Too Much of a Good Thing?

By Bashar Nuseibeh

It seems to me that everyone I talk to these days thinks that there are too many conferences and journals in our field. The argument goes something like this. Specialist conferences attract good quality papers that would have otherwise been submitted to general conferences like ICSE. This dilutes the quality of ICSE papers and scatters good quality papers around. Also, too many journals competing for the best archival papers are forced to lower there standards to survive, resulting in a lot of rubbish being published.

While I have some sympathy with the above argument, I am not entirely convinced. I think our field is diversifying enough to merit and necessitate specialist conferences and workshops. Granted co-location of events is desirable - but that is a different issue. Should ICSE, for example, be a 'repository' for all the best conference papers, or does it serve another purpose? Let me ask a hypothetical question. If ICSE consisted of keynotes, invited presentations, panels, co-located workshops, tutorials and a tools fair only - that is, it did not have a research papers track - would you still attend?

As for journals, well as an editor of one, I am perhaps biased. Granted that having too many journals may indeed dilute the quality of papers published, I think there is a stronger argument for good old fashioned competition. Sure, we will end up (and have ended up) with journals of different quality - is that so bad? A journal editor's professional responsibility is to publish sound scientific results. Some results will be 'better' than others and will appear in the 'better' journals.

Please don't misunderstand me. There is no excuse for professional negligence. A software engineer refereeing a conference or journal paper has an ethical responsibility to review that paper professionally and competently - in the same way as we expect him or her to build software. I believe that professional software engineers who review papers perform an indispensable service to our community, which should be acknowledged and applauded. I don't think there are too many conferences and journals in our field, there are not enough referees. Let me know what you think.