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Web Science Program

We’ve just sent out notifications for Web Science 2013 papers. (There’s still a few days before the March 16 deadline for extended abstracts of late-breaking research and for social sciences and digital humanities.)

I don’t think it’s generally understood how much work goes into this program.

First, you’ve got about 140 different research papers — each describing new work, each based on extensive scholarship, each reporting new experiments, original engineering, and new analysis.

Then each paper is read independently by a bunch of experts. We aim for three reviews of each paper, but some papers require as many as six opinions. The reviews are frequently long and detailed and often quite technical.

These reviews then need to be weighed and discussed. Some experts place more weight on scholarship. Some prize rigor, others are inclined to accept methodological blemishes that may be required to investigate interesting phenomena. Some may see a methodological or theoretical disaster where another reader, equally expert, sees no problem at all. The debate can sometimes be vigorous: my inbox today included email from one reviewer who thanked us for accepting paper X because now that reviewer will have an example for students of how not to design research.

Then, for Web Science we need to match papers to presentation modes. Lots of conferences just give more time to better work. We try instead to find the perfect fit. A top-ranked paper might be a poster if we think it will make a spectacular poster. A bunch of our best presenters this year will find themselves in the pecha kucha session; it’s a new format for Web Science and experienced presenters may help get it properly launched.

I admit that during the review process I sometimes despaired. Academic writing is not often everything that one could wish.

One great concern for me today is how difficult it’s becoming to get a paper accepted. I felt that some papers this year were timid, aiming to placate readers and aspiring to dim acceptability rather than brilliance. The economics of research are moderately grim, so the times make people even more cautious in their work and more anxious not to offend.