Monday, March 08, 2010

Who pays for submissions ?

Writing a paper takes a tremendous amount of time. So, one of the frequent complaints that authors  make is when PC members submit half-baked, clearly below-threshold reviews on a paper just to get the resume bullet and claim to have done their reviewing duties. Personally, I feel intense anger when receiving  crappy reviews that come with not the slightest bit of insight, and then am expected to rebut them or accept them. Not to mention the long-term psychological damage incurred by having papers rejected one after another. 

The problem is that reviewing a paper for a conference is free: all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse to upload your PDF file. (Of course, I'm not accounting for the cost of doing the research  (ha!) and actually reviewing the paper.)

Let's estimate the costs associated with doing research and submitting papers to conferences. I spend many months working, writing and submitting papers to conferences. A highly competitive conference will assign three reviewers to my paper, and with a lot of luck one of them might even tangentially be aware of my research area. After I make up a bunch of numbers, the cost of rejection of my paper amounts to over 3 gazillion dollars, none of which I can recoup. It's clear that conferences, which only survive if people submit, should be paying me to submit !

Of course, imposing this kind of a fee would no doubt drastically reduce the number of papers that are submitted. But this seems like a good thing: it would probably reduce the number of conferences, and remove the fiction that conferences actually do "quality control", leaving them with their original purpose of networking and creating a sense of community. Conferences could generate revenue by charging reviewers for the opportunity to preview the new works being submitted: this  would potentially also improve the quality of the reviews as well.  Although the financial incentive is not that great, getting paid should encourage TPC members to take the process more seriously.

The only downside I can see is people who submit a ton of papers everywhere and become "professional paper writers", but TPC chairs would clearly have to balance this against the research credentials of the people submitting papers. Note that many journals impose author fees for publication of the paper, so this provides a nice offset against that cost. 

It just seems crazy to me that the research community provides this free paper previewing service for committees with no negative ramifications for writing totally bogus reviews.

Disclaimers for the sarcasm-challenged:
  • Yes, I am obviously aware of Matt Welsh's post on this topic
  • Yes, this is a total ripoff/parody of his post
  • Yes in fact, I disagree with his point.

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