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The fine print in the ICFP 2017 call for papers

This year, I’m excited to be serving on the program committee for ICFP, the annual academic conference on the theory and practice of functional programming. This will be my first time on ICFP’s program committee.1 I’m also continuing my term as the publicity chair for ICFP.

The deadline for paper submissions is coming up on February 27. Ordinarily, whenever I serve on a program committee for some conference or workshop, I write a blog post encouraging submissions. For ICFP, I wasn’t planning on doing that, since it has its own publicity apparatus (consisting primarily of a Twitter account and a lot of emails) that reaches many more people than this blog does. However, there are a few things that ICFP 2017 is doing differently, and so I think it doesn’t hurt to spread the word about them from as many places as possible. All the important points here are already covered thoroughly in the call for papers, but in case the CFP makes your eyes glaze over, this post is a shorter read!

New single-column paper format

ICFP is switching to a single-column format this year, with a page limit of 24 pages, not including references. Reactions to the format change are sure to be mixed: some people prefer the single-column format because it’s easier to read on screen, or because it more easily accommodates wide blocks of code; others like the traditional two-column format for aesthetic reasons, or because it’s easier to fit a lot of displayed math into a two-column paper. In response to that last point, I can say that a lot of discussion went into this matter among the members of the ICFP steering committee, with various people porting their old papers to the new format to see how many pages they’d take up. Ultimately, the 24-page limit for the new format was chosen because it can accommodate a paper with about the same amount of content as a 12-page paper in the old two-column format, even one with a fair amount of displayed math. In any case, if you’re submitting a paper, don’t wait until the last minute to make sure your paper fits into the new format.

New two-phase reviewing process

Another new feature at ICFP this year is a two-phase reviewing process. This means more than just having an author response period; ICFP already does that, and has since at least 2004. The two-phase process works as follows (quoting from the call for papers):

At the PC meeting, a set of papers will be conditionally accepted and all other papers will be rejected. Authors will be notified of these decisions on May 1, 2017.

Authors of conditionally accepted papers will be provided with committee reviews (just as in previous conferences) along with a set of mandatory revisions. After five weeks (June 5, 2017), the authors will provide a second submission. The second and final reviewing phase assesses whether the mandatory revisions have been adequately addressed by the authors and thereby determines the final accept/reject status of the paper. The intent and expectation is that the mandatory revisions can be addressed within five weeks and hence that conditionally accepted papers will in general be accepted in the second phase.

The second submission should clearly identify how the mandatory revisions were addressed. To that end, the second submission must be accompanied by a cover letter mapping each mandatory revision request to specific parts of the paper. The cover letter will facilitate a quick second review, allowing for confirmation of final acceptance within two weeks. Conversely, the absence of a cover letter will be grounds for the paper’s rejection.

Both the switch to two-phase reviewing and the switch to the single-column format are happening because starting this year, ICFP papers will be published as an issue of a new ACM journal, Proceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages (PACMPL). ICFP 2017 will be the first SIGPLAN conference to switch over to PACMPL’s formatting and reviewing procedures. (SPLASH 2017, which happens about a month after ICFP, is also changing over to the new format this year, but they were already using a two-phase reviewing process that conforms to ACM’s journal reviewing guidelines, so they didn’t have to change anything in that regard.)

ICFP 2017 is also using lightweight double-blind reviewing, which isn’t new; it was also done at last year’s ICFP, as well as at occasional past ICFPs, and other SIGPLAN conferences use the same process, so many ICFP authors are likely to be familiar with it. Finally, ICFP is adopting an optional artifact evaluation process this year, as other SIGPLAN conferences have already done.

Updated policy on travel to the conference

Traditionally, at least one author of each accepted ICFP paper has been expected to attend the conference and present their paper in person. Travel to and from academic conferences often presents visa-related complications, but the recent US executive order that restricts (re-)entry into the US for citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries has the potential to make things much worse for many would-be conference attendees. The legal status of the executive order is in flux, and we don’t know what will happen by the time ICFP is held in September (in Oxford, UK), but it seems very possible that some would-be attendees based in the US will be unable or unwilling to travel to the conference because it would be difficult or impossible for them to re-enter the US afterward. Conversely, if the conference were held in the US (as it will be in 2018), some would-be attendees would be unable or unwilling to enter the US in the first place. There’s no place to hold the conference that will allow us to avoid the problem entirely. In light of that, the ICFP steering committee decided to add the following statement to this year’s call for papers:

ICFP welcomes all authors, regardless of nationality. If any author of an accepted submission has visa-related difficulties in travelling to the conference, we will make arrangements to enable remote participation, and not require them to attend the conference in order to present their talk. In such a case contact us for further guidance.

SIGPLAN, the organization that sponsors ICFP (and most other major programming languages research conferences), also released a statement expressing concern about the executive order, following an earlier statement by SIGPLAN’s parent organization, ACM.2 The SIGPLAN statement says:

While we hope that the EO is rescinded (and will work toward this outcome), we are developing contingency plans for organizing future SIGPLAN events so as to maximize inclusiveness of the worldwide scientific community. We welcome your input.

In addition to making it easier for authors of papers at SIGPLAN conferences to present their work remotely if necessary, I’m hopeful that live video streaming of SIGPLAN conference talks will become standard, and I’d encourage other members of the community who want these things to contact the SIGPLAN Executive Committee and let them know.

  1. They’re letting me do this for some reason, even though I’ve never yet had a paper accepted at ICFP!

  2. Someone asked me why ACM is concerned only about the visa restrictions imposed by the executive order, and not, say, its ban on refugees. Although I can’t speak for ACM, I imagine that they decided to prioritize the immediate threat to scientific progress caused by the visa restrictions. But it would be nice to see the larger human rights issues here acknowledged, too.

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