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Communications of the ACM

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Publish Now, Judge Later


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Conferences in the computing field have large numbers of submissions, overworked and overly critical reviewers, and low acceptance rates. Conferences boast about their low acceptance rates as if this were the main metric for evaluating the conference's quality. With strict limits placed on the number of accepted papers, conference program committees face a daunting task in selecting the top papers, and even the best committees reject papers from which the community could benefit. Rejected papers get re-submitted many times over to different conferences before these papers are eventually accepted or the authors give up in frustration. Good ideas go unpublished or have their publication delayed, to the detriment of the research community. Poor papers receive little attention and do not get the constructive feedback necessary to improve the paper or the work.

Because reviewers approach their job knowing they must eventually reject four out of five submissions (or more), they often focus on finding reasons to reject a paper. Once they formulate such a reason, correctly or incorrectly, they pay less thought to the rest of the paper. They do not adequately consider whether the flaws could be corrected through modest revisions or whether the good points outweigh the bad. Papers with the potential for long-term impact get rejected in favor of papers with easily evaluated, hard to refute results. Program committees spend considerable time trying to agree on the best 20% of the papers that were submitted rather than providing comments to improve the papers for the good of all. Even if committees were able to perfectly order submissions according to quality, which they are not, papers that are close in quality may receive different outcomes since the line needs to be drawn somewhere. People do not always get the credit they deserve for inventing a new technique when their submission is rejected and some later work is published first.


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