Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The (increasing?) practice of expanding co-author list after paper acceptance...

Something funny happened on Easychair the day after acceptance decisions were sent.

We noticed that a lot of people have logged in and added additional co-authors to their--now accepted--papers. In many cases 2, 3 and even 4 authors were being added!

Since we had kept backup snapshots of Easychair every week during the review period, we knew the original author lists for all the papers (which is how they are being listed on the accepted paper list ).

I understand that sometimes we may get non-trivial help from a colleague after paper submission that qualitatively changes the camera-ready version, thus legitimately necessitating author list expansion. We have done this ourselves a couple of times in our group.

Still,  it is a bit surprising that  50+  papers suddenly found this need. Even more surprising that many of them  found that they had additional help from not just one but "multiple" forgotten co-authors. Clearly the adage--that success has many parents, while failure is an orphan--seems to be playing out in spades here ;-)

So we decided to look into this phenomenon more closely by requesting authors to provide a justification as to why the new co-authors need to be added.  We are now getting mails from even more people, with requests to add 1, 2 or 3 co-authors.

The justifications range from the quite reasonable ones, such as

"I forgot to give credit to an undergraduate intern who helped with the work"

"X helped me prove an additional theorem" 

to the  somewhat questionable

"X helped with the rebuttal"

"X financially supported this work"

"X, Y and Z just got permission from their companies to join as authors"

"X wants to come to the conference, and thus would like their name on the paper" 

"because X is a respected researcher in our university"

to the utterly  inexplicable

"I have forgotten about listing any of my co-authors".

"We didn't put some of the authors when submitting for blind review"

"When trying to beat the submission deadline, we wanted to save time by listing just one author"

It seems to me that the situation has come a long way from adding authors when legitimately needed to deliberately keeping original author lists incomplete.

There may also be some implicit cultural norms at work here, in as much as over 90% of the papers expanding author list after acceptance are from a specific region.

Large scale author list modification post-acceptance does pose several quandaries for the conference. In addition to the obvious intangible long-term ones such as  cheapening co-authorship, there is the more immediate and tangible  one: We rely on author lists to ensure that conflicts of interest situations are avoided. It becomes very hard to do that if the author lists are fluid and subject to massive changes after acceptance.

In other areas, such as Signal Processing and Computer Architecture,  changes to  the author list post-acceptance is not allowed. Period.  (Granted, some of these conferences also have limitations on the number of submissions any single individual can be a part of, and fluid author lists defeat the limitation by allowing a backdoor for hyper-prolificity ).

Even if we don't want to be quite so strict, it does make sense to discourage the practice of keeping initial author list  deliberately incomplete. Perhaps AI conferences should emphasize the obvious at submission time: that author lists are expected to be complete  at the time of submission.



  1. that's super interesting, thanks!
    I'd say "X financially supported this work" sounds less "somewhat questionable" and more like flat-out bribe.

    did anyone remove an author from the list? (I have heard of such incidents in the past)

  2. I know this post is not at all about page limit, but there isn't one about it so I thought I'd use this stage to ask about it. Given that we don't really print proceedings anymore, what's the reason to have the 7 page limit (and why does an additional page cost $275?!)?

    With the camera-ready deadline approaching, I see many people spending time now cutting a word here or there, essentially making the paper less clear (smaller figures, less explanations). I think it's both a waste of time, and worse, reduces reproducability and understanding of the research. As a reviewer, I also find that the page limit often just makes papers harder to review.

    Many conferences have significantly increased their page limits in recent years, and some just don't have a limit but say contribution is judged with respect to length. I personally think it's time to experiment with increasing page limits in our conferences and was wondering what your thoughts are about that...

  3. DISCLAIMER: Page length limitations are a fraught issue; and it is hard to address it in a blog comment response. So, I will do the honorable thing and give you a Seinfeld link:


    Ps: With a little less levity: I realized long ago that most academic researchers don't quite understand how pricing systems work (or they won't be working in academia to begin with :). For example, here is a simple question, the answer to which, I am sure most IJCAI attendees will have hard time guessing: What does a conference hotel (e.g. the one we will be at for IJCAI) charge for a soft drink can that is "self-serve" i.e., picked up by yourself, during, say, a student reception.

    1. I guess the focus of my question was not about the price charges per page, but more broadly about page length. I might be too uninformed, but I doubt the main issue is costs per page production. In HCI, people have increased page limits consistently over the past couple of years, and I don't see why their costs would be substantially different from AI page costs. I agree that it's a topic for more than a blog comment, it was my implicit attempt at getting you to write a post about the topic :-)

  4. "There may also be some implicit cultural norms at work here, in as much as over 90% of the papers expanding author list after acceptance are from a specific region."

    Which region?

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