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I am a mathematician. In my subject, the normal means of disseminating research is to write it up with full and detailed proofs of the main results, which are then typically subjected to a rigourous peer-review process which can often take several years.

Much of my work, however, has an overlap with theoretical computer science, and I am often asked to referee articles sent to computer science conferences, which sometimes seem to me to have a slightly less rigourous review process. Therefore I have the following questions:

  • As a reviewer, should I insist that CS conference papers contain full proofs of their main results?

  • Should referees of conference papers actually check these proofs before accepting an article for publication?

These questions stem from a number of bad reviewing experiences I've had recently (as reviewer), in which I've rejected papers for basically a lack of rigour. One, which was submitted to a highly reputable conference, contained about ten additional pages of key proofs in a technical appendix, which was to be consulted ''at the reviewer's discretion'', and which would not have formed part of the final article. I rejected this on the basis that not only were the proofs themselves highly suspect (obviously grounds enough), but that the reader would never have had access to them and would have had to take everything on trust!

However, it turned out that I was the only reviewer who had these issues. The others were not only happy to have the main technical content of the paper relegated to a disposable appendix, but had not even bothered reading it! Eventually the paper did get rejected, but only after a fair amount of arguing on my part.

This is not by any means my only experience of this kind of attitude in computer science peer-reviewing (which would be frankly unthinkable in mathematics), but it illustrates the kind of problems I have as a reviewer.

I understand that there are cultural differences here, and that the speed of the conference system has its merits, so I am wondering whether I am being unfair to judge this system by the standards of rigour one normally expects from mathematical journals?

1 Answer 1

A conference paper in TCS is usually best seen as an abstract or an advertisement of the full paper.

The full paper should appear in e.g. ArXiv before the conference, and it should eventually be published in a journal.

It is perfectly normal that there are some proofs that are in the appendix in the submitted version and entirely missing in the final conference version. The reader can find the omitted details in ArXiv.