Awards and citations at computing conferences

I’ve heard a surprising “fact” repeated in the CHI and CSCW communities that receiving a best paper award at a conference is uncorrelated with future citations. Although it’s surprising and counterintuitive, it’s a nice thing to think about when you don’t get an award and its a nice thing to say to others when you do. I’ve thought it and said it myself.

It also seems to be untrue. When I tried to check the “fact” recently, I found a body of evidence that suggests that computing papers that receive best paper awards are, in fact, cited more often than papers that do not.

The source of the original “fact” seems to be a CHI 2009 study by Christoph Bartneck and Jun Hu titled “Scientometric Analysis of the CHI Proceedings.” Among many other things, the paper presents a null result for a test of a difference in the distribution of citations across best papers awardees, nominees, and a random sample of non-nominees.

Although the award analysis is only a small part of Bartneck and Hu’s paper, there have been at least two papers have have subsequently brought more attention, more data, and more sophisticated analyses to the question.  In 2015, the question was asked by Jaques Wainer, Michael Eckmann, and Anderson Rocha in their paper “Peer-Selected ‘Best Papers’—Are They Really That ‘Good’?

Wainer et al. build two datasets: one of papers from 12 computer science conferences with citation data from Scopus and another papers from 17 different conferences with citation data from Google Scholar. Because of parametric concerns, Wainer et al. used a non-parametric rank-based technique to compare awardees to non-awardees.  Wainer et al. summarize their results as follows:

The probability that a best paper will receive more citations than a non best paper is 0.72 (95% CI = 0.66, 0.77) for the Scopus data, and 0.78 (95% CI = 0.74, 0.81) for the Scholar data. There are no significant changes in the probabilities for different years. Also, 51% of the best papers are among the top 10% most cited papers in each conference/year, and 64% of them are among the top 20% most cited.

The question was also recently explored in a different way by Danielle H. Lee in her paper on “Predictive power of conference‐related factors on citation rates of conference papers” published in June 2018.

Lee looked at 43,000 papers from 81 conferences and built a regression model to predict citations. Taking into an account a number of controls not considered in previous analyses, Lee finds that the marginal effect of receiving a best paper award on citations is positive, well-estimated, and large.

Why did Bartneck and Hu come to such a different conclusions than later work?

Distribution of citations (received by 2009) of CHI papers published between 2004-2007 that were nominated for a best paper award (n=64), received one (n=12), or were part of a random sample of papers that did not (n=76).

My first thought was that perhaps CHI is different than the rest of computing. However, when I looked at the data from Bartneck and Hu’s 2009 study—conveniently included as a figure in their original study—you can see that they did find a higher mean among the award recipients compared to both nominees and non-nominees. The entire distribution of citations among award winners appears to be pushed upwards. Although Bartneck and Hu found an effect, they did not find a statistically significant effect.

Given the more recent work by Wainer et al. and Lee, I’d be willing to venture that the original null finding was a function of the fact that citations is a very noisy measure—especially over a 2-5 post-publication period—and that the Bartneck and Hu dataset was small with only 12 awardees out of 152 papers total. This might have caused problems because the statistical test the authors used was an omnibus test for differences in a three-group sample that was imbalanced heavily toward the two groups (nominees and non-nominees) in which their appears to be little difference. My bet is that the paper’s conclusions on awards is simply an example of how a null effect is not evidence of a non-effect—especially in an underpowered dataset.

Of course, none of this means that award winning papers are better. Despite Wainer et al.’s claim that they are showing that award winning papers are “good,” none of the analyses presented can disentangle the signalling value of an award from differences in underlying paper quality. The packed rooms one routinely finds at best paper sessions at conferences suggest that at least some additional citations received by award winners might be caused by extra exposure caused by the awards themselves. In the future, perhaps people can say something along these lines instead of repeating the “fact” of the non-relationship.

Disappointment on the new commute

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that signs on Stanford’s campus pointing to their “Enchanted Broccoli Forest” and “Narnia”—both of which that I have been passing daily on my new commute—merely indicate the location of student living groups with whimsical names.

Honey Buckets

When I was growing up in Washington state, a company called Honey Bucket held a dominant position in the local portable toilet market. Their toilets are still a common sight in the American West.

Honey Bucket brand portable toilet. Photo by donielle. (CC BY-SA)

They were so widespread when I was a child that I didn’t know that “Honey Bucket” was the name of a company at all until I moved to Massachusetts for college. I thought “honey bucket” was just the generic term for toilets that could be moved from place-to-place!

So for the first five years that I lived in Massachusetts, I continued to call all portable toilets “honey buckets.”

Until somebody asked me why I called them that—five years after moving!—all my friends in Massachusetts thought that “honey bucket” was just a personal, idiosyncratic, and somewhat gross, euphemism.

Climbing Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is an enormous glaciated volcano in Washington state. It’s  4,392 meters tall (14,410 ft) and extraordinary prominent. The mountain is 87 km (54m) away from Seattle. On clear days, it dominates the skyline.

Drumheller Fountain and Mt. Rainier on the University of Washington Campus
Drumheller Fountain and Mt. Rainier on the University of Washington Campus (Photo by Frank Fujimoto)

Rainier’s presence has shaped the layout and structure of Seattle. Important roads are built to line up with it. The buildings on the University of Washington’s campus, where I work, are laid out to frame it along the central promenade. People in Seattle typically refer to Rainier simply as “the mountain.”  It is common to here Seattlites ask “is the mountain out?”

Having grown up in Seattle, I have an deep emotional connection to the mountain that’s difficult to explain to people who aren’t from here. I’ve seen Rainier thousands of times and every single time it takes my breath away. Every single day when I bike to work, I stop along UW’s “Rainier Vista” and look back to see if the mountain is out. If it is, I always—even if I’m running late for a meeting—stop for a moment to look at it. When I lived elsewhere and would fly to visit Seattle, seeing Rainier above the clouds from the plane was the moment that I felt like I was home.

Given this connection, I’ve always been interested in climbing Mt. Rainier.  Doing so typically takes at least a couple days and is difficult. About half of people who attempt typically fail to reach the top. For me, climbing rainier required an enormous amount of training and gear because, until recently, I had no experience with mountaineering. I’m not particularly interested in climbing mountains in general. I am interested in Rainier.

On Tuesday, Mika and I made our first climbing attempt and we both successfully made it to the summit. Due to the -15°C (5°F) temperatures and 88kph (55mph) winds at the top, I couldn’t get a picture at the top. But I feel like I’ve built a deeper connection with an old friend.

Other than the picture from UW campus, photos were all from my climb and taken by (in order): Jennifer Marie, Jonathan Neubauer, Mika Matsuzaki, Jonathan Neubauer, Jonathan Neubauer, Mika Matsuzaki, and Jake Holthaus.

Mako Hate

I recently discovered a prolific and sustained community of meme-makers on Tumblr dedicated to expressing their strong dislike for “Mako.”

Two tags with examples are #mako hate and #anti mako but there are many others.

I’ve also discovered Tumblrs entirely dedicated to the topic!

For example, Let’s Roast Mako describes itself “A place to beat up Mako. In peace. It’s an inspiration to everyone!

The second is the Fuck Mako Blog which describes itself with series of tag-lines including “Mako can fuck right off and we’re really not sorry about that,” “Welcome aboard the SS Fuck-Mako;” and “Because Mako is unnecessary.” Sub-pages of the site include:

I’ll admit I’m a little disquieted.


XORcise (ɛɡ.zɔʁ.siz) verb 1. To remove observations from a dataset if they satisfy one of two criteria, but not both. [e.g., After XORcising adults and citizens, only foreign children and adult citizens were left.]

“Stop Mang Fun of Me”

Somebody recently asked me if I am the star of quote #75514 (a snippet of online chat from a large collaboratively built collection):

<mako> my letter "eye" stopped worng
<luca> k, too?
<mako> yeah
<luca> sounds like a mountain dew spill
<mako> and comma
<mako> those three
<mako> ths s horrble
<luca> tme for a new eyboard
<luca> 've successfully taen my eyboard apart
       and fxed t by cleanng t wth alcohol
<mako> stop mang fun of me
<mako> ths s a laptop!!

It was me. A circuit on my laptop had just blown out my I, K, ,, and 8 keys. At the time I didn’t think it was very funny.

I no idea anyone had saved a log and had forgotten about the experience until I saw the quote. I appreciate it now so I’m glad somebody did!

This was unrelated to the time that I poured water into two computers in front of 1,500 people and the time that I carefully placed my laptop into a full bucket of water.

My Kuro5hin Diary Entries

Kuro5hin logo

Kuro5hin (pronounced “corrosion” and abbreviated K5) was a website created in 1999 that was popular in the early 2000s. K5 users could post stories to be voted upon as well as entries to their personal diaries.

I posted a couple dozen diary entries between 2002 and 2003 during my final year of college and the months immediately after.

K5 was taken off-line in 2016 and the Internet Archive doesn’t seem to have snagged comments or full texts of most diary entries. Luckily, someone managed to scrape most of them before they went offline.

Thanks to this archive, you can now once again hear from 21-year-old-me in the form of my old K5 diary entries which I’ve imported to my blog Copyrighteous. I fixed the obvious spelling errors but otherwise restrained myself and left them intact.

If you’re interested in preserving your own K5 diaries, I wrote some Python code to parse the K5 HTML files for diary pages and import them into WordPress using it’s XML-RPC API. You’ll need to tweak the code to use it but it’s pretty straightforward.

Welcome Back Poster

My office door is on the second floor in front the major staircase in my building. I work with my door open so that my colleagues and my students know when I’m in. The only time I consider deviating from this policy is the first week of the quarter when I’m faced with a stream of students, usually lost on their way to class and that, embarrassingly, I am usually unable to help.

I made this poster so that these conversations can, in a way, continue even when I am not in the office.



Trust your technolust.

"Trust your technolust." from Hackers (1995)If you’ve ever lusted for a “Trust your technolust.” poster like the one seen in background of the climactic sequence in the 1995 film Hackers, you’re in luck. Just print this PDF template (also an SVG) onto a piece of yellow US letter paper.

Although I’m not even the first person I know to reproduce the poster, I did spend some time making sure that I got the typeface, kerning, wordspacing, and placement on the page just right. I figured I would share.