in academic promotion makes it a highly personal issue, since focusing exclusively on journal papers misses many significant papers published by CS conferences.

Here, we aim to quantify the relative importance of CS journal and conference papers, showing that CS papers in leading conferences match the impact of papers in mid-ranking journals and surpass the impact of papers in journals in the bottom half of the Thompson Reuters rankings ( for impact measured in terms of citations in Google Scholar. We also show that poor correlation between this measure and conference acceptance rates indicates conference publication is an inefficient market where venues equally challenging in terms of rejection rates offer quite different returns in terms of citations.

How to measure the quality of academic research and performance of particular researchers has always involved debate. Many CS researchers feel that performance assessment is an exercise in futility, in part because academic research cannot be boiled down to a set of simple performance metrics, and any attempt to introduce them would expose the entire research enterprise to manipulation and gaming. On the other hand, many researchers want some reasonable way to evaluate academic performance, arguing that even an imperfect system sheds light on research quality, helping funding agencies and tenure committees make more informed decisions.

One long-standing way of evaluating academic performance is through publication output. Best practice for academics is to write key research contributions as scholarly articles for submission to relevant journals and conferences; the peer-review model has stood the test of time in determining the quality of accepted articles. However, today's culture of academic publication accommodates a range of publication opportunities yielding a continuum of quality, with a significant gap between the lower and upper reaches of the continuum; for example, journal papers are routinely viewed as superior to conference papers, which are generally considered superior to papers at workshops and local symposia. Several techniques are used for evaluating publications and publication outlets, mostly targeting journals. For example, Thompson Reuters (the Institute for Scientific Information) and other such organizations record and assess the number of citations accumulated by leading journals (and some high-ranking conferences) in the ISI Web of Knowledge ( to compute the impact factor of a journal as a measure of its ability to attract citations. Less-reliable indicators of publication quality are also available for judging conference quality; for example, a conference's rejection rate is often cited as a quality indicator on the grounds that a high rejection rate means a more selective review process able to generate higher-quality papers. However, as the devil is in the details, the details in this case vary among academic disciplines and subdisciplines.

Here, we examine the issue of publication quality from a CS/engineering perspective, describing how related publication practices differ from those of other disciplines, in that CS/engineering research is mainly published in conferences rather than in journals. This culture presents an important challenge when evaluating CS research because traditional impact metrics are better suited to evaluating journal rather than conference publications.

In order to legitimize the role of conference papers to the wider scientific community, we offer an impact measure based on an analysis of Google Scholar citation data suited to CS conferences. We validate this new measure with a large-scale experiment covering 8,764 conference and journal papers to demonstrate a strong correlation between traditional journal impact and our new citation score. The results highlight how leading conferences compare favorably to mid-ranking journals, surpassing the impact of journals in the bottom half of the traditional ISI Web of Knowledge ranking. We also discuss a number of interesting anomalies in the CS conference circuit, highlighting how conferences with similar rejection rates (the traditional way of evaluating conferences) can attract quite different citation counts. We also note interesting geographical distinctions in this regard, particularly with respect to European and U.S. conferences.

author = {Freyne, Jill and Coyle, Lorcan and Smyth, Barry and Cunningham, Padraig},
title = {Relative status of journal and conference publications in computer science},
journal = {Commun. ACM},
volume = {53},
issue = {11},
month = {November},
year = {2010},
issn = {0001-0782},
pages = {124--132},
numpages = {9},
url = {},
doi = {},
acmid = {1839701},
publisher = {ACM},
address = {New York, NY, USA},

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