Friday, April 15, 2005

Real-life derangements.

A happy ending (at least for one author-set) to the bizarre referee report case:
We just found out that the reviewer had made a mistake with regard to my review and it was intended not for my paper but for some other "lucky" candidate - they are re-evaluating our paper and it may still get in:-) This joker had shuffled up all his four reviews such that none of them matched the actual paper!!
As any computer scientist worth his salt knows, this bizarre event is a derangement: a permutation of n items so that no item is matched to itself. It's often used as the canonical application of the principle of inclusion-exclusion in combinatorics. The likelihood of such an event is not that low; the probability of a derangement (uniformly over the space of all permutations) is 1/e ~= 0.37...

Lest you think that derangements are mathematical arcana, I give you the Married Couples Problem. And let this be a less0n: if you don't like the reviews you get, and have good reasons, don't keep quiet !

p.s I pity the authors that this review was intended for.


  1. For most conferences, an appeal can actually end up upsetting the board. In the case of this particular review, on what basis can you appeal? The damn review can apply to any paper, absolutely any paper can receive this particular review...

    This goes to show that a good review should start with a restatement of the paper so that the reviewer can prove he understood the work.

    The problem here is not the derangement, but that the board should not accept such reviews, and they should make it quite clear to reviewers that they need to do a decent job, or just say that they are not interested in reviewing the work.

    My old rant is that paper reviews should be public when the paper is accepted. You should be able to scroll through the reviews an accepted paper got. This would put a lot of pressure on board members to make sure the reviews are sane. 

    Posted by Daniel Lemire

  2. Well, I sort of agree with you. The problem is the PC (board). They shouldn't have allowed a generic review like this to go thru. However, this view, although correct, ignores the fact that PCs are horribly swamped with papers to review on short notice. For a recent conference, each of 22 PC members reviewed over 70 papers each.

    Maybe it does all go back to too many papers getting written :) 

    Posted by Suresh


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