Editor’s Note: Aliaksandr (Alex) Birukou is an Editorial Director at Springer Nature. His team in Computer Science (CS) Editorial publishes the conference proceedings in CS (~850 volumes/year, including the Lecture Notes in Computer Science, LNCS, series). Alex’s other team runs the portfolio of roughly 200 journals in different disciplines, translated from Russian into English. Apart from editorial work Alex represents editorial in several internal and external R&D projects dealing with optimization or innovation of scientific publishing.
This blog post is inspired by many questions from colleagues about what exactly conference proceedings are, and why they are so important in some disciplines. Although this is not a comprehensive overview (*the “everything” of the title is a little ambitious!), I will try to explain the critical role that conference proceedings play specifically in computer science, and I invite other colleagues to share information about how proceedings work in their disciplines, either in the comments or as a separate blog post.
So, what are conference proceedings?
Proceedings are not a book of abstracts. Papers in conference proceedings contain original/primary research results, published as full or short papers. These papers are peer reviewed by the conference program committee, normally using single- or double-blind peer review. Some communities are experimenting with open or transparent peer review, but to date the uptake has been slow.
They differ from monographs or textbooks, where proposals for the entire book are reviewed rather than individual chapters. And they differ from journals because the review process has clear deadlines for submission, notification to the authors (which is final, i.e., there are no revisions), and submission of the camera-ready paper.
This is because most of the conferences prefer to have their proceedings published before the conference, to guarantee a timely record of the research presented. Some conferences like to carry out an additional round of reviewing after the event, or to give authors the opportunity to update their papers with the insights they have gleaned from the meeting. In these cases, the proceedings are published after the event.
In Springer Nature’s computer science editorial group, we select conferences for publication using the editorial boards of or via trusted partner societies. We look at the topics, people involved, past history, and the peer review process.
Are proceedings books or journals?
This is the most frequently asked question. Those of you familiar with the German language know that it has three genders: feminine, masculine, and neutral. The books/journals dichotomy is like asking, “Do you think neutral is more feminine or masculine?“
Crossref lists proceedings as a separate genre , as do IEEE and ACM, both of whom publish a large number of proceedings.
However, for historical reasons, some publishers and some disciplines publish conference proceedings in journals (BMC Proceedings, Elsevier Procedia CS), while others (IOS Press), publish them as books. Springer happily contributes to the confusion, as the Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) series started as a book series in 1973, well before Crossref was created and we have never adjusted since.
Summa summarum, conference proceedings are not journals or books, but for historical reasons some are published as one or the other of these:.
- (similar to journals) Papers in conference proceedings contain original/primary research results, and therefore enjoy pre-print and copyright policies aligned with journals.
- (similar to journals) This also means that the research integrity should be checked (is there plagiarism or peer review manipulation?).
- (similar to journals) Conferences take place regularly (often annually) and continue publishing proceedings, which makes them a periodical. For instance, see the example of the International Workshop on Graph-Theoretic Concepts in Computer Science, which has been publishing with Springer since 1980, and, 1975-79, was published by Hanser.
- (similar to books) Proceedings published with Springer Nature are also available as EPUB, as well as PDF/HTML.
- (similar to books) Proceedings are available on Amazon, Google Books, etc.
In which disciplines do researchers publish in conference proceedings?
Let us look at the numbers from Scopus (11 October 2019), which I chose for two reasons. First, it does a great job of indexing conference papers, even if they appear in journals or books; second, the coverage of conference proceedings in the Web of Science is less predictable, with fewer proceedings covered.
- Engineering: 5,062,696 documents
- Computer Science: 3,375,491
- Physics and Astronomy: 1,518,203
- Mathematics: 1,228,209
- Materials Science: 1,167,538
- Medicine: 657,272
- Energy: 532,052
- Earth and Planetary Sciences: 452,405
- Environmental Science: 391,478
- Social Sciences: 363,848
Note that Scopus assigns the same paper to several categories, so most computer science papers appear in the engineering or mathematics categories as well.
And, using SpringerLink to compare how this overall picture compares with the distribution of topics at Springer, we see:
- Computer Science: 507,337
- Engineering: 189,485
- Medicine & Public Health: 114,817
- Physics: 85,027
- Mathematics: 48,403
- Business and Management: 30,936
- Life Sciences: 28,519
- Earth Sciences: 18,859
- Chemistry: 18,487
- Biomedicine: 17,630
- Materials Science: 11,886
As you can see, Springer has less engineering content and the share of medicine is higher than in Scopus. Still, the top areas in both databases are computer science, engineering, physics, and mathematics.
Why are proceedings so important in computer science?
Authors of primary research in computer science often favor conference proceedings over journals because the format helps them get their work out to the global community faster. In fact, conferences are pivotal to the entire research lifecycle in this field, with the commissioning process, ongoing exchange of ideas, and publishing schedules closely tied to large international events. When we analyzed primary research in computer science in Scopus for 2012-2016 we found that 63% of original research results are published in conference proceedings, with only 37% published in journals.
In a viewpoint published in Communications of ACM, Lance Fortnow explains that computer science emerged in the 1950s as a new field. It was easier to start from scratch in terms of how research was communicated, and the conference system therefore developed as a vehicle for the rapid dissemination of research papers through conference proceedings, fast reviews, and community get-togethers. It was natural that publishers and societies then started publishing the resulting conference proceedings, and that these are recognized as valuable contributions to the field. In 2013, for example, the ACM Distinguished Service Award was given to Gerhard Goos, Juris Hartmanis, and Jan van Leeuwen, the founding editors of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) series.
Conference proceedings play a key role in the dissemination of research results in computer science and electrical engineering. Serving on program committees, reviewing papers, and publishing in proceedings has significant benefits for one’s career as a scientist. In recognition of this, and in order to better track conferences and related scientific activities, in 2018, Crossref and DataCite launched a Working Group on Persistent Conference IDs and CrossMark for proceedings. Stay tuned for more updates on this vibrant field!
Now it’s your turn! What role do proceedings play in your discipline / publishing program? Are they published as books, journals or proceedings? Could you please share your experience in the comments?
Disclaimer: opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect that of my employer Springer Nature