Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Yesterday a program committee member sent one of my submissions to one of my current students to review. Heh Heh. I'll make sure he gives an unbiased positive review.

A good excuse to talk about conflicts of interest. You should not review, edit or referee a paper if one of the authors is

  1. a relative and/or someone you are romantically involved with, or
  2. a member at your institution.
The second because departments use major conference publications for bragging rights and we have seen some abuse in the past.

The NSF has more stringent restrictions for reviewing proposals. If we used these restrictions for paper reviews, like no close collaborators or no former students/advisor, there might not be any one left to properly evaluate the paper. If the restrictions (1) and (2) don't apply to you, you should state any potential unknown conflicts but feel free to say whether the paper soars like an eagle or gobbles like a complete turkey.

Speaking of turkey–Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!


  1. Heh, as if the student-phd. advisor relationship wasn't complex enough.

  2. I think, it is the referee's responsibility to report this kind of conflicts.

  3. I have to say I think close collaborators or former students/advisors should absolutely not review each other's submitted papers. (The issue isn't even whether they would actually be biased, but rather whether a reasonable onlooker might suspect bias. I know I do, and I bet this perception is common.) There shouldn't be an issue with availability of enough reviewers; if it's really true that only close collaborators or students of the author are qualified to review the paper, then it doesn't sound like it's of broad enough interest to be worth accepting anyway.

    It's still worth getting opinions regarding correctness from people with conflicts of interest, if they happen to be the world's greatest experts on the subject. It's just that one shouldn't even ask for a broader judgement (anything beyond unambiguous factual assertions - the sorts of things that can easily be refuted if false).

    One should also keep in mind the other direction. Part of the problem isn't just people giving exaggeratedly positive reviews to help their friends, but also people feeling constrained from giving negative reviews in case word gets back to the authors. Program committees aren't always perfect at keeping secrets - they do quite a good job in general, but on occasion I've heard about surprisingly positive or negative reactions to my papers.

  4. I've been assigned to review my own submission! And this was for a highly selective journal...