Saturday, March 5, 2016

Papers "written by" the program chair and other unexpected consequences of increased diversity in conference participation..

One of the beautiful things about the conferences in general, and AI conferences in particular, is how cosmopolitan they have become.

Gone are the days when all the participants and submissions were from just a couple of "usual suspects"  countries. It should be no surprise to anyone that neither US nor Europe are the top regions in terms of submissions to IJCAI. It is also worth noting that the allure of AI has broadened significantly and there are submissions from many authors who are first time IJCAI submitters. Similar increased internationalization has also occurred in the program committee.

All of this internationalization of IJCAI is truly a cause to celebrate. Knuth says that he wants the names of all the authors cited in his Art of Programming books to be in their native script . I don't know if I can ever get mentioned in the AoP books, but certainly look forward to seeing కంభంపాటి సుబ్బారావు in technical forums ;-). Heck, being an AI aficionado, I am sure of the day when people can write in the language they feel most fluent  in, and the AI Babel Fish will just render it flawlessly into the reader's preferred language.

In the mean time, however, the increased diversity and internationalization does bring up some challenges that we don't always anticipate. Here are a couple of interesting ones:

  • There are several papers currently going through IJCAI review that have "Subbarao Kambhampati" as the sole author of the paper. Apparently some authors thought that the way to make their submissions compliant with double-blind reviewing requirement is to just put me as the author. (We decided to leave them in the reviewing pool as they do follow the spirit--if not the letter--of the double blind review process.  Of course it did lead to a couple of irate mails from some PC members asking (a) why am I submitting papers to the conference I am the program chair for and (b) why am I not even following the rules ;-)
  • In some cases, the program committee members have developed surprising interpretations of "conflict of interest" for double blind reviewing. Basically, to ensure that they may not be reviewing a paper from an author that they have CoI with, they decided to (a) guess the identity of the authors (b) send mails to them to see if they are the authors and (c) declare CoI when they find that in fact the author is someone they guessed ;-). This would have been great entertainment,  if I didn't have to go find new reviewers for those papers :-(
The lesson to be  learned, I guess, is that we can't both hope for increased diversity and internationalization in participation, and at the same time assume that everyone has the same common understanding of the process that the old boys do. Things need to be put in writing, however obvious they might be for some (large) subset of the participants. 



  1. Rao,

    I don't understand why conferences don't make available the list of authors to a reviewer (AC/SPC/PC/secondary reviewer) to declare all COI before even bidding on papers. I am pretty sure I saw it done in at least one conference but can't recall which. It would be such an easy thing to do.


  2. I've seen it done too, but I have mixed feelings about it. It could lead to not declaring CoI but instead searching for "friendly" papers.

    This is one of those issues where there are no perfect solutions, just keep trying to do our best.