Call for Research Artifacts
PLDI 2017 is continuing the novel experiment that began at PLDI 2014 and which has been employed for PLDI 2015 and 2016: giving authors the opportunity to submit for evaluation any artifacts that accompany their papers. Similar experiments ran successfully for OOPSLA, POPL, ESEC/FSE and ECOOP.
A paper consists of a constellation of artifacts that extend beyond the document itself: software, proofs, models, test suites, benchmarks, and so on. In some cases, the quality of these artifacts is as important as that of the document itself, yet most of our conferences offer no formal means to submit and evaluate anything but the paper. PLDI 2017 has created an Artifact Evaluation Committee (AEC) to remedy this situation.
The AEC’s goal is twofold: to reward and probe. The primary goal is to reward authors who take the trouble to create useful artifacts beyond the paper. Sometimes the software tools that accompany the paper take years to build; in many such cases, authors who go to this trouble should be rewarded for setting high standards and creating systems that others in the community can build on. Conversely, authors sometimes take liberties in describing the status of their artifacts—claims they would temper if they knew the artifacts are going to be scrutinized. This leads to more accurate reporting.
The organizers of the AEC hope that eventually, the assessment of a paper’s accompanying artifacts will guide the decision-making about papers: that is, the AEC will inform and advise the Program Committee (PC). This would, however, represent a radical shift in our conference evaluation processes; the organizers of the PLDI 2017 AEC would rather proceed gradually. Thus, at PLDI 2017, artifact evaluation is optional, and authors choose to undergo evaluation only after their paper has been accepted.
The evaluation criteria are simple. A paper sets up certain expectations of its artifacts based on its content. The AEC will read the paper and then judge how well the artifact matches these criteria. Thus the AEC’s decision will be that the artifact does or does not “conform to the expectations set by the paper.” Ultimately, the AEC expects artifacts to be:
- consistent with the paper,
- as complete as possible,
- documented well, and
- easy to reuse, facilitating further research.
The dissemination of artifacts benefits our science and engineering as a whole. Their availability improves reproducibility, and enables authors to build on top of each others’ work. It can also help to more unambiguously resolve questions about cases not considered by the original authors.
Beyond helping the community as a whole, the evaluation and dissemination of artifacts confers several direct and indirect benefits to the authors themselves. The most direct benefit is, of course, the recognition that the authors accrue. But the very act of creating a bundle that can be used by the AEC also confers important benefits:
- The same bundle can be distributed to third parties.
- A reproducible bundle can be used subsequently for later experiments (e.g., on new parameters).
- The bundle simplifies subsequent re-executions of the system when, say, having to respond to a journal reviewer’s questions.
- The bundle is more likely to survive being put in storage between the departure of one student and the arrival of the next.
However, creating a bundle that meets all these properties can be onerous. Therefore, the AEC process described below does not require an artifact to have all these properties. It offers a route to evaluation that confers fewer benefits for vastly less effort.
To maintain a wall of separation between paper review and the artifacts, authors will only be asked to upload their artifacts after their papers have been accepted. Of course, they can (and should!) prepare their artifacts well in advance, and can provide the artifacts to the PC through unofficial URLs contained in their papers, as many authors already do.
The authors of all accepted papers will be asked whether they intend to have their artifact evaluated and, if so, to upload the artifact. They are welcome to indicate that they do not. Since we anticipate small glitches with installation and use, the AEC reserves the right to send a one-time message to the authors requesting clarification. Authors can submit a one-time response, focusing solely on the questions of the AEC; we do not impose a word-limit (since, e.g., a code attachment may be needed), but strongly suggest that the prose be no longer than 1000 words. Based on these inputs, the AEC will complete its evaluation and notify authors of the outcome. Authors are welcome to ignore the feedback or to include it in their paper as they deem fit (as a footnote, a section, etc.).
The conference proceedings will include a discussion of the artifact evaluation process. Papers with artifacts that “meet expectations” may indicate that they do with the now standard AEC badge that accompany papers.
To avoid excluding some papers, the AEC will accept any artifact that authors wish to submit. These can be software, mechanized proofs, test suites, data sets, and so on. Obviously, the better the artifact is packaged, the more likely the AEC can actually work with it.
In all cases, the AEC will accept a video of the artifact in use. These may include screencasts of the software being run on the examples in the paper, traversals of models using modeling tools, stepping through a proof script, etc. The video is, of course, not a substitute for the artifact itself, but this provides an evolutionary path that imposes minimal burden on authors.
Submission of an artifact does not contain tacit permission to make its content public. AEC members will be instructed that they may not publicize any part of your artifact during or after completing evaluation, nor retain any part of it after evaluation. Thus, you are free to include models, data files, proprietary binaries, and similar items in your artifact. The AEC organizers strongly encourage you to anonymize any data files that you submit.
Other than the chairs, the AEC members are senior graduate students, postdocs, or recent graduates, identified with the help of current, active researchers. Qualified graduate students are often in a much better position than many researchers to handle the diversity of systems expectations that the AEC will encounter. In addition, graduate students represent the future of the community, so involving them in the AEC process early will help push this process forward. The AEC chairs devote considerable attention to both mentoring and monitoring, helping to educate the students on their responsibilities and privileges.
This HOWTO document, written by a group that has both reviewed and won Distinguished Artifact Awards, provides useful advice on how best to prepare your artifact for review. We highly recommend that you read it.
- The goal of the AEC is to accept every artifact submitted. While some artifacts may not pass muster and may be rejected, we will evaluate in earnest and make our best attempt to follow authors’ evaluation instructions.
- Throughout the review period, submitted reviews will be (approximately) continuously visible to authors. AEC reviewers will be able to continuously interact (anonymously) with authors for clarifications, system-specific patches, and other logistics help to make the artifact evaluable. The goal of continuous interaction is to prevent rejecting artifacts for a “wrong library version”-type problem.
- We expect each artifact to receive 3-4 reviews.
- Reviews will be submitted via HotCRP and we will provide more information as the deadline approaches.
- February 20th: Author artifact submission deadline
- March 1st: Basic artifact functionality evaluation deadline
- April 10th: Acceptance notification