Why do conferences ask for this information?

Conferences ask for various pieces of information from authors and reviewers. One may wonder why this information is needed: is it actually important or simply a bureaucratic requirement? If authors or reviewers don’t provide this information, program chairs may have to spend considerable time and effort chasing them (which is especially burdensome in large-scale conferences), and this also strains the typically short timeline of the conference review process. This post gives a glimpse of the backend of the peer-review process with a focus on how this information is used. See [1] for more details on peer review. Do keep in mind that many of these conferences operate at a very large scale (thousands of submissions) and have short turnaround times (few weeks).

Paper abstracts: Authors are asked to provide the abstract of their paper a few days before the paper submission deadline (and can make reasonable changes until the deadline). This abstract is used for “bidding” by reviewers, that takes place between the abstract and full paper submission deadlines. The abstracts are used to compute the similarities of papers with reviewers which are then used to order the papers for the reviewers during bidding (the ordering does matter — see [Section 3.1 of reference 1]). The reviewers also read the abstracts when doing the bidding. Some authors, however, leave placeholder abstracts (e.g., copy-pasting the title or just “placeholder”); some others think that the organizers will reject abstracts that are too short, and to circumvent that, create abstracts of the form:

placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder placeholder

Authors should note that putting an unrepresentative abstract is only counterproductive.

Author registration: Some conferences require all authors of submitted papers to register and acknowledge co-authorship of the papers. This helps ameliorate the problem where authors may be added to a paper without their consent [2, 3, 4]. Another reason for author registration is to obtain information about the authors.

Author and reviewer information: Authors and reviewers are asked to provide information such as their previous publications and their domains of conflict. This information helps compute the conflicts of interest so that reviewers with conflicts (e.g., a recent collaborator or someone at the same institution as the author) are not assigned [5].

Reviewer and paper subject areas: Reviewers are asked to indicate the subject areas of their expertise and authors are asked to indicate the subject areas of their submitted papers. This information is used to compute similarities between reviewers and papers [Section 3.1 of reference 1] in order to assign appropriate reviewers to the papers. The subject areas of papers can also be used by reviewers during bidding for filtering papers.

Author freeze: The information about the list of authors is to be provided before the review and cannot be changed after that. This helps mitigate unethical practices regarding authorships such as that of selling authorships of accepted papers [6].

Reviewers asked to bid on a minimum number of papers: Some conferences ask reviewers to bid on at least a certain number of papers. This gives the program chairs flexibility in assigning reviewers to papers: if all reviewers bid on just 3 papers, then with overlaps between reviewers’ selections, some papers may be left out. Having a certain number of bids also helps mitigate fraud and torpedo reviewing where a reviewer tries to get assigned one particular paper [7, 8, Section 4.2 of reference 1], by constraining that reviewers cannot simply make a positive bid only on their target paper. 

To wrap up, are there other ways that can get the above information in a logistically easier manner (e.g., with better interfaces)? I certainly do think so, and hope these systems improve. Irrespective of that, it will really help to have all authors’ and reviewers’ cooperation in providing this information to ensure a timely review process at this large and challenging scale. 

References

  1. An Overview of Challenges, Experiments, and Computational Solutions in Peer Review,” N. Shah, 2021.
  2. Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship: A Review Article,”E. Tarkang, M. Kweku, and F. Zotor, 2017.
  3. Multiple Authorship in Scientific Manuscripts: Ethical Challenges, Ghost and Guest/Gift Authorship, and the Cultural/Disciplinary Perspective,” J. Teixeira da Silva and J. Dobránszki, 2015.
  4. Co-author verification,” editor resources, Taylor and Francis.
  5. Managing Conflict of Interest in NIH Peer Review of Grants and Contracts,” National Institutes of Health (NIH). 
  6. China’s Publication Bazaar,” M. Hvistendahl, Science, 2013.
  7. Collusion Rings Threaten the Integrity of Computer Science Research,” M. Littman, Communications of the ACM, 2021.
  8. Mitigating Manipulation in Peer Review via Randomized Reviewer Assignments,” S. Jecmen, H. Zhang, R. Liu, N. Shah, V. Conitzer and F. Fang, NeurIPS 2020.

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