The Road to VIS 2024 - The Call for Papers

It’s getting close to the winter break for the Northern hemisphere, and soon those of us who celebrate Christmas will be closing down our email clients and getting ready for some well-deserved rest. However, us paper chairs have not been idle: we have been spending the last months getting the Call for Papers (CfP) for VIS 2024 in order.

By the time you are reading this, the CfP is ready and available on the website. However, getting there involved some labor and discussion within the OPC (overall paper chairs) and APC (area paper chairs) teams, as well as some negotiation with the VIS Steering Committee (VSC) and Executive Committee (VEC). We will discuss the process and highlight the aspects of the CfP that are new this year in this blog post.

The call for papers is an important document because it sets out all of the parameters of the submission and review process for a conference. It can be seen as a contract for what kind of work the conference expects, how it should be formatted and organized, and how it will be reviewed. This is also the place where changes to this process must be first introduced. For VIS, you can’t just surprise authors and reviewers with unexpected changes; they must first be approved by the VSC and/or VEC, and then introduced into the CfP in a timely manner.

We had four important changes we wanted to make this year:

  1. Reduce the number of reviewers per paper from four to three;
  2. Reduce the size of the program committee by increasing the load per PC member from six to eight papers;
  3. Introduce a fast-track to TVCG recommendation in addition to plain reject; and
  4. Recruit an assistant to the overall paper chairs.

To understand all these changes, you must first understand how the VIS review process works. Each paper submitted to VIS gets allocated to two members of the program committee: the primary and the secondary reviewer. These are relatively senior and reliable members of the community. Both will read the paper and write a full review. Furthermore, the primary is also tasked with leading the online discussion and writing a summary review. In addition, for the last few years, both the primary and the secondary assigned one external reviewer each, bringing the total to four per paper.

Our first proposal is designed to reduce reviewer fatigue in the community by having only the secondary invite an external reviewer, thereby reducing the number of reviews per paper from four to three. We OPCs feel comfortable in doing this because the VIS review quality overall is very high. However, this does make the choice of the single external reviewer particularly important, because their influence will be stronger as one of only three reviews.

What’s this about reviewer fatigue? The fact of the matter is that our scientific community, similar to many others, is seeing an increased number of submissions, particularly since the COVID pandemic. Why this is happening—increased competition for fewer positions, rising pressure to publish, or the field growing in size—is beyond the scope of this blog post, but the net effect is that there is an increased need for reviewers to handle all these papers, and this in turn is causing reviewer fatigue and even burnout in the community. VIS is not the only field that has seen this effect.

Anyway, by reducing the number of reviews per paper by 25%, we hope that we can help to reduce reviewer fatigue. And by shrinking the program committee while increasing the load from 6 to 8 papers per PC member (proposal #2), we hope to reduce it even further while not overly straining the current PC members. For one thing, since only secondaries invite externals, the labor of serving on the PC will be somewhat reduced. Some PC members have reported to us having to ask 10-15 people before finally finding a willing reviewer for a paper, so reducing the number of papers you have to find such a reviewer for from six to four should be an improvement. For another, since PC members tend to be more senior than the average member of the reviewer pool, we hope that freeing up some people from the PC means that they will be more willing to pitch in as external reviewers.

The third proposal is more technical. Last year, every rejected paper was automatically encouraged to resubmit to IEEE TVCG as a major revision. Unfortunately, this was a very noisy signal since some rejected papers needed substantial revision, and would never have advanced to that stage if they had been initially submitted to TVCG in the first place. This year, we are planning on giving this recommendation of a “fast-track” to TVCG to only a few borderline papers where a major revision is likely to bring them into an acceptable state. The remaining rejected papers will merely receive a regular rejection, with no special status with TVCG.

Finally, the final proposal (#4) is to add Petra Specht, who has long experience helping VIS as far back as VIS 2018 in Berlin, to the OPC team as an assistant. The OPC job is very time-consuming and detail-oriented, and we hope that Petra’s organizational skills will help us do our job better.

All four proposals have already been approved; the first three by the VSC, and the fourth by the VEC. You can see the fruits of our labor on the brand new VIS 2024 website (where you may be reading this post right now). Please give the documents a read and let us know if you find any inconsistencies. We’re looking forward to an excellent papers program, and hope that our new changes will improve the community for the better.

Happy holidays to all and we will see you in 2024 with the program committee formation!