SPS: no edits after acceptance

I got an email recently saying that the Signal Processing Society‘s Publications Board has decided to “no longer allow any changes to papers once the papers are accepted… the accepted version of the papers will be the version posted on Xplore.” Associate editors are supposed to enforce this policy.

I can only imagine that this is the result of abuse by some (or many) authors to make substantive changes to their manuscript post-acceptance. That is clearly bad and should probably be stopped. However, I think this hard-line policy may not be good for a couple of reasons:

  • Even after reviewers sign off on a manuscript from a technical standpoint, there are often several small issues like grammar, typos, and so on. The only solution then would be to enter an endless cycle of revise and resubmit, unless SPS is ok with typos and the like.
  • I have had galley proofs come back with several technically substantive errors and have had to go back and forth with IEEE about fixing these. This can only get worse with this policy.
  • Due to the fast pace of research and the slow pace of reviewing, many times the references for a paper need updating even after acceptance: a journal version of a conference paper may have come out, or an ArXiV preprint may have been updated, or any host of other changes. This hard requirement is bad for scholarship since it makes finding the “correct” reference more onerous.

Overall, this shifts the burden of fine-level verification of the manuscript to the AE. For some journals this is not so bad since they don’t have long papers and AEs may handle only a few papers at the same time. For something like the Transactions on Information Theory, it would be a disaster! Thankfully (?) this is only for the Signal Processing Society. However, my prediction is that overall paper quality will decrease with this policy, driving more papers to ArXiV for their “canonical version.” Is this bad? Depends on your point of view.

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De-anonymized reviewers in discussion

One big difference between reviewing for conferences like NIPS/ICML and ISIT is that there is a “discussion” period between the reviewers and the Area Chair. These discussions are not anonymized, so you know who the other reviewers are and you can also read their reviews. This leads to a little privacy problem — A and B may be reviewing the same paper P, but A may be an author on a paper Q which is also being reviewed by B. Because A will have access to the text of B’s reviews on P and Q, they can (often) unmask B’s authorship of the review on Q simply by looking at the formatting of the reviews (are bullet points dashes or asterisks, do they give numbered points, are there “sections” to the review, etc). This seems to violate the spirit of anonymous review, which is perhaps why some have suggested that reviewing be unblinded (at least after acceptance).

The extent to which all of this matter is of course a product of the how fast the machine learning literature has grown and the highly competitive nature of the “top tier conferences.” Because the acceptance rate is so low, the reviewing process can appear to be “arbitrary” (read: subjective) and so questions of both review quality and author/review anonymity impact possible biases. However, if aim of double-blind reviewing is to reduce bias, then shouldn’t the discussions also be anonymized?