I recently read a blog post on why papers were rejected for the ACM conference on Human Computer Interaction (CHI 2012). I found this to be profoundly depressing as it came out with a list of pseudo-scientific reasons why papers were rejected, without taking any account of the fact that demonstrating new ideas is not science.
I’m fairly sure that the author of the post was trying to be helpful and was well-intentioned but when these are the reasons for rejection, then it means it is highly unlikely that original ideas will be published. Imagine if Apple had submitted a paper on the ipod to this conference – no formal evaluation so not wanted! Rather, the ideal paper is an increment on something that has already been done and which is then analysed to death. Whether it is interesting or exciting doesn’t matter.
I’m not trying to get at the CHI community here – the situation is exactly the same in my area of software engineering. Papers for the ICSE conference are profoundly dull. In fact the only reason to attend this conference (and I guess CHI) is that there are lots of interesting workshops going on alongside them where people actually talk about ideas.
Contrast this situation with journal publication. I recently completed the 3rd revision of a paper that has been accepted for the CACM. I never bothered submitting this to any conference because it contained some controversial ideas and I knew that a reviewer would disagree with them and they were rejected. Not surprisingly, a reviewer of the journal paper also disagreed – but the result was not to recommend rejection but to ask for more details and clarification. Essentially, journal papers are refined through a conversation between the authors, reviewers and editors. And they are all the better for this.
Of course there is a place for papers that are incremental, with lots of analysis. That place is in journals where readers who are interested have time to read and digest the analysis. Conferences are where people get together and they should be exciting and should stimulate lots of discussions. This means their focus should be on ideas and originality, so that people argue about them and generate their own ideas.
But at the moment, if you have a new idea, don’t waste your time submitting it to a top CS conference. These have become vehicles for academics who want promotion or tenure and they have completely lost sight of what conferences should be about.