Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Publishing for impact

The compensation of researchers depends on their publications. For example, in China a Principal Investigator's basic yearly salary is several thousand dollars and the basic stipend for grad students is about $500 a year. The rest is made up with productivity-based supplements, and publication boni are part of the productivity-based supplements. Here is some data for the Chinese Academy of Sciences's Institute of Chemistry:

  • Nature or Science: $2500 or more
  • Physical Review Letters or Journal of the American Chemical Society: about $1300
  • Journal with impact factor > 3: about $500
  • Journal with impact factor < 3: less than $200

Boni are divvied according to the author's contributions. In addition, universities also pay productivity-based salaries to professors. [Source: Science, 322, 664-666].

Here at HP Labs we accumulate points and there is a list of the publication venues for which points are given. In our project we can get points if we publish in the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Conference, with the caveat that only the first author gets the credit (we are nice to each other and rotate the author sequence).

Since SIGGRAPH rejects 83% (2004) of the submitted manuscripts (see here for comprehensive statistics), and since our work is more D than R, doing a publication that yields points is a very long shot, sort of a fata morgana, or aspirational goal as it is called here in HP.

What is a good strategy to publish in a top journal? At the bottom of this post you will find a table with the 2007 impact factors of journals in the fields related to the posts in this blog. The Cancer Journal for Clinician is just an anchor, to show what can be achieved.

The next two entries are Nature and Science, which we also ignore, because here at HP they are in a category called "publicity" and therefore do not earn points, although it is very hard and labour-intensive to get into them.

You could now think you just start with a submission to the Proceedings of the IEEE and then work yourself down the list until you are no longer rejected, then you lobby with your manager to get some fractional credit. Alas, this is a bad strategy.

The impact factor is computed over two years, and if you really do ground-breaking research, it will take longer for the fruit of your labour to appear on the radar screen. For ground-breaking research you should look for a 10 to 15 year horizon and aim for a total number of citations around 100 before you croak.

You have to think long-term. Ground-breaking research is rejected at first. For example, the Swiss Physicist Albert Einstein came up with Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect, the special theory of relativity, and the general theory of relativity, all around 1905. However, he was not able to land a teaching position at the ETH in Zürich. Instead, he had to work as an examiner at the patent office.

Put yourself in the shoes of the journal's editor. Let us take a big unsolved problem, like the universal solution to the gamut mapping problem, let us call it UGM. One morning you wake up and you have the solution, based on following trajectories on the surface of a manifold over a complex Galois field. It is very computation intensive and you devise an algorithm using massively parallel computation, which your colleague implements on a GPU.

You now have the problem that you have to feed pages rendered with your algorithm to a printer running at 1000 pages per minute. Another colleague comes up with a photon resonator exploiting the photon bandgap, which another colleague implements using nanotechnology to grow it atop a naked GPU chip, so you can beam the separation bitmaps over to the marking engine in a fiber optics cable.

No matter where you submit it, the editor will not have an associate editor understanding the entire manuscript, and will assign it to an associate editor with a short queue. This associate editor will struggle finding reviewers, and unless he or she by chance has worked on the same problem, will not have a good guess, and just assign it to random reviewers from the journal's pool.

Lesson: if you know potential reviewers, let the editor know when you submit the manuscript. Of course they have to be neutral: your boss and your mother are not acceptable.

Since your manuscript will be rejected anyway, do not go by the impact factor. Instead, find out which journal will give you the most constructive reviews. A journal in which you have published before, or a journal with a broad scope will be a better bet. In the UGM case, Optical Engineering might be a good bet, because it covers both photonics and imaging science, while being application oriented.

Also, a new journal will be a good bet for a complex manuscript, because the editor will be more willing to accept a paper from a prestigious scientist, even when it is arcane. A new journal does not yet have an impact factor, therefore receive less submissions and the associate editors have more time to help you with constructive comments.

You get rejected, and submit it to the next journal. Do not just send it in. Instead, revise your manuscript with the good comments from the reviewers. Also, incorporate the new research you did in the meantime, especially that suggested by the reviewers.

Explain your previous rejection and your improvements in the cover letter to the editor. Since there are only few researchers working on UGM, there is a high probability one of the reviewers is the same that rejected your manuscript in the previous journal's submission. Unless you explain yourself, the reviewer will just read the title and inform the editor that you are submitting the same manuscript to multiple journals and you will be black-listed.

Due to the difficult but important nature of UGM in real-time, there is a chance others have come up with a different solution and have also been rejected many times. There is a good chance (associate editors must have good memory) such a researcher will be asked to review your manuscript.

If you have bad luck, the reviewer will be bitter and stick it to you. Do not write a nasty note to the editor, it would be wasted time. Instead, study the review, then use a search engine to sleuth the reviewer's identity. In the subsequent submissions, put the reviewer's name in the list of those to exclude. This is perfectly legitimate and done all the time, even by me.

The other risk you incur is that one of the reviewers takes on your research and publishes it before you, without even citing you because you were not able to publish yet and you are not famous. Therefore, you have to educate the others working on UGM and create publicity for your research. Attend all top conferences and present a paper on a part of the solution, like in our example at one conference you report on manifolds over complex Galois fields for UGM, at the next on massively parallel computing for UGM, at the next on the photon bandgap for UGM, etc. This is known as salami publishing; do it for conferences, but not for papers.

When you select the conferences, look where the action is. For UGM it is not SIGGRAPH, but a lot is happening in China, Japan, and Korea. So you need to travel, and since these days it is hard to get funding, a rich uncle helps, or a spouse in finance, law, or marketing, especially when a native speaker of Mandarin.

Once everybody associates you with your research, it cannot be "stolen." Also, potential reviewers have learned from your conference presentations and have a better chance to understand you "big enchilada" manuscript. Also getting the Turing Award or the Judd Award will help you getting your manuscript accepted; talk to your mentor.

In summary, here is the journal ranking list, but use it wisely, not like a board game. For truly ground-breaking research, rejection is normal: persevere. Disclaimer: I am not working on UGM nor anything else connected to color science or color reproduction, UGM is just an illustrative figment of my imagination.

Journal 2007
impact factor
Cancer Journal for clinicians 69.026
Nature 28.751
Science 26.372
Proceedings of the IEEE 3.820
Journal of Vision 3.791
Optics Letters 3.711
Optics Express 3.709
Applied Physics Letters 3.596
IEEE Transactions On Pattern Analysis And Machine Intelligence 3.579
ACM Transactions on Graphics 3.413
International Journal of Computer Vision 3.381
New Journal of Physics 3.264
IEEE Transactions on Image Processing 2.462
Real-Time Imaging 2.270
Vision Research 2.055
Journal of the Optical Society of America B - Optical Physics 2.030
Pattern Recognition 2.019
SIAM Journal on Scientific Computing 1.784
Journal of the Optical Society of America A - Optics, Image Science and Vision 1.776
Applied Optics 1.701
Communications of the ACM 1.593
IEEE Internet Computing 1.551
IEEE Transactions on Multimedia 1.518
SIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis 1.470
Computer Vision and image Understanding 1.417
IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 1.398
Computer 1.367
IEEE Transactions on Systems Man and Cybernetics Part B-Cybernetics 1.353
SIAM Journal On Computing 1.310
Journal Of Mathematical Imaging And Vision 1.220
Image and Vision Computing 1.027
Electronics Letters 1.009
IEEE Spectrum 0.933
Pattern Recognition Letters 0.853
Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation 0.832
Optical Engineering 0.757
Signal Processing 0.737
Journal of Digital Imaging 0.717
Journal of Imaging Science and Technology 0.707
Optical Review 0.683
SIAM Journal on Discrete Mathematics 0.674
Color Research and Application 0.619
EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing 0.619
Pattern Analysis And Applications 0.515
International Journal Of Imaging Systems And Technology 0.482
Journal of Electronic Imaging 0.455
Optik 0.385
International Journal Of Pattern Recognition And Artificial Intelligence 0.374
World Wide Web-Internet and Web Information Systems 0.300
Imaging Science Journal 0.220
SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal 0.088
IET Image Processing

Man and woman at table reading book together with bookshelves in background